Every Atheist Needs: Waco

Every Atheist Needs: Waco March 7, 2018

Disclaimer: this is a series in which I make recommendations to you, the reader. These can include books, movies, television shows, YouTube channels, websites, apps and more. Keep in mind, the title of the series is not literal. So, before you post it in the comments, I am well aware that not every atheist needs these things. You might enjoy them, though! 

My memories of the standoff between law enforcement and the Branch Davidians in 1993 are vague. I mean, I vividly recall watching it on the news every night, I do. But if you’d asked me, before watching this miniseries from Paramount TV, what I remembered of the event, I’d have probably told you that David Koresh had been holding the members of his cult hostage and ended it all with a mass suicide. I would have told you that the Branch Davidians fired first, and that law enforcement did everything they could to end the siege peacefully.

If I am to believe Paramount TV’s version of events as told from those who were there, though, I would be woefully incorrect on each and every point I told you.

I think this is the most intriguing thing about the miniseries: none of us remembers the crisis in Waco this way. I certainly did not. It’s a surprise from beginning to end and if nothing else, makes you question what actually went down there. It makes you question what you thought you knew.

This miniseries is only six episodes long but it’ll give you just as many feels as a season of Game of Thrones. Michael Shannon is an overachiever here, which came as no surprise. In fact, I only decided to watch this miniseries because he was listed in the cast. I was not expecting the talent of the actor who portrayed the cult leader, though. Taylor Kitsch delivered David Koresh like Domino’s delivers pizza; flawless, delicious and nauseating.

The rest of the cast did a great job as well. Rory Culkin played Branch Davidian newcomer, Thibodeau, who you can’t help but root for until the very end. A much older looking but still suave John Leguizamo was in the first couple of episodes sprinkling his Hollywood veteran glitter on everything, too.

Waco does have its downsides. For one, it’s upsetting. You’re watching the recreation of something that actually happened in history and ended in the mass death of children. There’s really no way they could have told this story without it being upsetting. No matter which narrative you believe, if you have a heart, it will ache. My commentary throughout the entire series pretty much consisted of, “Why did they do that? This is so upsetting!” on repeat.

The other downside is that they barely touched on the dangers of Koresh’s ideas. In fact, they kind of make Koresh out to be a decent guy who was just unfortunate enough to have caught the attention of the ATF when it needed to shine up its image. His character is likeable, almost like a misunderstood artist who only had good intentions. It was a bit much for this atheist to take in.

In reality, of course, Koresh was an abuser who slept with minors and brainwashed his followers into believing he should be the only one having sex with the women in the compound. He could have encouraged his followers to leave during the siege. He could have insisted that the children, at the very least, be taken off the grounds. He didn’t do any of those things, though, because he needed them. Those people were his power, and without them, he was nothing.

He’s definitely not the innocent spiritual leader he’s made out to be in this miniseries, but that still doesn’t excuse how he and his people went down. They didn’t deserve to die for Koresh’s shortcomings. Most importantly, the children did not deserve to perish because they were members of a cult they had no understanding of.

I think the most upsetting part of the entire series is that if the story this miniseries tells is true, it all could have been avoided. None of it had to happen. If the ATF had just knocked on the door and spoken to the man, no one would have had to die.

In any case, it’s well worth the watch. The cast, the story, the emotional roller coaster are all fantastic, but best of all, it makes an exceptional drill for your skeptic muscles. I still couldn’t tell you what happened at Waco in 1993 with any accuracy, but at least I know it, now. At least now, if you asked me what happened, I’d be able to say, “I don’t know”.

Have you seen this miniseries? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

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