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Fallout: The Ghouls

“How’s that Golden Rule jibe with what’s goin’ through your head right now?”

It had all been pretty good fun for the first three episodes, but this was the one that really locked me into the show.

Prior to ‘The Ghouls’, the show was mostly just establishing the characters (Lucy, Maximus, Cooper, Norm, etc.) and the MacGuffin. Or two MacGuffins: Hank MacLean and Dr. Wilzig’s head. This episode mostly disregards the draw of the MacGuffins in order to add depth to the characters, the plot and the greater themes therein.

Its power mostly comes through in the stark difference between Lucy and Cooper; calling him ‘The Ghoul’ feels silly after this episode, since he is one of many ghouls.

Ghouls, General Atomics and the Golden Rule

Lucy, kind as can be, is mortified by Cooper’s cynicism and depravity. That opening is probably the most effective scene in the show, Lucy watching Cooper gun down an old acquaintance (granted, the guy was turning into a feral ghoul) before cannibalizing his corpse and then forcing her to carve more of the poor bastard up so Cooper can have something to eat later. Pretty harsh… also, totally the kind of stuff you can do in some of the games, if you so choose.

This episode puts our young heroine through the wringer. Shortly after that little encounter, Lucy gives in to thirst and drinks from a murky puddle of irradiated water to survive (also a thing you very well might do in the games), then gets her index finger sliced off after she bites off Cooper’s. Finally, he sells her to a small gang of drug-peddling organ harvesters, where she’s nearly vivisected by a malfunctioning Mr. Handy Robot.

Even when she manages to save herself and heroically turn the tables, it still does not end well. She’s able to secure the release of a bunch of imprisoned ghouls, but also releases feral ghouls that massacre the gang. The feral ghoul Lucy tried to save becomes her first kill.

Though it is a triumphant moment seeing her exit the Super-Duper Mart a blood-splattered survivor and standing over Cooper, now collapsed from withdrawal and his own feral transformation. And it's even more triumphant when she chooses to hold to her good nature and leave him with the vials he desperately needs. The ones he sold her for. That's an extra kind of compassion.

Her kindness allows Cooper to survive and refuel himself with the dead organ harvesters’ supply of booze and chems. And it allows him to take a glimpse into his past, watching an old holotape of the western we saw his younger self filming in the last episode. He sees the noble cowboy he once portrayed, an image he once valued, but he also is reminded of how that image was compromised by the studio’s Cold War propaganda. Is this moment of reflection hinting at a possible redemption? We can only hope, because the image he currently projects is quite savage.

Lucy's journey in this episode alone beautifully illustrates the moral spectrum of the Fallout mythos. The levels of good or evil that can be embraced, and the grey area it creates. In a world consumed by apocalyptic horror, it takes strength, wits and luck not only to survive, but to hold on to one’s humanity.

Life and Death in the Vaults

Meanwhile, in Vault 33… the plot thickens.

An Overseer election is on the horizon, but while everyone else is trying to move on from the tragedy with ice cream and cake, Lucy’s brother Norm knows something’s not right.

He finds out that Vault 32 went dark long before Lee Moldaver’s raider gang invaded. Along with a disillusioned Chet, Norm explores 32 in secret. The evidence would suggest that the residents all turned on each other, with many fighting to the death while others killed themselves. In one of the rooms, they find some kind of educational video about lab mice who devour each other due to overpopulation in a closed ecosystem. That might explain what happened, but it seems like there’s an even more personal reason for the breakdown in 32.

On top of this, Norm discovers that Moldaver was only able to access the Vault thanks to his late mother’s Pip-Boy. Before this, we had assumed that Mary MacLean lived and died in Vault 33. Now we know that can’t be the case.

This adds a lot of intrigue not just to the Vault 33 subplot, but to what’s going on above ground too. There's more to the MacLean family and the three Vaults than we're seeing. Also, Norm and Chet make a fun duo.
Caps and rads:

* Props to Ella Purnell and Walton Goggins in the acting department. They both were on point in this episode. Ella Purnell in particular conveys many different layers with Lucy: wholesomeness, vulnerability, shrewdness, irony, deadpan humor, shock and terror, soft surfaces developing rough edges.

* Early on when she tries to escape, Lucy is stopped when she finds a massive crater. I’m guessing this is “The Shithole” Dale Dickey’s character mentioned in episode two.

* The water-breaking near-sex scene between Chet and Steph was quite bizarre.

* Love the macabre Tim Burton-esque detail of Lucy acquiring a random corpse finger after her own got cut off. That she seems totally fine with it is also amusing; then again, she's probably just happy to have a functional finger again.

* I’m impressed with the ghoul makeup on Walton Goggins. While it does look pretty obvious in certain shots, most of the time it succeeds in giving him that withered corpse appearance. Of course, it also has the effect of making him look like the Red Skull from Captain America.

* So many little touches from the Fallout games. The Super-Duper Mart, the Mr. Handy robot, Abraxo draining fluid, Blamco Mac and Cheese, the SPECIAL poster in Norm’s room, the disturbing ruins of a Vault, all the sound effects for the computers, the sliding hatch doors, and the Pip-Boys. As a fan, I appreciate this attention to detail.

* As she became feral, the ghoul named Martha started to sound all gravelly like the ghoul characters from Fallout 3 and New Vegas.


Cooper Howard/The Ghoul: “It ain’t all canned peaches and marmalade left up here, sweetheart. Sometimes a fella’s got to eat a fella.”

Betty Pearson: (to Norm) “Just tread lightly. That’s all I ask.”

Snip-Snip: “Time flies by lately. Especially since my temporal sensors went out in the Great War. That must have been a week ago, at least.”

Lucy: “Listen, a big fish ate my head, and I need my head to get back to my dad.”

Lucy: (about the Ghoul) "He did not treat me very courteously."
She just had to put it in the nicest way.

Lucy: “Sir, you can’t do this. Please, I need my organs.”
Snip-Snip: “Now, don’t be afraid. A little snip-snip and it will all be over. Hold still now. This won’t hurt a bit.”

Chet: “Okay. I think it’s safe to say they went bananas.”
Vault-dwellers have a talent for understatement.

Lucy: (to the Ghoul) “I may end up looking like you… but I’ll never be like you. Golden Rule, motherfucker.”

Five out of five corpse fingers.

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