Last week’s opening episode of Waco presented us with a compelling if meat-and-potatoes re-enactment of David Koresh’s infamous Waco tragedy from the early 1990s.
Taylor Kitsch plays the oddly normal cult leader with an easy charm. Apart from his barking pronouncements from the scriptures, I was left wondering how this man had managed to cajole and gently coerce so many people into believing his rhetoric.
The trick for Koresh was to prey on the vulnerable.
The latest to fall under his spell was David Thibodeau, a travelling musician who needed a home.
And a home is what he was offered.
Koresh was into him. He invited him along to the house and David took an immediate liking to Michele, one of Koresh’s ‘wives’. She, of course, was off limits to him sexually but there was undoubtedly a frisson between them, and a sense of the star cross’d about them – you knew that this relationship, however sweet, was doomed.
We also became privy to escalating tension within the group itself and became aware of the jealousies and territorialism that are sometimes in polyamorous set-ups. None more so when Michele argued with older sister Rachel about how she was brought to camp if not against her wishes, but certainly following her sister into the camp because she wasn’t given a choice. There was some resentment there, real resentment.
Rachel herself was also displaying some bitterness. She had assumed the position of Wife Number One, ticked off Judy – who had just given birth to Koresh’s child – for talking back. Toe the line she bluntly told her.
Stamping down her authority.
All this didn’t bother Koresh one little bit because he was too busy displaying supreme arrogance. He had been successful in radicalising David, and now he turned his attention to ATF stalk-out man Jacob Vasquez (the always excellent John Leguizamo). Koresh knew that he was being watched, so he decided to invite Vasquez into the group, despite other members feeling uneasy. The ATF, too, saw the value of sending Vasquez in there. If only he could find the cache of illegal guns and then Koresh would be bang to rights.
Koresh was convinced he could turn him, bring him in and make him part of the group. This was the first real time we got a true inkling of his messiah complex. He got to work on him with his easy charm, and his absolute commitment to his interpretation of the scriptures, convinced that he could not only sway Vazquez but also use his influence to call off the ATF.
There was one moment when Koresh could have been violent. In front of the whole group, he swished a cane through the air and explained that someone had eaten ice cream when they shouldn’t have. He asked the person to show themselves.
A young boy walked forward.
He then told the group, cane in hand and with Vasquez looking on, that if someone had done wrong they must be punished. It looked for all the world that the lad was going to be flogged publicly. Finally, Koresh was about to bare his teeth.
Instead, he offered everyone ice cream. It was all a joke, meant to dispel the rumour on the outside that he was a monster.
Vasquez bought it, and this lost soul was being pulled in too.
It should also be noted that young David was asked to legally marry Michele. Koresh had brought her into the group when she was 14-years-old and had had sex with her. As much as Koresh looked and sounded like a relatively harmless fruit loop, it was a much-needed reminder that underneath this illusion and delusion lay the beating heart of a predator. And he and closest confidantes knew it. They knew that if someone – anyone – was coming he had to close this ‘legal loophole’. David was only too happy to marry Michele.
Back on the outside, Vasquez was soon told that they would be moving in. He urged them not too and, when he was told to shut up and do his job, he went to Koresh to tell him that they were coming.
Koresh had taken a big risk in trying to turn Vasquez. What he hadn’t bargained on was the eagerness of the ATF to storm the place. The division had taken a beating at Ruby Ridge, and their funding was under threat. They needed a nice, clean operation to restore confidence in them. A show of force.
As we all now know they would not get it.
As the feud between the two bureaus continued on the outside, FBI negotiator Gary Noesner said: “There’s a paradox to power. The more force you bring to a situation, the more likely you are to meet resistance.”
And, as the armoured cars and weaponry and troops rumbled through the windswept plains towards Mount Carmel, you got the impression that there was about to be a hell of a lot of force met with a hell of a lot of resistance.
I was hooked. I was on the edge of my seat. Whether I’m ready for what happens next, I’m not sure.
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE ONE REVIEW