‘By Mandate of Heaven’ (Under the Banner of Heaven, 2022) is a new detective drama set in 1980s Utah that is based on Jon Krakauer’s true crime bestseller, spawning a series of seven episodes that comes to Disney+ in Spain after its success on FX Networks, thanks to its sumptuous production led by a fantastic Andrew Garfield, in one of the most credible and complete roles of his career.
The crime story is a dark journey that uses the sprawling 431-page journalistic effort as its framework, following its multiple plot lines, drawing metaphorical and literal parallels between the investigation of the brutal 1984 murders of devoted Mormon wife Brenda Lafferty and her little daughter Erica, and The oppressive origins of the Church Latter-day Saints Movementconnecting both themes harmoniously with a “down the rabbit hole” structure full of connected secrets.
A real case that hides a much bigger masquerade
The seven episodes are a gripping manifesto about the power of religion that takes aim directly at the Mormon Church, but by extension, explains the dynamics of all religious fundamentalisms and their veiled codification of human desires and even the convenient political ideology. A theme that could fall under the crude criticism of most non-denominational artifacts, but that is presented with an intelligent combing of the complexities of a multidimensional theme that Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter of the adaptation understands perfectly.
Black spent 10 years mulling over how he might adapt Krakauer’s novel, originally intending it to be a movie before deciding to write it as a miniseries. Amidst pop culture’s current obsession with the true crime and the ethical questions raised by our tabloid fascination with violence, the adaptation struggled to deliver a compelling narrative drama, and to treat the tragedy itself, with an honest lens when it comes to introducing the root issues, Mormonism.
In this way, the story is driven by two simultaneous plots or cores. A procedural one, with local officer Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield) questioning the main suspects in the gruesome murder, and a more internal and purely existential second, when the Mormon detective begins to question his beliefs when faced with the reality that Some Mormons use their religion as justification for realizing the baser instinctswith the license present in the roots of his movement.
An exploration of the dark side of faith
‘By command of God’ explores all the circumstances of the case, and its victim, Brenda Lafferty (Daisy Edgar-Jones), and how a small difference in creed causes a source of disturbance in the family he married. To the Laffertys, an influential clan of Latter-day Saints known as the Kennedys of Utah themselves, Brenda’s Mormonism is considered too lax and hip and her personality too nosy. While her husband Alan (billy howle) admires his self-confidence, his father, a wiry and menacing patriarch played by Christopher Heyerdahldoes not think the same way.
The pastor and his sons watch over her and warn her with phrases like “Watch your property” when they get married. These tense family scenes unfold in flashbacks that color Jeb’s interrogation of Alan, the prime suspect in the murder. Now an apostate, he claims his wife was sacrificed in the name of fundamentalism. “Our faith breeds dangerous men”, he tells Jeb, whom we see little by little disabused of the notion that their religion is defined by love and unity.
Garfield’s expressive face, always with a trace of anxiety and discomfort, reveals how doubts grow within him without the need to expose his conflicts in the text. the actor is brilliant and it’s a shame his popularity overshadows his mate’s magnificent counterpart, gil birminghaman atheist Native American descendant who stoically attends to the plight of most of the confessional Utahns with whom he is involved in the case, including Pyre.
80’s setting, timeless essence
‘Heavenly Mandate’ becomes charged with complexity as the Mormon Church itself steps in to try to discredit its connection to the case, and as the investigation becomes more personal for Jeb, the foundations of the institutional faith that has been instilled in him are questioned. throughout his life, and the monologues are charged with a real thematic intention, complemented by the future of the Lafferty brothers, led by the volatile Dan, a disturbing Wyatt Russellwhich explains by itself the problem of extreme postures.
The series combines mystery and suspense with a fascinating examination of what happens when an unthinking conviction of what is pure and correct is interrupted. It is exciting for its way of combining the origin of the Mormons and their prophet Joseph Smith with its political, sexual, gender dynamics, domestic interpretation and the American condition itself. But in addition, his almost epistolary way of dispensing information is suitably perverse, almost terrifying in its final stages, when parallels can even be seen with the murders of Charles Manson.
‘By command of heaven’ has been compared to ‘True Detective’, but it has nothing more than a similar aesthetic, and its most accurate parallelism would be like the adapted version of ‘In cold blood’, in his way of reflecting a real case fleeing from sensational entertainment, with a journalistic intention which, while maintaining the sinister undertone of Black’s text, makes his approach fearlessly depict the threat of religious theocratic oppression and the allure of radicalization, making its essence even more important in the troubled age of extremes , not only religious, in which we find ourselves involved.