Showtime dropped the first episode in its newest series, “Waco: The Aftermath,” where we learn about the events that followed the Siege of Waco in February 1993. After a 51-day siege outside the Mt. Carmel compound, where the self-proclaimed Messiah David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch) and almost 80 of his followers (women and children included) were housed, the ATF and FBI sent a tank to destroy the house and deployed tear gas. The house went up in flames, killing almost everyone inside, Koresh included. Of the people who survived, Showtime’s newest series presents a look into what became of these defendants, whether they were doomed from the start or were given a fighting chance. Here’s what happens in the first episode.
The New Season
“Waco: The Aftermath” begins in an FBI meeting room with negotiators Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon) and Mitch Decker (Shea Wigham) arguing about the FBI and ATF approach at the compound of the Branch Davidians headed by David Koresh in February 1993. While Noesner argues that his negotiation technique could bring out 35 people, Decker retorts that it was the negotiator’s incompetence that led the ATF to send a tank crashing into the Davidians’ home at Mount Carmel. Meanwhile, montages play of the fateful day when the tank advanced toward the residence, and some gas was sprayed inside the building as women and children screamed for help. We also see a brief scene of Decker trying to help a woman stuck under the debris by extending his hand and shouting after her as she falls in. However, now that the entire USA fumes in rage over the deaths of nearly 80 people, women and children included, the FBI is pulling out all the stops in defending their actions, although Noesner can’t be on the same page.
Before The Trial
In a courtroom, advocate Dan Cogdell (Giovanni Ribisi) is typing on an ancient laptop when an important-looking man walks up to him and says machines aren’t allowed in the court, and Cogdell gives the man the cold shoulder until he realizes it’s Judge Walter Smith (David Costabile). The lawyer introduces himself as the advocate for Clive Dowell, one of the survivors of the Waco Siege, and the judge asks Cogdell to put away the laptop in response. The defendant in question, Clive Doyle, is being transported to a holding area along with four other survivors when they hear the common public’s hatred against them, and Doyle is confused. Cogdell wants to raise a motion in court before the trial begins to make certain words unusable in regard to the Waco Siege. Cogdell argues in favor of having words like “compound,” “Branch Davidians,” and “cult” banned from admission, but the judge keeps denying every motion.
Meet Vernon Howell, Aka David Koresh
As the advocate speaks about his client, Doyle, the defendant begins thinking of a day when he was walking in the area of Mount Carmel with his daughters, Karen and Shari, and they discussed the good and bad things about life—roses, and thorns. But the peaceful lull is broken by an argument between the church’s prophetess Lois Roden (J. Smith Cameron) and her ill-tempered son George (Michael Vincent Berry), until Vernon Howell, aka David Koresh (Keean Johnson), arrives on his motorcycle. Howell asks for the prophetess, and Roden invites the newcomer inside and informs him that service is beginning. On another occasion, George Roden barged into the church once and called his mother’s teachings blasphemous, where she’d claimed the Holy Spirit is feminine. As Lois Roden began defending her words, Howell took her side and began quoting several sections of the Bible, including Psalms and Proverbs, where “she” has been mentioned several times. As George leaves angrily, Lois is impressed by Howell’s knowledge of the Bible.
The Plea Deal
In the evening, the lawyers on the side of the defendants are deciding their course of action, with Cogdell clarifying that David Koresh can’t be represented as the Messiah because he wasn’t; instead, the case should focus on how the US Government sent a tank into someone’s home and killed almost 80 people. Unless a precedent is set, any person with a badge and a gun could start killing people in the name of the law. Just then, the public prosecutor in this case, Bill Johnston, walks in with an offer. Cogdell meets with his client Doyle and says the offer is to plead guilty in return for 15 years in prison with the possibility of parole, where Doyle has to testify against the other survivors. The lawyer adds that the prosecution has offered the same deal to the four other people, and it’s a conspiracy charge, so if proven guilty, the survivors shall be facing life imprisonment.
Before the trial begins, Judge Smith announces that he’s going to pick the jury himself so that the case can work out in favor of the prosecution and refuses to listen to any objections from the defense. Smith begins interviewing the jurors based on their beliefs regarding cult members, and it’s obvious that Smith isn’t exactly impartial in this case. Doyle thinks back to the time when he and Howell were laying the room, and Doyle told the newcomer how he’d arrived at Mt. Carmel 15 years ago from Australia and had stayed there since. Howell says he learned to read from the Bible, and he’d always wanted to meet a real prophet, so he prayed to God once, and three days later, he was told about a prophetess on the plains of Waco. Howell packed a bag, got on his bike, and arrived there immediately. Back in the present, the defendants discuss the plea offer, and one of the defendants, Ruth Riddle, says the prosecution doesn’t care about justice or the truth and plans on mowing down the survivors. No matter what they argue, they’re going to face imprisonment, so it’s best to proceed without sacrificing their dignity by throwing others under the bus. Another defendant adds that unless one of them starts working with the government and begins tipping them off about what exactly happened at Mt. Carmel, nobody will know, so it’s mandatory that they remain united. Doyle gets a visitor, and it’s his surviving daughter Karen, who asks him to take the deal, but he doesn’t want to give in. She announces she’s pregnant with his granddaughter Anne in the hopes her father will make the right decision.
