‘Waco: American Apocalypse’ Review: A Documentary That Shows the Wrongness of Both Sides
The power of a cult cannot be underestimated. Faith has been one of the most powerful forces in human history. It has inspired beautiful moments of revelation, humanity, and love. However, it has also fueled some of the most horrendous incidents in human history. At one point, Christianity was considered a dangerous cult, and the same could be said about the American government: a bunch of rebels ready to do things their way. It becomes quite a mess when these two forces clash. Waco: American Apocalypse is a new Netflix docuseries arriving on the platform this week.
Waco: American Apocalypse is a docuseries directed by Tiller Russell that tells the story of the infamous Waco siege. In this conflict, the forces of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, also known as the ATF, clashed against the forces led by David Koresh. David was a self-proclaimed messiah who had built his headquarters in Waco, in the state of Texas. The result was a siege that extended for 51 days and ended with the deaths of more than 70 Davidians, including their leader, David Koresh.
Waco has taken on almost mythical status when it comes to presenting a fine example of what not to do on American soil. For many, the Waco siege reflects that abuse of power on the government’s part when dealing with people who don’t align with a particular way of living. The government just decides that violence and the use of force are the only answers when it comes to seeing people eye to eye. However, in this particular case, the government was met with equal, if not superior, firepower, and forcing people to summit was anything but easy.
Another side of the conflict also warns us about the power of faith as a tool to manipulate and destroy families and lives in the process. The figure of David Koresh mixes the holiness of a spiritual leader with the perversion of a conman who will say and do anything not to lose the power he has acquired by lying and manipulating weak-minded individuals. Koresh declared himself to be God, the new messiah, and he went in the same way as so many others before him. With the exception that, unlike Jesus, he never returned to life.
Russell’s documentary consists of three episodes that encapsulate the Waco event in a very comprehensive way. It is a very good introduction for those who know nothing about the incident. It is clear that many details are being overlooked for the sake of pacing, but as an overall view of the incident, you will learn things here that are not told anywhere else in mainstream media. Russell even manages to get interviews with survivors from both sides of the event.
These interviews are the meat and potatoes of the docuseries because they reflect the very different realities lived by survivors from both sides of the conflict. It is quite interesting and alarming to hear some declarations being made in the documentary. Those who were part of the ATF forces speak with disdain and zero empathy for those who were cult members. Meanwhile, those who were Koresh’s disciples still see him as a holy figure, even when he openly practiced pedophilia and other forms of abuse.
The docuseries balances the narrative and shows that both sides of the conflict were just plain wrong in how they did things. Society works for a reason, and while it is understandable that some people don’t feel comfortable with that way of living, it doesn’t mean that you can just stomp over others and expect no consequences. So, for those afraid that the docuseries would favor one side, you can rest in peace knowing they are all pretty bad.
The docuseries also has excellent pacing; all episodes have an average runtime of about 50 minutes. So, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Towards the end of the series, you can definitely feel that some of the details of the operation are being overlooked, and a more in-depth look into this part of the siege would have been very welcome. But alas, that is not what happens. Instead, we are shown just how much lack of empathy the survivors have for each other. Of course, It is understandable, yet it feels like something that should not happen.
Ultimately, Waco: American Apocalypse is a solid document detailing what happened during the mythical Waco siege. The production values are quite solid, and the fact that the production managed to get interviews with survivors from both sides of the conflict really permeates the entire production with a very powerful emotional component. You can feel that all these people believe in what they did at that precise moment. And they still believe it, even when it is clear that they were wrong and that there were better ways of dealing with events. However, would those ways have worked? We will never know.