Waco: The Aftermath (2023) Episode 4 Recap & Ending Explained: ‘Conspiracy’ is the penultimate episode of the 5-part limited series Waco: The Aftermath (2023). Developed by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, this is a sequel of sorts to the 2018 6-part limited series Waco. The Aftermath, as its title suggests, dives into the wide-ranging repercussions of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound at Mount Carmel Center, which caused the death of 82 Branch Davidians and 4 Federal Agents. The incident became a rallying cry for the far-right militia. It was directly linked to the Oklahoma City Bombing on April 19, 1995 (on the 2nd anniversary of the deadly Waco siege), which took the lives of 168 people.
So far, the three episodes of Waco: The Aftermath chronicled three storylines: the trial of four surviving Branch Davidians facing conspiracy charges (initially it was five; a woman named Kathy Schroeder turned into a government witness after taking a plea deal); the rise of young megalomaniac Vernon Howell (Keean Johnson), and his transformation as David Koresh, the self-proclaimed prophet who impregnated underage girls; and FBI Chief Hostage Negotiator Gary Noesner’s (Michael Shannon) inquiry into a possible sinister plot at the den of far-right militia in Elohim City, Oklahoma.
The fourth episode, titled ‘Conspiracy,’ primarily focuses on the trial of the Branch Davidians and keeps building the foreboding atmosphere surrounding Timothy McVeigh’s mission. The lack of solid source material once again becomes evident in the fourth episode of Waco: The Aftermath. The McVeigh (Alex Breaux) and Carol Howe (Abbey Lee) subplot doesn’t seem to progress the narrative excitingly. However, the trial moves at a breakneck pace as the prosecution and defense sides put up one hell of a fight. Now let’s look into the spoiler-filled recap of ‘Conspiracy.’
Waco: The Aftermath (2023) Episode 4 Recap:
Dear Fine Sirs…
The fourth episode opens at a San Antonio diner, Polo Lounge, the usual hangout place for defense lawyers of Branch Davidians. Rocket (Matthew Manelo), the lawyer for Livingstone Fagan (Michael Luwoye), is reading one of the many hate mails they have received. One letter goes, “I hope all your children die of…..,“ Rocket stops reading. When another lawyer questions why he reads ‘such crap,’ Rocket replies that if someone doesn’t just stop at threatening, then these letters would give the cops a clue. To which Dan Cogdell (Giovanni Ribisi) forlornly states that the cops wouldn’t even try to solve the case since they are just cop-killers’ defenders.
The waitress, Jocelyn, breaks the bleak atmosphere by joking that she can protect the men from the mean letters. Subsequently, Rocket reads one of the rare fan mail he has received from a guy named ‘Tim McVeigh,’ which opens with words, ‘Dear fine sirs,’ and addresses them as ‘good patriots.’ Rocket letter-reading is juxtaposed with visuals of McVeigh loading sacks of ammonium nitrate fertilizer into the car trunk and dropping it in a storage space, which holds more such sacks.
Where are the Doors?
Each of the three previous episodes focused on a particular Branch Davidian defendant and their encounters with Vernon Howell in the past. In ‘Conspiracy,’ Paul Fatta (Nicholas Kolev), a licensed firearms dealer, takes the stand as the prosecution builds a strong case against him, calling him a ‘blood merchant.’ Paul Fatt was not present at Mount Carmel Center throughout the standoff, but he was charged since he was the main buyer of guns for David Koresh.
The prosecutor Bill Johnston (Michael Cassidy), first brings in a gun seller, who attests to Paul’s knowledge of guns, and that he bought firearms worth $90,000. Then, Texas Ranger Boak provides his testimony on the automatic weapons they found in the compound after the siege. Defense lawyer Dan Cogdell’s focus still lies on the front doors of the compound as he questions Ranger Boak on what happened to it. He further wonders how the law enforcement agencies could include a lighter as evidence but not find seven-foot-two doors.
