Waco Episode 6: Day 51
The finale of Waco starts off positively, with David Koresh receiving the sign from God he’s been waiting for on Day 40. They have communication with a radio station broadcasting nationwide through the use of their satellite on top of their roof. Koresh and Schneider have spoken with their lawyers (who have received permission to walk onto the compound) and are told that in a court of law, they will be looking towards a total acquittal. Koresh immediately gets on the phone with Noesner to tell him the good news: after Koresh writes out his interpretation of the Seven Seals, all the Branch Davidians will give themselves up and leave the compound. It should only take a week.
However, not everyone is as positive as Noesner that Koresh and company will be coming out when they say they will. Tony Prince and Mitch Decker believe the Branch Davidians are just stalling for time and, when they eventually come out, will have the place bugged with bombs. Noesner is fighting with them to try and give Koresh the time he needs to write his message and Prince concedes to give it to him, but is it real?
After Prince tells Neosner that they’re going to need proof that Koresh is doing what he says he’s doing, he and Decker make an impromptu trip to Washington, D.C. There, they plead their case to Attorney General Janet Reno, saying that the FBI needs to use tear gas to get the Branch Davidians out of the compound because the children inside are continuously being abused. This is a clear lie made by Decker and Prince because they are desperate for this standoff to end and for Koresh to be in custody. This is on day 48.
Back at the FBI camp outside the compound, Noesner confronts Prince about the appearance of tear gas. The audience is informed that CS gas (the tear gas) is banned by the Geneva Convention and that it would be considered a war crime to use it, but Prince believes it’s the only way for this standoff to come to an end. Noesner rushes to talk to Schneider on the phone about getting pages as proof of the deal. Michael Shannon does an impeccable job here of showing Noesner’s pure desperation at getting that proof and putting an end to the standoff before a possible violent conclusion.
The phone call is abruptly cut off. Prince relieves Noesner of his position because he believes Noesner’s gotten too close to the Branch Davidians. Noesner is the only “friend” the Branch Davidians have in that camp and Prince and Decker just edged him out; the FBI are looking more and more evil. On his way out, Noesner reminds them that before all this “bullshit” with the FBI and ATF happened, the way local law enforcement handled the Branch Davidians was through talking. The Waco sheriff’s department didn’t need tanks, machine guns, and tear gas to keep the Branch Davidians in line. Noesner’s anger is compelling.
Koresh gets a phone call from Noesner’s second, Walter, at the camp and he is informed of Noesner’s “reassignment.” Koresh is at his wit’s end at this point because he’s already agreed to the terms of surrender, yet the FBI continues to let the the tanks run amuck on the compound. He’s holding up his end of the bargain, but he has yet to see the FBI be agreeable. “All you want to do is fight. I’m tired. I don’t want to fight no more.” Taylor Kitsch continues to show off his incredible acting chops as Koresh appears more and more to be on his last hinges. He’s a leader looking to make sure his message and his people make it out of this event safe, and as the FBI continues to impede on all their safety, you just know it’s all going to be a lost cause.
Noesner and Koresh may as well be two sides of the same coin this episode. They are both so clearly fed up with the FBI’s bull-headed and ignorant antics. Knowing how this ended in real life and seeing it all unfold in this series, the problem has always been big government. They didn’t care that the Branch Davidians were real people. Real men, women, and children. Real mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers. It’s that kind of callousness that creates a divide between the American public and big government, even today!
When Day 51 finally arrives, the torture tactics of the blinding lights and ear-splitting sounds on the loudspeakers are back. The tanks are making a path for the building. Schneider gets a call from the FBI saying that they’re going to be inserting tear gas into the compound and that it’s “not an assault”, but a warning to get their gas masks on. However, something that is noted in an earlier part of the episode is that they don’t make gas masks in children’s sizes. The FBI is using this as a way to lure the families out.
Now, the obvious plan would be for everyone to get out and protect the kids. That’s what Schneider is thinking. Koresh has a different plan in mind. He wants the women and children to be in the vault, which is the walk-in freezer, and for the men to take wet blankets and stuff them in the cracks of the door “to protect the children.” The men will be in the chapel. Koresh is adamant that this has to be the plan because it is imperative that the message of the Seven Seals is delivered to the public. The message is what’s more important to Koresh than the lives of his friends and family and it’s in moments like these that I’m reminded that Koresh is a true madman and not an innocent in all of this.
