Red Stewart reviews the fifth episode of Waco…
“History’s not going to be on your side with this one Mitch.”
“I’ll take the other side of that bet.”
So ends a conversation between FBI negotiator Gary Noesner and tactical agent Mitch Decker, one of many that the two have along with Waco Siege head Tony Prince. Unlike past episodes of Waco which have balanced between the Branch Davidians and federal agents, “Stalling for Time” primarily focuses on the law enforcement officials as they deal with the fact that this standoff has officially passed Ruby Ridge in length.
One thing I feared going into “Stalling for Time” is that the pacing would be all over the place since, at the end of “Of Milk and Men,” we hadn’t even gotten to the halfway point of the 51-day siege. Yet not only does the episode progress at a normal rate, but the writers manage to sneak in subplots that develop their side characters as the stress of the situation rises. No one wants to be here for one week, let lone the three that the two groups approach by the end.
This results in an internal conflict breaking out in the FBI between Noesner and Decker. Noesner wants to continue his slow good-will approach of getting Koresh to release more of the members, while Decker is only interested in breaking the cult’s spirit. Making things harder for Noesner is Prince’s own desire to end the siege as soon as possible. It would have been very easy for the filmmakers to portray this clash of ideals as a black and white situation: Noesner being the honest guy that just wants to help people and Decker and Prince being the “evil” bureaucrats that want to punish the Branch Davidians.
Instead, what we get are plenty of scenes where the two antagonists are fleshed out past their archetypes. Because law enforcement officers are outweighed by the civilian population 5000 : 1, Decker genuinely believes that the prolonged nature of Waco will encourage more rebellions against the state. Prince, on the other hand, is being treated as the fall guy by the fourth branch of government, much like John Leguizamo’s Jacob Vazquez was in an earlier episode. He is under a lot of political pressure from top figures whose media image is being ruined by the stalemate. Once again, I just have to congratulate actor Glenn Fleshler for his terrific performance as Prince. I called him out in a prior review of “Operation Showtime,” though I unfortunately did not catch his name anywhere at the time. Now that I have it, I can safely call Fleshler and Prince the breakout character of this show: and that’s no small feat considering the level of talent the Dowdle Brothers have assembled here.
As I said before, most of “Stalling for Time” is invested with the FBI, but there is still a good portion devoted to the Branch Davidians. They are also experiencing the burdens of this siege, amplified by Decker’s use of psychological warfare at night. With some members driven to actually leaving the compound, there is a real frustration shown between Koresh and his acolytes: they fully believe he is the prophet, but are seriously questioning whether this kind of suffering is worth being with him.
In-between this irritation there is a calm displayed through the growing bond of Thibodeau and Koresh’s second wife Michelle Jones. Thibodeau clearly cares for Michelle in a non-platonic way, but his respect for David prevents him from pursuing anything other than caring rhetoric. One of my favorite scenes here involved Thibodeau teaching Michelle’s daughter Serenity his skills of drumming. In fact, this episode hearkens back to the first episode in a few ways, from David performing his rock music to Gary guiding one of his pupils through a conversation with an on-edge Branch Davidian. It really helped bring things full circle.
Overall, the penultimate episode of Waco managed to deliver fresh thrills into the series while simultaneously maturing the characters as they go through this anxious part of their lives. Though the whole siege had an explicit start, it’s clear by this point in time that there are no good guys or bad guys: only puppets. The FBI is beholden to the political nature of Washington, D.C., while the Branch Davidians are beholden to Koresh and his awaiting of God’s message. It was interesting to see all these rational characters react to the stressful atmosphere, and I honestly can’t wait till the final episode premieres next week.
-Finally caught the shock jock’s name- it’s Ron Engelman (played by Eric Lange).
-The writer, Salvatore Stabile, succeeded in integrating a sideplot dealing with Thibodeau’s mother bonding with Koresh’s, despite the former blaming the latter for her son’s predicament.
-The cinematography by Todd McMullen was particularly outstanding in this episode, but what was up with that blue moon?
-Michelle on being married to David: “It’s like being married to the most special person in the world, but not being special yourself.” I honestly wonder if this is the mindset other child brides and cult members have.