One Mighty and Strong: “Under The Banner of Heaven” Episode 5 (REVIEW)

Trigger warning: Please note that this episode contains abuse, marital rape, and religious trauma.

Under The Banner of Heaven Episode 5, the only one of this limited series to be directed by creator and writer Dustin Lance Black, traces the beginning of Ron’s (Sam Worthington) descent into fundamentalism with his brother Dan (Wyatt Russell) and their excommunication from the church. “One Mighty and Strong” follows up on Detective Jeb Pyre’s (Andrew Garfield) findings in Episode 4 about Dan’s interest the Peace Maker, an old Mormon scripture that permits polygyny and plural wives, and how Dan eventually went on to found the School of Prophets to spread his doctrines.

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Sam Worthington as Ron Lafferty in Under The Banner of Heaven Episode 5 (COURTESY: FX)

Detectives Pyre and Taba (Gil Birmingham) continue their investigation as they face more religious and political pressure from various Mormon leaders and the Utah community. After connecting Bishop Low and his wife to the Laffertys’ case for their involvement in their excommunications, Pyre and Taba find out from them that Dan was excommunicated for his business politics and for abusing his wife, while Ron was excommunicated for wanting to marry his two stepdaughters. Mrs. Low confesses that she berated Brenda for telling Dianna to report her abuse; this angers Taba, which prompts Low to acknowledge his existence for the first time in the sitting and tell him that he won’t suffer his disrespect. Pyre notices the looks that Bishop Low gives to his partner but doesn’t comment.

The detectives manage to get in touch with one Bernard Brady (Nicholas Carella), who they connect to the School of Prophets. Pyre is impressed by the warm welcome from Brady’s family and by his lovely family itself, but is clearly more distrustful than he’s been before. Brady doesn’t say much while his wife is around because he doesn’t want her to know the doctrines he supports. Later, he admits that he believes that when women got into men’s business – meaning when Emma refused Joseph’s doctrine of polygyny – bloodshed entered Zion and people strayed from God. Brady leads the detectives to the farm where the Laffertys used to conduct their meetings. They find three Canadian women that the brothers trapped there for days without food or water – along with the blood atonement list, confirming that Dianna was indeed on it and might already be dead.

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Sam Worthington as Ron Lafferty and Denise Gough as Dianna Lafferty in Under The Banner of Heaven (COURTESY: FX)

While Allen (Billy Howle) doesn’t think that his brothers are capable of that kind of evil, Brady admits that Ron lead his father, Ammon, to his death. He refused Ammon a doctor because their father abused the boys as children and convinced them that true Mormons can be cured by strong faith, a belief that ended up killing one brother and leaving another with a permanent disability. As Pyre begins to understand how Ron thinks, Under the Banner of Heaven juxtaposes Ron’s sequence with Brigham Young’s rise to power in the LDS church after Joseph Smith’s (and, in this telling, Ammon’s) death. Finally, Pyre headspace is parallel to Emma Smith’s: both have to face the reality of their faith not only not serving them but betraying their trust and love.

If I could describe Under the Banner of Heaven Episode 5 in one phrase it would be “the calm before the storm.” The show’s writing and storytelling reach an impressive apex in weaving together two different narratives. It’s clear that Episode 5 marks the end of the investigation’s intense background, since we’ve already gotten an episode for every Lafferty brother. Meanwhile, it looks like the final two episodes will be action-heavy instead of character-focused, but should still leave some space to wrap up Pyre’s arc neatly.

Rating: 8/10

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