Exhalation: ‘Under The Banner of Heaven’ Episodes 6 and 7 (REVIEW)

Under The Banner of Heaven Episodes 6 and 7 – the final two of the limited series – are best viewed in succession. These episodes pick up from the events of “One Mighty and Strong,” after Detectives Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield) and Bill Taba (Gil Birmingham) found promising leads regarding the murder’s prime suspects: Dan (Wyatt Russell) and Ron Lafferty (Sam Worthington). 

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Chloe Pirrie as Matilda Lafferty in Under The Banner of Heaven Episodes 6 and 7 (COURTESY: FX)

The highly anticipated Episode 6, “Revelation,” (directed by Lingua Franca’s Isabel Sandoval) justified every bit of the hype. “Revelation” revolves around Pyre’s own religious journey and his attempt to unlearn the doctrines and practices in which he’s believed all his life. Two scenes in particular, of Pyre’s conflict with his wife, Rebecca (Adelaide Clemens), capture all the torment he’s going through. Pyre feels like a hypocrite when he Rebecca her it’s her duty to obey him, although the things he instructs her to do are for the good of herself and their children. At the same time, he’s afraid he’ll drive his family away – which is exactly what happened with the Laffertys, especially after Pyre knew that his proximity to extremism drove Allen (Billy Howle) to strike his wife Brenda (Daisy Edgar Jones). Pyre’s spiritual doubts reach their nadir when Allen directs him to the book that made him learn about the real Mormon history.

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Andrew Garfield as Detective Jeb Pyre in Under The Banner of Heaven (COURTESY: FX)

Sandoval’s direction in UTBOH Episode 6 brings a softer, more humane approach to Pyre, exploring his full potential as an audience surrogate by laying him bare alongside all his fears and insecurities. Garfield’s portrayal in the car scene is one for the ages; I can describe it only as a raw explosion of betrayal, fear of abandonment, and recognition of loss of the security of a higher power. Although not all viewers will relate to Pyre’s religious journey, most will empathize and understand the power dynamics and propaganda to which a person can be subjected. It can take you years to realize this and unlearn it – if you’re lucky. 

UTBOH Episode 6 ends with Taba finding Onias, who meets him with overt racism. Soon after, in Episode 7 (“Blood Atonement”), Pyre joins them and is able to get more information out of Onias. He insists that Ron’s delusions of grandeur, of being the “One,” are what corrupted him. Back at the precinct, Pyre and Taba have to deal with LDS officials who want them to be more discreet about the case (to save them from the bad rap). Pyre, though, is adamant that the truth come out – no matter the consequences.

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Gil Birmingham as Detective Bil Taba and Andrew Garfield as Detective Jeb Pyre in Under The Banner of Heaven (COURTESY: FX)

When Mormon history comes up again, one church official tells Taba that they are supposed to be allies (given the events of the Mountain Meadows massacre) – but Taba tells him that the Mormons’ recollection was fake, which takes Pyre aback. It was especially important for Under the Banner of Heaven to not push a savior complex onto Taba, who clearly sees Pyre as a friend and almost as a filial figure. The show’s refusal to do this is part of what makes their dynamic work. Taba is a very relaxed character; he doesn’t feel a particular responsibility towards his friend, doesn’t try to “save” Pyre. Taba does, however, know that Pyre sees what he wants to see, and helps him along when he knows Pyre is truly listening.

For the most part, Under the Banner of Heaven was one of the most respectful true crime adaptations I’ve seen. It’s easy to lean into the sensationalism, violence, and gore of a project like this; the result is almost always incredibly disrespectful to the actual victims and their families. From Jacob Lafferty (Taylor St. Pierre), to Dianna (Denise Gough), to Matilda Lafferty (Chloe Pirrie), Under The Banner of Heaven paints a bittersweet picture of Brenda and the lives that she not only touched, but saved.

“Under the Banner of Heaven” Overall Rating: 8/10

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