Fallout Season 1 Episode 1 Review – “The End”

Fallout The End

The retro futuristic aesthetics of the Fallout game series seem tailor-made for a live-action adaptation, a surrealist mix of post-World War II nationalism and freedom mixed with the ground-down grit of post-apocalyptic fiction; however, how does one find pathos in a story of clans, cults, batshit crazy corporations, and a fuck ton of radiation? It’s a question even the games have struggled with at times, so when it was announced Westworld scribes Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy were adapting the series to television, how they would find a narrative thoroughline – and more importantly, how they’d express that to the audience – remained a huge question mark.

With “The End”, Fallout‘s highly-anticipated debut episode, that question is mostly answered – as with their previous series, the narrative of Fallout attempts to operate on a number of levels, across a wide swath of time (given the preview of the season at the episode’s end, this seems to hold for the seven episodes to come). Here, the specific delivery is through three isolated characters, in stories that will (obviously) come crashing together at some point, in pursuit of the grander science-fiction story at play. Ambitious but well-balanced, “The End” (with a script credited to Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Graham Wagner) manages its time fairly well between the stories of vault dweller Lucy MacLean, young Brotherhood of Steel member Maximus, and The Ghoul (the character it begins and ends on), carefully building a world (that will be instantly familiar to fans of the series) on the foundation of some very tried-and-true narrative archetypes.

Given the scope of Fallout, the introduction of these stories needs to be simple; “The End” has a lot to show, and even more to allude to, as it builds out its world – and conversely, begins to reveal the mysteries contained within it. Set 219 years after civilization ends in a nuclear war, “The End” first introduces us to Vault 33 and Lucy MacLean, optimistic daughter of the Vault’s Overseer (Kyle MacLachlan), preparing for her day of marriage. Fallout does a great job in this first segment setting the table for what the oddities of Fallout‘s world. Fans of the game know every Vault was designed with its own specific purpose (ranging from holistic to barbaric, to just plain weird) – those who don’t quickly learn that Vault 32 and Vault 33 have shared a purpose for over 200 years, growing crops and breeding babies through their “triannual trade” of goods and arranged marriages.

Fallout The End

Vault 33 seems normal enough, once you get past the whole “cousins fooling around as teenagers is normal” and “the only nature we’ve ever seen is 3D projected” bit; so when Lucy’s wedding ceremony begins in haste and Vault 32’s dwellers arrive, Fallout does an great job quickly building tension by showing us things are just a little bit off. However, perpetuation of the species is the goal, and Lucy tries to push through that tension to get her marriage to Monty off on the right foot… that is, until the Vault 32 dwellers reveal themselves to be raiders from the surface, who stole the identity of Vault 32 to ravage Vault 33 and its inhabitants.

Fallout is an series with a number of iconic traits; through the slo-mo sequence of ultraviolence, Fallout the series gets to fully indulge in the game’s iconography. From the ultra-slow motion violence, to everyone using Pip-Boys, right down to the constant Vault Boy signs smiling motionlessly as Lucy’s family and friends are cut down in front of her (to the sound of The Castells, no less), it’s clear Fallout understands the aesthetics of its inspirational material – and through Lucy, has a solid audience surrogate to introduce everyone to the harsh realities of life in a radiated 2296.

Once Lucy leaves the Vault for good (to the objection of her Vault elders), Fallout begins to widen its scope, shifting its attention to Maximus in the middle act, in what I imagine will be the most-discussed segment of the episode for fans of the series. The Brotherhood of Steel looms large over the Fallout series, a quasi-religious technocratic organization tethered to the ways and ideals of a world left behind – but willing to pursue and preserve that world at just about any cost. Maximus’s introductory arc is easily the most perfunctory of the three – oddly enough, though, it appears to feel the least amount of pressure as an adaptation, slowly building out the cutthroat society Maximus has been formed by, a child of violence who found purpose and meaning in the rigidity of the Brotherhood’s rituals and structure.

