Waco, a new six-part miniseries on Paramount Network, is set to premiere tonight, just in time for the 25th anniversary of the tragedy that left over 80 dead, including many former Seventh-day Adventists.
Between February 28 and April 19, 1993, the Branch Davidians, led by David Koresh, were in a standoff with federal and state law enforcement. The Waco siege began when agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) attempted to execute a search warrant for suspected weapons violations. A gun battle erupted, resulting in the deaths of four agents and six Davidians. This led to a standoff between Koresh and government agents which continued for 51 days, ending in an FBI raid and a fire in the compound in which 76 people died, including Koresh.
Because so much dispute remains on the actual events of the siege and how the fire started, any analysis is subject to some interpretation and guesswork. A made-for-television dramatization of events is, by its nature, more prone to this than other mediums.
Trailers for Waco on the Paramount site show what some may find to be a surprisingly sympathetic version of Koresh contrasted with heavy-handed government agents who didn’t do their due-diligence or show respect for Koresh’s end-time views. The onus seems to rest on the agents for the chain of events that led to tragedy.
Waco is based on memoirs by Branch Davidian survivor David Thibodeau and FBI hostage negotiator Gary Noesner, who both consulted on the series.
NPR recently interviewed Thibodeau who hopes the new series will humanize the Davidians:
I really just want the people to be humanized in a way. They've honestly just been demonized through the press. There are real children, real mothers, real dynamics going on. It is very complex when there's that many people, and that many people that are focused in the same direction. Honestly it's about them and I want them to be, you know, honored. You know, no matter what you think of David Koresh or the people that died there, they died for what they believed in. And that's more than I can say for a lot of people.
The Washington Post notes that this was the intention of the show creators as well. Brothers John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle decided to “tell the story ‘through the lens of compassion and understanding versus force’” in an attempt to show that the Branch Davidians “were not a violent people” and were instead simply “misunderstood.”
But though it seems Thibodeau’s hope has been fulfilled by the Dowdle brothers, it remains to be seen whether the audience will believe this humanized version of Koresh. Early reviews haven’t been particularly optimistic.
A review in the New York Times called the miniseries “a tepid, movie-of-the-week treatment of a fateful calamity” that “paints a largely, some might say excessively, sympathetic portrait of Koresh and his followers.” The Times had a more positive view on Taylor Kitsch, the actor playing David Koresh, calling him a star who “radiates sincerity and has an overflowing charisma that the real-life Koresh is said to have lacked.”
NPR, in their recent review of the series expressed their appreciation of Kitsch as well, calling him “mesmerizing,” and the series as a whole “a compelling, tragic tale that allows stars like Kitsch and [Michael] Shannon to play different, surprising roles” than what their fans are used to seeing.
The Guardian, in its own biting commentary on Waco said, “The tragic conclusion to the Waco incident didn’t leave too many survivors, but hopefully Shannon will be able to make it out with his career and dignity intact.”
Forbes notes that though the Waco cast has “a ton of talent,” the show has “nothing new to add to the conversation surrounding those newsworthy days in 1993.” The review continues, saying:
For those completely unfamiliar with the events of the Waco Siege that don’t want to bother with the numerous documentaries about it available to stream, the show is worth a watch. For everyone else, unless watching great actors perform generic work is your thing, it’s one that can ultimately be passed.
If that’s true, the show is not likely to find many proponents among Seventh-day Adventists who still remember the Waco tragedy all too well.
WATCH the Official Waco Series First Look from Paramount Network:
Waco premieres tonight at 10:00 p.m. (EST) on Paramount Network.
Alisa Williams is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
Photo: Paramount Network
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