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Fallout: The Head

“You all are doing, um, God’s work here. And, uh, on behalf of every decent American, I just want to say thank you.”

This is another episode that is light on plot but heavy on characters. We are still getting to know our three protagonists, but this also expands a bit on Vault 33 and the Wasteland.

Luckily, the characters and setting are quite enjoyable in that macabre, black comedy way that Fallout specializes in.

Don't Lose Your Head

Back on the surface, everyone's now on the hunt for Michael Emerson's head. The head contains a special property which apparently could give whoever possesses it "control of the Wasteland;" though I imagine it's just this particular segment of the Wasteland (Southern California), but that'd be pretty impressive either way. Picking up from last episode, the head is with Lucy MacLean, who hopes to give it to Lee Moldaver in exchange for her kidnapped father.

Lucy remains pretty upbeat even after being forced to saw off a man's head and tote it around with her. She looks at her blasted surroundings with a mixture of shock and awe, and generally just seems to enjoy being outdoors for the first time in her life.

However, she's quickly learning that the Wasteland is more ugly than beautiful. The head gets snatched by a river-dwelling mutant monstrosity called a Gulper. This would be bad enough, but then she's caught by Cooper/The Ghoul. First, he uses her as live bait to fish for the Gulper, then makes her his prisoner after she ends up destroying his cache of chems.

Lucy getting disabused of her rosy perception of the world seems to be a major part of her character arc. Being at the mercy of a coldblooded badass like the Ghoul is only going to take that even further. Plus, we know it'll be interesting because they're the show's lead characters. Well, them and Maximus.

Maximus and Thaddeus

Maximus's awkward journey continues. He's also on the hunt for the Target in Wilzig's head, but his storyline is still primarily about his attempts to be a tough customer. We see this dude endure a lot for his fancy suit of armor. He's forced to exchange some teeth to get caps in order to afford a repair for it. Then he gets his ass kicked by some raiders attempting to steal it before they allow him to (literally) get the upper hand. And, of course, he risks the wrath of the Brotherhood of Steel by taking the suit and posing as the late Knight Titus in the first place.

Coveting that armor doesn't just highlight his determination, though. I was a little off in my last review when I said Maximus wants to be a hero. It might have been more accurate to say that he wants to be powerful. This is a guy who's spent most of his life being knocked around by abusive peers and stern authority figures; not to mention, all the horrific freaks he's likely encountered outside of the Brotherhood. The power armor makes him feel secure and in control. Especially when the Brotherhood sends a replacement squire who turns out to be Thaddeus, one of the guys who bullied Maximus at the BoS base.
Since Thaddeus only sees the scary-looking armor and submits himself accordingly, Maximus quickly exploits the situation. He lords over Thaddeus just like Titus lorded over him previously; worse in some ways, given that Titus didn't immediately threaten to kill Max or make him climb to the top of a dead tree looking for nonexistent apples.

They do become a bit more friendly when their hunt for the head leads them to the Gulper. Their attempt to fight it goes poorly, but it dies when Max prevents it from swallowing Thaddeus, causing the creature to choke to death and vomit out its insides. And the head along with it. So they're victorious, but it's obvious Maximus's lies are gonna be found out eventually. He's making a lot of questionable decisions, despite his pretense of being a heroic knight.

Vault 33

This episode introduces a fourth subplot, returning to Vault 33 and following Norman MacLean, Lucy's brother.

We are given a lot of issues to consider. The Vault residents are still in shock over the raider attack, their Overseer's abduction and Lucy's decision to leave. Plus, they're still left to deal with what's left of the psychotic raiders. Most of 33's naive, fair-minded residents want to rehabilitate the raiders, but Norm, feeling both vengeful and ashamed for hiding during the attack, suggests killing them. He's clearly quite a bit more cynical than the average Vault-dweller. Ironically, he's assigned to serve the prisoners their food.

Though everyone's clinging to a sense of normality, it appears everything's still in chaos. People like Norm and Chet are clearly traumatized and can't just easily brush off what's happened. The council consisting of Reg, Woody and Betty all appear to be vying for the Overseer position in Hank's absence, with Reg and Woody making a goofy show of leadership while still deferring to the more tactful Betty. And on top of everything else, the Vault's water chip is broken, meaning they'll all soon be out of water.

Clinging to "normality" was, in some ways, the entire conceit of Vault-Tec; at least, that's how they advertised themselves: A fun but all-American getaway vacation... away from nuclear armageddon... underground... for generations. A story like this really questions the idea of normality. Living in subterranean super-structures is about the farthest thing from what most people would call normal. And everything outside of the Vaults is even farther from that, whether it's the various mutated creatures like ghouls and Gulpers or regular people raised as shitters on a fly farm like Thaddeus. It's a recurring thing in this series, characters latching onto a more idyllic past they barely understand in the hopes of improving their broken world. The result is sometimes inspiring, sometimes pitiable, always somewhat deranged.

Caps and rads:

* Music: “So Doggone Lonesome” by Johnny Cash when Maximus fights the scavenger gang, and “Act Naturally” by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos when Cooper becomes a mascot for Vault-Tec in the 2070s. Also, “We’ll Meet Again” by The Ink Spots; clearly meant to bring Dr. Strangelove to mind, since Fallout has a very similar dark satirical edge.

