Fallout: Beware our corporate overlords

Let's all go to the wasteland!

Let me start off by saying I have never played any of the Fallout video games. As a rule, media properties that employ the creepiest song ever — technically, any minimalist song from the 1920s counts — are a strict “no thank you.” However, the commercials made it irresistible. Instead of the usual doom and gloom, blue-washed post-apocalyptic offerings, Fallout presents a brilliant, twisted, color-soaked wonderland.

That’s probably not a surprise considering who’s at the helm: Jonathan Nolan. Yes, that Jonathan Nolan, brother of Christopher, man with a hand in some of our favorite movies and shows of the last twenty years. And, while he only directs the first three episodes of season 1 (the second season has already been renewed by Amazon), he is listed as an executive producer on the series, along with Lisa Joy and Todd Howard. Don’t recognize those other two? I don’t blame you; generally, unless they are insanely famous, most people don’t know the people behind their favorite properties. Lisa Joy was exec producer on a little show called Westworld, while Todd Howard produced and directed several entries in the Fallout videogame franchise. My guess is that money and clout is why the production value of this show is through the roof. Honestly, it’s hands down one of the most immersive looking IP based shows I’ve ever seen — which helps when you’ve never played any of the games in said IP. Speaking of, this show, thanks to those involved, includes a bevy of Easter eggs for loyal fans of the game series.

Still, none of that matters unless you have a capable cast and boy, do they! For the record, I only knew one person in this ensemble: Walton Goggins — playing both his pre and post-apocalyptic selves, Cooper Howard and the monster he becomes aka The Ghoul. But the remaining members do not disappoint. Doe-eyed human Kewpie doll Ella Purnell (probably best known as doomed teen Jackie in Yellowjackets) embodies the unbearably naïve vault dweller-cum-surface survivor, Lucy MacLean. And finally, Jonathan Majors lookalike, Aaron Moten, is squire Maximus a cowardly lion hoping to find his courage in the wasteland. These three hardworking actors anchor the series as the main focus points the audience follows.

They each do an excellent job of conveying their experience of life in the wasteland, with Maximus and Lucy’s side of things being more informative of the present, and The Ghoul’s tale covering the past mistakes that got us here. For my money The Ghoul is easily the most interesting character in the whole season, with Lucy a close second, and Maximus being a far behind third. His character, to me, is the weakest. However, this might be on purpose considering where he comes from and how he was raised.

Let’s get into our episode breakdowns before I give my overall season evaluation. Since the show primarily follows three leads, I’ll break down the episodes by their storylines instead of going in sequential order, except for the first episode because of the unique nature of The Ghoul’s story.

“The End”

Can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been, so first and foremost is a trip to the before-times. Amid the threat of nuclear war between America and China, the country does its best to carry on as usual. Here we see a children’s birthday party where the main attraction is former famed movie star Cooper Howard. Howard tries to assure his young daughter Janey (Teagan Meredith) that everything is fine, even getting her a slice of cake, but then nuclear hell breaks loose. Cut to 219 years later…

Welcome to Vault-life, where you can have casual sex with your cousin, live in a controlled and “safe” environment, and participate in an inter-vault breeding program to ensure the continuation of the human race. Unfortunately for Lucy, her honeymoon is more of a Red Wedding that belies a sinister underbelly to the idyllic life she’s always known. When her father, Overseer Hank MacLean (hello Kyle MacLachlan!) is kidnapped, Lucy does the impossible and braves the surface world to bring him back.

Unlike the vaults, life above is far from peaceful, just look at the Brotherhood of Steel. Something like a military school on steroids, the Brotherhood has fully embraced the practices of the Knights Templar complete with a quasi-religious justification of their lust for power. Maximus, though he takes the lumps his fellow initiates give him, winds up on the wrong side of Elder Cleric Quintus (played to creepy perfection by actor Michael Cristofer), yet is miraculously made a squire and sent out on an important mission.

Said mission is also the reason three unscrupulous types (hello Mykelti Williamson, Jacob A. Ware, and Jacob A. Ware) dig up our friend The Ghoul. While it doesn’t go well for them, it sets our series up for some standards we can expect. One — the wanted man will quickly bind our three leads’ stories together, two — The Ghoul’s pre-apocalypse self will fill us in on how we got to this horrific present, and three — surprises abound in the wasteland.

