Comedic gold under the banner of heaven

Comedic gold under the banner of heaven May 14, 2022


The 3 Stooges in "Disorder in the Court"
On the set of “Under the Banner of Heaven”?
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)




With his kind permission, I republish here the summary of Episode 4 of Under the Banner of Heaven that the inimitable Jim Bennett posted on his Facebook page:


Come, Brother. Come, sister. Abide with me as we range Under the Banner of Heaven Episode Four, Church and State. Beards vigorously encouraged.
Our show opens with the cops bursting into someone’s house that’s been ransacked. We don’t know who’s house it is, and we don’t know why it’s at all relevant to the murders. So you don’t need to worry about being distracted by any tension or excitement.
While surveying the mess, Andrew Garfield says “God, I hope they got out of here before anything happened.” Surprise! This is something a normal person would say! Alas, it’s not something a normal Mormon would say, and certainly not something a fictional UTBOH-Heavenly-Father-fearing Mormon would say. Is this a way of subtly telling us that Detective Pyre is losing his faith? Or is it just one more example of sloppy, lazy writing that has plagued this entire series from the outset? Heavenly Father only knows.
Actually, no, He doesn’t, because just a couple of minutes later, Pyre’s Heavenly Fatherisms are back as he deals with the burgeoning non-scandal of a delayed baptism for an eight-year-old. His mother recklessly says “goddamn” and AG is quick to scold her for committing a “no-no,” so we know-know (see what I did there?) that the inconsistency is likely unintentional. Oh, and that Pyre is kind of a weenie for treating his mother like an infant.
Granted, Grandma Pyre is suffering from some kind of dementia, which is apparently why the next thing she says is “the Jews need baptisms,” which is supposed to be funny, maybe? Or clever? Or just make Mormons look like we’re all racist turds who would cheerfully spout bigotry all day long if our inhibitions were down? The latter is most likely, as she goes on to talk about the Jews ending up with Hitler in the next life. Because this is why audiences are tuning in – not for a compelling drama about a brutal real-life murder, which this isn’t, but for a wooden and didactic morality play about how Mormonism stinks.
And, golly, this fictional Mormonism stinks pretty bad. In the UTBOH universe, bishops don’t give a rip about the confidentiality that is their central ecclesiastical responsibility. See, Diana Lafferty apparently wrote a letter to the President of the Church – “like writing to Heavenly Father himself!” cringe cringe cringe – that complained about Dan, her husband Ron’s brother. The letter is referred back to the local bishop, who apparently shared its content with his counselors, one of whom goes against every protocol that the Church has in place by revealing both its contents and its author directly to Ron as leverage to deny him a bank loan while Diana sits ten feet away from them. Mormonism, amiright?
We then get a quick shot of one of the “Kennedys of Utah” running for sheriff with a full parade float, complete with a covered wagon, a full horse brigade, and an Angel Moroni effigy. Because that is what happens in every small town Utah sheriff’s race except for all of them. We then cut to Brother Detective Pyre, who is interrogating Robin Lafferty, who I recently learned doesn’t exist in the real world. Apparently, we need a fake Lafferty brother to set up pointless, dramatically irrelevant flashbacks, the first of which involves Governor Boggs of 19th Century Missouri getting shot in the head. Every police interrogation in Utah devolves into history lessons with weak production values.
We then cut back to Dan Utah Kennedy smoking a cigarette for some reason, which causes Ammon Utah Kennedy to appear out of the ether to have a conniption fit and slap Dan in the back of the head. Ammon then shrieks at the lady who gave him the vile tobacco, calling her “serpent woman.” Because this is how elite families in Utah always act, and nobody finds this out of the ordinary. Goodness, how could these head-slapping, shrieking lunatics ever be suspected of murder when all Mormons act like this? This could be you!
Dan Lafferty defends his cigarette transgression by announcing that “the Lord guides my political vision.” Which sounds really goofy, but it is something Orrin Hatch has said on multiple occasions, so we can chalk that one up as accurate. Ammon tells him, no, it’s the devil answering your prayers, so Papa Utah Kennedy (Papa UK for short) is going to leave his mission in Louisiana to keep his sons on the strait and narrow. One is left to assume that Papa UK is using the Force to project his image from Louisiana into the Angel Moroni parade, because real missionaries don’t leave their missions mid-mission to attend parades on the other side of the country. Also, The Last Jedi has a lot in common with this show, in that they both suck.
Dan UK is then inspired to go to the restricted section of the Hogwarts library – sorry, the BYU library – to find the forbidden knowledge about the Mormons which has been “removed from every library in Utah, including BYU.” Presumably, it was all checked out by Leonard Arrington, who was the brilliant and widely respected Church historian during this period who ushered in what has been called a golden era of Mormon historical study. Or maybe it’s all in a dumpster behind the Tabernacle. I hope the fake UK Lafferty brothers can launch a historical flashback that clears this all up.
Dan UK and his fictional brother therefore have no choice but to go to Colorado City and ply the polygamists with inexpensive construction materials. They then see young girls in Pioneer Day dresses – but the ominous music tells us IT’S NOT PIONEER DAY!! Dan UK then asks the question nobody dares ask: “Do you guys practice polygamy here?” The fictional UK brother is aghast, maybe because this is like asking a guy in a comic book store if he’s ever seen Star Trek.
