Waco: More Biased Than Balanced.

3 and a half stars
The events of the 1993 Waco Siege at Mount Carmel Center is one of the most controversial sieges in history.
After a shootout, which left ten people dead, a 51 day standoff ensued between the FBI and a cult known as the Branch Davidians, lead by David Koresh.
The standoff ended in tragedy when a fire burned the compound to the ground, killing 76 people, many of them children.
Much controversy followed over whether the FBI had the right to siege the compound, who fired first, and who started the fire that took so may lives.
The answers to these questions may never be fully known, but last year’s six part miniseries, Waco, developed by John and Drew Dowdle, attempts to provide answers, basing them off the books by FBI negotiator Gary Noesner and survivor David Thibodeau.
My first impression of Waco was that it is a great show that expertly tackles the tragic events.
However, after thinking about things a little, I realised the show is quite problematic when it comes to where it shows sympathy.
I will start with my positive thoughts on the miniseries first, and there are many.
Probably the best thing about Waco is its fantastic performances, which allows the audience to sympathize both with those on the side of the FBI and the Branch Davidians.
Michael Shannon is great as Noesner, who is just trying to get everyone out alive, as is Rory Culkin as Thibodeau, who stays with the Branch Davidians out of a desire to protect those he cares for.
Best of all though is Taylor Kitsch as David Koresh himself.
Kitsch steals the show, making Koresh an extremely flawed yet sympathetic figure (although this is where my problem lies but we will get to that later).

Kitsch is fantastic as David Koresh, and shows both the man’s virtues and vices. His performance made me understand why people followed Koresh.

On top of this, the story is gripping, with the final episode being difficult to watch.
A quiet moment between Noesner and Thibodeau near the end of the series speaks volumes of the extent of the tragedy that just unfolded on screen.
One of my favourite things about Waco, when I first started watching it, was how it portrays the events, specifically when it came to the FBI.
Many documentaries and new reports I have seen about the Waco Siege paint many of the Branch Davidians as monsters, while the FBI is viewed as doing nothing wrong.
Looking into the event, however, it is clear to see this is not entirely the case.
While the ATF and FBI did have good reason to take down Koresh, because of him marrying and impregnating girls as young as 14, the way they went about it was completely incompetent.
Koresh could have been arrested when he was out on a run, avoiding the opening shootout, and the rash decision making of the FBI lead to rising tensions during the standoff.
I was initially glad to see this miniseries rightfully directing some of the blame at the ATF and FBI for their actions and hoped for a more balanced take on the tragedy.
However, this was not to be because, rather than laying the blame on both sides, Waco appears to lay the majority of that blame at the feet of the FBI, presenting bias towards the Branch Davidians.
As I said, I feel the FBI is partially to blame for what happened, but so are the Davidians.
Koresh’s actions towards minors was certainly enough reason for his arrest but, somewhat disturbingly, the miniseries seems to brush this off rather quickly.
His marriage to underage girls is addressed but only briefly, as if the writers do not want you to lose sympathy for their take on Koresh.
There is nothing wrong with portraying Koresh as a human being, but providing someone with illegal weapons and statutory rape accusations against him with too much sympathy makes for a slightly off putting experience.
The amount of sympathy directed towards the rest of the Branch Davidians is warranted though, because many were not the evil figures they were painted to be by the media, but Koresh’s sympathy sticks out like a sore thumb.
Then there are the questions of  who shot first, and who started the fire.
Again, Waco shifts the blame for this at the ATF and FBI.
I think it would have been better for the series to leave these questions a mystery to the viewer.
There is, after all, still much contention about who did what and it would have made for a far more interesting experience, with the audience deciding who they believe to be ultimately responsible.

It would have been better to allow the audience their own opinion on who started the fire that killed so many because it could have formed various different ideas about the tragedy.

But, while I did have a problem with the way blame seemed to solely be placed on the government in Waco, it was still highly effective in delivering its message about the government’s power in American lives.
Waco is still a fascinating experience to watch, but one that is more biased than balanced.



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