Episode 4: “Of Milk and Men”
Directed by Dennie Gordon
Written by Sarah Nicole Jones
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Operation Showtime” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Stalling for Time” – click here
Day 3 of the siege at Waco, Texas on Mount Carmel property. David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch) watches the media paint them as “monsters,” while Steve Schneider (Paul Sparks) urges him to go speak to his people; the Branch Davidians are growing weary of the situation, unsure of what’s about to happen.
Outside, Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon) has to make sure the FBI’s agenda is about more than “getting even.” Because everyone’s hot, including Mitch Decker (Shea Whigham). Even though Noesner is the expert, he’s constantly undermined by his other pals at the FBI.
Inside the compound, Koresh tells his followers that God has told him to wait for a sign before leaving. Although he tells his people they can leave, if they want; yet he makes it difficult by continuing to push his religious worldview and rhetoric onto them. Doesn’t help that David’s having troubles due to his wounds from the gunshots, fainting in front of his congregation. Later, In a shelter underground, Dave Thibodeau (Rory Culkin) buries the bodies of the dead.
“This is our withering, our time to prove through suffering that we are worthy of the miracle that‘s to come.”
Things get tense, because Koresh went back on his word to the FBI. So now the feds are moving closer, trying to intimidate the Branch Davidians a bit in the meantime. Steve gets on the phone with Noesner; he admits being embarrassed about not coming out as planned, but he’s still under the spell of Koresh. Steve also tries telling Gary that people inside aren’t hostages – they are true believers. So, they’re not coming out. Doesn’t encourage them to have tanks at the front door, either. Meanwhile, Gary’s trying to figure out more about Steve, who he sees as setting himself apart from the cult leader. Not long until they see there’s a slight divide there, possibly one to exploit.
Steve goes to David, telling him they ought to send some people out, to which the great leader agrees. Schneider is also worried about his wife Judy (Andrea Riseborough) and her rapidly deteriorating hand wound. But she’d rather cut it off, stay in there, and die with Koresh, if that’s what’s necessary. Nevertheless, the FBI start seeing some headway, as people begin to exit the compound.
On the radio, Ron Engelman (Eric Lange) has a Professor Tabor (David Grant Wright) talking with him about cults – the prof says it’s a “judgement word” used by others when speaking of these groups. My bet is this academic’s got no idea what sort of madness is going on inside the compound and the strain of misogyny running thick through the beliefs of the Branch Davidians.
Back on the phone, Gary is working Steve, trying to turn things to their advantage. He plays upon Schneider’s care for the people in there in hopes that will divide him and Koresh even further. He then digs harder at their faith itself, too. Yet Steve’s dug in deep, and he’ll go down believing in Koresh.
BI agents are “mooning kids” from the tanks outside. Instead of being an idiot Noesner’s busy sending a VHS tape inside – it’s of him, he shows a wallet picture of his family, then he goes on to explain his family values before telling Koresh and the Branch Davidians he cares about their children most of all; a plea for common ground.
All the Davidians moms are having trouble producing milk. This forces Steve to ask the FBI for milk, so they can feed the babies. Gary manages to get what they need, in return requiring they send some kids out. However, Koresh doesn’t like all the use of kids as commodities and hangs up on Noesner. The divide between the leader and his right-hand man grows.
Day 6, the Davidians have to start rationing food. Things are getting worse; still no milk. Thibodeau is running into his own bullshit, as well. He’s fast discovering his place in the food chain. That’s when he defies everybody – Thibodeau heads outside on his own with the body of Michele’s (Julia Garner) father, intent on burying him outside. This starts a frenzy. Mitch and his snipers are ready to blow the young man’s head off, and Gary has to fight to keep them from doing it.
Later, The FBI goes on TV making it look as if the Davidians are the ones holding off on the milk for the kids. Of course Steve and the other see this inside, and the divide grows out farther from just Schneider and Koresh. This puts Gary in a bad place; he’s being thwarted by his own agency. This sends him to find Sheriff Jack Harwell (Ralph Alderman), a man who Koresh trusts. The sheriff tries negotiating with the cult leader, which turns out okay. That’s when Noesner suggests they somehow bug the milk being sent in, play nice, and they may get somewhere.
The Davidians are sending out more people, including kids and some of the women like Judy. Only Koresh refuses to let Judy and Mina go and Steve pleads with him on a personal level; things get ugly between the old buddies. The FBI’s got a crate of milk bugged, along with Sheriff Harwell to help deliver it to the door. During the exchange, Gary advises Steve things are getting very dangerous, and he digs harder at the relationship between Schneider and Koresh. This is when the faithful pal rails against the leader of the Davidians, admitting David is “horrible.” Simultaneously, he reminds Gary that nothing really brought them there other than paranoia (despite their leader actually doing heinous shit to young girls).
Koresh records a tape with some of the women and children inside the compound, to return to the FBI and Noesner. It’s a bit morbid compared to the one Gary sent in to them. But, it shows people safe, and nobody is held hostage. It also shows Koresh bleeding more, getting ill. Some of the infamous video is available here.
The FBI are pissed off when they hear Koresh and Schneider inside, joking about having a glass of milk. This mainly drives Decker nuts, he’d rather barge in with force like he did foolishly at Ruby Ridge; he’ll never learn. This one little conversation between two men inside Mt. Carmel could ignite something ugly.
Inside the compound Thibodeau sees his mother on the news out past the police barricade, he sees the pain she’s in without him. His mom pleads for him to come out so they can rekindle their relationship properly. This is right about the time the FBI starts cutting the power, playing games. And for those of us who already know, this begins some back and forth, ’cause Koresh can play games, too.
Man, this miniseries is super tense. Even knowing so much about the whole situation you can still find thrills, all over. That’s the thing sign of good technique. From writing to the filmmaking, Waco is a well-built machine. They’ve included things that aren’t particularly the most well-known facts of the case, which is even better.
“Stalling for Time” is next week.