Waco: The Aftermath is a five-part series that is on Showtime that feels like it was rushed into production to air in time for the 30th anniversary of the day the Branch Davidian seige when the compound burned down with many people inside. The question has remained since then what really happened. A three-part docuseries on Netflix makes a stronger argument that the fires were started simultaneously at separate locations that couldn’t be started as a result of the government.
The series is a sequel to the 2018 far better series Waco which presented a more indifferent look. David Koresh played by Taylor Kitsch in that series as he was obviously a pedophile but he had the charisma to make people think he was a holy man and even the second coming of Christ. The Aftermath focuses as a prequel as well as we see Koresh (Keenan Johnson) when he went by Vernon Howell and finds Lois Roden (J. Smith-Cameron) the Prophetess of the Branch Davidians in the late 1970s and 1980s. Johnson never doesn’t seem to embrace Howell/Koresh and feels more like a cheap parody.
There’s other stories that are occurring in the immediate aftermath of the Waco incident. One of which brings back Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon) the FBI hostage negotiator at Waco, as he works with Carol Lowe (Abbey Lowe), who portrays every trailer-trash white supremacy stereotype as a government informant. She finds herself infiltrating the compound in Elohim City, Okla. which is scene as an anti-government white supremacy compound that may or may not have welcomed Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to stay for undisclosed times.
McVeigh’s story is told but it’s so sparingly it barely even registers much in the show. Alex Breaux plays McVeigh the same way Johnson does. There’s little ways to tell who the character is without someone referring to him. My guess is that few actors wanted to play either character so the casting director had slim pickings. Shannon, himself, might be the lead, but there are so much time whenever he isn’t on screen. John Leguizamo and Shea Whigham appear in cameos as ATF Agent Jacob Vasquez and FBI Agent Matt Decker respectively.
Probably the best subplot is one that is never mentioned as much as the stand-off and seige. People forgot that four of the Branch Davidians stood trial for their involvement. Giovanni Ribisi is poorly miscast as Dan Cogdell, the lead defense attorney who spends most of his scenes getting angry and gruffly talking to his other lawyers, the judge presiding over the case who already was biased going in, and the defendants who more or less vanish into the background they could be extras.
The trial would’ve worked better as its own series and maybe Clive Doyle (John Hoogenakker), Ruth Riddle (Kali Rocha), Livingstone Fagan (Michael Luwoye) and Paul Fatta (Nicholas Kolev) would’ve been more three-dimensional. The show makes us want to sympathize with them as they were the ones who were thrown to the wolves because they survived. Because Ribisi overacts and David Costabile as the judge is so unlikable, it becomes a power struggle between the two. Add Gary Cole portraying conspiracy theory nutcase Gordon Novel as if he is in a different production altogether and they totallly missed the point of the trial.
The Branch Davidian trial could have been a benchmark case which argued whether people’s religion should be put on trial. But is there a line they crossed in which they turned into terrorists? Or were they just the victims unable to understand what they were doing was wrong? It’s pretty obvious after 30 years, Koresh was willing to let any and all of his followers die. He wasn’t coming out of prison while alive if he surrendered. The Stockholm Syndrome held them inside the compound.
Sadly, the series never does address this issue. My guess was that they couldn’t get the funding to delve deeper. It’s been 30 years and it’s time to stop returning to it. The series always wants to draw comparisons with the MAGA supporters, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keeprs, but doesn’t understand, they’re all the same. The series ends with McVeigh setting off the bomb that destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and killed 169 people. And while it tries to keep most of the bombing off-screen, it’s still done distastefully.
This series wants to have its cake and eat it too. It wants to criticize the government for overstepping its bounds but also criticize the government for not doing enough. It’s like what that Trump supporter said about him, “He’s not hurting the people he needs to be.”
What do you think? Please comment.