The pilot episode is fantastic. As I’ve written before, a good pilot should establish the overall tone of the show, introduce most (if not all) of the main characters, and set up the major plotlines of the season. This pilot easy leaps over all those bars. While our three main characters are revealed those in their orbits aren’t bit players either, as we’ll see. My favorite thing about the pilot is that The Ghoul’s story serves as a bookend, covering not only the past but the present as well. He has seen some shit, and it shows.

“The Target”

The titular man is one Doctor Wilzig (Michael Emerson in possibly his most likeable role), a scientist for the Enclave who rescues a puppy from the incinerator, injects himself with company property, and, after his dog (CX404) kills the person who discovers his thievery, flees the premises. He’s planning on taking that stolen property across the wasteland to one Lee Moldaver (Sarita Choudhury). It’s a solid plan until his foot gets shot off and he decides the best way to help the world is to commit suicide and leave his head in trustworthy hands.

Those hands belong to none other than Lucy MacLean. As a vault dweller raised in a meritocracy, Lucy is the perfect person to finish Wilzig’s mission, plus, as a bonus, it’ll take her to the woman who led the raiders into Vault 33 and kidnapped her dad. But, the surface isn’t at all what Lucy was expecting, filled with gross, weird, and disturbing sights, where the people are rude, unkind, and, most importantly, untrustworthy. Still, she manages to make her way to Filly, kind of make a friend, and dig deep to do the decapitating that needs doing.

Speaking of Filly, the bustling wasteland downtown is the destination Maximus and his Knight Titus are set to investigate, but instead Titus gets himself dead by being a straight up asshole (What!? You’re kidding!), and dropping down into the woods for funsies. Granted, the radiated bear attack (a Yao Guai) paired with insulting then threatening his only lifeline did not help. On the bright side, Maximus now has a power armor suit. He even uses it to save someone, and tries to use it against The Ghoul.

Our legendary bounty hunter means to get the doctor, but fake Titus and real Lucy get in his way. It’s a splendid action sequence that ends with Titus being set off into the Wilds’ blue yonder, and CX404 being healed by The Ghoul in order to track down her daddy.

Following a perfect pilot is no easy feat, but when Jonathan Nolan is helming your first three episodes consider them all to be bangers. The attention to detail in here in terms of the wasteland inhabitants, Easter eggs, and skills of our party members really contribute to a stellar second episode. And while Lucy’s interactions with this strange new world are both hilarious and jarring, it’s Maximus’ story that I feel tells the most about him.

Maximus is a child, mentally speaking; you can see how excited he is on the helicopter, like a kid on Christmas. Watching him crash to reality is heartbreaking. All that blissful ignorance is destroyed within minutes of being around his Knight. Titus, by extension, is a sad man. His life’s purpose is a lie and the suit gives him his only joy. Michael Rapaport plays a fantastic douche who reveals himself to be an abused man that doesn’t know any better and pays for it with his life. Here we learn what the Brotherhood’s legacy really is.

“The Head”

Lucy and The Ghoul come together after the doctor’s disembodied head is snatched by a monster (a giant mutant axolotl possibly called a Gulper). The Ghoul has an idea of how to retrieve it, which involves live bait, but that backfires and leads to the destruction of his drug stash. Displeased, the bounty hunter takes Lucy hostage and sets off on a side quest.

Maximus’s day isn’t going any better. He’s lied to the Brotherhood about being Titus, almost lost his suit to thieves, and discovers his newly assigned squire is one of his former tormentors: Thaddeus (Johnny Pemberton playing another hapless dope). Though wearing the suit allows Maximus to hide his identity from Thaddeus and get a little revenge in, he doesn’t entirely perpetuate the cycle of abuse. When facing off against the Gulper, Maximus allows his squire to seek safe cover, which in the end saves both their lives.

Saving or ending lives is a question the denizens of Vault 33 have to deal with. While Chet (Lucy’s hot cousin played by Dave Register) and Norm (Lucy’s dour brother embodied by Moises Arias), face punishment for their parts in helping Lucy leave, the remaining raiders are another story. Should they be rehabilitated and integrated into vault society? Or…per Norm’s thinking, should they be killed? Stephanie Harper (Annabel O’Hagan) — whose beloved husband was killed in the attack — agrees with Norm. Still, the rest of the council balks at the notion.

