Waco Episode 4: Of Milk and Men
I’ve been waiting for an episode like this! This is Michael Shannon’s episode, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve been all about the Branch Davidians so far, but I’ve been waiting to see more of Gary Noesner’s side. After all, this show is not only based on A Place Called Waco by David Thibodeau, but also Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator by Gary Noesner. We were due some Noesner time!
This episode begins with Gary Noesner working to deescalate the situation on the compound through peaceful talks. Noesner goes head-to-head with Mitch Decker (Shea Whigham) of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team. The FBI Hostage Rescue Team treats Koresh and the Branch Davidians as hostile criminals that could attack at any moment, while Noesner is trying to get everyone out of the situation alive and safe.
The episode shows a few of the phone calls made between Noesner and the compound, the dialogue of which was taken from the real-life conversations held during the 51-day siege. Noesner spoke to not only Koresh, but also Steve Schneider (Paul Sparks). As much as this was a great Noesner episode, it was also a great Schneider episode. Schneider really stepped up into a leadership position this episode, while Koresh was trying to heal from a serious gunshot wound received during the initial gunfire standoff. Noesner saw Schneider as the heart to the Mount Carmel compound, keeping the place together.
Noesner was developing a trust between the compound and the FBI while the FBI Hostage Rescue Team were trying to tarnish the Branch Davidians reputation with the media. The stand-off had only been going on for a few days, but the compound had already been getting pretty low on food. The nursing mothers’ breast milk was drying up due to the stress of the situation.
Koresh and Steve agreed to ask Noesner for milk and, in return, Noesner asked that they release some of the kids. The FBI believed that the Branch Davidians were the kind of cult that once you’re in, you don’t come out of it so easily. The FBI Hostage Rescue Team went to the media and told them that the compound were using the children as leverage; something the compound felt was absolutely not true. Nobody on that compound was a hostage. People were always free to come and go as they pleased. That seemed to be something law enforcement never seemed to even try to understand.
Ultimately, Koresh and Steve agreed to let some of the children out in exchange for the milk. In an effort to get some real answers, Noesner proposed that the FBI somehow bug the milk when it gets brought into the compound so they can have an ear on the inside. That was the only condition for the FBI Hostage Rescue Team to even think about agreeing to let the milk get to the compound. This resolution led to the highlight of the episode for me: Steve and Noesner making the exchange in person. Noesner appeals to Steve in this scene, trying to convince Steve that maybe Koresh has lost his way and it would be better if they all leave. Steve confesses that Koresh can be selfish and rude, but at the end of this scene, Steve goes back to the compound with the milk and back to Koresh. It was Koresh that brought them all together in the first place.
Noesner and Schneider ultimately want the same thing: a peaceful resolution. Noesner (and the FBI) wants everyone to come out of that compound safely. Schneider (and the rest of the Branch Davidians) just want to be left alone because they don’t see how they did anything wrong to warrant the ATF and FBI surrounding them and killing innocents. They aren’t being told anything. There have already been casualties on both sides.
All in all, this has been my favorite episode yet! I know I said that about last week’s episode, but that just means the show keeps getting more exciting. There’s more talking and less action this episode, but sometimes talking is better. I feel like we saw more of Noesner’s side of the story and that’s exactly what I was waiting for.
Waco airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on Paramount Network.