Waco Episode 5 Review: Stalling for Time

Waco has more bright spots than normal, but still is a difficult pill to swallow this week.

This Waco review contains spoilers.

Waco Episode 5

It’s difficult for me to review Waco this week. After 17 were killed in a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, watching a show centered on an invasion set about by the pursuit of illegal weapons feels like pure fantasy. Though based on an actual example of the United States practicing a form of gun control, that fact feels so far removed from our current reality in this country, and it hung over my head the entire episode. My mind couldn’t help but tragically wander to frightened teens and high school staff members texting and calling their loved ones as they waited to see if they’d be the next of their peers to be murdered as I watched Steve sneak a call to his sister.

I’m sure some will use tonight’s episode of Waco to back up their argument against gun control. “See what happens when the government gets involved with trying to take people’s guns?” maybe they’ll say. After all, this is the most vocal anti-big government series in recent memory. They’ll forget the fact that the Branch Davidians were easily able to acquire assault rifles, and maybe they’d never have had weapons in the compound in the first place if forced to pass a background check to buy a weapon of that power, instead of being able to pick it up at a local gun show.

I know this is supposed to be a weekly episodic review of a television show, but this is what watching this series brings to mind this week. I don’t know, maybe it would have been smart of the Paramount Network to take a week off. I can’t be the only person unable to look at Waco in a normal light this week.

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Anyway, this is the penultimate episode of the series, and it continues the show’s upward trajectory. Most of the runtime is spent on more of the same back and forth from last week, except turned up a notch with Psy Ops involved and David mounting a rock and roll rebuttal. The F.B.I. continues to be smallminded and heartless, but at least Gary is finally standing up and speaking against their ridiculous, counterproductive measures. Thankfully, Michael Shannon is magnetic this week, making Gary’s quite resolve just as compelling as his frustrated outbursts. When David and Gary speak on the phone toward the end of the episode, they seem to connect for the first time, as their joint desperation binds them together. It’s a great moment.

I also want to single out Rory Culkin for doing commendable work. With the wrong actor, or the wrong touch, Thibodeau’s interest in Michelle could have come across as creepy, but Culkin plays him as gentle and genuine protector of one of the compound’s most vulnerable people. The hurt in Culkin’s eyes as he realizes that there’s no way that David will let Michelle and their child leave is devastating. However, the series really drops the ball in a key delicate scene when Thibodeau asks Michelle what it’s like to be David’s wife. Though there’s a moment of hesitation, her answer completely side steps the elephant in the room and does a disservice to highlighting David’s most disturbing crimes.

That being said, this is the first episode that leans into David being something of an antagonist, and the show is better for it. He’s petty and difficult, especially acting childish whenever anyone expresses the desire to leave. The other supporting characters gather to discuss the real-life realities of their situation then have to hush as David enters the room already on the offensive. Everyone looks defeated as David steamrolls them back into submission. Rachel, still one of the more interesting characters that the writers haven’t quite found time for, is the only one to standup to David, but reverts to biblical warnings to put her back in line.

Though far from perfect, and seriously tainted by the latest American tragedy, there are more things to appreciate in this week’s episode than in episode’s past, so that must signal an improvement. Still, Waco hasn’t really handled its material as thoughtfully or creatively as it should have, and this week, it really shouldn’t have aired at all.


3.5 out of 5