FX’s Under the Banner of Heaven ends with a final jolt of terror. After hunting Ron Lafferty (Sam Worthington) and Dan Lafferty (Wyatt Russell) from Rockwell, Utah to Reno, Nevada, Detective Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield) puts his life on the line to apprehend the killers. What unfolds is a tense chase through the darkest corners of a casino and one last burst of violence. But what’s perhaps worse is how Jeb has to confront whether or not he is a member of the Mormon Church anymore.
Can he reconcile the vile truths he’s learned pursuing Brenda Wright Lafferty’s (Daisy Edgar-Jones) killers with the squeaky clean church he’s been raised in? And will he risk being excommunicated from both his faith and family if he walks away? The ending of Under the Banner of Heaven grapples with these questions while trying to retell a grim, but true story.
Based on the best-selling non-fiction book by Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven retells the tragic story of Brenda Wright Lafferty. In 1984, Brenda and her infant daughter Erica were brutally murdered by Ron Lafferty and Dan Lafferty, aka Brenda’s own brothers-in-law, because she had the audacity to stand up to their increasingly terrifying descent into Mormon fundamentalism. Brenda thought she was doing the right thing, writing to higher ups in the church and offering help to her sisters-in-law. In fact, she made herself and her baby a target for the men’s wrath.
We know that in real life, Ron and Dan Lafferty killed Brenda and Erica, but does Under the Banner of Heaven accurately depict their arrest? Furthermore, where are Dan and Ron Lafferty today? And if that’s not enough, what is going on with Under the Banner of Heaven’s final scene? Does Jeb return to the Mormon Church?
Here’s everything you need to know about the series finale of Under the Banner of Heaven.
Under the Banner of Heaven Ending Explained: Is That How Ron and Dan Lafferty Were Really Caught?
Under the Banner of Heaven crescendoes with a tense stakeout at a Reno casino called Circus Circus. When Detective Pyre finally is certain and Ron and Dan Lafferty are hiding in the casino, he locks it down and embarks on a harrowing chase through the joint’s labyrinth-like back rooms. He ultimately comes to blows with the brothers (who have turned on each other) in a bathroom. It takes a brawl to bring the killers into custody.
But is that what really happened? According to Jon Krakauer’s book, no.
While it’s true the brothers had investigators on a days-long wild goose chase, their apprehension in Reno wasn’t quite as dramatic. They had been holed up with a cocktail waitress named Debby (not Sandy) and were aware the FBI were closing in on them. The brothers were standing placidly in line for the breakfast buffet when agents swarmed in. Both Ron and Dan Lafferty surrendered without a fight. In fact, Dan Lafferty told Jon Krakauer, “I just smiled. It was kind of fun.”
That said, once the Lafferty brothers were in custody, Ron Lafferty did try to murder his brother (but it was per Dan’s agreement). It did not work. Ron also tried to die by suicide prior to his trial. So Pyre’s whole theory that the brothers would turn on each other did sort of occur, just not at the same time as their arrest in the Circus Circus.
Where are Under the Banner of Heaven‘s Ron and Dan Lafferty Now?
Both the Lafferty brothers were found guilty of the murders of Brenda Wright Lafferty and her daughter Erica, but only one was given the death penalty for his crimes: older brother Ron. Dan had made a comment during his trial that he would sentence himself to death which made the judge upset. He had to explain to the jury that they couldn’t automatically sentence Dan to death because they believed he had a death wish. Two of the twelve jurors refused to give Dan the death penalty, so he is currently serving life in prison (per the book, Under the Banner of Heaven, and recent reports).
Although Ron was sentenced to death, attorneys contested this sentence numerous times over the years. By 2019, however, it was decreed that he would face the death penalty. Ron chose death by firing squad, but passed away due to natural causes before it could happen.
So Ron is dead and Dan is still in jail.
What does the final scene of Under the Banner of Heaven mean? Does Andrew Garfield’s Pyre leave the Mormon church?
As Detective Pyre gets closer to capturing Ron and Dan Lafferty, he drifts further from his faith. His wife Rebecca (Adelaide Clemons) even goes as far as to suggest that she will leave him if he does not affirm his Mormon faith with a testimony. By the end of Under the Banner of Heaven, it seems that Pyre’s faith has indeed been shaken, yet he returns to his family and once more behaves like a perfect Mormon.
It seems that Pyre is going to take his partner Bill Taba’s (Gil Birmingham) advice. He’s going to stick with the Mormon culture, even if he doesn’t wholly believe in it. He joins in prayer with his wife and daughters, but seems not totally into it. He imagines himself in Temple and he sees Brenda there, too.
In the final scene of Under the Banner of Heaven, Jeb and his mother (Sandra Seacat) to a gorgeous vista in the woods. Josie calls the spectacular natural scenery a miracle and a gift from Heavenly Father. Jeb says that just being with her is miracle enough for him.
Jeb has returned to his family, if not his faith. It is his family he is prioritizing and if they are still hardline Mormons, he will toe the line. But his true faith is in those he loves.