REVIEW: Waco (S1 E4/6)

This re-telling of the Waco siege is shaping up to be an excellent series.

At the end of episode three, we got an insight into the terrifying mind of David Koresh. He wasn’t a monster in the traditional sense – he was one that manipulates, coerces and controls, all under a guise of a nerdy, benign exterior.

He had the chance to end the siege and to save dozens of lives, but instead, after his ego was smashed from derision around the world, he took the decision to grit it out until the bitter end. And he was going to take everyone in Mount Carmel with him.

This fourth episode was just excellent. One of the beauties of this series is that it isn’t just a two-dimensional retelling of the story here. Instead, the writers are seeking to explore more – specifically, how power is wielded and ultimately abused on both sides of the law.

There was an intimacy to this episode that made it engrossing and thrilling.

This episode was all about Steve. Koresh’s faithful right-hand man, he was the brains behind the outfit. He was the glue that held Mount Carmel together, and he was the man, FBI negotiator Gary Noesner thought, who could be the saviour. Get to him and the whole deck of cards would fall.

With Koresh wounded and irrational, Noesner got to work on Steve. He saw something in Steve’s relationship with Koresh that could be exploited. He could be turned.

Steve, as we know, looked on with some resentment as his wife Judy announced that she was going to have Koresh’s baby earlier in the series. They had been trying to have kids for a long time, but when The Messiah came along and gave her a child, Steve felt humiliated, spurned and hurt. And yet he stayed. His own faith – in Koresh, not God – had wavered, but he was still steadfast.

The conversations between Noesner and Steve were extraordinary. Two intelligent, rational, sane men (yes, sane) pushing and pulling, toing and froing.

There was a problem. Because of the stress within the camp, the women were unable to lactate and feed their babies. What’s more, milk from the kitchen was running out, too.

Steve asked Noesner for milk. Noesner was all for it – you give a little, you take a little. We give you some milk and you release some children. Fair’s fair. Despite Koresh’s resistance, Steve argued that this must happen. His own child was under threat and his own wife had been badly wounded. He was frantic with worry. Steve wanted the baby to leave, to send him out with some of the other children. But Koresh shut him down. It wasn’t his child to give, he told him.

This cut Steve down to the quick. He was humiliated once again.

When Noesner delivered the milk personally to Steve, they had a private chat, the wind whipping all around them.

“You need to know you’re in a lot more danger than you think,” Noesner told Steve, honestly and plainly. “In my experience the longer these things go on the more erratic people’s behaviour gets.”

“We’re seeing that on our side, too,” Steve admitted.

As Noesner discussed the situation with him, Steve told him that he had been close to leaving the group. Because of the fire ants, because of the dust storms and because of David. Davids horrible, he said. It looked as though Noesner had him. But then he told him he wished that God had chosen someone else to speak through, and why no one had told him what they had to deserve the onslaught.

Noesner didn’t have an answer. Steve said thank you and left.

Another chance to end things. Another chance lost.

Back inside, Koresh made a series of videos with his wives and kids. He was spinning the situation. The ATF and FBI refused to release them to the public because they might “make him look too human”.

Patience was running out and Noesner’s methods were being questioned.

Mitch Decker – Noesner’s nemesis – was pressing the commander for some show of force. This softly-softly approach has gone on long enough. It was time to show them who’s boss.

He got his wish.

Again, this idea that Waco is a study of how you wield power came to the fore. Some think of power as something to be applied like a blunt instrument, some think of power as the opposite.

Within the dynamic of the series there are battles within battles, and it’s these layers that give Waco the kind of quality and weight that makes it difficult to tear yourself away from.

Paul Hirons






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