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Fallout: The End

"Well, you know what they say. Us cowpokes... we take it as it comes."

Of all the possible video game adaptations, Fallout has got to be one of my most anticipated. And thus far, it is turning out to be one of the better ones.

I'm a fan of this franchise, and I'm a fan of executive producers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, who previously helmed Westworld. That show was already packed with a lot of lovely Fallout references, so this seemed like a good match; knowing they had a hand in this series helped soften the blow of Westworld's cancellation for me. Nolan also directs the first three episodes.

Having played through Fallout 3, 4 and New Vegas, I honestly think it'd be a hard series to get that wrong. It's a fictional universe that allows for a lot of wicked creativity, no matter how you swing it. Fallout is set in an over the top alternate history in which 1950s culture – primarily nuclear power, Cold War propaganda and sci-fi pulp comic aesthetics – dominated the United States and the rest of the world all the way into the late 21st Century. That is, before the United States and the rest of the world were devastated by a massive nuclear war. The action of these role-playing games mainly takes place in the chaotic wastelands of America, around 200 years after the bombs fell. And so does the new Amazon series.

I'll just come out and say it right off the bat: this show gets so much right about Fallout. From the presentation of the world and the characters, the loads of easter eggs for observant fans, the beautiful mix of biting satire and bittersweet pathos that is a staple of the franchise, the look and feel of the sets, costumes and special effects, the ever-present mid-20th century radio tunes that are a character of their own. Vibes are on point here.

As opposed to the games, this episode is mainly an introduction to the characters while only letting us have a taste of the setting and the plot. Overall, though, I think this works because we've got three very distinct protagonists who each provide the viewer with unique perspectives on this world gone mad.

Our main character is Lucy MacLean, a cheerful young woman born and raised in Vault 33. She and her people are descendants of those who survived the Great War by hiding in high-tech fallout shelters built by Vault-Tec. Lucy has never been exposed to the surface, until a group of raiders from above ground invade her home disguised as residents from a neighboring vault and kidnap her father Hank, the Overseer of Vault 33. In the face of her fellow Vault-dwellers' insecurity, Lucy embarks on a lone mission to brave the wasteland and rescue her father. It's essentially the story missions in Fallout 3 and 4 mixed together, which is fun for me because 3 was my introduction to this franchise.

Our other two perspectives aren't quite so upstanding.

We have Maximus, an aspirant in the Brotherhood of Steel. The Brotherhood is one of many strange factions that have developed in the wasteland, and among the most fearsome. They're an extremely militant, quasi-religious group that covets and hoards old world technology. You can see the attraction with the big guns, the power armor and the fancy vertibirds, but life in the Brotherhood is not great, as we see through Maximus's experience. He's regularly bullied by fellow aspirants and struggles with the rigid BoS brand of education, but he has ambitions to rise in the ranks.

His morality is put into question when his friend Dane is promoted to squire for a Brotherhood knight, only to be sabotaged later. It's left ambiguous as to whether or not Maximus was responsible. The Elder Cleric of this BoS chapter seems to think he did it, but interrogating him makes it clear that Max is loyal. The combination of perceived ruthlessness and open supplication to the faction earns him the squire position instead. He follows a power-armored knight into the wasteland "Wilds" (lugging a giant bag full of equipment) to search for a high value target.

And finally we have the Ghoul. "Ghouls" are humans who have endured so much intense radiation that their bodies didn't just degrade, they basically mutated, leading to zombie-like appearances and extended life-spans. The Ghoul in question used to be a popular old world celebrity named Cooper Howard. At the start of the show, he and his young daughter witness the bombing of Los Angeles firsthand. Two hundred and nineteen years later, he's a wild and deadly mercenary type who is unearthed from a grave by bounty hunters to be enlisted in a job. Instead, he kills the bounty hunters and takes on the job by himself. If Lucy is morally white and Maximus is grey, the Ghoul is undeniably the black. A loose cannon outlaw with a wicked tongue and nothing left to lose.

Aside from the implication that the Brotherhood and the Ghoul are after the same guy, it isn't immediately clear how these three plotlines are connected. But these were pretty damn good introductions to three very different characters, and the show gives us an impression of the world that's probably good enough to pique the average viewer's interest in the rest of the season. As a fan who was looking forward to this, my opinion is somewhat biased. However, I get the feeling I would be on board with Fallout even if I never played any of the games. That ought to be the mark of a good video game adaptation, whether or not it stands on its own with a wider audience instead of just pandering to a built-in demographic that knows what to expect.

