Episode 3: “Operation Showtime”
Directed by John Erick Dowdle
Written by Salvatore Stabile
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “The Strangers Across the Street” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Of Milk and Men” – click here
The ATF are heading into Waco, Texas towards the Branch Davidians compound, Mount Carmel. David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch) and the rest see the commotion outside, a helicopter circling above. He sends the “women and children” to hide as the men pull out the arsenal of assault rifles and other guns on the property. The divine leader says he wants to try talking it out first, whereas the ATF are setting up outside locked and loaded and ready for action.
When Koresh steps outside he pleads that they stop. By the fence two dogs come running and ATF agents kill them, which sets the other agents on edge, and they start firing at the house. Gunfire everywhere. Koresh runs back in, but not before taking a bullet through and through in the left side; a few Davidians take bullets, as do some ATF agents. Meanwhile, TV cameras are already documenting the chaos. Inside the house a few women pick up guns to combat the carnage. Judy Schneider (Andrea Riseborough) gets a bullet shot right up through her finger while her husband Steve (Paul Sparks) is trying to help Koresh with Dave Thibodeau (Rory Culkin). Wayne Martin (Demore Barnes) is calling the sheriff in desperation trying to get someone to call off the raid. Problem is there are “no communications” on the ground; the ATF didn’t bring any with them. Holy shit, that’s not a good look.
And all the while the guns never stop. In the distance, Robert Rodriguez (John Leguizamo) stands back watching the massacre he tried his best to stop.
Eventually, a bunch of ATF agents get up onto the house’s roof and head for the windows. They drop a smoke grenade then head inside. Children are exposed to flashbangs when the agents move further in. When the agents are chased off by one of the Davidians with an assault rifle a couple of them pay a fatal price. One makes it out and urges a cameraman to call for help from his van. Utter panic. At home, Balenda Thibodeau (Camryn Manheim) sees the news report from Waco, knowing her son is in there.
“It‘s happening. The Fifth Seal, it‘s opening.”
The camerman gets in touch with the sheriff who commands him to tell the ATF to ceasefire. It’d be hilarious if it weren’t so brutal and bloody. A complete breakdown in communication, a disregard for protocol, confusion, paranoia – the entire thing began with a mix of all these precipitated by the ATF’s Ed Wiggins (Christopher Stanley) and his call to raid Mt. Carmel.
Koresh gets on the phone with the local sheriff, talking about “theology” mostly while also trying to talk some sense about all that’s happening. Simultaneously, the cult leader argues with his trusted followers about what exactly they ought to do next; nobody really knows. While he’s alone Koresh calls his mother, telling her he’s been shot and saying goodbye. In another room one of the Davidians is bleeding to death.
“And I‘m sorry you didn‘t learn the Seven Seals, but I will show you mercy and God will show you mercy, too, okay?”
Kathy Schroeder (Annika Marks) sees that her husband Mike is sneaking in over the land coming onto Mt. Carmel, trying to get to his wife and child. But before he can the ATF fire on him. Mike briefly shoots back before he’s gunned down.
This is exactly the type of situation someone like Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon) has worked at the FBI to try and prevent. Speaking of the man himself, he and Mitch Decker (Shea Whigham) are headed to the compound in Waco. On the ground, the pair meet Tony Price (Glenn Fleshler), Special Agent in Charge, and he fills them in on what they don’t already know. Yet there’s already disagreement on how Gary hopes to handle things.
“Who do you call when it‘s your own government attacking?”
On the radio, Ron Engelman (Eric Lange) takes it to the federal government acting against American civilians. He questions what they’re doing using military force on their own citizens. Suddenly, Koresh is calling to talk on the air with him. The Branch Davidians’ leader speaks about what’s occurred unfiltered. Takes the FBI a bit too long to cut the lines of communication.
“Then you say my name like the last breath of a dying man, like a death knell: Koreshhhhh.”
Gary finally gets on a new line direct to Koresh, he tries deescalating the situation. It isn’t easy. The leader is quite an intense character to be locked into a one-on-one conversation with over the phone, and under such duress. Koresh does a bit of preaching, of course. He also tells Gary to watch the tape and see they didn’t instigate the chaotic firefight. Soon, Gary offers to get David onto national television if he’ll come out peacefully, terms to which the leader of the Davidians agrees. Afterwards, Gary goes to talk with Rodriguez and asks him about the truth. Robert admits he wasn’t there. He does remember the cameraman, though says the “tape just went missing” after everything got hot out there.
Inside and still bleeding, Koresh puts his faith in God. He records a message for the outside world to hear. Steve listens on. But David goes a bit nuts when he hears people talking, laughing, acting normally around the tables in the cafeteria, chastising them for not mourning. Yes, he’s slipping more than ever.
Day 2 rolls around. Balenda rushes to Waco. At a press conference she meets the mother of Mr. Koresh. The ATF’s Wiggins goes on television where he tells lies, both about Koresh and the gunfight, plus he slanders Rodriguez personally. Now the FBI’s in charge, so they hope Gary’s deal will work. The “fifty–eight minutes” of tape is broadcast over the air for all to hear. Once it’s over Koresh sees nearly every channel, including the Christian ones, ridicule him for a rambling interpretation of the Book of Revelation.
Only problem is David’s going back on the deal. After using The Lawnmower Man as an analogy for himself Koresh refuses to come out, he’s digging in those heels.
We know it’s going to get nasty. Just a matter of how we see it, what we see, the perspectives, and more. Love this miniseries. Great work all around, the writing is so tense and gives us a compelling look at some things I never knew about the Waco, Texas shootout I never knew before.
“Of Milk and Men” comes next week.