In 1993, the ATF raided the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX. Tipped off by the media and terrified after a similar situation in Ruby Ridge, ID that left a child dead, the Davidians started a firefight. Eight cult members and four ATF agents were killed. The FBI came in to handle the situation and commenced a 51-day standoff that ended in a horrifying fire that killed 76 people, including 25 children who lived on the compound. Waco, the six-episode miniseries currently available on Netflix, originally made for the Paramount Network, covers the events that lead to this standoff and the horrifying outcome.
It’s hard to find anyone to root for in this situation, but Michael Shannon as FBI negotiator Gary Noesner grounds the story, helping us to see the humanity on both sides. Taylor Kitsch is incredible as charismatic Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh. He’s as magnetic as he is reprehensible, and it’s easy to see how he amassed a following, even if he was bent on martyrdom. One of my faves, Shea Wigham, makes an excellent turn as militant FBI agent Mitch Decker. He is so bent on getting the job done that he’s willing to use PSYOPS against American citizens and tear gas toddlers, even after killing a woman and her child at Ruby Ridge.
Waco is a shameful chapter in American history, and I’ve seen a lot of documentaries on the situation. But it wasn’t until I got to see it played out as drama made it somehow more real for me. Telling these stories, however difficult it might be, is important, especially when they are dramatized. It allows us to connect with the players as characters, creating some distance from their bad actions and giving us a glimpse of the souls underneath. Writers and actors get to the genuine emotion behind people who are likely nowhere near as eloquent or uncomplicated in real life.
It’s a tough watch, but a rewarding one, and since most of us still have nothing but time, I suggest taking a look at Waco.