Waco: The Aftermath TV Review

Michael Shannon returns in Showtime’s sequel series focused on courtrooms and the Oklahoma City bombing.

Last Updated on April 28, 2023


Plot: This topical series focuses on the fallout of the Waco disaster: the trials of the surviving members of the Brand Davidian sect, which forces them to explore their own complicity in supporting a young Vernon Howell’s ascent to become their prophet David Koresh; the birth of the militia movement and more specifically a critical look at what happens when a marginalized population, disenfranchised by the federal government gives rise to homegrown terrorist, Timothy McVeigh.

Review: Back in 2018, Showtime’s six-episode series Waco recreated the tragic siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Texas by the FBI. With a stellar cast led by Michael Shannon as FBI negotiator Gary Noesner and Taylor Kitsch as Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh, Waco was met with positive yet mixed reviews. Many felt the workmanlike drama was too sympathetic towards Koresh and his followers but praised Kitsch’s performance and that of the ensemble cast. After five years, the follow-up series Waco: The Aftermath is here to chronicle the legal proceedings against the surviving Branch Davidians and the impact of the siege on domestic terrorism in the United States. A sometimes disjointed approach is far more critical of David Koresh in a series of flashbacks to his rise to leadership of his cult while simultaneously looking at the courtroom drama that happened in parallel with the impending Oklahoma City bombing. With key cast returning alongside new actors, Waco: The Aftermath is an intriguing continuation that lacks the same energy as its predecessor.

Waco: The Aftermath,Showtime,Michael Shannon

Originally envisioned as a true crime anthology series titled American Tragedy, the trial-focused follow-up to Waco evolved into a direct continuation. But, at a shortened five episodes compared to Waco‘s six, The Aftermath itself was not enough to warrant an entire series on its own. Showrunners John Erick and Drew Dowdle devised a combination of the Branch Davidian trial and FBI agent Gary Noesner’s discovery of Timothy McVeigh and the plot to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma City. While these two parallel stories do not converge narratively beyond Michael Shannon appearing on the stand, there is a direct connection between the ATF and FBI actions in Texas and the radicalization that led to the terror attack in 1995. The Dowdles also felt a need to focus on David Koresh’s rise to power to inform the surviving cultists as they underwent their legal proceedings. Combining these narratives into a cohesive series drama is not always successful. Still, it manages to mask the lack of enough dramatics to warrant an entire season dedicated to this story.

Of the three main storylines, the court case is the least intriguing. While Giovanni Ribisi spends most of his time with a strange accent as he defends the Branch Davidian survivors, he struggles to believe in the defense he is presenting. It is not until private investigator Gordon Novel (Gary Cole) arrives with evidence of a government conspiracy to cover up the actions at Mount Carmel that the case gets interesting. Even with recognizable faces like Shea Whigham, Michael Cassidy, and David Costabile, the courtroom scenes are nothing truly memorable and instead serve as a platform to deliver flashbacks to David Koresh’s early days with the cult when his name was still Vernon Howell. Replacing Taylor Kitsch, Keean Johnson dons the mullet and eyeglasses that comprise most of Koresh’s signature look as he ingratiates himself with the then-leader of the Branch Davidians, Lois Roden (Succession’s J. Smith-Cameron). Keean Johnson echoes Taylor Kitsch’s excellent performance and imbues Koresh with a swagger and charisma that is a little less sympathetic this time. At times, Koresh seems righteous, but often it is easy to see through his smooth talk to the master manipulator beneath.

While the trial is a solid bookend to the events from the original series, Waco: The Aftermath often feels like it should have focused either on the Branch Davidian trial or the hunt to stop the Oklahoma City bombing. Michael Shannon, already one of the most intriguing actors working today, is a highlight of this series as the veteran FBI agent who connects the dots of what the extreme “patriots” awakened by Waco are planning next. Having Shannon as the connective element between Waco and Oklahoma City would have been interesting enough rather than blending the two. Shannon shares significant screen time with Abbey Lee as Carol Howe, a neo-Nazi who turns informant for the FBI. Lee is solid as the debutante turned swastika-emblazoned stool pigeon, and her scenes end up being the tensest in the entire five-episode series. Shannon could easily headline an ongoing series where he investigates a different crime each season, but knowing that this series is striving to tell true stories, this is likely where this tale will end.

Waco: The Aftermath,Showtime,Michael Shannon

Many odd choices are made in this series, notably the typically excellent John Hoogenakker as cultist Clive Doyle. Hoogenakker’s character is Australian, and other characters repeatedly state this point as it is almost impossible to tell from his muddled accent. It is also difficult to understand if we are meant to sympathize with the Branch Davidian survivors because David Koresh brainwashed them or because they were massacred by the government agents who stormed their compound. The sympathy you feel for these characters will depend on how convinced you are by the arguments made by the different lawyers in the courtroom scenes. At the same time, the field sequences focused on hunting Timothy McVeigh make it very clear that his supremacist faction is pure evil. But, with no on-screen transitions indicating whether we are in a flashback or contemporary scene, Waco: The Aftermath shifts around so much that it can be difficult to anchor yourself in the story.

Despite half a decade passing between the initial miniseries and this season, Waco: The Aftermath is an addendum to the original six episodes. But, by mixing three distinct perspectives and approaches into this five-episode run, Waco: The Aftermath feels disjointed and cumbersome. While Giovanni Ribisi does his best as a righteous defense attorney, the series highlights are Michael Shannon and Abbey Lee. In hindsight, the Dowdles would have been better served going back and separating Waco from Oklahoma City as two different series. Still, there is just not enough material presented here to warrant this presentation of the horrific events. Waco: The Aftermath is well-made and acted but does not work as a standalone series.

Waco: The Aftermath premieres on April 16th on Showtime.

Source: JoBlo.com

About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.