‘Murder Among the Mormons’ is interesting, but it doesn’t delve deep
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Delving into the conditions that drive an otherwise normal person to murder is compelling stuff.
Throw in peeks behind the curtains of one of America’s most debated religious organizations and the historical document trade and you’ve got enough violence, intrigue and nerdiness for three television miniseries. “Murder Among the Mormons” packs all this and more into a three-episode package that keeps you watching and raises some interesting questions but feels lacking in deep, probing examination of the answers to those very questions.
“Murder” tells the story of a series of bombings that shook the Salt Lake City, Utah area in October of 1985. At the heart of these events is Mark Hofmann, a historical documents dealer with a seemingly supernatural ability to conjure anything his prospective customers are looking for. When Hofmann’s business associates start dying, he becomes the focus of an investigation into the murders and the possible forgery of documents that could threaten the origin story of the LDS church.
Through interviews with Hofmann’s friends and business associates, the authorities investigating the case and experts brought in to authenticate the documents, “Murder” attempts to make sense of the bombings and the motives behind them. The series also shines a light on Hofmann’s exploits, which made him one of the most prolific forgers of all time and even digs in a bit into the methods he used to fool even FBI investigators.
The show focuses specifically on documents dealing with LDS Church history, documents Hofmann claimed the church wanted to buy. The series grazes over the church’s motives for buying the documents, and whether they would expose or hide them. This does make audiences wonder what interesting information the church might have stashed in its archives.
Weaving these threads together, “Murder” creators Jared Hess (whose previous work includes “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Nacho Libre”) and Tyler Measom (“An Honest Liar”) create a well-paced narrative populated with compelling people to dictate the story to the audience. My favorites were prosecutor Gerry D’Elia and documents expert George Throckmorton. These two seem like the kind of guys I’d wanna share a meal with so I could pick their brains.
Unfortunately, while “Murder” does a lot of things well, it has a couple of major flaws that keep it from being a home run. The most frustrating is its propensity to raise tantalizing questions then not try to answer them. Like the previously mentioned question about the church’s motivations for purchasing Hofmann’s documents. Are they burying things they want to hide from their members? Is this to protect people’s faith or to hide things that might cause its members to leave the organization? The show raises this idea but doesn’t really explore it.
Similarly, the show tells us that Hofmann ran across anti-Mormon literature early in his life, I kept waiting for that to come back around, like perhaps his ultimate plan was to somehow use his forgeries to destroy the church. We do get some enlightening stuff about Hofmann faking treasure discoveries as a child and how fooling other documents experts fed his sense of superiority and validation. But his experiences with anti-Mormon literature seem like a thread left hanging. Maybe I was supposed to take that as the inspiration for his own forged documents. If I was, I missed it.
Altogether, “Murder Among the Mormons” is a well-told story that new feels slow or boring. It’s a compelling tale that you can binge in a single sitting. But if it had more interest in answering the deeper questions it brings up, it would be a more engrossing, satisfying watch.