“Surrender,” the aptly named third episode of Under The Banner of Heaven, perfectly summarizes its contents. In previous episodes, we saw how the show focused on the introduction of story through flashbacks of the victim and her in-laws, as well as through Mormon history. “Surrender,” however, pivots more around the character of Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield) and his personal feelings about the nuances of the investigation as his faith gets shakier by the second.
The last episode left us with critical evidence that is going to drive the investigation, when Brenda (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Allen’s (Billy Howle) neighbor told Pyre and Taba (Gil Birmingham) that she saw four bearded pioneer-like men in their neighborhood before Brenda and her baby were murdered, confirming Allen’s story about the men that corrupted the Lafferty family. This leads Taba to investigate, after someone reported a person with those qualities in the woods, and leaves us with a cliffhanger when Pyre doesn’t hear back from Taba in time.
Consequently, episode three deals with the disappearance of Taba and the mystery bearded figure. This process allows Pyre to unravel as a character, literally and figuratively surrendering in this episode: to his doubts, his intuition, the reality of his mother’s condition – and, in the most powerful scene, he even surrenders to imminent danger just to prove a point.
This episode also delves deeper into Allen and Brenda’s wedding day in a very ethereal scene, surrounded by her new sisters and contrasted by the loathing that some had for her. At one point, a character declares that Brenda had always been attached to the “Mormon converts” more than the born-Mormons, in a way to prove her religious infidelity.
You can see how Pyre’s breaking point is building up through the subtleties in Garfield’s portrayal by his reaction to doctrine, in the juxtaposition of the tenderness he extends to children, and in his toughening up during the investigation. In one scene at the beginning of the episode, Pyre explains a Mormon covenant to his daughter with such nuanced tentativeness that you can’t even risk a blink. Later, when Pyre confesses his anxieties to a priest, it’s clear how he turns into the same confused little kid just looking for answers from a superior. Garfield’s command of his character, as he shifts from scared to confused, angry, authoritative, or lost, is very strong, to say the least.
The previous two episodes’ pacing issues are almost nonexistent by now, mainly because Under the Banner of Heaven is beginning to use elements and characters that couldn’t be at the forefront earlier. Judging by the show’s pattern so far, it seems each episode will focus on a different Lafferty brother – the first was Allen, and the second is Robin. It’s an interesting narrative choice, once you notice it; with there being seven episodes and six brothers, the strategy appears plausible and will be intriguing to see executed.