Waco: The Aftermath (2023) Episode 1 Recap & Ending Explained: Showtime’s Waco: The Aftermath (2023), developed by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, is the sequel series to 2018’s Waco, starring Taylor Kitsch and Michael Shannon. Waco chronicled the events that led to the 51-day standoff in 1993 between David Koresh’s Branch Davidians and Federal Agents. On the final day – April 19, 1993 – of the disastrous stalemate, 76 Branch Davidians perished in the fire. While the government placed its blame on David Koresh and his alleged cult, the FBI’s use of excessive force fueled fear and paranoia among radical far-right groups.
The Waco siege was seen as the defining moment of the American government waging war against its own citizens. It resulted in conspiracy theories that radicalized right-wing extremists, leading to large-scale violence in the mid-1990s. The five-part limited series examines those faultlines created in the wake of the Waco siege. Waco: The Aftermath episode 1, ‘Truth and Consequences,’ follows FBI negotiator Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon) dealing with the fallout of the Waco siege. The episode also shows the beginning of the trial of eleven Branch Davidians, who are tried for murder and conspiracy charges. Now here’s a spoiler alert before diving deep into the episode
Waco: The Aftermath (2023) Episode 1 Recap:
Tactics ‘Wins’ Over the Talks
Waco: The Aftermath episode 1 ‘Truth and Consequences,’ opens in 1994 with Waco Deposition at the Department of Justice. FBI hostage negotiator is bogged down by the guilt over what happened at Waco. In contrast, FBI’s tactical commander Mitch Decker (Shea Wingham) coolly provides a statement that basically says that the FBI did everything as per the standard protocol. He blames Branch Davidians for harboring a ‘death wish.’ Mitch’s statement is juxtaposed with the chaos inside the burning Branch Davidian compound from the final episode of the 2018 miniseries.
Mitch also casually lays the blame on the negotiation team for not doing enough. Gary contests this claim since it’s a fact that through negotiation, 35 Branch Davidians safely came out of the building. However, the general atmosphere within the FBI is to protect their agents and not own up to their mistakes. And Gary rightly points out that the ‘bad decisions’ made on the field at Waco are being interpreted as a ‘master plan’ by the government to wipe out its people.
At a diner, Gary watches the news of the indictment of five surviving Branch Davidians and their trial in San Antonio, Texas—someone on TV comments that the FBI and ATF should stand on trial, not the religious extremists.
A Bank Robber Portends a ‘Payback’
Gary Noesner is called to negotiate a hostage situation at an Arkansas after a bank robbery gone wrong. The field agent briefs Gary on the situation. Four smart bank robbers have robbed the banks in and around Oklahoma and Arkansas, 21 in total. But a last-minute tip during their 22nd bank robbery helped the authorities to arrest three armed robbers, except one. That one person calls himself ‘Wild Bill’ (Michael Cassidy) and threatens to kill the hostages inside the bank if he doesn’t get a getaway helicopter. The agent on the scene also mentions that the four were members of the Aryan Republican Army.
Gary gets into the business as usual and talks down the man on the other end from committing any more serious crimes. Gary’s negotiation skills involve a mix of appreciating the hostage-taker’s plans as well as giving him a reality check. In this case, Gary acknowledges the bank robbers’ exacting methods to rob these many banks and yet not physically hurt a single individual. Gary pleads with Bill not to do something erratic and become another murderer.
The standoff at the Arkansas bank extends to nearly 20 hours, and it reaches a satisfactory ending with Bill surrendering without hurting anyone. However, on the phone, Bill rambles about his anti-government inclinations, and Gary wonders if robbing banks is their way of fighting against the system. To which Bill says robbery is not the point and abruptly states that the “payback is coming.”
The Defense Attorney’s Tough Task
Top-class trial lawyer Dan Cogdell (Giovanni Ribisi) is assigned to defend the three surviving Branch Davidians, including an innocent middle-aged man named Clive Doyle (John Hoogenakker). Unfortunately, Dan gets on the wrong foot with trial judge Walter Smith (David Costabile). The judge seems to have preconceived notions about the religious group members and instantly dismisses the defense’s motion not to use the words ‘compound,’ ‘Branch Davidians,’ and ‘cult.’