The men in the chapel are listening to the radio, which is reporting that the tanks are destroying the structure of the house and that there is gunfire being used against the FBI. As everyone can see, that is certainly not the case. The Branch Davidians are sitting ducks, their home is being destroyed, and they are being doused in tear gas. Decker gives the order to tear gas the vault and with that the only thing keeping the women and children safe is destroyed and the door to the vault is barricaded by debris. Listening to the cries of the women and children trapped inside by this unbelievably cruel tactic is sadistic and heart-wrenching.
There are some members that are looking for a way out that weren’t in the vault. Rachel Koresh, Cyrus, Jane, and a few others find a way out, but that exit is also blocked. The very real sense of desperation is devastating as they have to make their way back into the destroyed compound.
While all this is happening, the FBI are just standing around, wondering why nobody is coming outside. That’s when the first explosion occurs. Fire and tanks are destroying whatever is left of the compound and the people that had looked for an alternative way out are now stuck in the basement. Chaos is everywhere. David is screaming for Rachel and Cyrus and is clawing away at the debris that’s covering the vault. Walter is on the loudspeaker outside of the compound telling everyone to come on out.
Thibodeau is one of the few that make it out. After sharing a meaningful glance with Koresh, he throws himself out the closest window. We see another person make it out a different window on the roof. People are finally emerging, but the numbers are nowhere near where they should be. The women and children that are trapped are being suffocated by the debris and the tear gas.
Decker starts running around screaming for help, as if some humanity has finally struck him. Rachel Koresh is waving at him from under a dilapidated school bus to try and get his help. Tear gas is leaking out from the entrance and Rachel asks Decker if her son is dead because he isn’t moving. Decker’s cries for help seem to fall on deaf ears and Rachel succumbs to unconsciousness, as he can’t get her out in time.
In a final scene with Schneider, Koresh appears to have given up. He hands Schneider a gun and Schneider shoots him in the head, killing him instantly. In tears, Schneider then ends his own life with that very same gun.
Prince holds a press conference afterwards to list of the names of the people who made it out. He mentions that none of the children survived and then says, “Unfortunately, we were unable to prevent this tragic mass suicide.”
Now my blood is boiling. That is the one thing that Steve Schneider had been saying since the very beginning: they would not ever kill themselves. In a previous episode, he was able to call his sister and told her that, in the event they don’t make it out and the FBI says it’s a suicide, it was in fact NOT a suicide.
The only word that comes to describe all this is “devastation.” That’s all I can feel. If the FBI had just believed that Noesner would do his job from the beginning, perhaps this catastrophe wouldn’t have happened. If the ATF hadn’t taken such drastic measures in the very beginning, everyone would probably still be alive. This event brings about a lot of “what ifs” and very few answers.
The one image at the end of the episode of the tank waving the American flag in front of the burning compound brings me nothing but shame, as an American. That might be an unpopular opinion, but I see this event as something that could’ve been 110% prevented. So many unnecessary deaths. Did Koresh and a few of his disciples deserve punishment for the illegal firearms and pedophelia? Absolutely, yes. Did they all deserve to die in an inferno that didn’t need to happen in the first place? No. Nobody deserves that kind of an ending.
“We are all Americans. When did we start seeing each other as the enemy?” This line, said by the radio host at the end of the episode, resonated with me the most. With what is currently going on in the United States, I can’t help but ask that very same question. Big government versus the public or American versus American. There is no real different here. It’s always going to end in tragedy, unless things start changing. The government and the public need to start changing how they act towards each other. It’s all shoot first, ask questions later. Clear communication and the ability to actually listen could be all the difference.
This series, as a whole, was incredibly eye-opening and informative. However, it had its shortfalls, like making Koresh out to be this good, charismatic man. I saw him as a victim about 80% of the time, instead of the deranged pedophile that we know him to be. Taylor Kitsch and Michael Shannon really brought their A-games to this series and it is some of their strongest work, if I do say so myself. Kitsch has long-since been rid of his bad boy dreamboat Tim Riggins role on Friday Night Lights. He has grown into a talented and respectable actor. This is one of the many incredible projects he has undertaken and there will be a great deal more afterwards.