Ranger Boak explains that the doors must have burnt with the rest of the building. Next, an ATF agent testifies that in the months before the raid, the Branch Davidians acquired a lot of weapons and didn’t sell them back. In the cross-examination, Dan questioned if the Branch Davidians bought any weapons illegally and got a ‘no’ as the answer. With this witness, too, Dan asks what happened to the doors.
The next witness is Lieutenant Caldwell, a member of the local police force, who Bill Johnston questions on what a ‘Mag Bag’ is. It is a small offsite house situated in farmland near Mount Carmel, where all the weapons are delivered. But when Johnston questions if the witness had any prior interactions with Paul Fatt and David Koresh, Dan objects, citing that the previous charges from the 80s can’t be brought into this case. The judge rules in favor of the defendant. Lt. Caldwell leaves the stand only after Dan asks him if he has any knowledge about the doors.
The Conflict with George Roden
In 1987, nearly a year after Lois Roden’s death, her crazy son George Roden (Michael Vincent Berry) exhumes his mother’s body, claiming that he would resurrect his momma and be the true prophet of Mount Carmel. George reveals his plans to Vernon and challenges him. Vernon reports it to the local sheriff, who says he can’t act without proper evidence since George often says many crazy things.
Therefore, Vernon decides to covertly enter the premises of Mount Carmel and gather photographic evidence of George’s horrific act of exhumation. Paul Fatta, who is more like Vernon’s right-hand man at the time, objects to it, warning him that George can open fire on them. Nevertheless, Vernon is all set to execute the mission as he takes five men, including Paul Fatta, all dressed in camouflage. They enter the chapel and take a picture of the unearthed corpse. However, George appears out of nowhere and starts shooting at them. Vernon shoots George in his arm, but just when they are about to escape, the cops catch them. They were charged with attempted murder, the previous interaction prosecutor Bill Johnston brought up in the trial of Paul Fatta while questioning Lt. Caldwell.
Were the Doors Made of Aluminum or Steel?
Though condemned as an unreliable conspiracy theorist, ex-CIA Gordon Novel (Gary Cole) once again helps the defense with a piece of crucial information. He shows Dan and other defense lawyers at Polo Lounge a picture of perfectly intact doors from the Mount Carmel Center getting loaded into a truck. As Dan presents the photograph in front of the Judge, the prosecutor objects to it, emphasizing that it’s a blurry picture the defense got from a conspiracy theorist. Dan is taken aback and questions how the prosecutor knew his source and asks whether he is spying on him.
Prosecutor Bill dismisses Dan’s accusations and casually states that they have found one of the two missing doors. As the blackened door is brought in, Dan questions Rocket if the Polo Lounge is bugged. Ranger Boak testifies that they found the door on the prosecution side’s insistence. It was initially classified as scrap metal since it was found at least 40 feet from the building. The Ranger’s theory is that the intact door was caught in the tank and dragged a little distance from the building, whereas the other was totally burnt. Aluminum burns at 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, and during the fire, there was an excess of 1300 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Ranger further postulates that the burnt door would have bullet holes, which according to ATF, were made by Branch Davidians as they took a shot at their agents from inside. While the prosecutor is questioning the Ranger, Dan is seen sending someone out for an errand. During the cross-examination, Dan asks Ranger Boak to confirm that the guns they found didn’t melt since they were made of steel (which has a higher melting point), but the doors did because they are aluminum. When the Ranger answers in the affirmative, Dan asks whether the other door would have melted if it was made of steel.
To prove his point, Dan gets the refrigerator magnet and sticks it to the intact door to confirm that it’s made of steel. When the magnet sticks to the door, it becomes clear that the doors are made of steel. It further strengthens the doubt in the jury’s mind on whether the government has deliberately hidden the door with bullet holes since it might prove which side first opened the fire. When Ranger Boak confirms that the doors are made of steel, Dan asks, “Where is the missing door?”
