Thursday, June 2, 2022

REVIEW: 'Under the Banner of Heaven' - Pyre Looks to Taba for Understanding the Miraculous Nature of Life in 'Blood Atonement'

FX's Under the Banner of Heaven - Episode 1.07 "Blood Atonement"

As the details of the murders become clear, Pyre and Taba embark on an interstate manhunt, hoping to catch the killers before they complete their list of those to be "blood atoned."

"Blood Atonement" was written by Brandon Boyce & Dustin Lance Black and directed by Thomas Schlamme

Why does everything need to have some deeper meaning attached to it? Why can't people be content with the miraculous nature of life? The yearning for answers is such a universal concept. Civilizations around the globe have stories that explain the various phenomena that occur in nature and in human behavior. No one can ever say they lead with complete certainty. Plenty have tried over the years. It has so often come at the expense of those who fail to conform to their version of events. So much violence has been produced as a result of the clashing of beliefs. The stories then ring out to only enforce the inherently good nature that must have fueled each side. Everyone has stories they can share. A person's spirituality is dictated by the power they are willing to surrender to those stories and beliefs. A person can still find comfort in history and faith even if they no longer ascribe power to it. It's actually relaxing and clarifying. For six episodes, Pyre has listened to Allen about his spiritual crisis. The Mormon faith is nothing but an elaborate lie. All it takes is a close examination to realize none of the prophets were actually communicating with God. They were simply preaching their own personal desires. Of course, that can lead down such a slippery slope where no one knows what to believe about the world at large. For his entire life, Pyre has been told that atheists are inherently deceitful. They are liars who don't deserve the salvation that awaits the faithful in the next life. In terms of the investigation though, Pyre has to pursue every lead. Not everything can be reduced to such a concise understanding of behavior. Individuality must ultimately shine brighter than anything else. That weighs on Pyre. He has always had completely trust in his faith. Anything could be solved by simply doubling down on these beliefs. He could always find guidance and salvation from his elders. He could never be led astray because he walked the path of the righteousness. His understanding of the Mormon faith does inform where he looks for Ron and Dan during their final stand. It also increases the burden for Pyre to be a savior to so many people. He can't handle that by himself. He has to trust his fellow officers to also enforce the law. He can't be everywhere to ensure everyone has a peaceful outcome. He doesn't have that power or control. He can simply do what he believes is right in the moment. And then, he must return home to the safety of his family being content with the actions he took on the job.

Everyone is so quick to shun Pyre because he has the audacity to ask questions about his faith. He is no longer a steadfast believer in the words of those he previously gave unilateral power to. Instead, he has to question the perspective of everyone he encounters. Becca wants to point him back to the faithful path. She made a commitment to this family under the assumption she and Pyre would raise their children together as a faithful unit. She was never made to question that before now. Pyre is tormenting her because he can no longer offer her that clarity. She is rigid in her expectations of what she demands in a husband. She stands firm in what she desires. Pyre can't offer certainty. This family undergoes an evolution. One where no one can ever be certain about its stability moving forward. It's all about the beauty and grace of the moment. That ultimately has to be enough. It's a struggle for Pyre because he fears Dan will come up behind him and kill him as well. He feels destined to end this journey the same way that Brenda did. He worries Dianna and her children have already suffered a similar fate. They were killed long before Brenda and her daughter were. And yet, Dianna and her family were saved. Their escape to freedom in Florida was a blessing. Dianna could return to the life she was destined for before she married Ron. She still feels the pull to return to Utah to save as many people as she can. That only amounts to Matilda though. That has to be enough. It's shameful no one else is willing to stand in the way of Matilda being forced to return to her abuser. They all accept that these women must submit to the will of those who possess them. Those attitudes are horrendous. Moreover, Dianna's connections with the other wives aren't as strong as what she has with Matilda. Even that is built on the promise that Matilda can reunite with her children. She sent them away to save them from Dan's sexual desires. He sought to conquer them and add them to his corrosive ways. She saved them when it mattered the most. They were still lost to a world that didn't care about their protection. Dianna and Matilda are on the path to make that right. It's freeing simply to make it across state lines. That's the action that provides Pyre and Taba with more power. They can finally close this case. It's personal to so many. They seek out this clarity. They all have to settle for this conclusion being enough.

Pyre receives this knowledge because Taba pulls over and demands his partner take stock of what actually surrounds them. The native population was abused and tortured by the white occupiers who took over their land. Mormon teachings would have them fighting hand in hand with the indigenous community. Taba doesn't believe that story. Instead, he operates with the insight that the early Mormon settlers dressed up as Indians in order to craft whatever narrative suited their interests. It was a convenient way for them to arm themselves for the battle that was coming. It was done in the name of salvation. It simply came at the expense of those who knew this land better than the invaders who projected new meaning onto it. Mormon culture now defines all of Utah. Its influence radiates out to numerous states too. Utah serves as the central hub. It's a way for people to feel closer to God because they've been told it's more significant on this particular land. They give power to that belief. Ron and Dan believe they are on a righteous path. They are doing what their God commands of them. They must stand up and proudly lead as the prophets for the next generation. They will serve as martyrs for the cause. No laws were broken because this was all determined based on the will of their higher power. They were nothing more than vessels for this holy mission. They wanted to scrub away all personal accountability. However, they exploited so many lives in the service of being something special. Dianna scorns Samuel for buying into that narrative. He was told he was mightier than so many. He still had to fall in line with Ron and Dan's leadership. He had to look to them for orders. He failed them if he didn't comply exactly with what they required. All the brothers failed in a way. That only pushed them further from the truth and into the darkness of radicalization. The church wants to protect itself from scandals. They are willing to sweep Brenda's murder under the rug in the name of that preservation. They can't hide from the truth though. Fundamentalism corrupted the souls of so many in this community. Pyre is willing to walk away. Taba inspires him to trust his gut. It still points him to Mormon teachings. He also must find peace in the expansive beauty of the world. He arrests Dan and Ron. One doesn't die so the other can live according to the principles of their faith. Nor can they succeed in their mission because they face mortal concerns of not having the finances to kill those who oppose their will. These are very grounded elements. They dictate the terms of this investigation just as much as faith in a specific religion. It's all about understanding the psychology of all involved. It leaves no easy answers. It's pure complexity. Justice still has the potential to prevail even though Dan screams out for being righteous. It all came at such a profound cost. Yet Pyre returns to his family and continues to provide stability for them. It may only be sustainable for a moment. That's beautiful too and captures the true spirit of what it means to live in a world of peace. It's a life of moments. That's rare but special.