Dan emphasizes that his clients are not on trial for David Koresh’s malevolent deeds. While the defense attorney of other defendants mentions that their strategy should ‘humanize’ David Koresh, Dan brushes off that idea. He reasons that if they base their case on David, they will definitely lose. Instead, Dan wants the defense to prove that the government and Federal agencies raided the people’s home without any cause. He wants to establish that only the government’s overreach caused the death of Branch Davidians and the four federal agents. Nevertheless, Judge Walter continues to give the defense a hard time by selecting the jury himself, making it impossible for Dan to object to it.
Clive Doyle Recalls the ‘Old Times’
Clive Doyle arrived at Mount Carmel Center in Waco, Texas, long before David Koresh and his followers. The soft-spoken father is now accused of serious crimes and faces a life sentence without parole. Clive recalls the year (1981) young Vernon Howell (Keean Johnson) reached Mount Carmel Center. Vernon Howell, who later changed his name to David Koresh, mentions to Clive Doyle that a voice guided him to Mount Carmel Center. Clive was living with his two little daughters, and the Branch Davidians were under the leadership of Lois Roden (J. Smith-Cameron). Lois, who was in her sixties, assumed leadership after the death of her husband, Ben Roden, in 1978.
The 21-year-old Vernon’s incomparable knowledge of the Bible texts becomes evident as soon as he arrives at the Center. Apart from showing off his proficiency in Bible, Vernon was also shown to be deliberately seducing Lois Roden. This causes a conflict between Vernon and George Roden, the violent son of Lois & Ben Roden. George is all set to succeed after Lois, but he feels his position within the group is threatened by Vernon.
Vernon openly talks about his unquenchable sexual desires during the Bible study. Later, Lois invites Vernon to travel with her to Israel for further studies. The events forebode the rise of Vernon, aka David Koresh, within the group as the ‘Chosen One.’
The Plea Deal
The prosecution offers a plea deal to one of the defendants. If they take the deal, the defendant should plead guilty and testify against the group members. In exchange, the individual gets 15 years with parole. Dan briefs Clive Doyle about the deal, but Clive rejects the idea from the outset. However, his grown-up daughter, who visits Clive in prison, tries to convince her father to take the deal. But if there’s one thing Cliver learned from Vernon, then it’s to not surrender to the bullies. Hence, he firmly rejects the deal. The other defendants also express the feeling that they should stay together and contest the charges.
But adding to their woes, one of the defendants, Kathy Schroeder (the single mother who came out of the compound for her little kid), takes the plea deal. Dan says that now it doesn’t matter if they are innocent on an individual level. By making Kathy a state witness, he believes that the prosecution would brand each of them as gun-wielding cult members who had something to do with the death of four Federal agents.
Ruth Riddle (Kali Rocha), one of the defendants, objects to Dan’s portrait of David Koresh as a madman who brainwashed them. Dan makes it clear that the defendants should think of themselves as victims of David Koresh and the government. Ironically, the judicial system denies these individuals any agency and to play their part, the same as how David saw them as pawns in his army of believers.
Waco: The Aftermath (2023) Episode 1 Ending Explained:
What Are the People of ‘Elohim City’ Planning?
Going through the case files of Wild Bill, Gary comes across a photo of a flag – dark blue with a six-point star – over a compound, which is the same as the one used by David Koresh at Waco. Gary visits the Oklahoma City ATF office to inquire about the picture. He is told that the image seems to be from Elohim City, a town full of Christian White supremacists. The ATF agent says that it’s impossible to search the place without a small army. Coincidentally, Gary meets Jacob Vasquez (John Leguizamo), the honest yet disgraced ATF agent whom we see in the Waco series, trying his best to avert the disastrous ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound. Jakob also confirms Gary’s fears about ‘Elohim City’ neo-nazi groups.
Later, Gary visits the hospital to meet the informant who gave a tip about the Arkansas bank robbery to the police. She is Carol Howe (Abbey Lee), an authority-hating, spirited young woman. Before the robbery, Bill beat Carol up, and she got her revenge by informing the police. When Gary questions her about ‘Elohim City,’ Carol gets a little tense. She tells Gary that she hasn’t talked much with the Elohim people, but she had heard them talking about a ‘holy war.’ As Carol mentions that Elohim residents do not make empty threats, we see an intimidating group of armed men standing in front of checkpoints.
The episode ends with the foreboding words that if the payback is coming, it will emerge from Elohim City.