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, on the other hand, 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 created the much-needed opportunity for conflict. Not siege conflict but an ideological clash; 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 open fire because they were intent on wiping out this “dangerous cult” or through trigger-happy incompetence? Hmmmm.
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 well though, was free up John Erick Dowdle to direct and only direct.
I’m not suggesting Dowdle is a bad writer or director, he’s obviously competent in both departments yet, as a director, he’ll never bring a distinct visual style. He’s a metteur-en-scene not an auteur.
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 visual storytelling.
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 previous two scripts.
Sam Esmail directed all and wrote the majority of the second season of Mr Robot, yet the best episode was when he turned his typewriter over to rookie writers Randy Leon and Kor Adana.
While auters like Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson and Joss Whedon write and direct the hell outta movies, I stand by my statement that one person writing and directing a whole series (or mini-series) takes up too much of a storyteller’s brain.
The Coen Brothers, Christopher and Jonah Nolan and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger proved it long ago.
Waco continues on Wednesday, February 14th on the Paramount Network.