Waco Episode 3: Operation Showtime
Episode 3 is when we finally see some action on the Mount Carmel Branch Davidian compound. The start of the ATF’s 51-day raid on the compound is finally underway and sparks are literally flying.
In the actual investigation in 1993, there was some confusion as to who fired the first shot. One ATF agent said that the ATF shot first (which was later retracted). The agency has also said that it was the Branch Davidians who shot first. In this episode, the artistic direction shows us that the ATF shot first because of some aggressive dogs in the yard. That led to an unfortunate exchange of gunfire between the two sides which resulted in several casualties, before eventually ending in a ceasefire.
It is also revealed that while Wayne (Demore Barnes) is calling the local police station for help, the ATF start this raid without bringing any kind of method of communication. That escalates things, as there is no immediate way for the different branches of law enforcement to reach each other. When we see both sides taking heavy hits, the ATF gets the camera guy (because they brought the press along to try and get back into the public’s good graces) to make a call to the local police station for help. This is when the two sides are able to reach that ceasefire. (Also, the footage the cameraman had been recording mysteriously disappears, as is mentioned later in the episode.)
David Koresh is shot. He’s one of the first people shot at the beginning of this raid. Several of his followers have also been shot and killed, and I find myself siding with the cult members during this hectic action. There are gunmen all over the compound trying to protect it, just as there are ATF all over the outside of the compound, trying to get in; some even succeed. They retreat during the ceasefire, but the damage is done: men, women, and children are either seriously injured or dead.
In the moments before the ceasefire, Koresh is talking on the phone with the local sheriff and he tells him that he believes that the fifth seal (of the Seven Seals in the Book of Revelations) has been opened. If all seven seals are opened, it is prophesied that it will be the end of times and “God will establish his kingdom here on Earth.” In a previous episode, Koresh had been preaching to his followers that he had a vision that they would open the fifth seal and the Branch Davidians would all die. (Koresh had said, “Opening the fifth seal, as I’ve been telling you for years, will begin when the armies of Babylon come to our door to spill our blood. We will then be tested—mind, body, and spirit.”)
Everything is chaotic; the Branch Davidians are trying to plan and help heal each other and some fights even start to break out between them, but Koresh has had enough. He wants them all to leave him alone so he can think.
When he’s finally alone, he calls his mom. Taylor Kitsch does such an amazing job with Koresh’s emotional anguish. It goes to her answering machine and he tells her he’s injured and he thinks this is it for him. He says he loves her and Grandma, and that he’s sorry that she didn’t learn the seven seals. “I will show you mercy and God will show you mercy too, okay, and I’ll see y’all up in the sky.” While this reminded me that he’s definitely a cult leader, it also shows a man crying to his mother in what is probably the last time he’ll ever get to talk to her.
Noesner (Michael Shannon) makes an appearance about halfway through the episode. The FBI (and its lead negotiator) finally join the ATF outside the compound and seem to take over the operation. It’s Noesner’s call to cut all the outside phone lines and replace them with their own so they have “their undivided attention.”
This episode goes into the debate about law enforcement versus military force. “Who do you call when it’s your own government attacking?”
David Koresh calls a local radio station that had been discussing just that. Koresh is looking to get the truth out about what had happened that day. The Branch Davidians saw no other way. However, that plan is dashed when the FBI finally manages to cut the outside line.
Noesner and Koresh finally have an interaction, once the line is reestablished between the FBI and the compound. The chemistry between these actors is off the charts and it’s everything I’ve been waiting for. The back-and-forth between Noesner and Koresh is all about a desperate man and a desperate plea for a peaceful resolution. Koresh is not so soft anymore; he’s a fierce, determined man. Noesner presents an opportunity to let Koresh share his message with the world (via national broadcast) in exchange for a peaceful surrender, and Koresh agrees.
After this deal is made, Koresh records an hour-long message that is to be shared on national television and, during a press conference led by the ATF and FBI, it comes to light that the full message will not be shared. Instead, it is cut only a minute or so in. Koresh and the Branch Davidians are watching this all unfold on television and Koresh is openly betrayed. There are reactions from different news outlets (even some preachers) that are watching and they don’t seem to be trying to understand anything about Koresh’s message.
Just a reminder: Koresh sees himself as a lamb of God; a messiah. He’s being called a “thug” and told that his message was a “rambling discourse.”
The episode ends with another telephone call between Koresh and Noesner. After seeing how the press conference went and how his message was dismissed so eagerly, Koresh is angry. “God spoke to me. We ain’t coming out.” The deal for a peaceful surrender is off.
One heart-wrenching moment that had tears in my eyes is when Michelle and Rachel’s father is dying. He has chosen to die in the compound (as opposed to going outside those walls) and has asked Koresh for help. It’s a tearful goodbye between a father and his daughters and, when they leave, Koresh says a prayer and has another follower put a gun to the man’s head and fire it. There’s a kind of dignity in that. He chose to die that way, instead of waiting for a painful, drawn-out death to claim him.
I still have a hard time reminding myself that this is a cult and Koresh has done horrible things to children. This show has humanized this man. I know this is a series with information taken from two books from the two different sides involved, but it seems like its bias has been leaning more in favor towards David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. I’m not one to blindly follow and believe everything the government wants us to follow and believe, but if Koresh was so bad, why am I really feeling more for him and his followers? How come I feel next to nothing towards the ATF and FBI here?
Innocent men, women, and children died during this conflict, and it started because the ATF lacked the communication skills necessary to avoid all that bloodshed. In my opinion, anyway. Nobody needed to die for a raid that was to collect illegal firearms. The people of the Mount Carmel compound saw this siege as an attack on their livelihoods and responded in kind.
Overall, the third episode in this 6-part miniseries is probably the best so far. There’s a lot more action. The beginning of the episode really had my blood pumping and that’s all I can hope for in a good television show.
Waco airs Wednesday nights at 9/8c on Paramount Network.