Waco Episode 2: The Strangers Across the Street
I am going to preface this by saying that this series so far is causing me a great deal of internal confusion. While this real-life siege was happening, I was two years old and on the opposite side of the country, so I have no memory of this time in America. I had never even really heard about the accounts of this tragedy until Taylor Kitsch was attached to this project because I’m a huge Taylor fan. I fully went into this show waiting to be dazzled by Taylor Kitsch’s transformation and, to be fair, dazzled I have been so far.
This episode starts off with Koresh, followed by Thibodeau and Steve, greeting the new neighbors. This is when we are formally introduced to “Jacob Vazquez”, aka Agent Robert Rodriguez (John Leguizamo). He tells Koresh and company that he’s moved out there to be a rancher. It’s pretty easy to tell that this guy is no rancher and Koresh quickly catches onto that, but he still invites Jacob over to the compound to introduce himself to his neighbors.
It’s soon made clear that there is a divide on whether or not this was a wise idea. Koresh’s inner circle in the compound (composed of his first and lawful wife, another “wife”, Steve, Thibodeau, and Wayne) are divided on the issue. They understand that in the eyes of “man’s law”, what they do on that compound is considered illegal, despite it being “God’s law.” Ultimately, they decide to keep the invitation open to Jacob and make sure there are not any “weak spots”—or activities that he may consider illegal—on display under his watchful eye. They know “Jacob” isn’t who he says he is; they know he’s with somebody, whether it’s local police, Child Protective Services, or another group, and are determined to not let any outsider come in and destroy all that they’ve built.
Then Rodriguez (as Jacob) makes his first visit to the compound. He’s there to find where they keep the illegal firearms, but instead shows up just in time for Bible study! Rodriguez makes his way up to the second floor, where he’s spotted by Rachel and told that he’s not allowed in the women’s dormitory. Together, they make their way downstairs for Bible study, and while Jacob takes a seat, Rachel whispers to David (interrupting the session) that she found Jacob upstairs in the women’s dormitory.
Picking up a thin stick—most likely used to issue punishments to the people who go against the compound’s rules—Koresh says that someone has sinned and they will be made an example of. He asks his followers to follow him into the kitchen, where he opens a giant walk-in freezer (where we, the viewers, just so happen to see the illegal firearms are kept), pulls out a tub of ice cream, and brings it back into the kitchen. Koresh asks the person who had more than his fair share of ice cream to step forward and accept his punishment.
It turns out the culprit is Koresh’s own son, Cyrus. The punishment, much to everyone’s amusement, is for everyone to eat a single spoonful of the ice cream. It’s a good laugh all around. Kids being kids. Rodriguez seems greatly amused by this.
This is where I start to have a few misgivings about this show and it almost all has to do with how Koresh is being shown as a compassionate and open-minded man. My last review, I called him soft. He’s still so soft.
This man was not soft. He had rules. He molested children in the name of God, because he had a “vision.” He had multiple wives. I have no qualms about polygamy, as long as everybody in the relationship is a consenting adult, but that is simply not the case here.
There are child brides on this compound. Rachel Koresh’s sister, Michelle (Julia Garner), is the most notable one—at least so far. She was 12 when Koresh “had his vision” to take Michelle as his second wife. Rachel, as Michelle’s legal guardian, simply adheres to this insane request because, she too, had a vision of this illegal union. Michelle had children with David Koresh and, yeah, that really grinds my gears.
Another issue I have with this is how the attitudes of the ATF are being portrayed. They seem more concerned with their public image than with saving the innocents inside the compound. By the end of the episode, we see them flat-out ignoring their inside man. Like I mentioned before, I was too young to know anything going on at the time and I don’t really know too much about the actual events now, but this kind of blows my mind if this was true. The ATF believed there to be illegal firearms on the compound, as well as child abuse, but all they seemed to really care about was taking down Koresh and not at all about the fact that there were innocent people under his control. Brainwashed, maybe, but innocent all the same.
The last ten minutes of the episode focuses entirely on the law enforcement’s ego. Koresh sees right through the undercover surveillance and confronts Jacob, aka ATF Agent Robert Rodriguez. Koresh knew they were coming for him that day. Rodriguez tries everything to avoid a possible blood bath, brought on by law enforcement, but they don’t listen to him, and instead drive right past him while he’s screaming in the middle of the road.
Funnily enough, that’s how I felt while watching this episode.
The only highlight of this episode for me was the “wedding” between Michelle and Thibodeau, basically put on to save face. Koresh’s relationship with Michelle, mentioned earlier in the article, is a weak spot within the compound, and the wedding is seen as a way to eliminate it. Koresh plays his guitar as Michelle walks down the aisle and then he officiates one of the shortest wedding ceremonies I have ever seen.
Michelle, while no longer 12, is still young. I’m not exactly sure how old Thibodeau is here, but it is legal for a fourteen-year-old to marry with parental consent, which Rachel gave. The reception afterwards shows everyone having a good time, which serves to humanize this cult and Koresh even more. It shows Rodriguez that these people aren’t so bad, even if what’s going on at the compound is illegal.
Oh, yeah. Michael Shannon was in this episode too, but I couldn’t tell you what happened in his storyline because my mind was simply buzzing about what was going on with Koresh and Rodriguez.
Like I said, this episode had me feeling conflicting emotions, but I actually liked it overall. We saw a bit more into the darker parts of this cult, which, as messed up as it sounds, I liked learning about. I’ve always enjoyed entertainment based on real-life events, tragedies or otherwise. I’m looking forward to next week and what looks like the beginning of the siege.
Waco airs Wednesday nights at 10/9c on the Paramount Network.
Sarah’s episode rating: 🐝🐝🐝