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Waco

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Waco TV Poster Image
Violent docudrama has unsettling depiction of cult leader.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Faith, cult behavior, and the overreach of the federal government are themes. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

David Koresh thought himself a prophet. Some members of federal agencies look to de-escalate situations, while others shoot to kill. 

Violence

Screams, yelling, shootings, killings. Military-type raids, including tanks, helicopters, etc. A fiery fire results in deaths. 

Sex

Celibacy was part of the faith, but Koresh practiced polygamy and sired children with underage women.

Language

"Piss," "damn," "bulls--t." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some beer consumption visible, but drinking, smoking, and drugs were against Branch Davidian rules. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Waco is a series about the events leading up to the government siege of cult leader David Koresh's Branch Davidian compound, and the 51 days that ended in his followers' fiery deaths. Guns, shootings, bloody wounds, and death by fire are all featured. Celibacy, polygamy, and underage sexual relationships that often result in pregnancy are a major part of the story, too. There's some cursing ("bulls--t"), and beer drinking is occasionally visible. Faith, cult behavior, and the aggressive overreach of the federal government are also addressed. 

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What's the story?

Based on a book co-written by survivor David Thibodeau, WACO is a docudrama about the late Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, and the 51-day siege that resulted in the deaths of 80 people. It's 1993, and Taylor Kitsch plays Koresh, a musician and former Seventh-day Adventist who believes that he is a prophet, is living with his legally recognized wife, Rachel (Melissa Benoist), and his followers, including Thibodeau (Rory Culkin), Wayne Martin (Demore Barnes), Steve Schneider (Paul Sparks), Steve's wife, Judy (Andrea Riseborough), and Michelle Jones (Julia Garner), Rachel Koresh's youngest sister, on their Texas compound known as Mt. Carmel Center. But the federal government has been investigating Koresh for stockpiling illegal firearms and the alleged abuse of women and children, with the help of  agent Robert Rodriguez (John Leguizamo). When the compound is raided on February 28, four ATF agents are killed and a tense stand-off begins. FBI negotiator Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon) does his best to end it while preventing additional loss of life. But Mitch Decker (Shea Whigham) supports a more militarized approach, the fatal consequences of which play out live on national television.

Is it any good?

This troubling series presents a controversial retelling of the events that led to the violent deaths of 80 people during the standoff between the Branch Davidians and the U.S. government. It highlights the tensions between the FBI and ATF, as well as the lack of agreement between negotiators and tactical rescue teams, the latter of which were using increased militarized approaches to resolve conflicts with anti-establishment groups during that time. It also points to some of the Branch Davidians' religious practices at Mt. Carmel Center, which were guided by Koresh's interpretation of the apocalyptic Seven Seals (from the Bible's Book of Revelations). 

Perhaps because it's based on the recollections of his former friend, Koresh is portrayed as a somewhat sympathetic character, regardless of the fact that he ordered his followers to illegally stockpile weapons, and fathered at least 12 children with multiple underage "wives." The story also fails to address the rationale behind these actions in any meaningful way. Despite the fact that Koresh and some of his followers were responsible for the deaths of so many, federal operatives are characterized as overly aggressive, politically motivated, and mostly responsible for what happened. All of this makes Waco an unsettling viewing experience, especially for those who were watching during those fateful days in 1993. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Branch Davidians. Who are they? What characterized their belief system? How did David Koresh become a leader among them? What makes a cult a cult versus a religion?

  • Waco depicts the actions of the federal government as the main reason for the tragic way the siege on the Branch Davidian compound finally ended. Is there any truth to this? How do we know?

  • How does the media characterize people who live differently from the mainstream? 

TV details

For kids who love history TV

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