So far, I'm seeing more positive reviews than negative ones. This is one of them.

Caps and rads:

* Was really hoping for an intro narrated by Ron Perlman, but I guess maybe that would have been too obvious. Maybe Perlman can show up as a character in the show instead.

* This episode has a lot in common with the premiere of another well-received video game adaptation, The Last of Us. Both are stories set in a post-apocalytic dystopia, and the first episode showcases the very beginning of that apocalypse before throwing us headlong years into the future. And both feature a character who we see as a normal guy who loses his daughter before transitioning to the future version of the guy, who is completely jaded and ruthless.

* That intro showing the beginning of the end in 2077 was very well done. Captures that juxtaposition of goofy futuristic American idealism and the horror of inevitable nuclear war.

* Lucy reading off her SPECIAL (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, Luck) stats at the start of her introduction was a beautiful touch. That's something every player does in the character creation at the start of the games, adjusting attributes for your preferred play style. In this case, Lucy MacLean rates high in Charisma, Intelligence and Agility. Most ironically, she states that her "primary passion is teaching American History, with a focus on ethics."

* In Vault 33, the dwellers work an artificial farm with the holographic image of a beautiful sunny sky projected onto the walls. During the raider attack, the projector is damaged and catches fire, turning the sunny day into a sky full of explosive fire. Someone else online pointed out that it mirrors the bombing of the old world, and signifies the end of Lucy's idyllic existence. Very striking and creative.

* A couple of guest stars I wasn't expecting. Michael Cristofer (who starred as one of the main antagonists on Mr. Robot) plays the Brotherhood's Elder Cleric Quintus; dude's always a safe bet when you need a revered authority figure. Also, veteran character actor Mykelti Williamson as Honcho, the short-lived wastelander who tried to recruit the Ghoul.

* One of the bozos who unearth the Ghoul uses a Junk Jet: a makeshift weapon that fires random junk. Another nice touch.

* While I'm forever bummed that Ed Harris's Man in Black character from Westworld didn't get a proper conclusion, I'm already invested in Cooper Howard/the Ghoul, who offers a very similar appeal. Love to see Walton Goggins in a fun, multilayered role like this.


Hank MacLean: "After 200 years, we don't know much about what's up there. Desperation, violence, lawlessness. These survivors will need to be shown a better way. I'll admit, sometimes I'm afraid that mean old world will change us..."

Lucy MacLean: "Okey dokey!"

Monty: (preparing to kill Lucy on their wedding night) "Just so you know, this was the best day of my life."

Hank MacLean: (to Lucy) "You are my world."

Norman MacLean: "They don't want to find dad. If they did, they wouldn't get to be in charge."

Elder Cleric Quintus: "Violence... is merely a tool. We use it to bring order to the Wasteland, but violence against a Brother of Steel is a sign of weakness. But are you? Weak?"
Maximus: "... I don't want to be, I—"
Quintus: "You have anything else to say in your defense?"
Maximus: "I just... I just... I-I want to thank you. For your guidance, and... for giving me a home. I-I had no place in the world. So... if I can help the Brotherhood make it better... Eden or whatever... even if it means giving my own life... I'll do it. And I'd be grateful to the Brotherhood for giving my life meaning."

Quintus: "Brothers... we exist for moments such as these. Go forth with honor! And may the shape of the future be cut by your sword!"

The Ghoul: "Whenever somebody says... they're doing one last job, that usually means their heart's not in it. Probably never was. But for me? Well... I do this shit for the love of the game."

I'm really tempted to gush over this show, but the rest of the series has plenty to gush over. So I'll keep it somewhat brief and leave it here, for now. Four out of five nuclear holocausts.

1 comment:

  1. One thing that really strikes me after watching the show is how much of the Fallout aesthetic (the 50's country & western music, the cheery vault boy cartoon images, the look of the pip boys and the vault doors etc.) were established in the very first game over 25 years ago. When the show opened with Lucy describing here S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats, I thought it was going to be a single protagonist like the game. I suppose it's possible that Maximus and the Ghoul could ultimately become companions to Lucy so she could still fill the role of the PC but it seems unlikely that they would all work together.
    Incidentally, Lucy's start is also reminiscent of the first Fallout.

    The ghoul reminded me of the Ed Harris Man in Black character from Westworld, too. I had to look up where I knew Michael Christofer from. I knew he was BAD, but my first thought was maybe he was from Game of Thrones.

    I am looking forward to your reactions to the rest of the season.


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