In 1984, Brenda Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter Erica were murdered in their home. Brenda was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, commonly known as Mormons. She was married to Allen Lafferty, whose family was highly regarded in the Mormon community in Utah. At least they were—until they met some questionable people. Did this lead to Brenda and Erica’s murder? You will have to watch “Under The Banner of Heaven” to find out. This mini-series is based on the 2003 book of the same name by Jon Krakauer. His book not only explored this murder, but also some problems within Mormonism and similar groups. The show gives a more head-on approach to the murder, with a little bit of background on the early history of the religion. Told through the perspective of a devout Mormon detective who starts to question his faith, this series investigates this murder and the religious practices of the Lafferty’s. This is a dark mystery and it will have a hold on you every step of the way.
Detective Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield) is put on the case to investigate Brenda Lafferty’s (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Erica Lafferty’s murder. The case starts with Pyre arresting Brenda’s husband Allen (Billy Howle), who has recently become less religious. Allen proclaims his innocence, but does not know who murdered his wife and daughter. He tells Pyre and Pyre’s detective partner Bill (Gil Birmingham) everything about Brenda, including her family, how they met and what his family thought of her. Brenda was always less conservative than the Lafferty’s which made them a little wary of her, but they still mostly accepted her. Allen has five brothers, Ron (Sam Worthington), Dan (Wyatt Russell), Robin (Seth Numrich), Samuel (Rory Culkin) and Jacob (Taylor St. Pierre). Throughout the series, Pyre interviews various members of the Lafferty family as well as some of their close friends. He is determined to get to the bottom of this. Along the way, he starts to question his own faith and if he is happy being a Mormon. There are also some intercut scenes that show the beginning of Mormonism, with Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, that are meant to demonstrate parallels. This is a show that displays the meaning of faith and what people may do because of it.
If there is one thing you should know about me, it is that I am an Andrew Garfield fan first and a human being second. He has given a fantastic performance in everything he has ever done, and this show is no exception. We saw him as a man determined like never before. We can see Garfield’s seriousness as he talks to every suspect and drives for miles to solve this mystery. We also see him go through a religious crisis. The horrors of the murder and the behavior of the Laffertys makes Jeb Pyre unsure if this is the religion for him. Garfield portrays this internal predicament wonderfully and you really feel for him. Garfield was nominated for an Emmy, and he deserves to win. I also have to applaud the performance of Wyatt Russell as Dan Lafferty. He is one of the older Lafferty brothers and he is always taking charge. He seems harmless at first, but we soon see him go deep into some crazy ideologies. He has a presence in every scene where you want to listen to him and you start to get a little scared of him. Russell nails this role and he should have been nominated for an Emmy. Honestly, all of the actors who played the Lafferty brothers did an excellent job. They were all unique and fleshed out characters that became more exciting and a little frightening as the show went on. I can’t forget to mention Daisy Edgar-Jones’s performance as Brenda. She is a strong female character who always stands her ground. She is a bit of a fish out of water in the Lafferty family with her more liberal views, but she does not let that get to her. Edgar-Jones makes Brenda Lafferty so likable, which makes her death even sadder.
This series has seven episodes with each episode being over an hour long. Despite that long length, I felt every scene in this show belonged. There were many characters that had to be introduced and I felt that every single character was important. Even if they only got to be in one episode, they would still be really fleshed out. There were also so many curveballs thrown in this story. With other shows, that could have made everything confusing. However, those curveballs helped keep my interest and made the mystery more exciting. I also liked the choice to show the story of the Mormons alongside the events of the murder investigation. There were some interesting parallels and it gave some context for certain behaviors. Another choice I noticed was in lighting. The whole show had moody lighting except for the early flashbacks. Everything seemed brighter when everyone was happy. However, as the flashbacks went on, the lighting would seem darker even if it was daylight, like in the present time. It was a great way to show the darkness and seriousness of the show. I will say that while the whole show is interesting, it really picks up in the later episodes. The first couple of episodes give background on everyone and set up some plot points, but the later episodes are where everything kicks into high gear and the real action starts. Expect the unexpected when it comes to this show.
The murder mystery format has existed for a long time. Countless movies and shows have done the pattern of someone being murdered and then a detective investigating to find the killer. However, this show does it differently, as religion is thrown into the mix. This show is probably not for anyone who is a religious Mormon, as it does not cast a very friendly light. Personally, I found it to be an interesting look into this religion. I understand that was a special case with people who were not mentally okay, but we still got to see a perspective of the normal side of faith through the detective. This all made for a fascinating true crime show. It was full of excitement and I was constantly on the edge of my seat. If this type of story interests you, you can watch “Under the Banner of Heaven” on Hulu today.