Waco is everywhere on TV…there are at least three documentary-style mini-series out there interviewing the survivors of the disastrous raid. The 25th anniversary generates that kind of true crime nostalgia. Just to be clear, I am reviewing the Paramount (formerly Spike) network docudrama called Waco.
It might be hard to remember the events accurately. In 1993 the ATF and FBI raided the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas. The Davidians were led by David Koresh and were often characterized at the time as being a cult and that Koresh was a madman. Of course, that is the government’s side of matters. The raid turned into a gun battle that ultimately resulted in the deaths of 76 of the Davidians. For those of us who remember the 51 day standoff, it was horrific on many levels, and seemed brutally unnecessary.
Ironically this mini-series comes out at a time when the integrity of the FBI is being drawn into question. This series subtly provides a backdrop for current political events and takes us back to a time when the integrity of the FBI was at deepening low. There’s no way the producers could have foreseen some of the parallels that could be drawn, which makes the series more genuine.
Normally I am not a fan of docudramas, but this one has the same polish and excellent writing/casting as FX’s The People vs. OJ Simpson. Yes, it is scripted, but it does a great job of keeping to the facts. As a history and true crime author, I had a benchmark coming into this series. I told my wife, “You can’t tell the story of what happened in Waco if you don’t tell the story in some way, about what happened with the Weaver’s at Ruby Ridge.” That standoff set the stage for Waco.
The first episode started with Ruby Ridge and immediately I was drawn in. I knew that the producers were going to try and tell the whole story of the tragic events that unfolded.
Koresh is not a crazed cult-leader. There are a lot of layers to this man. The series does an excellent job of drawing in the viewers to the life he was trying to establish for his church members. This is not Jim Jones, but a man that finds himself the target of the ATF because that agency was trying to use the Davidians as a PR event to rebuild their reputation after Ruby Ridge.
David Koresh does not come across as a cult leader, but a victim of sorts. His followers are not mindless drones in the series, but well-crafted characters and personalities all on their own.
Waco is captivating, compelling, and has outstanding performances. It pulls you in and holds you tight to your seat. It doesn’t stray from the truth, but attempts to put it into context…a rarity for Hollywood these days. If you are not watching it, I recommend you do (Paramount Networks – Wednesday’s at 10pm). We are just two episodes in and I am truly enjoying this series.