How does someone handle their enemies? It used to be heroes wouldn’t get their hands dirty, but Cooper Howard (in the before-times) is getting a harsh lesson in how the world is changing. Men of honor and dignity are no longer the norm, instead it’s destroy your enemy completely — especially the Red ones. He’s not thrilled but his wife Barbara (Frances Turner) shows up with a new opportunity. Meet the new ad mascot of Vault-tec!

This is the last episode directed by Jonathan Nolan, and it sets up two significant reoccurring subplots that have only been hinted at thus far. The Ghoul’s past and those left behind in Vault 33. The Ghoul’s story reveals that he’s not just some random actor who happened to survive the end of the world — he was the spokesman for the vault-life that was Lucy’s norm. Conversely, the Vault 33 story reveals that those topside may not have an honest understanding of their underground brethren. Vault dwellers, though raised in a meritocracy, are not as simple as the surface would have you believe.

“The Ghouls”

Out in the desert The Ghoul and Lucy continue their walk. Things get violent when she tries to escape but he succeeds in delivering her to a Super Duper Mart in exchange for vials. The plucky vault dweller avoids getting her organs harvested, however in her zeal for justice is almost killed by feral ghouls. All in all she manages to keep herself intact, sure, there’s some blood on her hands but she also grants The Ghoul mercy just to show him the Golden Rule, motherfucker. He takes her generosity, goes into the Super Duper Mart, and goes on a bender.

In Vault 33 as council members Reg McPhee (Rodrigo Luzzi) and Woody Thomas (Zach Cherry) fiercely campaign for the position of Overseer, Betty Pearson (Deadpool’s Leslie Uggams) gives some unsolicited advice to a sullen Norm. Chet’s unexpected labor drama is thankfully interrupted when Norm suggests a trip to Vault 32. The carnage they find isn’t recent, and some of it is self-inflicted. What happened? More importantly, how was Rose’s (Norm and Lucy’s mom, Elle Vertes) Pip Boy used to open the vault door???

The first episode not directed by Nolan does an excellent job of living up to the legacy of the previous three. Maintaining the humor and horror of the series so far, the two stories we see tell equally dark tales with the purpose of character and world exploration.

The Ghoul is a man brought down by the events of his life, and seeing Lucy hurts, a reminder of who he used to be — that movie he sees in the Super Duper Mart was the moment he began to fall. First his fictional character and then his actual character. His efforts to drag Lucy down to his level seem to be a means of justifying how he got there himself, if he can only break her too. It’s no wonder that after he’s failed, he takes comfort in drugs and nostalgia.

Meanwhile, the vault drama not only solidifies there’s more to vault-life than meets the eye, it might be downright sinister in nature. Norm is an interesting character given his near Eeyore levels of pessimism and abject disinterest, why is he so determined to find the truth? He seems to hate himself for not standing up to the raiders, yet, when confronted with confessing to this feeling he simply asks Betty if it would matter if he did. Chet too, presents a contradiction in this way, willing to go exploring with Norm yet reluctant to draw any real conclusions from what they find. It’s a good presentation of learned helplessness given the chance to break free, but ever uneasy about said freedom. We all love the devil we know, right?

“The Past”

Thaddeus and Maximus bond over getting the head, but it’s not enough when the false Knight reveals himself to his newly branded squire, and he winds up trapped in his own power armor; headless (ha ha ha, couldn’t help myself). Lucy, tracking the head, comes across him and, in exchange for much needed medical care, rescues him. They then team up to find the head. It’s a rough journey that only further cinches Lucy’s hatred of the surface world, but it ends with them in the best place possible: a vault!

Chet and Norm finish up their exploration of Vault 32, vowing to tell no one of their side mission. Naturally, Betty asks them almost instantly where they’ve been and both are poor liars. Still, Betty’s got bigger fish to fry because it’s voting day. She easily smokes the competition, and quickly holds a meeting to discuss what to do about Vault 32. The powers that be have decided to resettle the abandoned vault, and wouldn’t you know it, the place is suddenly pristine. Norm’s distrust leads him to a staggering discovery: every single Overseer for Vault 33 has come from Vault 31…

It’s odd that this episode is called “The Past” since not much history is explored in terms of Cooper Howard — in fact, neither he nor The Ghoul appear in this episode at all. Instead Lucy and Maximus meet proper and get together, roaming the wasteland as he fills her in on the past, which in and of itself isn’t a very detailed scene. The biggest reveal for her is that reclamation day (the whole purpose of the vaults) already happened in a place called Shady Sands, and it failed. So, perhaps the title is a reference to the vault side of things?

