Waco Episode 1: Visions and Omens
Waco (Paramount Network’s premiere show) is a six-episode miniseries that details the 1993 standoff between the Branch Davidians and United States law enforcement in Waco, Texas. David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch) is the leader of the Branch Davidians and a self-proclaimed “prophet.”
The first episode starts with the main event of the entire series: the standoff. It shows the FBI and other law enforcement agencies leading a charge into the compound that the Branch Davidians call home. We are shown that while the police are on their way, the cult members are preparing for their arrival: the women and children are told to go upstairs, away from the impending chaos; the men are grabbing guns to protect their friends and family; and Koresh is telling them all to calm down—that he’s going to talk to the police outside and try to de-escalate the situation. After informing the police that there are women and children inside, we hear a single gunshot and the screen cuts to black.
The story continues with a flashback nine months before the standoff and introduces Koresh as a family man. He’s in bed with his wife, Rachel (Melissa Benoist) when he’s woken up by his son to go on a morning run. The couple also have a baby together.
However, we also learn that David is a polygamist and has another wife (who just so happens to be the actual wife of his best friend, Steve) and with whom he has another child on the way. We later learn that all the men on the compound (other than Koresh, that is) are celibate. Koresh has fathered many children on the compound because Koresh sees himself as the prophet of this cult and has a bit of a messiah complex.
The word “soft” comes to mind when Koresh is on screen. His tone of voice and the infliction he uses indicate a softer side of a man the public has come to know as a wicked cult leader. We never see him raise his voice. He’s a kind soul to his religious family and friends. He’s a gentle leader. He is even a singer and guitarist in his own band.
It’s at one of those shows that we meet David Thibodeau (Rory Culkin), who fills in for Koresh’s missing drummer. Koresh invites Thibodeau back to the compound to stay for the night, or for as many nights as he wants. Thibodeau acts as the viewer’s introduction to life at the compound.
Another major player we meet is Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon), who is the FBI’s lead negotiator. Gary is a smart, tactile man who knows how to use his words. His character introduction is unique and educational, as we see Noesner instructs a class of future FBI negotiators. Some words of wisdom include, “If someone’s talking to an FBI negotiator, they’re having the worst day of their lives [...] How you say something is as important as what you say.” If that isn’t foreshadowing, I don’t know what is.
In a following scene, Noesner is called to a standoff between law enforcement and an anti-government erratic gunman, who has already killed a deputy U.S. Marshall and his own teenage son. The ATF and the FBI are both on the scene and one of the snipers accidentally shoots the gunman’s wife. The FBI doesn’t want to take any credit for this tragedy and want it all on record as being the fault of the ATF.
Six months later, that’s exactly what happens. This is when the ATF start to hear about the Branch Davidians and what may or may not be going on at their compound (i.e. polygamy, hoarding guns, and suspected child abuse). The episode ends with Koresh and his son going on another morning run. When they reach the end of their property, they see an inhabitant in a neighboring house. That inhabitant is an ATF agent, Robert Rodriguez (John Leguizamo), and he is there to keep surveillance on the Branch Davidians compound.
“Visions and Omens” was an informative but slow first episode of this six-episode miniseries. A highlight was Koresh talking to his followers early on in the episode. Taylor Kitsch as David Koresh comes off as charismatic, wise, and friendly. Kitsch and Michael Shannon were both a personal highlight of the episode for me and I am longing to see their first meeting.
Waco airs Wednesday nights at 10/9c on the Paramount Network (formerly Spike TV).
Sarah’s episode rating: 🐝🐝🐝🐝