Episode 2: “The Strangers Across the Street”
Directed by John Erick Dowdle
Written by John Erick Dowdle & Drew Dowdle
* For a recap & review of the premiere, “Visions and Omens” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Operation Showtime” – click here
Across from the Waco Branch Davidians compound now lives Robert Rodriguez (John Leguizamo). He’s taking pictures, watching the cult. Soon, David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch), David Thibodeau (Rory Culkin), and Steve Schneider (Paul Sparks) come to give a warm welcome with some beer and pizza. Rodriguez claims they’re “ranchers” looking for property. Although the cult leader is already quite suspicious, which is more than obvious. Things are about to get tense.
In Washington, Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon) speaks of the “paradox to power” when he’s trying to tell his buddies to invest more in negotiating tactics, rather than a show of force with guns. We see where it’s all leading, to the horrific events that rocked America in Waco, Texas. Then there’s the fact Noesner might file a complaint concerning the handling of Ruby Ridge.
The Branch Davidians are discussing what to do from here on out. Koresh seems to want to be an open book, while the rest of them, except for Judy Schneider (Andrea Risenborough) think inviting people in will invite danger and misunderstanding. Wayne Martin (Demore Barnes) has concerns about their guns, as well as the polygamy, the “statutory rape” that’s going on even if David and the others see it as all above board, parent-sanctioned. This is where Thibodeau comes in. They need him to marry Michelle Jones (Julia Garner), sister to Rachel Koresh (Melissa Benoist), so her having kids with the almighty saviour doesn’t cause them any legal issues. Big ask, and one fucked up cult family. Wonder how Dave’s family will feel, if and when they find out. Worse, Michelle’s being married off like someone selling cattle. Because Koresh, ultimately, is a misogynist, and all the rest are enablers.
The ATF are already planning their entry into the compound, possible routes and plans of attack. They’ve also got Angela Duke (Sarah Minnich) running publicity. Meanwhile, Rodriguez has to continue playing a dangerous game, treading the line going undercover amongst the Branch Davidians. He takes up Koresh’s earlier offer, heading in to their compound for a closer look around. He’s privy to one of David’s sermons. It’s a rousing talk about the “End Times” and all the Book of Revelation rambling. Koresh speaks about the Seven Seals, telling his congregation about the Lamb of God. “I am that Lamb,” he says with a smile on his face. Good ole apocalyptic preaching.
Until the cult leader takes a whittled branch and explains someone’s broken a rule, meaning punishment. This is the first time we see part of their arsenal, too; many, many guns. Someone ate unauthorised ice cream. It’s actually little Cyrus, the preacher’s boy. He doesn’t give the boy “a licking” with the branch – he gives him a lick of ice cream on a spoon. Afterwards, everybody gets ice cream. HE’S PUTTING ON AN OSCAR-WORTHY SHOW. All for Rodriguez a.k.a Jacob.
The undercover man gets some face time with Koresh later, they talk more personally. David says Jacob was brought to him by God. It’s still evident that the cult leader does not believe the guy fully, he’s too paranoid for that. He can’t keep his mind off it. Not just that, his own wives are starting to worry about what it’ll mean to be judged by real laws and not the Biblical ones.
“Those men live by man‘s law, not God‘s.”
Now, Koresh sees it more as a game, an assertion of his power that he believes he can convert Rodriguez. He’s so narcissistic he’ll put the entire group at risk by letting the guy stick around.
Thibodeau calls up his mom Balenda (Camryn Manehim), telling her he’ll visit soon. She’s not the type to dig the “man shit” of religion, which is awesome. There’s also still a part of David that knows he’s not meant for this, and you can see it so perfectly in this brief conversation.
In Washington, Noesner gets a drop in from Mitch Decker (Shea Whigham) who got word about the possible complaint coming up. The negotiator doesn’t like how Mitch works, neither does he like the “direction the bureau‘s heading in.” But Decker’s willing to make professional trouble for Gary should things move forward. Noesner laments to his wife that night about being involved in a man’s death, calling him out after a long negotiation so that an FBI sniper could kill him.
The wedding goes ahead. Man and wife are joined in holy matrimony by the cult leader himself. That reservation on Thibodeau’s part is crushing, you can see the side of him that doesn’t want to do it all but leaping out. During the reception Jacob is brought into the crowd, Koresh goading him on to dance with everybody. The two of them join Wayne and a few others once the dancing’s done, they talk about deeper things. And the cult leader asks if Jacob has a gun, requiring he turn it over. Oh, my. Koresh’s only problem? The gun is illegal. Can’t have that shit on the property. Almost got scary there for a second.
More and more we see the hypocrisy, the misogyny of David Koresh. Also doesn’t help the outside world is starting to press in on the Branch Davidians, worse all the time. The ATF are hot to trot. The press are already printing SINFUL MESSIAH articles on the front page, news teams are searching out Mt. Carmel where the compound’s located.
The federal raid is about to come down on the compound. Jacob heads in to see if Koresh and the Davidians expect anything. Right at the same time as word starts spreading to the cult leader that there are ATF agents on their way. Naturally, Koresh starts asking Jacob questions, and he tells him to stop the raid, believing the man’s seen their true lives and not the supposed garbage in the media. Luckily, Mr. Rodriguez manages to get out alive, trying to get the ATF to call the raid off. Except it’s not being stopped, for fear of bruised egos, no matter how hard Robert tries.
So begins what will be a just over 50-day standoff between Koresh and the ATF and the FBI.
The darker bits of Koresh are coming out now, and as we head into the actual standoff it’s only going to come out more. Kitsch is magnetic, I can’t keep my eyes off him. That’ll definitely get wilder, I guarantee it.
“Operation Showtime” is next. Expect more Noesner, as well.