This is more likely, since it’s clear whatever happened in Vault 32 happened a long time ago. There’s also the voting day aspect — where the helpful phrase “When things look glum vote for somebody from Vault 31!” is initially presented as a throwaway slogan only to later be brought up as potential subliminal messaging when paired with a conveniently timed tragedy — see Hank vs. Davey (great job Leer Leary, we know you voted for Betty). Norm is certainly suspicious.

“The Trap”

Lucy and Maximus are welcomed into Vault 4 where they regularly take in surface dwellers. Only rule: don’t go to level 12. Maximus slowly acclimates to vault life, eventually enjoying it, whereas Lucy swiftly comes to distrust it, eventually breaking the one rule.

The Ghoul runs afoul of “the Govermint”, but he’s not very concerned. He effortlessly frees himself from the bad situation, and even picks up a new lead.

Cooper Howard’s endorsement of Vault-tec has crossed over from print ads to infomercials. But, the work, though profitable, has cost him some friends. One of his remaining few, Sebastian Leslie (hi, Matt Berry!), complains that Hollywood has gone Red. Another, Charles Whiteknife (Dallas Goldtooth) encourages Howard to attend a meeting at Hollywood Forever – see what they’re really about. After a fight with his wife, Howard gives in and goes to the meeting. It’s run by Lee Moldaver.

Moldaver turns out to be a theme in this episode — showing up in the Vault 4 storyline, The Ghoul’s storyline, and Cooper Howard’s storyline. To the vault refugees she’s “The Flame Mother”, founder of Shady Sands who will rise from the ashes. To Cooper Howard, she’s the woman who turns him against his meal ticket (not that he was overly loyal to begin with). And to The Ghoul, she’s an excuse to stay in the story.

But there’s a lot more to this episode than just Lee. The biggest theme is biased. You’ve got Overseer Benjamin (the hilarious Chris Parnell), who doesn’t like that his vault takes in surface dwellers and isn’t happy having to “tolerate” their outsider ways. He comes off as a classic racist until you pay attention to Lucy. This is probably the first time we’ve really seen Lucy in the wrong — her preconceived notion of what vault inhabitants should look like is the driving force of her distrust in Vault 4. Maximus, with his childish mentality, only distrusts the way he’s treated because he isn’t used to people being nice (makes sense given the world he’s lived in up until now), none of his responses to those around him are based on their appearance.

Lastly, there’s the title itself. Maximus worries that Vault 4 is a trap, he and Lucy have entered into a cult. Lucy later fears he was right, especially after that weird surface dweller ritual. Meanwhile, Cooper and Sebastian are in “The Trap” of capitalism. Berry’s character makes a chillingly accurate insight that everything is a product, including people, and profits are all that matter, while Whiteknife rightly points out that capitalism demands war since the government decided to outsource it to a publicly traded company.

“The Radio”

Lucy is set straight about what she saw on level 12 with the added implication that her vault is also running an experiment. However, since she broke the one rule, and threw acid on Dr. “Nose” Edmondson (Harry Sutton Jr.), Lucy is sentenced to death… by banishment to the surface. Maximus, misunderstanding the situation, steals the vault’s fusion core and fires up his power armor in violent retaliation. Lucy intervenes so he doesn’t kill anyone, but they are both booted from the vault. The experience bonds them, and later leads to a kiss.

Thaddeus, complete with injured foot, heads to the titular radio to communicate with the Brotherhood but is unwittingly turned into a ghoul on his way. Since the Brotherhood has a plan for ghouls (destroy them all), he knows he’s fucked. He’s worried when Lucy and Maximus show up, going so far as to fire at them wildly (he’s a terrible shot without a scope), funnily enough though he didn’t have to. Maximus has no hard feelings, even giving the guy a running head start to flee the incoming Brotherhood.

