Under The Banner Of Heaven is an FX miniseries adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s 2003 true crime book of the same name.
The TV show is made for Hulu, with new episodes arriving at 12:01 EST on Thursdays. Andrew Garfield stars as Detective Jeb Pyre, and Gil Birmingham as his partner, detective Bill Taba. The TV series follows a pair of Salt Lake City, UT detectives as they try to solve the mysterious, brutal murder of Brenda Lafferty (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and her infant daughter.
The prime suspects involved in the killing are the brothers of the Lafferty clan, including Brenda’s husband, Allen Lafferty (Billy Howle). Wyatt Russell (The Falcon and The Winter Soldier), Sam Worthington (Avatar), Rory Culkin (Waco), and Seth Numrich (Turn: Washington’s Spies) portray Dan, Ron, Sam and Robin Lafferty respectively. Christopher Heyerdahl portrays their father, Ammon Lafferty. Under The Banner Of Heaven often cuts back to the early decades of the church, when Joseph Smith was still alive and in charge of his congregation.
In those sequences, Andrew Burnap plays Joseph Smith, Tyner Rushing plays his wife, Emma Smith, and Scott Michael Campbell portrays Brigham Young, who would become the second prophet of the LDS church.
There are a few key elements that one must understand when going to watch Under The Banner Of Heaven. Firstly, the TV series Under The Banner Of Heaven dramatizes certain elements of Jon Krakauer’s 2003 novel, specifically the tragic Lafferty murders. Characters like Detective Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield) did not exist in real life, and certain events are altered or inserted into the show, including the letter Diana and Brenda Lafferty sent to the Prophet in Episode 4.
UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN IS A FICTITIOUS RETELLING OF A NON-FICTIONAL RELIGIOUS MURDER
Further complicating the truth of the events portrayed on this TV show is the official LDS response to Jon Krakauer’s novel, nearly two decades ago. Krakauer himself authored a response and acknowledgment of the Church’s stance on his works.
“At the end of June, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints issued an official “response” to my new book, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. Disseminated nationwide more than two weeks before my book was scheduled to appear on bookstore shelves, this preemptive attack was authored by Richard E. Turley, Jr., a high-ranking church official who serves as managing director of the LDS Family and Church History Department.
In his lengthy, carefully worded screed, Elder Turley characterized Under the Banner of Heaven as “a decidedly one-sided and negative view of Mormon history.” According to his assessment, my book was written as “a condemnation of religion generally,” and the Mormon faith in particular.”
As you can see, the Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints aggressively pursued a narrative which deemed Under The Banner Of Heaven not just wholly inaccurate, but instead a directed, slanderous attack against the Church. Now, that was many years ago, and before taking you any further, I need to insert a disclaimer. My name is Corbin Shanklin, and I was raised in the LDS church.
I attended church almost every Sunday until I was 16 years old. I was a Boy Scout (this was before the incredibly suspicious, to put it lightly, dissolution of LDS and BSA relations in 2020) and an ordained Priest. Technically I still am, according to Church records, since I haven’t requested the removal of my name from their systems, despite my 5+ years of inactivity and non-belief.
UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN: LDS PEOPLE DESPISE BEING CONFUSED WITH THE “FUNDAMENTALIST” LDS
None of this is a preface to me discussing my currently held spiritual or religious beliefs, as that isn’t relevant to the story. What’s relevant is that because of my upbringing within the Mormon church, I have a degree of firsthand knowledge which helps me cover this subject from a unique vantage point. But, I have to admit that vantage point also comes with a certain degree of bias.
To be clear, I’m not attempting to vouch for or against the mainline LDS church as it stands today. Nor do I believe that is the intent of the Under The Banner Of Heaven novel or TV series. Instead, the goal of these collective works is to address the origins and early history of the Mormon Church, and examine how that era has influenced and/or enabled abusive, criminal, and religious extremism.
To an LDS Person, the idea that Brigham Young or Joseph Smith, the first two prophets of their church, may have had a hand, directly or indirectly, in the murder of indigenous peoples, enslavement and abuse of women, or the intentional spreading of false doctrine for personal gain, well, that’s a nearly unthinkable concept. And these stories, as well as my coverage, are going to go to uncomfortable, dark places, all in search of the truth.
