REVIEW: Waco (S1 E3/6)

Like many of the people within Mount Carmel under the influence of David Koresh, I’ve found myself falling for this impactful series that tells the story of the tragic Waco siege in 1993.

A gauche analogy perhaps, but it’s not long until you’re pulled in, too, beguiled by the narrative propulsion that’s powered by the juice of a true story.

At the end of the second episode, we saw agents from the ATF trundle ominously along the windswept Texan plains towards Mount Carmel, the taste of revenge and humiliation in their mouths. The bureau was determined to bag themselves a clean operation in light of the Ruby Ridge disaster, and wanted and needed something to prove that they are a legitimate cog in the law-enforcement wheel.

Those inside Mount Carmel, Koresh included, couldn’t quite believe what was happening. Why were they coming after them so aggressively? What were they doing that was so wrong? They were a peace-loving, self-sufficient community that wasn’t doing any harm to anybody. Sure, people on the outside may not agree with what they believe in, but did that warrant such a heavy response?

They neglected to think about the illegal stash of weapons and the illegal and immoral sexual practises that had taken place inside Mount Carmel.

Things were on a knife edge, and for the first 10 minutes all hell broke loose.

One of the biggest questions that still remain from the Waco siege is: who shot first?

With those inside the house primed and with fingers on the triggers, and those outside with itchy trigger fingers, too, a single noise or movement could have set things off. And, in this version of events, we saw the ATF shoot first. Guns cracked after two ATF officers shot two barking dogs.

A volley of bullets sped this way and that. Women and children were shot. ATF agents were shot. David Koresh took a bullet to his stomach.

It was terrifying to watch.

With Koresh sitting in a pool of his own blood, and the shock wearing off, the siege began.

It wasn’t long before ace FBI negotiator Gary Noesner (Shannon) was bought in once a stalemate was established. As we know, Noesner is a proponent of the softly-softly-catchy-monkey approach. And we just saw, the ATF is most definitely not. It botched another job with an excess show of force.

People inside scurried, surveying the damage, counting their dead. Koresh was angry and wounded, both physically and mentally. He refused medical treatment and seemed to make a decision – it was going to end badly and this was some sort of prophecy.

In a quiet moment, he telephoned his mother to tell her that he was dying. When a person knows he’s dying he has nothing to lose. When a person knows he’s dying, he makes emotional, irrational decisions.

The real intrigue in this episode was between Noesner and Koresh. They jousted, they conversed and they engaged each other in a dance. Noesner managed to make contact with him and immediately noted that he had a huge ego. Noesner tried to establish a conversation with him, and massaged that ego. It was textbook stuff, and you got the impression that he thought he was about to tie this situation up with relative ease. He struck a deal with him: come out and bring your people out with you, and we will broadcast your message on national TV.

Koresh lapped it up.

Elsewhere, Rachel and Michele’s father Perry Jones was in a bad way and near death. In a touching scene, Koresh gave him the last rites and, with his daughters now out of the room, nodded to his associate to help Perry on his way. He shot him in the head.

This series has drawn criticism in the US for somehow humanising Koresh and lessening the image of the two-dimensional monster that many thought he was. But I disagree with that argument – it’s Koresh’s easy and innocuous charm that drew people in and, as we all know, there is nuance to monsters.

Koresh was a very particular kind of monster. He was subtle, calculating and manipulative. A rampant egotist, a sociopath and delusional to boot, we finally saw what he was made of at the end of this episode.

Noesner granted his wish and broadcasted his rambling, religious sermon to the nation. Instead of being greeted like the messiah he so desperately wanted to be, the message was derided and he was ripped apart as a fake and a loon.

Wounded and his ego bashed to an inch of his life, Koresh decided to renege on his deal to bring himself and his people out. Thanks to a callous disregard for human life and an absolute belief that he would prevail, he told Noesner that the deal was off. He was not coming out. They were not coming out.

He could’ve ended right there. He could’ve put a stop to the carnage that was yet to come. But he didn’t.

No that’s a monster.

Paul Hirons



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