In the series finale of Under the Banner of Heaven, Jeb’s internal crisis reaches its peak as the truth of what happened the day of Brenda’s murder is revealed. Andrew Garfield delivers his best performance yet as Jeb must choose between his newfound spiritual awakening and his family. Read on to find out what happened in “Blood Atonement.”
Backing the Wrong Horse
At Onias’ trailer, Jeb and Taba get more information about what led to his break with the Lafferty brothers. Turns out, Ron knew Dianna and their children were in Florida, which doesn’t bode well for her considering she was ahead of Brenda on the blood atonement list. Ron was also under financial stress after Robin receives a revelation from “God” and lost all of the family’s money betting on a horse race. Pyre talks to Allen, who confirms that Dianna’s plan to go to Florida and finish nursing school was almost certainly encouraged by Brenda, with words if not outright financial support.
Preparing to Testify
Jeb continues to deal with the stress of his upcoming testimony in the church. He knows that if he can’t find (or fake) the necessary devotion, his wife will leave him. As Jeb finishes his talk with Allen, a church higher up comes in to talk to them both. He makes veiled threats towards Jeb and his family. The Lafferty case is becoming a bit of a PR nightmare for the Mormon leadership, and he is looking for Jeb to help suppress it. But Jeb, who has been questioning his faith more and more, refuses to play into what the church wants. Taba in particular questions the elder man’s version of events given his Paiute heritage.
When Jeb and Allen are alone again, Allen offers his own advice. Having gone through a similar crisis in faith and eventually leaving Mormonism, he tells Jeb he found his purpose again with Brenda and Erica: “My family became my faith.” He shares the story of an incident where Brenda thought he was sneaking around with his brothers, and he could see that his actions and the violent rhetoric against women spouted by his family hurt her. He tells Jeb that that day, he vowed to be a better man and husband for her. He urges Jeb to find Dianna and her children and finish what Brenda started, begging for his enormous loss and Brenda’s final calling to not be in vain.
With the return address providing Dianna’s last known location, Jeb tracks the family to Florida. While Dianna is gone by the time the police get there, they are able to confirm based on security footage that they could still be alive. In the meantime, Jacob Lafferty brings Ron’s journal to the detectives when he hears that “his” Brenda was murdered. The journal is as unhinged as you might expect but has new details. Dan threatened Brenda before she died. We see Dan break into Brenda and Allen’s house, giving what he considers to be fair warning of what’s to come. He tells her that she needs to help bring Diana back to him and make everything right. This scares Brenda enough to call both Diana and their church leader to warn them. The timing proves that Diana could still be alive.
Jeb has a tense fight with Becca as he tries to share his concerns about his faith. But Becca tells him her father is coming to get her and the girls. She can’t let them be subjected to his doubt. She gives him an ultimatum: he comes back to the church and his family will stay with him, or he leaves and they leave him.
Jeb and Taba confirm that the two other “prophets” with Dan and Ron the day Brenda was murdered were Chip and Ricky. Both are stoners, not devout Mormons, and they fold quickly when questioned. The two weren’t the ones to kill Brenda and Erica, but they witnessed most of the events of the day. What follows is the murder scene, which is disturbing and difficult to watch. Daisy Edgar-Jones is excellent throughout, keeping the audience’s focus on Brenda. After, Dan, Ron, Chip, and Ricky parted ways, with the brothers continuing to Reno when two of their other potential victims don’t pan out. We see flashes of Brenda’s last letter to Dianna and how she left as soon as her children were safe in police custody. The letter inspired Dianna to find Matilda when she realizes the brothers are capable of murder and clearly going after the Lafferty women.
Jeb and Taba head to the state line and find a message in knives for the detectives, which stresses an already on edge Jeb. He rants about the hidden message the brothers have for him, but Taba is fed up with people treating the two like true prophets. Taba shares the true story of what happened with the Paiute tribe, depicting a horrific historic Mormon massacre long blamed on the tribe. Taba finds the murder weapon nearby as Chip and Ricky said it would be, and the two continue on to Reno. Taba sees how exhausted Jeb is from the case and his spiritual crisis, urging him to go to bed. But he has a nightmare of Dan Lafferty slitting his throat, which is the opposite of restful. The nightmare isn’t entirely unproductive, however.
When Jeb and Taba try to decide whether to go back to Utah in the hopes of finding Dianna (who is missing and trying to find Matilda) or stay in Reno to potentially catch Dan and Ron, Jeb wonders aloud how he is supposed to do his job without his “compass” guiding him. Taba gives him some tough love about Mormonism, considering how helpful that particular compass has been so far. He forces Jeb out of the car and into the desert to be silent in the wilderness, telling him to, “Just take a moment. Look out. I’m not sure why folks need to call such things a sign from God. Why not just appreciate it? If there is no God, isn’t the world all the more miraculous?” Jeb flashes back to the nightmare, realizing that Ron will kill Dan to prove he is God’s “one.” Both brothers will not leave Reno alive, so if either is dead, they will need to go back to Utah to find Dianna. If they are both alive, there’s a chance of finding them in Reno.
In Utah, Dianna successfully finds Matilda and escapes as Samuel chases them to a gas station. Faced with a group of cowardly Mormon men who refuse to help them, Dianna sees Brenda and gains her courage. She stands up to the men for Matilda, forcing Samuel to back down and let them leave. Jeb and Taba find the brothers as Ron attacks Dan, stopping this murder just in time. As they prepare to head home, Taba offers his support to Jeb and even blesses him in his own way. He shares a religious song that means little to him in terms of its words, but has emotional significance for him because of his parents: “It reminds me of home. We all need a home, Jeb. So I think it’s okay to sing it now and then, even if I don’t think it has power anymore.”
Jeb arrives home, and his family is still there. While he still has his doubts, he prays with them, and it seems that he has found some version of faith that works for him. The final shot of the series is Jeb and his mother looking out over a beautiful landscape.
Under the Banner of Heaven is available now on Hulu.