May 25, 2024

WACO: THE AFTERMATH (2023) – A modern day American tragedy

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Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

(L-R): Michael Shannon as Gary Noesner, David Costabile as Judge Smith and Giovanni Ribisi as Dan Cogdell from WACO: THE AFTERMATH. Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/Courtesy of SHOWTIME.

On the 19th of April 1993, the FBI and Texas law enforcement launched a siege on the compound where a religious cult group had gathered. The siege was carried out after an unsuccessful negotiation with FBI which lasted for 51 days! The incident ended tragically, with the building being burned down, killing 82 cult members, including their leader, David Koresh, and 28 children! This is not the first time the siege has been dramatised into a TV series, with the most recent being a six-part miniseries titled simply WACO, which came out in 2018. Waco: The Aftermath is a follow-up to that 2018 series. This year, Netflix also launched a documentary series Waco: American Apocalypse.

Waco: The Aftermath attempts to tell the story in a different manner. It is basically three stories told in parallel. The first depicts how cult leader David Koresh launched his movement in the early 1980s. A second plotline followed the trial of the cult’s surviving members, who were accused of murdering FBI agents during the siege. Finally, the third plot line centred on FBI hostage negotiator Gary Noesner’s (played by Michael Shannon) investigation into domestic terrorist activities and links that arose from dissatisfaction with what occurred in Waco. This approach started off feeling a bit confusing but this got more palpable as soon we get familiar with its flow. The three parallel storylines were an effective approach for the series to present its story from several perspectives. The screenplay and acting are also superb, making this five-part series incredibly “binge-watchable” because you’ll want to know what happens next. Michael Shannon was fantastic as the troubled FBI negotiator attempting to do the right thing. Keean Johnson had screen presence as cult leader David Koresh, but I felt his character was underwritten because much of his climb to cult leader was not addressed. Lastly I thought Giovanni Ribisi was excellent as the defense lawyer for the cult survivors.

The story is yet another shocker. Another example of how twisted American justice can be. Unlike in typical fiction, this narrative does not have a happy conclusion, and it is unnerving to consider how recent these events were and the consequences of the occurrence. It provides context for some of the typical domestic terrorism attacks that continue to haunt America today. Waco: The Aftermath plays like something from the evening news and is difficult to get out of our heads after watching it.

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