Friday, April 29, 2022

REVIEW: 'Under the Banner of Heaven' - Pyre's Faith Is Shaken by a Brutal Murder in His Community in 'When God Was Love'

FX's Under the Banner of Heaven - Episode 1.01 "When God Was Love"

Detectives Jeb Pyre and Bill Taba investigate the brutal, sinister murders of an LDS woman, Brenda Wright Lafferty and her baby daughter in Utah's typically serene Salt Lake Valley in 1984.

"When God Was Love" was written by Dustin Lance Black and directed by David Mackenzie

A small, tight-knit community is rocked by a brutal murder. The lead detective carries the personal burden and weight of this moment as he desperately pursues the truth. This has been the setup for many successful prestige shows over the years. An audience is out there for a season-long mystery that plays with the macabre and how it reflects in those left behind to deal with the aftermath. The formula has to be told with such precision in order for the viewer to get wrapped up into it. If it doesn't work, then there is another option waiting to be explored. There is no lack of shows in this particular space. Fortunately, this premiere offers specificity and command of its story despite its familiar premise. Plus, it's set in an incredibly insular world that forces everyone to challenge their notions of God and love. It could be incredibly frustrating as Allen breaks into this long conversation about how the teachings of the Mormon church have long been corrupted. It presents character details. It informs relationships. However, it's not him offering details about the savage murders of his wife and daughter. Detectives Jeb Pyre and Bill Taba are holding him in custody as their prime suspect. They believe the husband is guilty. No one can vouch for Allen and what he did throughout the day leading up to this tragic discovery. He's a self-employed contractor who doesn't recall the address of his current project. He is covered in blood when he returns to the crime scene. A damning case is presented against him. Meanwhile, he's offering a defense that is so cliche and typical. Bearded vagrants corrupted his family. That led to the murder of his wife and daughter. His faith was shaken to its core before this moment happened. And now, that reckoning is coming for the entire community. Allen demands it. He wants Pyre to open his eyes. He wants to know if he still believes in a God designed in love. Pyre is introduced as a devout family man. He has to pray before he leaves the house to respond to this emergency. He is devoted to the job. He leads with authority. He understands this community. And yet, he too has vitriol towards people who stray from the path his church deems as the only righteous one. Allen is lost. Because of that, he was capable of this heinous crime. That's Pyre's mindset. Meanwhile, Taba actually has the experience on the job to look for all the clues. He's not blinded by faith. He doesn't think the presentation of evil can be so clear cut. The devout choose to believe they are right and the horrors of the world are caused by those who failed in their mission to serve others. The truth is more complicated than that.

The entire Lafferty family loved Brenda the moment Allen introduced them to her. They were incredibly welcoming. She escaped her family in Idaho because she wanted to live in a larger community. She still upheld her traditional Mormon values. She wasn't straying from the path. She also had aspirations to be a journalist. That was what she designed. She still saw the importance and reverence of family. She wanted to be a mother too. She was also capable of so much more than being subservient to her husband. She could be more than the woman on the sidelines cheering on the strong men who can accomplish any task if they pray hard enough. Ammon Lafferty views that as a problem. Allen doesn't have his house in order. As such, he can't guide the family in what needs to be done next to protect themselves. He has to look inward to find the beauty and grace expected of him. Of course, Ron is also passed over. The responsibilities are ultimately handed to Dan. He appreciates that trust. His service has been rewarded. He can be the new head of the family as Ammon and his wife go off to serve on a two-year mission. All of this backstory provides useful details. This is what is expected of everyone in this world. Taba is the one who stands out. He notices the lack of diversity and the judgment for refusing to adhere to Mormon principles. He respects Pyre when he prays. He gives him that space to do so. He tempts his partner. They trust each other. Taba wants to ensure Pyre's family is protected during this turbulent time. They could be targeted simply because they have a history with the Lafferty's. This powerful family is so influential in Utah. One of them has been cast aside. That's just as damning as the tragic murders that also dominate the story. People have their priorities in the wrong places. Right now, it's all about responding to this tragedy and ensuring justice is found. Elsewhere, it's a debate over who is the most pious with their faith. Pyre has never strayed from the path laid out from him. He too sees the beauty and grace amongst his family. He also accepts this world as being broken. It's not his place to make it perfect. That's a fate that only comes for those who make it to Heaven. His family is conditioned to believe that fate as inevitable. They will be reunited with their ancestors. They will receive all those blessings. His mother is at peace with now being the time to go. It only adds to the turmoil in Pyre's life. Right now, two Lafferty men are in custody. One tells a story about bearded men being a corrupting influence. The other has grown a beard despite how precious his faith demands men treat their bodies and appearances.