At first blush another anniversary-timed Waco movie/miniseries/documentary seems unnecessary, especially because we had another docuseries addition to that last bucket on Netflix. But “Waco: The Aftermath” justifies its existence by spinning those events forward, chillingly portraying the Oklahoma City bombing and rise in militia movements that grew out of the standoff.
It helps that Michael Shannon (also seen in another recent Showtime limited series, “George & Tammy”) and John Leguizamo (more briefly) reprise their roles from the 2018 miniseries, while “Euphoria’s” Keean Johnson takes over from Taylor Kitsch as a young David Koresh, shown in flashbacks that chart his rise within the Branch Davidian cult. (Koresh does so by having a sexual dalliance with its leader, played by “Succession’s” J. Smith Cameron, carving out a niche when it comes to slightly twisted relationships with younger men.)
Still, the meat of “The Aftermath” comes in the warnings sounded by Shannon’s Gary Noesner, a hostage negotiator at Waco who acknowledges the mistakes made there to the chagrin of his superiors, while struggling to prompt a response to the threat to come and the possibility “some kind of payback for Waco” is coming.
“I just feel this undercurrent of rage in America,” Noesner says, a statement as timely today as it was when the story unfolds 28 years ago. “And I think we helped create the monster that we’re trying to stop.”
Other major cast additions also include Giovanni Ribisi as Dan Cogdell, the trial lawyer leading the defense for the surviving Branch Davidians, seeking to poke holes in the government’s case.
In seeking to overcome the “Why?” question surrounding these kind of anniversaries, directors/producers Drew Dowdle and John Erick Dowdle make a compelling argument that the legacy of Waco is still very much alive and integrated into US politics, a point underscored by former president Donald Trump’s recent decision to hold a rally there.
In that sense, “Waco” operates from the premise that the past is prologue, with Noesner’s fears made all the more resonant by the fact that they came horrifyingly true in Oklahoma City – dramatizing those events, as Timothy McVeigh (Alex Breaux) plans the bombing – and by the rise in domestic extremism in the years since.
Arguably, the miniseries bites off more than it can chew and could have done without (or at least gone lighter on) the Koresh flashbacks, which serve the purpose of reminding the audience just how creepy he was, whatever missteps the authorities might have made in terms of bringing the standoff to a conclusion.
At its core, though, “Waco: The Aftermath” effectively makes its case by connecting the past to the present. When the haunted Noesner argues that he’s not seeking to undo Waco but rather “trying to stop it from happening again,” those words echo as loudly now as one wishes that they had then.
“Waco: The Aftermath” premieres April 14 on Showtime’s streaming service and April 16 at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.