Stay sweet: pray and obey is a four-part documentary directed by Rachel Dretzin about the history of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a sect of the Mormon Church that promoted polygamy, or as they call it “plural marriage.” For years, the cult’s “ultimate prophet” was a man named Rulon Jeffs, who had to approve every marriage performed by his church. After his death in 2002, his son Warren took over and became the “Ultimate Prophet.” In 2008 he was arrested for sexual, psychological and physical abuse.
opening shot: A drone shot of a woman riding a motorcycle.
The essentials: The first episode focuses on the Wall family; Lloyd Wall converted to FLDS and believed in Jeff’s idea that multiple wives make a man holier. Already married to his high school sweetheart Myrna, he was offered a second wife, Sharon, who already had 14 children (Myrna and Lloyd had 9 of their own). In order to get a third wife, he offered Rulon Jeffs daughters Rebecca and Elissa as new wives. He was then 85 years old.
When Jeffs died he had over 50 wives, including Alicia Rohbock, who was also interviewed for the series. Jeffs’ catchphrase was “Keep Sweet,” so he made sure all the wives got along.
But as far as FLDS supporters were concerned, Rulon Jeffs was never meant to die because of his status as the “ultimate prophet.” Stepping into the void is Warren Jeffs, the one of Jeff’s dozen children who was closest to him and the cult’s operations. Declaring himself the new ultimate prophet, he begins to crack down on the cult, isolating them even more from the outside world than they were before.
What shows will it remind you of? Because of the Mormon issue Stay sweet: pray and obey reminds us of the documentaries Murder among the Mormons and the current “BOATS” version of Under the banner of heaven which aired on Hulu. But an examination of cultism is a key element, as in documentaries like The way down and Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults.
Our opinion: While the public is somewhat aware of Warren Jeffs, who is currently serving a life sentence after being convicted of two counts of sexually assaulting children, the extent to which he controlled people’s lives as the head of the FLDS church was probably something that most people didn’t quite appreciate it. Stay sweet: pray and obey does a good job of conveying how much control he exercised and what life in the cult was like for women and children.
Many home videos of the Walls and other cult members show that life in the FLDS is not normal. The girls all look like they’re extras on an episode of Little house on the prairie. They are basically treated like cattle, traded and offered as wives to Jeffs and other male parishioners without choice or influence. Seeing this footage and then hearing the testimonies of those who agreed to speak sends our disgust meter shooting into the red. That means Drestzin did her job.
We must be intimidated by the activity of Rulon and Warren Jeffs in particular. They lie and apologize to people who have sworn allegiance to them and have literally abused their power. This isn’t the kind of docuseries that aims to get a viewer to see both sides. The only thing standing in the way of a viewer watching all four episodes is their dislike of seeing women treated in this way by men who seem to have no regard for their existence other than feeding their egos and perpetuating their DNA .
As a document of a religious leader who abused his power and got what he deserved, stay sweet does an expert but effective job of setting out the case against Jeffs.
gender and skin: Both Rebecca and Elissa Wall describe what they do to avoid sex with Rulon Jeffs, and we appreciate their sense of self-preservation. It’s pretty sad that these 18-20 year old women thought kissing could get you pregnant; That’s a notion that people generally get disabused of by the time they’re in high school, if not before.
farewell shot: A Utah attorney says: “Warren Jeffs took over this religion with thousands of loyal followers and he manipulated their beliefs and turned them into money, power and sex. And they ended up following him right off the cliff.”
sleeping star: Dubbed the “Son of the Prophet,” Wallace Jeffs gives a good look at his half-brother Warren, who was quite quiet, nerdy, and awkward, and paints a picture of a guy who wanted his father’s power around him again good to make up some kind of deficit in his personality.
Most pilot line: Lloyd Wall says during his interview, “To my understanding of the gospel, multiple wives was the whole picture that Christ was after.” Hey.
Our appeal: Stream it. If you want a glimpse into a closed society known only for blaring headlines, watch Keep sweet: pray and obey. Just be ready for a narrative that will make you uncomfortable and angry at the same time.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and technology, but he doesn’t fool himself: He’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.comFast Company and elsewhere.