“Under The Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith,” is a nonfiction book written by Jon Krakauer, on which the 2022 Hulu mini-series is based on. The book was published in 2003 and became a bestseller back then, documenting true events. The series, created by Dustin Lance Black, takes some cinematic liberties to bring the conflict on the surface with an added clarity, and places the topic of debate without any dubiety in front of the viewers. Some characters are merely created to further the narrative and were not part of the original case. Jeb Pyre, played by Andrew Garfield, is one such character that was created for the screen. Jeb belonged to a religious Mormon family, and handled the case with his partner, Bill Taba, who was an outsider in the state where the majority of people practiced Mormonism. Even the character of Robin Lafferty, brother of Allen Lafferty, is created for the screen, and in reality, Allen does not have a brother named Robin.
On July 24th, 1984, reports came of a double murder in Utah. A young girl named Brenda Wright Lafferty had been brutally killed in her house along with her 15-month-old daughter named Erica. The family belonged to a conservative Mormon family, and the incident shook the whole community. The husband, Allen Lafferty, handed himself to the police, but maintained the fact that he didn’t kill his wife and child. He pointed toward the possibility of a sinister conspiracy that was carried out by the very people he trusted.
Joseph Smith was the founder of Mormonism and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has its headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. The book, as well as the series, focuses on the beliefs, lifestyle, traditions, customs, and practices of the Mormon religious group and the smaller sub-groups formed within it. These subgroups had members who believed in a more fundamentalist approach and were uncompromising in the pursuit of their religion. The Mormons, in general, adhere to the ideologies of Christianity but are more stringent in their approach. A good Mormon never consumed alcohol, coffee, or tea. In the series, we see that though Brenda’s family is extremely religious, they are still moderate in their approach and do not cross the line to be called extremists. Allen Lafferty’s family is not like that. They are strict in their approach and quite judgmental when it comes to their assessment. They disapproved of the comparatively free-spirited nature that Brenda had (although she would still be considered quite orthodox in her approach as compared to many factions of society), and her inclusion in the Lafferty family somehow pricked a lot of males to the extent that they were ready to take grave steps to protect the sanctity of their religion.
Did The Lafferty Family Mistake Their Belief System To Be Their Faith?
When you start watching the first episode of “Under The Banner Of Heaven,” you start feeling a strange sense of claustrophobia. It feels like you are thrown into the deep waters with your hands and legs tied. You keep going into the abyssal depths of an unilluminated ocean, and in spite of the dire warnings, you do not realize the catastrophe that awaits you. The concept of faith can often be misunderstood by some, and the consequences can be quite hazardous in nature. We do not have to go that far to understand how faith can be misunderstood and cause havoc, as examples of which exist in front of us in the contemporary world.
The Lafferty family believed in some norms and mistook them as their faith, very similar to every fanatic group that ever existed in the world. There is a stark difference between beliefs and faith. Often, the fundamentalists make you obligated to agree to the fact that what they are saying is true in all probability, and that there is no possibility of further exploration. They are rigid in their approach and pass on judgment as if they are the true bearers of light. Faith as an emotion is something that we have all experienced in our childhood. We wanted something, and we were sure that we would get it, without pondering over the negative thoughts and creating barriers for our own manifestation powers, something that we forgot as we grew up, as we started being opinionated and never gave any room for thoughts that didn’t align with our logic. Faith was always supposed to bring hope, not diminish it. It was supposed to make you flow, and not make you stagnate. Jeb Pyre was a devout Mormon, but his interaction with Allen made him question whether he was mistaking the belief system of a handful, for his faith. He had been taught to live his life in a certain way, but it all came crashing down when he saw a 15-month-old girl being brutally murdered in the name of faith. It wasn’t clear from the beginning whether it was a religious killing or not, but deep down, he always knew that it was the case.
What he saw at Allen Lafferty’s house deeply disturbed him. Even the police officials in the suburban area were not used to seeing such gruesome crimes being committed. The house was soaked in blood. Jeb comes out of it, almost feeling nauseous. He is about to leave when a man, in a distraught state, covered in blood, emerges out of nowhere. They take him into custody, and he tells them his name is Allen Lafferty. Bill Taba wants to interrogate him, but Jeb, being a Mormon, is of the opinion that he should take the lead, considering Allen belonged to a well-known LDS (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) family. Bill doesn’t believe that taking a religious angle, in this case, was necessary. He believed in the justice system of the United States of America and was certain about the fact that they could easily get a confession by following the rules.
