<script async src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js"></script> <!-- Showbiz Portal Bottom 1 300x250, created 10/15/10 --> <ins class="adsbygoogle" style="display:inline-block;width:300px;height:250px" data-ad-client="ca-pub-1272644781333770" data-ad-slot="2530175011"></ins> <script> (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({}); </script>
Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Aug 20, 2020


TAYLOR KITSCH as cult leader David Koresh & MICHAEL SHANNON as FBI negotiator Gary Noesner

‘WACO’ is a Netflix-Paramount 6-episode miniseries about a cult in Waco, Texas led by a religious fanatic, David Koresh, of the Branch Davidian sect who believed that God talks to him.

It’s shown in the series that he and his more than 100 followers live in their own building. The FBI suspects that they have an arsenal of guns in their building (which is true) and is about to serve them a warrant when shooting erupts.

This leads to a 51-day standoff that ended on February 28, 1993 when the FBI stormed the building and it combusted into a fire where 76 people died, including 25 children.

Of course, we’ve heard of many other cults that ended in tragedy for its members through the years, like the commune of Charles Manson who settled with his followers he called his family in a former movie studio lot in Los Angeles.

On August 8, 1969, some members of the cult went on a killing spree in a Beverly Hills home and killed five people, including actress Sharon Tate.

This was portrayed in Quentin Tarantino’s recent movie “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, but he changed the ending as it’s the cult members who were killed, mainly by Brad Pitt.

Then there’s Jonestown in French Guiana where 900 followers of preacher Jim Jones committed mass suicide by poisoning themselves in 1978.

This was followed by the Orange People cult of Indian mystic Shree Rajneesh Bhagwan in Oregon who staged the first bioterrorist attack in the the U.S. in 1984 when its followers contaminated the salad bars of ten restaurants with salmonella bacteria, poisoning 751 people, to incapacitate the voters in their coming county election.

Their commune was destroyed in 1985 and the guilty parties were deported back to India. But the incident in Waco is the most tragic face off in the history of law enforcement and they already made a documentary about this.

Now, in the miniseries, they re-create the suspenseful events leading to the blockade of the cult’s building and the 51-day siege, based on two books written by two people involved in it.

First is “Waco: A Survivor’s Story” by David Thibodeau (played by Rory Culkin), a young band drummer who is enticed by Koresh (Taylor Kitsch) to listen to his preaching and he stayed on as a follower.

The other book is “Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator” by FBI agent Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon) who truly tried his best to reasonably argue with Koresh to come out voluntarily and save his followers.

Earlier scenes show Gary as the hostage negotiator in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, where there was another stand-off between the FBI and fundamentalist leader Randy Weaver that also ended in disaster.

Gary believes that every negotiation should end in a non-violent, peaceful surrender to avoid fatalities and grave injuries.

The retelling of what happened in Waco seems sympathetic to Koresh because the other FBI agent who opposes Gary, Mitch Decker (Shea Whigham), is trigger happy, against peaceful attempts at negotiation and believes that force should be used right away.

But the series itself is not sympathetic to Koresh, who’s undoubtedly portrayed as a pervert using religion for his own sexual proclivities. 

He claims he had a revelation that sex keeps men bound to their baser instincts, so all male members of his sect are required to remain celibate, even the married ones. Only Koresh is allowed to have sex even with their wives, so he has sired many children among their members.

He already has a wife Rachel (Michelle Benoist), but he also cohabited with her sister Michelle (Julia Garner) as his second wife when she was only 12 years old. When they realized that the government may sue him for statutory rape, Michelle is married off to Thibodeau to make things legal.

When the series begins, Koresh is already the messianic leader of the cult. But he is also the guitarist and vocalist of a band and we see him belting out “My Sharona” in a local bar.

The band members include Steve Schneider (Paul Sparks), a doctor of theology no less, and Wayne Martin (Demore Barnes), a black lawyer.

You’d wonder why these highly educated men would believe in Koresh so fiercely that they’d stick with him in his showdown with government forces, believing that their way of life was worth fighting for against the authorities.

Steve says he believes in Koresh’ interpretation of the Book of Revelations from the Scripture, the Seven Seals which signal the end times, and that Koresh is the lamb of God indicated in the Bible.

And maybe that’s the real essence of faith: the acceptance of things for which we have no logical explanation.

Taylor Kitsch is quite believable as the shaggy-haired Koresh, combining some sort of goofiness into the intensity of his portrayal of a religious fanatic with delusions that he is the Messiah. He compares himself to the character in the movie “The Lawnmower Man”, about  "a simple man who changed the world" and then taken down by people who get afraid of the power he seemed to be acquiring.

Shannon also does well as the negotiation expert who truly believes that the authorities should emphathize with people who are experiencing what he calls “the worst day of their lives”.

Koresh and his followers think they’re not doing anything wrong since they don’t bother anyone. So you somehow sympathize with these people who thought they have built a holy oasis for themselves in the middle of nowhere that they call home.

But we viewers all know how it will end for all of them so there’s already a pall of tragedy laying over all of them as we watch the series, which validly questions why so many had to die.

In effect, it shows that government forces acted rashly using tear gas that eventually caused the fire that razed the entire building and killed so many people. The last sequences of this series is hard to watch as we see the sect members, specially the women and children, as they are burned alive inside their building.

Lastly, we want to take note that Koresh is another tragic person who comes from a dysfunctional family. His mom was only 14 when she gave birth to him and he never really knew his dad. He was given to his grandma and four years later, his mom returned with a new man.

He was bullied in school and was gang-raped by older boys. At 22, he became a dad and the mom was only 15 years old. He became born again and joined the 7th Day Adventists church of which the Branch Davidian sect is an offshoot. The rest, as they say, is history.