Waco Episode 5: Stalling for Time
“Stalling for Time” starts the day after the milk had been delivered and during that time, the FBI had decided to take direct action and cut the power to the compound, which caused the milk to sour. The milk had been delivered as a show of good faith and that’s certainly a sign that there is no more of that going around.
This entire episode is Koresh versus the FBI, but also Hostage Negotiation versus Tactical amongst the FBI team themselves. Tactical, which is led by Mitch Decker and Tony Prince, are done playing the waiting game. They aren’t even trying to understand that the Branch Davidians are waiting for “a sign from God” to make their next move. Meanwhile, Noesner is looking for a peaceful resolution and is willing to wait as long as necessary.
While on a phone call with Schneider, Noesner tries to explain to him that his bosses are afraid that this situation will be like another situation that happened in a place called Jonestown, which ended with everyone killing themselves. Schneider has a visceral reaction to this and denies it entirely. Suicide is not what the Branch Davidians are about and that is not something they are trying to accomplish here. They just want to go back to their lives before the ATF stormed the grounds.
This episode leaves me feeling even more frustrated towards the FBI. They aren’t bothering to listen to the man that talks to these people every day. hey aren’t taking Noesner’s advice. This leads to two confrontations between Prince and Noesner, but it’s ultimately the same conversation: Noesner wants to give the Branch Davidians more time to come out, but Prince is feeling pressured by government officials to get them out as soon as possible by any means necessary. The FBI are seeing this whole situation as a waste of time, money, and resources, and that just really irks me because, even though my personal relationship with religion is non-existent, these are still people. Their lives are still on the line here. Noesner appears to be the only FBI agent to understand that.
Michael Shannon was really amazing this episode. Seeing Noesner get frustrated to the point of exploding on Prince was such a delight to watch. It was nice seeing somebody care that the Branch Davidians are (mostly innocent) people and actually fight for them. Nobody goes looking to be in the kind of situation that they’re all in, so it’s fantastic to see that somebody is trying to be understanding and helpful, damn the public consequences.
This was also a really great Koresh episode. I finally felt that we were beginning to see the darker side of David Koresh. He could be angry, petty, and juvenile. When Noesner told Koresh to “talk to your God”, you could see a glint in his eyes change. Religion is all Koresh knows and is. He’s a self-proclaimed prophet, so he’s offended at the thought of somebody (Noesner) not believing in God.
Over the span of a few days, the FBI get restless and starts sending a tank onto the compound property to better protect themselves. Koresh is furious that they’re on his land and Noesner explains to him that they don’t understand that the Branch Davidians are waiting for a sign a from God so they can know what to do next. Noesner is irate and this leads to a confrontation between Noesner and Prince. Noesner wants to give them time to come out, but Prince has every politician in Washington telling him to get them out now. Prince tells Noesner to give the compound a deadline: they have to come out the next morning. Noesner refuses, because he knows that deadlines don’t work with these people. This leads to a phone call between Prince and Koresh where Prince informs Koresh that everyone has to be out by the next morning or “certain actions will be taken against you and your people.”
A meeting between Koresh’s followers is held to discuss the dire situation. The group includes Koresh’s first wife, best friend, and several loyal followers and friends. They need a plan to get all of them out there safely and if that means handing themselves over to the police to be charged with crimes, then so be it. This is when Koresh walks into the chapel where the meeting is being held, and takes offense at the meeting even needing to be held. Koresh is a petty man and his behavior here is pretty juvenile. He becomes mean and verbally aggressive: “I owe you nothing.” He still believes he’s there to witness a miracle of some kind of biblical proportions, but everyone else is waking up to realization that all their lives are at stake here. He tells them all to leave, if that’s what they want, but they all stay.
Psychological warfare is what Noesner calls what happens next. The power on the compound goes back out that night. The FBI brings in these huge spotlights and speakers and descends on the compound. The spotlights are directed at the windows, blinding the people inside, while the speakers are playing loud, garish, shrieking sounds to make them all uncomfortable throughout he night.
The episode ends with the people of the compound getting a generator up and running, but only for about 10 minutes. During those ten minutes, Koresh decides to play a song for the awaiting FBI agents outside. With a spotlight shining on him, Koresh takes to his stage and sings message: “I want to give out, I want to give in. This is our crime, this is our sin. Oh, I still believe.” He still believes in his God and His plan.
With that final act of defiance, Prince demands Decker find them a way to get on that compound to end this once and for all.
There was honestly just so much going on this episode and, with the pacing, it was a bit overwhelming. A few scenes felt a bit repetitive (the two conversations between Noesner and Prince), but the story keeps getting better and better. The suspense is building. I can’t wait to see the devastating conclusion to this story in the finale next week.
Waco airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on Paramount Network.