‘Under The Banner Of Heaven’ Episode 1: Ending Explained – Did Allen Lafferty Kill Brenda? Who Gets Caught In The End?
Jeb decides that he will be gentle in his approach while interrogating Allen Lafferty. Everybody suspected him of being behind the gruesome murders. But Allen immediately says that he did not murder his wife and daughter. He himself feels distraught and remorseful. He couldn’t save his beloved wife and his 15-month-old daughter. He said he worked for a construction company and had seen his family for the last time when he was leaving for work in the morning. He tells Jeb Pyre that there was someone out there hunting his family, and that the police needed to find them. When asked for the addresses, he said that he did not know where his brothers lived. He said that they moved a lot, and he didn’t know where they were putting up as of then. This raised a lot of doubt about the credibility of his statements, and Bill Taba thinks that he only killed his family. Allen was talking very obscurely, and Jeb was losing out on his willingness to be gentle and courteous with him.
Allen tells Bill that peculiar men with beards have been after his family for quite some time now. He says that they were not merely vagrants but prophets of the Book of Mormon, a religious book from the LDS movement. Jeb got the number of his eldest brother, Ron, but nobody picked up the call.
Jeb finds merit in the “bearded stranger” theory as told by Allen. Bill thinks it’s ludicrous to believe in such an unrealistic and convenient story, which is the first resort for any person who wants to fabricate the facts. But Jeb tells him that in a place that is staunchly religious, where the church prohibits keeping beards, there is a possibility that Allen might be telling the truth. Jeb recollects from his memory that he had seen the Lafferty family in and around the city. He went to the same church as the Lafferty brothers and was acquainted with them. Bill asks Jeb to trust him and let him go alone to question Allen. He was of the opinion that he could make him confess. Bill tries to trigger Allen, but no substantial information comes out. But he says one thing, that if he wants to find the killers, he should look towards the Mormons and their saints. Jeb intervenes in between and starts asking him whether he took the vows of the religion, to love his wife and be with her. Bill finds it utterly foolish as nothing that he was asking was admissible in a court of law. But Jeb knew what he was doing. It was not a simple murder; there was a religious angle to it, and he was very sure about the fact.
The moment Jeb learns that Allen has left his church, he somewhat loses his faith in him and stops being understanding and gentle in his approach. He is sure that the forensics will find some incriminating evidence to prove his guilt. It was amusing to see this subtle transformation triggered by the fact that a person went to church or not, instead of looking into the facts. That was the amount of influence religion had, even on the so-called rational people of society. Allen says that if Jeb thought that going to church and not breaking one’s covenant were signs of innocence, then he was totally wrong. He says that he wanted to save his wife from the very people that Jeb is certain of, but he couldn’t.
Brenda Wright Lafferty was a perfect Mormon girl. She wanted to go to Brigham Young University and study journalism. She wanted to be a newsreader on television. When Allen introduced her to his family, she was not only judged, but the family had second thoughts about her. They found her to be a bit more free-spirited and outspoken than they would have liked. Ammon Lafferty, father of Allen, didn’t seem to approve of her ways and means. Allen says that she was attracted to Ron, and even Ron couldn’t keep his eyes off her. Apart from Ron, Dan Lafferty also seemed bewitched by the beautiful Brenda.
Brenda thought herself to be as faithful as the Lafferty family, but she was nowhere close to the kind of fanatic standards they expected from any of the family members. Every aspect of life was viewed through the lens of faith and religion. There was no scope for rational interpretation. Allen’s father was called by the prophet on a senior mission, and so he made Dan in charge of the family business in his absence. A seed of contempt is sown in the heart of the eldest brother, Ron, who doesn’t say anything at the moment but is clearly disheartened.
Jeb’s wife provides them with the address of Robin Lafferty, from a church directory. Bill informs Brenda’s father about her murder, against the wishes of Jeb. Allen still stands his ground and maintains the fact that men with beards had corrupted his family, even after his father-in-law had told Bill that Brenda was subjected to domestic abuse. The men who proclaimed to be ardent devotees were the ones who were spilling blood. Jeb gets the news that a bearded man similar to the description that Allen had given has been spotted in the neighborhood. They quickly reach the location and get a hold of him. He identifies himself as Robin Lafferty, one of the brothers of Allen Lafferty. In the next episodes of “Under The Banner Of Heaven,” more mysteries and conspiracies will be unraveled, and hopefully, Jeb Pyre will find the motive behind the grave offense that has shaken the entire state of Utah.
“Under The Banner Of Heaven” is a 2022 Crime Thriller series created by Dustin Lance Black.