Episode 5: “Stalling for Time”
Directed by Dennie Gordon
Written by Salvatore Stabile
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Of Milk and Men” – click here
* For a recap & review of the finale, “Day 51” – click here
Day 9. The FBI are waiting on the Branch Davidians and their next move. Only a “sign from God” is going to move David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch) at this point, apparently. SAC Tony Prince (Glenn Fleshler) is still running the operation on the outside, as Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon) keeps talking with Steve Schneider (Paul Sparks) about the situation. Yet negotiations aren’t great. The FBI’s shut off the power to the compound. Noesner explains the feds are worried about “another Jonestown,” which Steve considers totally out of the question. Schneider makes clear they’re not going to cooperate until the power’s turned back on.
On the FBI side, Gary is the only one thinking clearly. He knows the psychology already behind Koresh, and that pushing harder is only making him angry, backing him into a corner. The reluctance to do things the way the negotiator wants – or rather, needs – is part of what’s kept the FBI, and the ATF, at a disadvantage.
Inside, David Thibodeau (Rory Culkin) can’t stop thinking of his mother Balenda (Camry Manheim). He’s not entirely bought in cult-wise. Although he’s most certainly bonded within the community. Most of all Michelle Jones (Julia Garner), to whom David has become really close.
The lights inside Mt. Carmel come back on. Koresh wants to hear more from the media. Only on TV he’s hearing that the Branch Davidians who’ve left are under arrest, as well as the press calling them all bad parents, so on. David goes right to the phone and talks with Gary. He is not happy, and his state of mind is getting worse, for a number of reasons. And David gets especially angry with Noesner after the FBI agent says he doesn’t believe in God.
“But religion is all I am”
We see Gary pay less attention to the kids, who he understands aren’t abused – even if the young women in there are – and more to the parents. The FBI sends in a tape of the kids laughing and playing. One mom’s very upset. Kathy Schroeder (Annika Marks) calls out to the negotiators. She’s livid about her children being split up. This gives the negotiators a leg up to try getting mom to cave; she agrees on leaving the compound.
Skip to day 12. Balenda is listening to Ron Engelman (Eric Lange) on the radio blast the federal government. She’s soon approached by Bonnie Sue (Blaire Chandler), Koresh’s mom. Bonnie offers Balenda a room instead of her staying in her car while in Waco. It’s awkward. Balenda doesn’t want to accept it. But here’s where we see a different perspective on how it is for the mothers of people involved in cults, particularly cult leaders; it’s the same for the moms of murderers, rapists, et cetera, who have to deal with similar nastiness.
Koresh is pissed that Kathy’s leaving, and he kicks another man out, too. Seems he doesn’t like when someone drinks. Of course David doesn’t consider anything he does a sin, like taking on the burden of sex for everybody-blah blah blah. He’s a hypocrite willing to do whatever serves him best. Meanwhile, he admits to Judy (Andrea Riseborough): “God‘s not speaking to me anymore.” He further admits to not knowing what to do next.
Day 17 comes and the FBI drives a tank over a fence approaching the compound. The tank drives over trees, the grave Michelle’s father is buried in, and circles the place. While Gary is trying his best to prevent a massacre, on either end, his superiors are trying to force him into giving a deadline to the Davidians. He refuses. This prompts Prince to call Koresh directly and he gives the deadline/ultimatum himself. Wow. Bold and stupid.
We’re seeing more of David and his insistence on their “withering.” It’s going to new heights. He’s turning on his own people, seeing them as ungrateful, or unwilling to understand his vision; the word of God, y’know. His megalomania shines through more with every passing day. He’s all but spitting in the face of his followers now.
Noesner finds the FBI is just breaking down. He’s watching Prince crack, hoping to use “PSYOPs” (psychological operations) to drive the Branch Davidians out of Mt. Carmel. This really worries the negotiator. It doesn’t bode well for any situation, let alone one in which they’re dealing with a mentally unstable religious nut who’s got an arsenal of guns at his disposal. Gary calls Koresh to level with him truthfully and try reasoning with him one last time before the FBI superiors commence they’re psychological warfare.
Heading the charge on the PSYOPs is – you guessed it – Mitch Decker (Shea Whigham). He has his lads turn on bright spotlights and blast horrific sounds of all kinds from speakers towards the compound. Then, the FBI stands watching from a distance, waiting to see what happens.
Day 20. The Davidians are in a rough state, many of them surely lacking sleep and trying to keep warm while the power’s off. Prince is at a press conference lying directly to the press about the psych warfare being used. Inside Mt. Carmel, Thibodeau goes to see Koresh and lays bare his fear of dying in that place. He doesn’t get much reassurance from his leader. He tries to get Michelle out of there, but Koresh lays down the law: “They are mine to protect. Not yours.” Again, the misogyny of this madman comes out best when Kitsch delivers the line lingering on those first few words, for just a brief second: “They are mine…”
Thibodeau – with help from Steve – records a tape for his mother explaining he’s not being held hostage in there. However, even though he seems determined to stay, it is quite obvious there’s trepidation in him; a whole lot of it.
Continually, Decker and the FBI flash lights and blast the speakers. On Day 25 of the siege, Noesner tries to make Decker see the humanity of the Davidians. First, he points out the uselessness of the FBI’s tactics. “History‘s not gonna be on your side,” Gary tells him. But his tenuous buddy is more concerned with perceived weakness on a national scale. Whigham’s a great actor. Plus, his character is like a microcosm of the larger issue of faux-masculinity from which America’s suffered so long.
Alone in the office, Steve finds a cellphone. He calls out to his sister and tries to tell her that they’re not going to kill themselves. It’s a warning; in case they die and the narrative is pushed about suicide.
The Davidians get a generator going. What do they do with the power? Koresh chooses to play some music and combat one sonic force with another. The FBI hear the tunes from Koresh and the band rocking out through speakers at the window. A rock show for the apocalypse.
And yes, it’s the beginning of the end. This pisses Prince off enough he’s giving Decker the go ahead to form a plan for entry into the compound. Things will get ugly soon.
Just a cracking episode. Love the surreal and too-real mini-concert Koresh puts off, always one of the stranger and most interesting moments in the whole siege. Just gearing things up for an explosive, disturbing finale. “Day 51” is up next.