This Waco review contains spoilers.
Waco Episode 4
How do you negotiate in a hostage situation when none of the “hostages” are being held against their own will? Do you use a show of force to help move things along, or do you try to build a rapport and a relationship based on good faith?
As far as the FBI is concerned, good faith should only be used if you don’t have tanks and military-grade weapons at your disposal. Even though lead negotiator Gary is an expert, concerned with deescalating situations and making sure everyone stays safe, the FBI would rather treat the Branch Davidians like criminals. Granting milk to innocent women and children would be too soft. It’s another instance of Waco portraying the government as cartoonish, inept bullies, using the Branch Davidians fear and concern for their children against them in the media, casting the Mount Carmel residents as the kooky cult followers that the world wants them to be.
Fortunately, this episode also tries to finally address that maybe David isn’t the innocent, charming man of God that Waco has presented him as thus far. When Steve exits the compound to receive the milk from Gary, he talks about David being selfish, self-centered, and even rude. Gary even tries to get Steve to come to his senses by suggesting that David has lost his way. The only problem is that we haven’t seen anything that backs this up. David hasn’t been rude or overtly selfish (though his instance on playing guitar for his followers is a little self-centered). And prior to the siege, he didn’t do anything out of the ordinary that would hint that David’s act as the benevolent leader was slipping. Sure, he’s been difficult now that the FBI has forced him to barricade himself inside of his home and the whole bedding other people’s wives isn’t such a cool move, but otherwise we’ve only seen him act decently. It’s just another example where this miniseries could have been better served by painting David as more complicated.
Still, the focus on Steve as the POV character holding Mount Carmel together works very well in this episode. Paul Sparks goes toe-to-toe with Michael Shannon in their tense phone conversations and brings a real sense of frustration and incredulity to his character. Whether he’s arguing with his wife to leave the compound or begging David to let Judy and her baby walk away, there’s a bubbling anger and uneasy restraint that is palpable. The episode’s best scene comes when David matter-of-factly tells Steve not to worry about Judy’s baby because he’s not the father. The hurt and resignation from Steve doesn’t need any words behind it to be felt.
I also felt that Gary had a nice little arc in “Of Milk and Men.” Between dealing with his boneheaded colleagues and David reneging on his deal to come out, Gary increasingly becomes desperate to open up the lines of communication and trust. He puts himself out there by making a video to prove that he’s a normal man with a family just like the Branch Davidians, then tries appealing to Steve, doing anything to help resolve things peacefully and repeatedly striking out. When Thibodeau’s mother arrives on the scene, Gary callously dismisses her, which seems far out of character for the big boy scout but is meant to highlight his exasperation with the situation, coming from both his counterparts and from inside of the compound walls. After the he’s finally able to get some milk inside of the compound, he’s able to confirm to Mrs. Thibodeau that her boy is alive and alright, highlighting that Gary’s not going to lose his humanity in all of this drama.
This was easily the best episode of Waco so far and proof that if we move away from the black and white, static characters like David and Shea Whigham’s Captain Rodgers, there could be some great character moments to explore. Also, the direction finally showed some flair tonight under the watch of Dennie Gordon (Joe Dirt), particularly standing out when the camera starts to mimic David’s woozy state while delivering one of his grand sermons. Now excuse me, I have a sudden urge for a cold glass of milk…