Then some random polygamist they just met who looks like he is struggling with IBS announces that “If man’s law conflicts with heaven’s, then the faithful will be ranged UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN against them.” Hey, how come some rando with diarrhea gets to say the title of the show? I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never been ranged under anything and didn’t fully realize that “range” could be used as a verb. But Dan UK recognizes the ranging. “Prophet Taylor, right?” he says. “I dig it, man!”
Indeed. So dig we all.
IBS Boy tells Dan UK something about a mysterious Joseph Smith work called “The Peacemaker” before a high counselor packing heat tells them to leave. Then we cut to Andrew Garfield flabbergasted that a mainstream Mormon would sell aluminum siding to fundamentalists, because everyone knows that commerce with the “fundies” is grounds for excommunication, despite the fact that it really, really isn’t. Fictional UK demands that he has the right to a phone call, which just occurs to him for the first time after being tortured for two days with Tabernacle Choir music.
We then see Dan UK driving with his wife Matilda UK as Dan brandishes a copy of “The Peacemaker,” a 19th Century pamphlet that he purchased at an “antique book store” that somehow escaped the Mormon library purge. This pamphlet was written by Joseph Smith himself, and its thesis is that women are essentially cattle owned by their husbands, so righteous men can have as big a herd of them as they want. His wife balks at being matrimonially branded thus, prompting Dan UK to scream “Shut up and moo!” Actually, that’s not the dialogue, but wouldn’t it be cool if it was? Also, the real Peacemaker pamphlet was written in 1842 by some guy named Udney Hay Jacob who wasn’t even a member of the Church at the time, and the real Joseph Smith denounced it as “nonsence [nonsense], folly, and trash.” But so what? Shut up and moo.
Dan UK is then pulled over for speeding, which prompts him to jump out of his car and scream “Tyrants! Witness the tyrants!” This is the guy running for sheriff, remember. Or “Head Tyrant,” as they are often called. Dan is then sent to Alcatraz. Oops! I mean he is sent to a small-town Utah jail that looks exactly like a high-security federal prison. He is later released, but he’s taken off the ballot because he refused to pay a $15 filing fee, and not because he’s a psychotic whackadoodle who just did hard time for escalating a speeding ticket into a hostage situation.
While in the East Rockwell Penitentiary for the Criminally Mormon, Dan UK also tells Ron UK that he should be the leader of the family because of reasons. Then we go back to police headquarters with Andrew Garfield, who flashes back to Joseph Smith dressed in military garb that would make no sense to anyone who doesn’t already know Mormon history. Joseph tells his wife Emma that she must accept polygamy or be destroyed, and Emma tells Joseph she’s going to marry more husbands. Which, admittedly, is an interesting premise for a dramatically compelling scene, which this isn’t. Joseph receives the “be destroyed” revelation on the spot and delivers it while sneering an evil sneer, and so now the audience knows everything they need to know about the complex, contradictory, and messy origins and practice of Mormon polygamy. Ha ha! Just kidding. All they know is that Joseph Smith was a monster. Moo.
Anyway, we finally meet the guy that Fictional UK called during his MoTab respite – his lawyer. Oh, wait. Sorry. That would have made too much sense. No, the Fake UK brother didn’t call a lawyer. He called – wait for it – his stake president. And his stake president shows up to demand that Detective Pyre release Fake UK into his custody, and that if he doesn’t, Pyre’s eternal salvation is at risk.
Give the writers credit here: It would be virtually impossible to cram more doofustry into a single scene. All of it is legally, factually, religiously, and logically wrong in huge and grotesque ways. There is nothing about this moment that isn’t intellectually and dramatically flatulent. I like to think that Pyre’s prodigious barfing in the next scene was really Andrew Garfield spewing all the stupid out of his system.
Pyre goes into the field to find out where Bishop Lowe is – he’s apparently the guy with the ransacked house in the first scene – and he takes a moment to debrief some teenagers, one of whom claims that “Heavenly Father answered [his] prayer for a Skyhawk.” This elicits an awkward chuckle from Pyre. We can tell he’s losing his faith, because he’s becoming self-aware to how much that this dialogue blows.
We then get a scene where the Laffertys decide to become polygamists, and Detective Pyre then realizes that a previous goofy scene at the bank means something other than what we were supposed to think it meant, but I’m not sure what it was supposed to mean in the first place, so I’m going to punt on that one. Meanwhile, Pyre’s boss shows up and tells them to face the press, but under no circumstances are they supposed to mention the “fundies” that are tied up in these murders, not for the rational reason that it would be inappropriate to comment on details of an ongoing investigation, but rather for the ridiculous reason that it would make the Church look bad. However, in a universe where stake presidents have more legal authority than police chiefs, the math checks out.
So of course, Pyre faces the press, and the press conference is televised live, and instead of saying “It would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing investigation,” he blurts out that fundamentalist Mormonism is at the heart of this. He then gets fired. No, sorry, it’s much worse than that. He then gets dirty looks at church. But at least his partner says, “Sorry about the language, but I’m [Heavenly Father]-damn proud of you.” Oh, and an elderly Stepford wife greets him at the church entrance to ask why his eight-year-old daughter is postponing becoming one of the Children of the Corn.
The episode ends as a nervous young cop discovers Bishop Lowe fly-fishing. What a cliffhanger!
See you in episode 5, unless I gouge out my eyes with a dull spoon before then.





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