Vault 33 sees the raiders die, of rat poison, and an innocent vault dweller held accountable. Woody claims this will be a big deal, but Betty just brushes it off with some “thoughts and prayers” bullshit before sending out the new vault assignments via Pip Boy. When Woody’s refusal to leave almost leads to violent enforcement, and Stephanie (who comes from Vault 31) is made interim Overseer, Norm takes action.

The Ghoul gets information the bloody way, rescues CX404 from a soda fridge, and gives her the name Dogmeat. In the before-times Cooper Howard meets with Moldaver who says she isn’t a communist. She claims she’s a scientist whose research would have ended the resource war until it was shelved by Vault-tec. She then gives him a bug and encourages him to spy on his wife for the truth.

This episode’s title only applies to Thaddeus and Cooper Howard. It also allows for Fred Armisen to cameo as DJ Carl, a music enthusiast who DOES NOT like criticism. Carl reminds me of Betty – ever self-righteous even when killing people (pretty sure she poisoned those prisoners). Completely convinced of their innocence despite the horrible things they’ve done. It’s a fine line for an actor to walk, bringing to life a black and white villain who appears grey, and Uggams does a stupendous job.

“The Beginning”

Maximus delivers the wrong head to the Brotherhood but still manages to come out on top (thanks Dane — Xelia Mendes-Jones!) His plans for living in the vaults with Lucy might be fucked, but a successful attack on the Griffith Observatory lands him Knighthood, and cold fusion.

Lucy delivers the right head to Moldaver, allowing her dream of cold fusion to become a reality, but the mission doesn’t end as planned. Her dad isn’t who she thought, to the point that when given the choice Lucy picks The Ghoul over Hank!

Speaking of, The Ghoul gets to the party a little late but leaves an impression. We don’t see him confront Moldaver, instead he sets his sights on Hank (or Henry as Howard knew him). A brief exchange ends with a flesh wound and a bloody trail that The Ghoul hopes will lead to his family via the real person in charge.

Who is the mysterious figure Barb looks up to see in her ominous meeting in the before-times? We don’t find out, but we are treated to the knowledge that Vault-tec might have been the ones to drop the bombs in an effort to control the future once and for all.

Part of that control involves a program known as Bud’s buds. Meet Bud Askins (Michael Esper), something of a dark running joke throughout the series that culminates in a disturbing revelation made when Norm enters Vault 31. Our dour scout has found the answers he sought at terrible personal cost.

What an ending! A good season finale should set up for future seasons (we know season 2 has been green-lit) either by planting last minute plots which can continue later on, or, by leaving some existing plots unresolved. Fallout opts for both.

The before-times storyline appears to be complete but my biggest question is did Vault-tec actually drop the bomb? Hear me out — while we see Barb make the argument for why they should, we know for a fact that when the bombs actually fall Cooper and Barb are not together. And I don’t mean, in physical proximity, I mean people at the birthday party are joking about him having to pay alimony, which means they are divorced. That indicates more to this story. The other hint we haven’t been told everything is The Ghoul asking Hank where his family is. We know Janey was with him when the bombs dropped, but where is she now? And where is Barb? Did the shadowy figure at the Vault-tec power pow-wow have something to do with her disappearance? Did they contribute to Cooper becoming a ghoul?

Aside from that, the obvious open plotlines are as follows: Will Norm take up in his father’s pod? If so, for how long? Will Chet grow a pair and seek out his friend? What the fuck actually happened in Vault 32? While we’re at it, what’s up with that water filtration issue in Vault 33?

On the surface side: What’s gonna happen to Thaddeus? How will the Brotherhood handle having power? Now that Maximus is a Knight can he just bail and go search for Lucy? Where is Hank going? Will Cooper find his family? Oh yeah, and what of Dogmeat? Has she adopted The Ghoul as her new master, because up until now she’s been strongly dedicated to Wilzig’s head, yet at the end when The Ghoul leaves with Lucy, CX404 is in tow.


While it is a beautiful series filled with colorful characters, insane storylines, and awesome action scenes Fallout isn’t without flaws.

One of my biggest complaints about the last episode is Maximus being alive. The man not only takes a full hit to an unguarded head from a power armor suit, but he then additionally smacks that skull onto another unforgiving surface. The man is dead. No questions.