It’s a strong section, and one that is open-ended in an exciting way; where Lucy’s story is cleanly an arc about a daughter searching for her father, Maximus’s journey into the depths of the Brotherhood could make for extremely interesting fare, whether the character continues to buy into the fealty demanded by the Brotherhood’s clerics, or whether his exposure in the real world cloud his perceptions of his brethren (who are an overly competitive group of people who smoked as kids, and think throwing bricks in a basket is a fun “sport” to play).

Fallout The End

Though both of these stories have their odd elements, Fallout fully embraces the strange world of its inspiration when it reintroduces us to Cooper Howard, who has somehow survived the 219 years since the introductory scene, where we saw Cooper, down on his luck, performing at a birthday party while shit hit the fan. Two centuries later, he’s a radiation-riddled Ghoul and bounty hunter, one who clearly revels in the violence and chaos of a life he can’t seem to get rid of. Though it makes for an odd final act following the two preceding it (in that it is much shorter and punchier; its tone and pace is completely different), the potential here is obvious: Walton Goggins chewing up scenery while stirring up shit everywhere? Say less.

Clearly a lot of thought and care went into “The End” in making sure the Fallout aesthetics were right; even Jonathan Nolan, sitting in the director’s chair for the first episode, pulls a few visual tricks out of the bag as it introduces viewers to its interpretation of Fallout‘s Los Angeles. However, there’s certainly concern that eight episodes won’t be enough to properly catalyze and deliver on the three narratives introduced in “The End”; that balance, as it is in any series, will be critical, especially as the season begins to ask the larger “why” questions inherent to almost any post-apocalyptic fiction.

For the first hour, however, the off-kilter balance between its trio of main stories works; and with Lucy heading into the great unknown outside the vault (with only cousin Chet by her side), there’s a lot of different directions the series has presented itself with. I’m still concerned the ghosts of Westworld may come back to haunt Fallout – but for the first hour, at least, those fears were mostly satiated by a competent script and confident delivery (not to mention the show’s incredibly deep cast), a great tone-setter for what will hopefully be a memorable season to follow.

Grade: B+

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Welcome to Fallout reviews! I’ll be covering each episode of season one over the next couple weeks, as we delve into the American wasteland and its many secrets alongside our protagonists.
  • Always happy to see Johnny Pemberton appear, and hopefully Thaddeus isn’t left on the base for the entirety of season one.
  • “If the cloud is smaller than your thumb, you run for the hills. If it’s bigger than your thumb – well, they told us not to bother running.”
  • Given I just reviewed an entire season of Frasier, I can see the potential of the “dead mom brings father and child together” story with Hank and Lucy, even if they’ll spend most of the season (in theory) isolated from each other.
  • Vault 33’ers aren’t the most socially sophisticated; the first thing Lucy says to her prospective husband is “what is your sperm count?”
  • I expect we’ll see more of Chet, Lucy’s cousin who was hoping the ‘innocent’ days of Vault 33 relatives fooling around would continue into adulthood.
  • Seems Kyle MacLachlan’s Hank may have more to the meet-cute story of his own arranged marriage. My one big concern with the pilot is the number of narrative mysteries teased in “The End”, given how Westworld played out in seasons 2-4.
  • The Brotherhood has power armor, helicopters, and all sorts of things suggesting they have preserved currency and access to resources in what must be quite a unique circumstance.
  • The Vault 32 raiders are led by a woman named Moldaver (Sarity Choudhury), who Hank clearly knows, and other characters refer to as a witch.
  • There is mention of the Enclave – I won’t spoil what they are, but they’re certainly another intriguing, batshit insane part of the mosaic that is Fallout‘s universe.
  • Stronger contender for survivor VIP of the Vault 33 massacre is Steph, a pregnant Dweller who takes a fork to the eye midway through the fight and continues to fuck shit up.
  • I mentioned the cast list was insane; in “The End”, we are blessed with Michael Cristofer, who was always a highlight during Mr. Robot‘s miserable latter seasons.
  • So what’s going on in Vault 31?
  • Nat King Cole, Perry Como, The Castells… perhaps the best distillation of Fallout‘s ability to find beauty in dissonance is through the show’s soundtrack juxtaposed against its visuals. Absolutely delectable in this first episode.

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