Kathy Schroeder Scores a Huge Point for the Prosecution
Though the defense team sustained doubt regarding the government cover-up through the missing doors, they soon were delivered two forceful blows. The jurors start receiving a pamphlet from a group called FIJA (Fully Informed Jury Association), asking them to ‘make the right choice.’ One of the jurors, known as Juror 6, is accosted by a burly man delivering the pamphlet right outside her home. The next blow comes in the form of Kathy Schroeder (Annika Marks), the young mother who left the Branch Davidian compound during the siege to be with her little son, despite David’s disapproval. She took the plea deal the prosecution offered before the trial started.
Kathy testified that on the day of the ATF raid, she was tasked with handing out guns and ammunition to every adult in the compound. She confirms and identifies the three defendants – Ruth, Clive, and Livingstone – to whom she handed out a gun on the day of the raid. Furthermore, she testifies that Paul Fatta purchased all the guns for them, though he wasn’t present during the raid. The most devastating part of Kathy’s testimony is when she claims that they were all trained to fight till the end and that they had no intention of coming out of the compound alive. Dan’s dejected look says that Kathy’s testimony is a total setback to their side. Now she has inculcated in the jury’s mind that no matter the negotiation or rescue operations of the FBI, the Branch Davidians always possessed a death wish.
Waco: The Aftermath (2023) Episode 4 Ending Explained:
A Storm is Gathering Over Oklahoma, but Gary Needs to be in San Antonio
Nothing much happens with Carol Howe’s narrative thread, though in the last episode, we saw her tense entry into Elohim City with the help of Becca (Giorgia Whigham). She starts her day at the chapel, listening to the fire and brimstone speech of the racist Elohim City founder, Pappy Millar (Paul Dillon). Later, Carol calls Gary under the watchful eyes of a dangerous Elohim City resident. Hence, she pretends as if she is talking to her daddy. Gary is relieved to hear that his informant is safe.
Meanwhile, Tim Mcveigh surveils the Federal building in Oklahoma City. He is shocked to see children inside the building, a daycare for the children of Federal agents. Upon hearing it, McVeigh’s partner in crime, Terry Nichols (Kieran Mulcare), questions how they are better than the Federal agents if they also kill a bunch of kids. Soon, Gary gets a call at the Oklahoma Federal building from his superior, Alan (Steven Williams), ordering him to go to the San Antonio courthouse to testify on the conspiracy case of Branch Davidians.
To everyone’s surprise, Gary is called to testimony by the defense team. Gary says he can’t go since he successfully sent a CI (confidential informant) to Elohim City. This only enrages Alan, questioning how he can send an unauthorized CI without consulting him. Eventually, Alan commands Gary to go to San Antonio to show he is a ‘team player’ and will get the due support in Oklahoma.
Why Dan Wants Gary to Take the Stand?
Dan’s decision to bring in Gary Noesner appalls the other defense lawyers. Dan tells them that he hopes Gary will point out the mistakes on the FBI and ATF’s side in their handling of the siege. Kathy’s testimony has absolutely destroyed their defense since their clients are now portrayed as cult people with a death wish. Only Gary can tell that these people really wanted to live, but the wrong decisions from the FBI side led to their deaths. As Rocket rightly points out, how can Dan believe a professional negotiator working for the FBI will speak against his agency? Nevertheless, according to the FBI, Gary is their only trump card now.
Just as Gary Noesner enters the courthouse in San Antonio, the defendants indulge in a mutiny of sorts. Clive, Ruth, Livingstone, and Paul demand their lawyers put them on the stand to tell their side of the story. Dan dismisses that as a very bad idea. When they insist, Dan asks each of the four questions the prosecution side might put forward. He destroys each of them with hard-hitting questions.
Clive is particularly unsettled when asked, “You chose to let your 12-year-old daughter marry a 30-year-old man?” While the four still defend David’s cruel deeds (including his marrying underage girls), Dan shows them how the outside world perceives their actions. Finally, he makes an important point, “you’re not guilty of the crime you are accused of….. But you’re not innocent either.” The episode ends with the stunned expression of Clive Doyle.
The limited series Waco: The Aftermath will end with the fifth episode, ‘Reckoning.’ If you already know the trial’s outcome and what Tim McVeigh did on April 19, 1995, there isn’t any surprise regarding the final episode.