Episode 1: “Visions and Omens”
Directed by John Erick Dowdle
Written by John Erick Dowdle & Drew Dowdle
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Strangers Across the Street” – click here
February 28th, 1993.
“They‘re coming for me,” says David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch), as vehicles and helicopters begin heading in over the Branch Davidians compound in Waco, Texas. He orders the women and children to safety. There are also copious amounts of guns and ammo inside. ATF and FBI agents soon swarm the place.
Outside goes Koresh, begging them to stop. A shot soon fires, beginning what will be a 51-day standoff.
First, though, skip back nine months. David runs to church with his boy Cyrus. He walks in casually, preaching to his congregation. He speaks about “joy.” He questions his congregation about their own happiness, how, where it can be found. He says that joy is “becoming more than you are today.”
We also go to Washington, D.C., where Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon) teaches at the FB Crisis Negotiation Unit. He preaches his own sermon, about listening to people in hostage situations, and “how you say” what you say. At the same time, he receives an assignment: Ruby Ridge.
On the ground in Idaho is Mitch Decker (Shea Whigham) from the FBI Hostage Team, he gets the info on Randy Weaver from the ATF, including his Green Beret ties, that he’s a “white separatist.” It’s big trouble poised to occur in Aryan Nation territory. What we begin seeing is the division between the agencies; Decker orders the barriers to show ATF, hoping to pass the buck.
In woods, an FBI sniper opens fire on the Weavers, sending the men scrambling. One of the women takes a bullet in her face. Meanwhile there are white nationalists, Nazis, general rednecks, frothing Christians all in the eye of the media protesting the federal government poking around in their business. Decker’s ready to mount an assault after what he’s set in motion when Noesner gets on the scene, hoping to talk with Randy.
At the compound, Steve Schneider (Paul Sparks) finds out his wife Judy (Andrea Riseborough) is pregnant, though clearly isn’t thrilled. Because it’s David’s kid, that’s how things go for the Branch Davidians, seeing as how the leader is the “Lamb of God.” These are the first bits of weirdness we’ll see concerning the group’s beliefs.
He and David and the boys have other things to do, they play together in a cover band. This is where Koresh meets a drummer named David Thibodeau (Rory Culkin), asking him to jam with them. Cue “My Sharona” by the Knack, as the lads rock out for a bar half full of people. After that, Koresh gets to know Thibodeau a bit better, who isn’t into religion. However, the drummer takes up an offer for a bed instead of driving to LA in the middle of the night.
“We all have something broken in us”
After Koresh brings Thibodeau home he sees a TV report about Ruby Ridge, the federal government infringing on their rights and rolling into Idaho. A poignant moment from where we, the audience sit, knowing what has happened, and a perfect little scene to include before the coming storm. Steve is busy telling Thibodeau all the tall tales of Koresh and his “miracles,” the great leader who memorised the entire Bible.
Back in Idaho, Noesner walks up through the woods just outside the Weaver cabin, beginning to talk to Randy as best he can. “Dead men don‘t get a trial,” he says, trying to coax the man out, so the truth can be told. But that’s before he finds out that Randy’s wife is dead. Things were fucked up before Gary ever got there.
What does the FBI negotiator do, then? He calls in Bo Gritz to try talking Weaver down. When Bo goes up to the cabin he manages to get Randy out. That’s when the situation is defused, the Weavers give themselves up, and there’s no more death. Yet things still aren’t good, not after what the FBI has done under Decker’s watch.
Six months later in Washington, the protests rage. The Department of Justice has put the blame on the ATF, as the FBI had hoped, starting one hell of a shitstorm. Noesner is concerned with the report on Ruby Ridge, particularly concerning Decker. He sees the FBI as at fault, whereas the rest of the bureau seems content with passing the blame and not admitting their huge mistakes.
And at the Waco compound, Thibodeau is facing the decision whether to stay at there. He’s a little surprised when Koresh asks if he can “stay celibate” should he remain with the Branch Davidians. The leader claims to have “assumed the burden of sex” for his congregation. Oh, yeah. That sounds completely logical. He goes on to talk about the “24 elders that will sit in judgement over the End Times,” which will be the kids he’s fathering into the world. Then there’s the newborn baby; David names the little girl, as Steve watches, simmering in jealousy.
ATF gets a report about grenades being delivered to the Branch Davidians complex in Waco, they also hear about tons of ammo, other weaponry. Moreover, there are so-called claims about child abuse going on there amongst the polygamy. This is a way for the ATF to do good, to get back into the public eye positively. They don’t realise, for all their blindness, they’re walking right into another Ruby Ridge, only a hundred times worse.
Most of all, we see how Noesner is stuck in the background of the FBI, wanting to be the beacon of justice and law that they’re meant to be instead of a part of the military-industrial complex. He tells his wife Carol (Stephanie Kurtzuba) plainly: “The balance of power is shifting. We‘re militarising, we‘re changing into something I didn‘t sign up for.”
And in Waco, across from the compound, a new neighbour’s moved in. A man called Robert Rodriguez (John Leguizamo). We’ll see more of him soon. Let the paranoia commence.
Fascinating, intense episode to open this mini-series. At a time when the FBI’s actually opposed on issues with the sitting POTUS, Waco feels relevant. Look forward to seeing this develop more, because there is a ton of potential. Kitsch is mesmerising as Koresh with only one episode in the can, I can see it getting even better.
“The Strangers Across the Street” is next.