Further to my recent post about it taking one hell of a storyteller to both write and direct a TV series, I thought I’d try and back it up with some evidence from the show-in-question; Waco S01E03 Operation Showtime.
Visions and Omens and The Strangers Across the Street, Waco’s first and second episodes were both written and directed by John Erick Dowdle and made for passable, C+ Grade television. Watchable, but not ground-breaking.
Operation Showtime was written by Salvatore Stabile and because of this fact, the series came of age last night. Stabile isn’t an incredible, nor a hugely experienced writer. He wrote one episode of The Sopranos early in his career, and more recently for Power and Revenge but his script introduces a much-needed thematic question… WHO SHOT FIRST – THE ATF OR THE BRANCH DAVIDIANS?
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT WACO S01E03 OPERATION SHOWTIME?
Amongst the flying bullets, this thematic question creates the opportunity for conflict. Not the kinda siege conflict but truth versus lies. Only one side can be telling the truth and I believe it’s the Branch Davidians.
Stabile’s teleplay also subtly introduces broaches another question; did the ATF opened fire because they were intent on wiping out this “dangerous cult” or through trigger-happy incompetence?
Save for Koresh’s potential last phone call to his mother – brilliantly performed as ever by Taylor Kitsch – there was nothing hugely revelatory in Stabile’s dialogue; what his writing did though was free up John Erick Dowdle to direct and only direct. I’m not saying Dowdle is a bad writer or director, he’s competent in both departments yet, as a metteur-en-scene, he’ll never bring a distinct visual style.
Yes, it could be argued that John Erick is still multi-tasking by showrunning his pet-project but (for me) Waco S01E03 Operation Showtime proves a two-man writer/director team gives the director more creative freedom to stage meaningful, story-pushing shots.
The show’s Texan desert location has never looked more beautiful than from the ATF helicopter buzzing overhead, yet a few tracking “oners” would have helped raised tension inside the siege building as opposed to locked-off cameras.
The siege upon Mount Carmel; with its underdogs being shot at by an army, its storming scenes, gun-battles, hostage negotiations, blood and death, certainly helped raise the excitement, but Stabile’s script created far more empathy for Koresh and the Branch Davidians than Dowdle’s scripts.
But I stand by the fact that one person co-writing and directing a whole series (or mini-series) takes up too much of a storyteller’s brain.
Waco continues on Wednesday, February 14th on the Paramount Network.