Waco – Series Review

Strong Writing, Direction, & Complex Characters Keep ‘Waco’ Tense Viewing! 

Series: Waco
Created by: Drew Dowdle, John Erick Dowdle
Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Michael Shannon, Andrea Riseborough, Paul Sparks, Rory Culkin, Julia Garner, Melissa Benoist
Episodes: Six
Running Time: 57 minutes
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Where to Watch: Paramount Network

Taylor Kitsch as David Koresh

‘Waco’ tells the story of the 1993 siege and the ensuing 51-day standoff between the ATF, FBI, U.S. military and the Branch Davidians, led by David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch), who owned a compound at Mount Carmel in Axtell, Texas, just miles away from Waco, Texas.

The Branch Davidians is a religious group, who believed to be living in a time when Biblical prophecies of a final divine and judgment were coming to pass as a prelude to Christ’s Second Coming. Koresh believed himself to be the Messiah as did his followers.

Setting the tone early on in the first episode, we witness the ATF and FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) botched efforts to end an eleven-day siege in 1992 at Ruby Ridge. After attempts to serve a warrant to Randy Weaver spiraled out of control when a U.S. Marshall was killed and several of Randy’s family members, including his wife & son were also killed in the standoff.

In that first episode, we meet longtime FBI negotiator Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon) who has become weary of the agencies intense efforts in recent years to escalate a tense situation with military tactics instead of talking and deescalating the situation. Gary is the best at what he does, and he is responsible for teaching incoming FBI Negotiators all the skills and tricks he’s learned throughout his career.

After the Ruby Ridge mishap, the ATF under increasing pressure and about to be shut down and defunded comes to learn of David Koresh by an informant. This informant supposedly told them that the Branch Davidians were trafficking in illegal weapons and sexual abuse of children. With the ATF needing a win, they decided to rush surveillance around the compound.

We meet the members of the Branch Davidians, who come from all walks of life, races, education levels and countries who have traveled to Mount Carmel to follow David.

A main criticism of the show is that it is too sympathetic to these characters instead of painting them as monsters, we see them as complex individuals, with true faith and a real belief in Koresh’s incredible interpretation of the Bible.

Paul Sparks as Steve Schneider

Koresh’s second hand is Steve Schneider (Paul Sparks), a man responsible for most of the recruiting. His wife, Judy has just given birth to one of Koresh’s many children. As a rule, David takes on all the sex, a sacrifice, and to David, who thinks of himself as the Messiah, his children are most important of the prophecy.

Rory Culkin as David Thibodeau

David Thibodeau (Rory Culkin) is at first an outsider, who meets David at a band gig. The young 30-year-old, seems lost, traveling around, playing the drums for any band that will take him. Koresh invites him to stay a few nights at the compound, and over the course of the series, Thibodeau takes a liking to Koresh and the people who live with him especially David’s young bride and mother of more of his children, Michele Jones (Julia Garner).

But are the Branch Davidians a crazy religious cult or is there something more to them?

John Leguizamo as Agent Jacob Vazquez

John Leguizamo as Agent Jacob Vazquez is set up across from the compound in a small run-down home. Vazquez takes a liking to the eccentric leader’s charm, joining them on more than a few occasions for dinners and church. He sneaks around trying to locate the weapons room with no luck.

The ATF waste no time and on February 28, 1993, sets out for a surprise siege. Before arriving, however, a lost local news crew stops a car to ask for directions to the Davidian compound accidentally spilling the secret about the upcoming raid to a member. Vazquez leaves the compound rushing to try to stop the siege but is completely ignored or pushed aside. The Branch Davidians know now they’re coming and prepare themselves for defense.

An intense gun battle erupts when the ATF attempts the raid, which results in the death of four agents and six Branch Davidians. The ATF retreats and the FBI are called in. Gary is brought in to attempt communications and start negotiations with David.

Michael Shannon as FBI Negotiator Gary Noesner

While the standoff continues over the next six-episodes, we learn a lot about David, Gary, Steve and the other members of the Branch Davidians. Gary doesn’t want this to end up as another Ruby Ridge, but the head of the FBI HRT is tired and ready for a conclusion. David talks endlessly about theology and life, with Gary on and off. The two play well off each other even though they don’t share a scene together.

The FBI keeps the press back, controls communications and employs psychological torture playing loud sounds of nature, dying animals, etc. and blasting spotlights on the electricity-free compound throughout the night. Nothing works, the Branch Davidians don’t leave, releasing only some of the children.

Gary is relieved of his duties after failing to bring David and the other members out peacefully. AG Janet Reno took the case to President Clinton on behalf of the FBI for a final raid approval based on the FBI information that children were still being abused.

On April 19, 1993, the FBI raided the compound using tanks to break through the walls and pump in CS Gas in attempt to force them out. A fire eventually erupts and engulfs the building.

The Branch Davidian compound burning in Waco, Texas (April 1993)

In the end, out of the 85 remaining Brand Davidians who remained inside the compound, 76 would die, 25 of them children.

‘Waco’ is tense miniseries with sharp writing, direction, and great performances from Taylor Kitsch who disappears into the role of Karesh & Michael Shannon as FBI negotiator Gary. The entire cast is fantastic including Rory Culkin, Paul Sparks, Melissa Benoist, Andrea Riseborough and John Leguizamo.

It’s a timely series too as it is another example of the ATF and FBI failing to save lives, covering up facts, sowing misinformation, and making one poor decisions after another. The incidents that occurred at Ruby Ridge and Waco would set in motion the events that led Timothy McVeigh to carry out the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995.

Check Out the Trailer Below:

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