* The normal, healthy looking doe Lucy found seems kinda too good to be true. Most of the animals that are left in this world are suffering from some extreme radiation-based mutation, unless they're bred under special conditions, like CX404. Perhaps Lucy watching the pretty doe get eaten by the Gulper is this episode's Most Obvious Symbolism.

* Gulpers are not creatures I'm familiar with, though I'm told they do appear in some of the downloadable content for Fallout 4. It's not an irradiated animal, but appears to be a creature made from deliberately mutated people: its numerous teeth are a bunch of writhing human fingers. This season hasn't really delved into FEV and super mutants, so I won't talk about that too much.

* I feel like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was a strong influence on this show. Cooper's "Feo, Fuerte y Formal" line translates to something roughly similar to that title. Lucy, Cooper and Maximus are essentially framed in the same way as that film's three lead characters. And Cooper forcing Lucy to walk through a desert while tied to a rope and suffering from dehydration is just like a scenario from that movie.

* Cooper draws more parallels to Westworld's Man in Black character, as well. He's this distinctly neo-western figure who exists in both a past timeline — in which he's a cool, unassuming nice guy — and the chaotic present timeline — in which he's a twisted, monstrous renegade.

* Speaking of which, they shed some more light on Cooper's backstory here. We are reintroduced to his daughter Janey again, but also his wife, Barb. Barb is a Vault-Tec executive, and she convinced Cooper to be a celebrity sponsor for the pre-war corporation. In the end, it's revealed that Cooper inspired Vault-Tec's iconic cartoon mascot, Vault-Boy; he even does the cheery thumbs up while posing for a photo-op in his Vault suit. That was an interesting twist, for sure.

* This series is interesting in the same way as another I reviewed, The Man in the High Castle. Both are dealing with stagnant worlds in which the status quo of the last 200 years or so is blown apart, with whatever remains getting bastardized into something quite different.

* Lucy casually chatting with Wilzig's severed head reminds me of Al in Deadwood a little bit.

* We also learn that Vault 33 is part of a triad of interconnected Vaults, the other two being Vaults 32 and 31. These three Vaults correspond with each other, apparently sharing the same goals, but only interacting with each other directly on rare occasions. Right away, this struck me as unusual; in the games, there are many Vaults but they are all scattered about. 33 and 32 both seem to have been raided, but we're told 31 is okay.


Emil: “The audience, Coop, yeah? They already know you’re a good man. They want to see that even a good man as yourself can be driven too far sometimes.”
Cooper Howard: “Yeah, I understand that. But that’s not really my thing, you know, Emil, that’s not what I do.”

Lucy: “Okay, okay. Keep your secrets, sir.”
Very Frodo-like interaction between Lucy and the severed head.

Lucy (to Cooper): “Hello again.”
More Westworld vibes.

Chet: “I guess I’m not Gate-Keeper anymore. It’s not a big deal. I’m just not really sure who I even am anymore…”
You know all those “literally me” memes you see nowadays, where men on the internet strongly identify with images or clips of byronic male characters from movies/TV: Christian Bale in American Psycho, Joaquin Phoenix in Joker, and many brooding Ryan Gosling characters? It’s a joke, but also not a joke. It’s also sort of an inadvertent cry for help from a generation of guys plagued with identity issues due to a rapidly changing world. So, in that way, shouldn’t it be characters like Chet who are considered the “literally me” characters? Because Chet is literally that demographic… This is a longwinded way of saying I enjoy this character.

Norman MacLean: “It’s a predicament, isn’t it? How do you demote someone who equally dislikes every job he’s ever worked?”

Thaddeus: “Ghouls. One day the Brotherhood’s gonna eradicate every last one of those freaks. Stuff like this is never gonna happen again.”
This sounds like the kind of thing an NPC would say in one of the Fallout games.

The Ghoul: “The Wasteland’s got its own golden rule.”
Lucy: “Oh? What’s that?”
The Ghoul: “Thou shall get sidetracked by bullshit every goddamn time.”
As many other viewers have pointed out, this is a perfect summation of the many side-quests players will encounter in Fallout games.

Thaddeus: “I’ve seen some things. I grew up on a fly farm. I was a shitter, so they’d feed us, and then feed our shit to the flies. Mulch ‘em up and sell it as protein. Anyway, that’s why I’m so fat.”
This is like five or six layers of messed up, but all delivered so casually.

Woody: “We can judge a person, and a society, by how they treat their enemy. And here we are with 16 highly violent individuals incarcerated in our temporarily repurposed reading room. It’s an ethical dilemma like nothing we’ve dealt with before.”

The Ghoul: “Ain’t much stays clean up here, Vaultie.”

I want to apologize for the lateness and irregularity of these reviews. Work's been frustrating lately, so that's thrown me off a bit. Gonna try to be more consistent going forward. Three and a half out of five blue jumpsuits.


  1. I didn't love this episode at the time I watched it, in part because of my biases as a Fallout player. I think I wanted/expected the show to evolve more along the lines of the games. So my instinct was to wonder why we should still worry about what was happening in the vault or be that interested in what happened before the war. There are payoffs to the flashbacks and especially to the action in Vault 33 later, however.

    I don't think there's any previous example from the games of vaults being linked together like this. But the vaults were set up as experiments, so I assume the multi-vault complex has something to do with that. (Is that too much of a spoiler?)

    1. Without getting into it too much, I will say that I liked the Vault 33 subplot way more than I thought I would.


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