I hope and pray that anyone curious about what really happened to Brenda Lafferty, interested in the rise of Utah or the truth about the so-called “American Religion” will join us on this incredible, tragic journey.
Disclaimers aside, let’s get you prepared for Episode 5 of Under The Banner Of Heaven, which airs at 12:01 EST, May 19, 2022.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED IN UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN IN EP. 1-4
Detective Jeb Pyre and his Partner Detective Gil Birmingham are in hot water. It would seem that Allen Lafferty, Brenda’s husband, has been withholding a great deal of information from the police. While the Salt Lake PD was already well aware of Dan Lafferty’s anti-government antics and religious zealotry, they had been led to believe that the eldest son of the Lafferty clan, Ron Lafferty, had not been apart of the growing anti-government and pro-early LDS teachings sentiment within the family.
Through some top-notch police work, specifically, Pyre flying in the face of direct orders from his Police Captain and his Mormon Stake President (not someone a fervent believer like Pyre would usually disobey), they came one step closer to the truth about who killed Brenda, only to leave us on a massive cliffhanger.
So Dan and Ron Lafferty are still on the run, but Robin, Sam and Allen Lafferty are now in SLPD custody, likely undergoing further questioning in the next episode. The Current location of Matilda and Diana, wives of Dan and Ron, is also unknown. One key person of interest, the Lafferty’s Bishop, in the case was located by a rookie officer right before the credits rolled on the last episode. Ammon Lafferty is possibly out of the picture, pushed out of leadership by Dan and then Ron when he took over as the new patriarch of the family.
Dan Lafferty was seen looking into the practice of polygamy, coming to believe that it is the only way to eternal, celestial salvation, something that Brigham Young and Joseph Smith certainly believed, though that is not a currently held belief of the mainline LDS church. Dan was disgusted that the practice was abandoned for practical reasons. Utah only achieved statehood after the LDS Church issued a manifesto ordering the cessation of the practice. There’s a great deal more to this story, which will be unraveled by yours truly at a later date.
UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN: WAS LDS POLYGAMY REALLY ABANDONED FOR PRACTICAL REASONS?
His search for true revelation and knowledge lead him to a book called the “Peace Maker”, which has an extremely dubious and unclear history. The pamphlet preaches that the man has absolute power and control in the household and that the women he is married to need to be entirely subservient for order and religious fealty to be obtained, among other horribly misogynistic and incredibly unsavory things. Official Church policy is that the Peace Maker was a writing printed by a non-member to be distributed to non-members, it was merely printed with LDS resources at an LDS facility.
Others claim that the Peace Maker was a secret way for Joseph Smith to test public reception to his new, secret “revelation” about eternal, plural, celestial marriage. The reality of the situation is unclear at this time, though LDS historians might disagree with my conclusion.
UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN: HOW MUCH IS ALLEN LAFFERTY HOLDING BACK FROM THE POLICE?
To bring this thing to a close, we don’t trust Allen right now. Ron is a bigger threat than ever, and he’s still missing along with a large chunk of the Lafferty family. Detective Pyre is under fire from the church for his police work getting in the way of his religious duty, and for postponing the baptism of his daughters. And of course, Dan Lafferty has his hands on the godforsaken Peace Maker. What a joke.
As for LDS response to Under The Banner Of Heaven on FX, Deseret News, a newspaper owned by the LDS church, recently published an exclusive interview with Brenda Lafferty’s sister, Sharon Wright Weeks. That exclusive is fascinating and a highly recommended read, but the most important takeaway is Week’s printed statement, “Religion had nothing to do with the reason Brenda and Erica were murdered.” The LDS church is still very against this franchise, they’re just handling their opposition more tactfully and discreetly in 2022 than they did in 2003.
Don’t miss Episode 5 of Under The Banner Of Heaven, “One Mighty And Strong”. The episode is directed by Dustin Lance Black, and airs at 12:01 EST, Thursday, May 19, 2022.