The Trial Begins
Cogdell brings Doyle a suit and asks if he thought about the plea deal, and the defendant remembers how Howell had refused to back down from George Roden when Doyle had advised him caution. Howell argued that we can’t just back down from bullies but instead must stand up and do the right thing. After remembering this talk with Howell, Doyle tells Cogdell that he’s not backing down before bullies. In the courtroom, Doyle finds his daughter among the spectators, and all the defendants but Kathy Schroder have shown up. The prosecution attorney arrives beaming and informs the defense that Kathy has turned government witness and will be testifying against the Davidians. When the trial begins, Johnston begins portraying the defendants as cold-blooded killers who gunned down federal officers doing their duty, but Cogdell presented David Koresh as a manipulative fraud who misled the people into criminal activities. Noticing disgruntlement from the defendants, Cogdell focused on the ill-treatment his clients had faced from the FBI, but in the break room, the lawyer lays it down in no uncertain terms that he does not care about how he’s tarnishing David Koresh’s image because his priority is keeping the defendants out of jail. When Ruth argues how her husband was torn apart by a tank because of their beliefs that Cogdell is calling misguided, the lawyer lays down the law. He says that now that Kathy has flipped on them, she’ll leak every Mt. Carmel secret and portray all of them as vicious criminals, no matter what they say. Thus, the only way for the defendants to survive is if the defense takes the stand that they’ve been conditioned by David Koresh and are the victims of the situation.
In the final flashback of the episode, Ruth remembers how Vernon Howell had laid bare the severity of his sexual desires when Lisa Roden was giving a sermon. He had gone into excruciating details about how maddening it was for him when the impulses got to him, but he wasn’t embarrassed by his actions. While listening to him, Lisa seemed pensive. Later, while Doyle, Ruth, and Howell were working with crops, Lisa invited Vernon to join her on a trip to Israel.
Negotiating A Hostage Situation
The other story is about FBI negotiator Agent Gary Noesner and how he uncovers a plot about an oncoming attack on the US Government. While having breakfast at a deli, Noesner watches the news, where the five survivors from the Waco siege are going to be put on trial for illegal possession of firearms and aiding in the deaths of four federal agents. Two customers in the background are heard speaking amongst themselves, saying that it’s the ATF agents who deserve to be jailed for mowing down the people, and the guilt makes Noesner leave before finishing his breakfast. The next time we see the negotiator, he’s being briefed about a bank robbery-turned-hostage situation by Agent Dusty, where a tip-off has helped the FBI capture three of the four robbers, but the other has holed himself up and is holding the people in their hostage. Worse still, these robbers who cleaned out 22 banks identify as members of the Aryan Republican Army or, in colloquial language, neonazis. Noesner calls up the kidnapper inside the bank and asks for his name; the suspect identifies himself as “Wild Bill” and demands a helicopter immediately, lest he begins killing people. He also threatens to detonate a pipe bomb to kill everyone present if anyone tries forcing their way inside. Like any good negotiator, Noesner gives Bill the idea that he’s trying to organize the helicopter and then asks about Bill’s motivation behind this act, and the kidnapper says this is a message to show there’s a limit to how far people can be pushed. At that time in Oklahoma, a man wakes up in his car, sets course for a location, and begins driving.
It’s been 20 hours, and Noesner is still trying to negotiate with Bill, who says it’s time people fought back, but it was never about robbing banks; he does warn, “payback’s coming.” Noesner lures Bill with the promise that since he hasn’t hurt anyone in the robberies yet, he can walk out and do a few years’ jail time and then later sell the movie rights to his story and live the good life, owing to the success of the 22 robberies they’d pulled off. However, if he kills another person, Bill shall be termed just another killer, and he’ll be dismissed. The negotiation works, and Bill walks out unarmed and is arrested as Noesner watches.
It’s 3 o’clock in the morning when Noesner is pouring over “Wild Bill’s” files when he discovers something, and the next day, he heads to the bureau and shows a picture to Agent Dusty, where Bill can be seen near the same flag that’d flown over Mt. Carmel, and Dusty says the area looks like Elohim City, a hub of Christian White Supremacists, so to raid the area, the FBI would need a small army, and following the Waco Siege, that’s a massive longshot. Noesner meets Agent Jacob Velasquez (John Leguizamo) and invites him for a drink. At the bar, Noesner asks Velasquez about Elohim City because he’s scared about an underlying rage among the American people. Velasquez agrees to set Noesner up with a contact who’s working on the Elohim City case. Noesner meets Agent Angie, who’d been tipped off about the robbery by Bill’s girlfriend because he’d beat her up badly. The two agents visit Carol Howe in a hospital room, and the severely bruised woman initially refuses to cooperate, but Noesner reminds her that innocent lives are at stake.
Who Are The People At Elohim City?
Carol slowly reveals that the people at Elohim are the kind of people who’ll carry out an action if they promise they will. These people didn’t always speak to Carol, but she learned that they were angry because they believed the US government had turned against them. We then get to see who these people at Elohim are. The car that had started in Oklahoma arrives at a gated compound with several armed people standing guard. As the car enters the compound, Carol tells Noesner that if there’s talk about payback coming, Elohim City is where it’s coming from. Therefore, Elohim City is a group of extremists who’ve taken up arms in the name of Christianity and plan to cause something big and terrible as retribution for all the horrible things they think the US Government has done against them. In simpler terms, they’re terrorists who are planning a terrorist attack soon.