Fallout Season 1, Episode 5 Review – “The Past”

Fallout The Past

“The Past” is a fitting title for Fallout‘s meandering fifth episode, an hour with a lot of dot-connecting filler material, a big reveal for Fallout lore fans… and not much else. As its title suggests, it’s an episode mostly spent looking back as it moves forward, filling in gaps for its world and characters as it sets the stage for what is to follow on (and below) the surface of the wasteland (it’s also, by a long shot, the season’s shortest episode, which is probably not a coincidence).

We’ve spent plenty of time in the proverbial past with our ghoulish friend Cooper Howard (except for this week, as both forms of Goggins are absent here), but in “The Past”, our observations on what was aren’t visual, but serve as a framing device for defining its characters. It begins with Maximus, whose camaraderie with his squire ends up being quite short lived when he reveals who he actually is, and Thaddeus threatens to turn him in as a rule-breaking traitor. In this scene, his power armor suit becomes almost metaphorical, a reflection of Maximus’s many overlapping and conflicting lies and how they imprison him – both within the brotherhood, and his newfound friendship with Lucy.

Fallout The Past

It also becomes very literal when Thaddeus pulls out the suit’s core, grabs Wilzig’s head, and limps away with a broken leg – at some point, Maximus’s choices will catch up with him, and I hope Fallout continues to engage with Maximus contending with his own facade in the season’s final four episodes (lest we forget, he probably put razor blades in his best friend’s shoe to kick this all off in the first place).

Lucky for Maximus, Lucy 2.0 happens to pass by just as he’s about to be eaten by rad roaches; after a few flashes from her trusty new pistol, they’re striking up an uneasy alliance to track down Wilzig’s head and whatever valuable contents are in it. And once again, Lucy’s naivete comes shining through, as she crushes on (who she thinks is) Knight Titus and thinks they can peacefully pass two fiends while on the hunt for Thaddeus. After her recent experiences, Lucy’s contended with the fact the person she was in the Vault can’t survive in this world without a few tweaks – however, her surprise at Maximus blowing off the heads off both fiends shows there’s still a part of her clinging to everything she once was, no matter what she tells herself. She’s still partially wearing her Vault uniform, still wondering what happened to Reclamation Day – and a little bit too excited when her and Maximus wake up (after being drugged, no less) to find themselves inside another Vault at the episode’s end.

With these two characters, “The Past” feels like its a little too willing to be static; pushing them together doesn’t reveal or develop anything, it simply exacerbates the traits we’ve become familiar with in Fallout‘s first half-season. For Lucy, it just feels a bit repetitive; for Maximus, it is outright annoying to watch him continue to fail upward, in ways that don’t help inform his character – a survivor of war and terrible loss, feelings clearly buried under the overwrought, occasionally psychopathic leanings of the society he was integrated into that “The Past” never lets boil to the surface. It makes for a really flat character and performance; and although it doesn’t drag down “The Past” (or Fallout in general) it continues to be the show’s most underwhelming, miscalibrated element.

Fallout The Past

However, where Maximus’s characterization has been a bit disappointing, Norm and Vault 33 continue to be a pleasant surprise, a place where Fallout can stretch some of its dystopian muscles, without having to cover itself in the grime and explicit violence of the surface world. Often, Fallout‘s Vault politics are left unseen, for players to read about in computer or audio logs; seeing it play out, as Norm watches a seemingly democratic election descend into monolithic, slavish devotion to a familiar quote (“When things seem glum, vote 31!”) – and subsequently, Vault 32’s mysterious, overnight cleanup, erasing all evidence of things going hellishly wrong, long before the raiders entered (who spend this episode… just chilling on some jell-o in prison; I hope Fallout is saving these raiders for something good, beyond them just breaking out and causing chaos – the rehabilitation theme from “The Ghouls” is fascinating, and something I hope they return to).

For all of these characters, “The Past” challenges them to contend with various dichotomies of the mind; Maximus and the truth, Lucy’s “purpose” in life, and Norm’s Vault life, all of which are starting to crack under the pressures of the bleak realities in front of them. And though “The Past” struggles a bit to find the connective tissue between these three stories, the final act does a solid job tying them all together, to make a patchwork filler episode feel a bit more than the sum of its assembled parts (and yes, that includes Lucy’s gray finger).

Grade: B-

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Who is the Overseer in Vault 31, and how does that connect to Lucy’s father; this seems to be the big mystery of the season – and though I don’t think the answer will really be that revelatory, how it frames Norm’s awakening has worked surprisingly well.
  • an interesting bit of Fallout lore; we learn Maximus was originally from Shady Sands, a community seen in Fallout, which would later form the New California Republic seen in Fallout: New Vegas). This suggests that history repeated itself, and sometime after New Vegas a nuke was dropped on NCR – no clue whether Fallout the TV show will address this, but it is certainly the most interesting, notable development of the TV series as part of the larger Fallout mythology.
  • Maximus also lies when he agrees to help Lucy; part of their ‘trade’ was for him to bring five or six knights to help save her father when the time comes.
  • One can tell Betty has ominous intentions, just by her exaggerated eyes and enthusiasm. A perfect fit for a Vault mayor!
  • “We just have to get our stories straight before we go back.” Did Maximus really think that weak shit would work? Also, his expertise about power armor once again rings false, as he clumsily tries to kill Thaddeus.
  • Had the Vault election taken up a bit more space, we might feel a little more empathy for Woody, staring at his election poster after garnering less than 2% of the vote. It’s still a fun moment, but one that isn’t much but some solid shot composition and a smile.
  • Speaking of Thaddeus… probably not good he’s just carrying a fusion core around in his bag? Yes, the broken foot and infections – but wouldn’t the radiation of the core cause him some… issues?
  • Lucy takes her first dose of Rad-away, to help clear up the intestinal issues from the water she drank last episode.
  • Lucy mentions the Battle of Anchorage – in Fallout lore, that occured in 2066, the year after the US government created power armor to fight the Chinese with. The Battle of Anchorage is one of the early battles of the Sino-American War; the result of that war was witnessed by Cooper and company at the beginning of “The End”.

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