Sunday, March 11, 2018

TV Show Review: Waco

The standoff between a religious cult and the federal government has become the main event that a city in Texas is known for. The Paramount Network has used this dramatic event to spark their first original television show network as they have rebranded. The show features tons of known stars delivering decent performances as the tragedy plays out over six episodes. I was only vaguely familiar with the history and the show is adapted from accounts written by agents and the members of the group so it's always advisable to take what happens with some skepticism. The first few episodes give some background on the Branch Davidian, the cult led by David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch). The show sets up and explores another standoff at Ruby Ridge that resulted in the death of individuals at the hands of the federal government in the early episodes.

FBI hostage negotiator Gary Noesnor (Michael Shannon) is upset about the violent nature of these standoffs and the increasing use of weaponry by the ATF. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Fire has heard about the gathering of arms at the Branch Davidian headquarters and sends Jacob Vazquez (John Leguizamo) on an undercover mission to investigate. David Koresh works to recruit more members even as he has sex and impregnates their wives. One of his top recruiters is Steve Schneider (Paul Sparks) whose wife Judy (Andrea Riseborough) has a child from Koresh. David Thibodeau (Rory Culkin) joins the cult as a skeptic at first after drumming in Koresh's band but he falls for Michele Jones (Julia Garner) and decides to stay despite the odd position on sex. Koresh is so dedicated he even stops having sex with his first wife Rachel (Melissa Benoist). 

Koresh realizes he's being watched but he still invites Vazquez over to help understand his community. Koresh knows that child services will be angry about Michele being underage so he asks Thibodeau to marry her to cover for him. Vazquez supplies the ATF with enough evidence to initiate a raid even as Koresh convinces him that he should hold back. Vazquez is ignored, as the ATF advances towards the compound. According to the show, a dog spooks an agent leading to the gunfire that takes out several members of the Branch Davidians and puts a bullet into Koresh. The hostage negotiating begins as Gary Noesnor establishes contact with Koresh and tries to adhere to his demands to end this peacefully. However, Koresh believes his words will spread but as presented by the FBI, they make him look like a fool and a crazy person. He decides that they won't leave until he receives a sign from God.

As Agent Mitch Decker (Shea Whigham) and Noesnor's boss Tony Prince (Glenn Fleshler) grow impatient, Gary turns his focus to Steve Schneider as Koresh is often too injured to communicate. The back and forth leads to some good things like milk moved into the compound but the FBI bugged the cartons to get ears inside. The siege lasts for fifty days and finally, the FBI and ATF grow impatient. Gary is sent back home with grief as the agents advanced with tear gas. Decker realizes his mistakes as the gas bursts into flames. Koresh and Schneider take their own lives as children and other members are suffocated in enclosed spaces. The show does not end on a hopeful note and seems to caution against the irresponsible nature in which the standoff was handle.

Waco turned out to be a pretty entertaining show that will bring me back to the Paramount Network for other original series in the future. I enjoyed learning about this terrible part of history that I'd only heard about vaguely and had not learned about the individuals who had suffered or survived the tragedy. Top notch character actors including one of my favorites in Michael Shannon elevated each episode to more than just a network programming and helped keep the show engaging during episodes stuck in the slow parts of the standoff. The limited series is only six episodes so can easily be watched in a short period of time and does not get dragged down with filler episodes that some longers series have to use to make it to ten or twelve. I look forward to seeing what else the Paramount Network has to offer. 

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