Also, why doesn’t The Ghoul use his knowledge of the power armor suits in his initial fight with Maximus at Filly? A classic plot hole, and if the show wasn’t bingeable, you might not have noticed the first time you watched it — if you watched it weekly.

Also, also, I don’t quite understand the Snake Oil Salesman (Jon Daly). Granted, I don’t exactly understand the ghouls in general, but SOS makes less sense than most. For one thing, why does he try to kill himself? Consequently, why does he give up on suicide in order to convert Thaddeus into a ghoul? It doesn’t make any sense. He’s seen several times trying to peddle his wares (elixirs that will presumably turn people into ghouls), but for what purpose? One argument could be that since ghouls are in constant need of vials, he’s constantly selling in order to keep up an eternal drug habit – ok, that tracks, but when we see him with the gun to his mouth, he doesn’t appear to be going feral. Unlike The Ghoul, or Roger (Neal Huff), or Martha (Alexa Marcigliano), he’s not coughing, weak, or trying to remind himself who he is. But hey, maybe that’s a question we’ll get answered in season 2.

Speaking of ghouls, why didn’t Moldaver prevent Rose from going feral? Pretty sure she has the resources and even if she doesn’t, she’s got dedicated followers who would have happily scavenged or killed for vials.

Lastly, I’m not a fan of how weak The Ghoul’s story was at the end. He builds up gradually after taking Lucy hostage, having that breakthrough moment at the Super Duper Mart, and then just loses it in order to find Moldaver. Gives up on the head hunt to find her, and when he actually goes to where she is, it’s not Lee he confronts, it’s Hank! The fuck!? I don’t really get it. Moldaver is painted as the reason his marriage was destroyed (granted his wife suggesting Vault-tec drop an atom bomb for absolute control doesn’t help), and his desire to find her is assumedly tied to that, but nope! The Ghoul doesn’t even try to find her when he arrives at Hollywood forever. She’s really only important for cold fusion, and the truth about Lucy’s mother and father.

Overall opinion:

Fallout is a fantastic series even if it hints at the showrunners a little hard. The main story, a girl on a journey to rescue her father, may not feel familiar, but the other plots? Very Westworld heavy. The boy becoming a man and the gunslinger with a complicated past speak heavily towards the robot girl becoming human and the…gunslinger with a complicated past. But I think the biggest argument for Westworld undertones are the side stories. Life in the vaults paired with what we learn from the before-times gives us a distinctly dystopian vision of how the wasteland came to be. Much like the dark HBO series, Fallout leans on the idea that all is not what it seems – sure the surface looks great, but dig deeper and there will be blood.

However, where Westworld is an exercise in glum, nihilistic conjecture and condemnation of the human race and its future, Fallout doesn’t feel this way at all. For one thing, as mentioned, Fallout is funny. Genuinely, laugh out loud at times, funny. This is because the range of characters employed in the storytelling works perfectly to juxtapose many of the grimmer aspects of the world they inhabit. Not to mention that many of the side characters are also in on the joke, not concerned with selling some noble philosophical debate they can be silly, or call into question the insanity around them.

It’s a wildly successful concoction from what I’ve seen. For an outlandish premise, an outlandish execution is the best course of action, but the key is the cast, set design, attention to detail, and direction. While Goggins, Purnell, and Moten are put through the ringer they rise to the challenge every time. I may not be the biggest Maximus fan, I might not buy his and Lucy’s love story, but damn if Moten didn’t sell it as best he could. Purnell’s heartbreak at the conclusion of her journey is brutal but you buy it – you buy the mercy killing of her mother, even her joining up with The Ghoul. As for Goggins…he really should get an Emmy for this, but you know he won’t (the academy doesn’t usually respect sci-fi shows, sadly). His dual performance as Cooper Howard and The Ghoul presents a fully realized character.

I highly recommend you take a trip to this weird and wonderful wasteland.

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A dark, disturbing, and hilarious videogame franchise adaptation that lives up to the hype. "Fallout" has amazing story lines, engaging characters, and Easter Eggs for lovers of the IP. Boosted by a stand-out cast, including cameos, fantastic writing, and impeccable direction. The series has a good pace, an enticing mystery (or two, or three!), and a solid conclusion which leaves the door open for the second season to present just as fine a show. Fallout: Beware our corporate overlords