Review – Fallout: Season 1

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Overview

Directing Jonathan Nolan, Daniel Gray Longino, Clare Kilner, Frederick E.O. Toye, Wayne Yip

Producing Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Graham Wagner, Athena Wickham, Todd Howard, James Altman, Margot Lulick, James W. Skotchdopole, Crystal Whelan, Halle Phillips, Gursimran Sandhu

Writing Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Graham Wagner, Kieran Fitzgerald, Carson Mell, Karey Dornetto, Chaz Hawkins, Gursimran Sandhu

Starring Ella Purnell, Aaron Moten, Kyle MacLachlan, Moisés Arias, Xelia Mendes-Jones, Walton Goggins

Genre Science Fiction/Action

Platforms Amazon Prime Video

Release Date April 10, 2024

The existence of a Fallout TV show has been a dubious proposition since it was first announced. In the past 15 years, the popular video game franchise has gone from one of the most beloved in the world —popularized by Fallout 3 (2008) and Fallout: New Vegas (2010) — to one of its most frustrating and controversial — due to the scandalous release of Fallout 76 (2018). The issue felt more controversial given the series was being placed in the hands of the studio that released the controversial Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power series.

Skepticism was high going into the show’s premiere, with many preemptively declaring it a failure when Amazon Prime Video announced it would drop all eight episodes of the show at once rather than releasing them slowly over two months — evidence the studio might’ve wanted the series to be processed through the news cycle quickly.

Regardless, there were good signs about the show’s fate from the get-go. The casting of Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight) and Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks), and being executive produced by Jonathan Nolan (Westworld) suggested the series had more high-profile talent and energy behind it than one might expect. With the backing of Bethesda Game Studios and the proclamation the series is canon to the games, it appears the people making Fallout wanted it to be special.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Extreme violence, with characters being repeatedly shot, stabbed, and mutilated, bodies being crushed and blown apart, severe gore being gratuitously shown, and death is a common and brutal part of the story
Language/Crude Humor: Severe language throughout, including f*** and s***
Drug/Alcohol References: Several characters are dependent on drugs for their survival, with limited themes of drug addiction and alcohol use
Sexual Content: Several depictions of partial frontal nudity, a character appears to be pleasuring himself under the covers of his bunk in one scene, and discussions of sex are frank and blunt
Spiritual Content: Religion is depicted in the form of cults and reverent worship of technology and political leaders
Other Negative Content: Bleak nihilistic themes and dark story implications
Positive Content: Themes of hope, protecting human life, and the absurdity of people amid conflict

Review

It has been fascinating watching the critical reception and rollout of the first season of Fallout. Audiences expecting a cheap, controversial, schlocky entry in the popular Fallout franchise seemed to be genuinely impressed by it. Within days of its launch, the online discourse surrounding it shifted from begrudging admissions that it was good to near-full-throated defenses of it — with a handful of commentators arguing the show’s plotline potentially retconned events from Fallout: New Vegas.

Frankly, I am happy to be wrong about my early reservations. Fallout: Season 1 is far from a perfect series — particularly given that it is prone to committing some of the same shallow creative decisions that later entries in the franchise are guilty of. However, the original story does chart a familiar but engaging morality tale set against the fallout of a nuclear apocalypse.

In the year 2077, the world as we know it was destroyed by a firestorm as America and China unleashed nuclear arsenals against one another. Following the events of Fallout 3 (2277), Fallout: New Vegas (2281), and Fallout 4 (2287), the events of Fallout: Season 1 (2296) explores rising conflict in the remnants of Los Angeles. The conjoined Vaults 31, 32, and 33 find themselves at the center of a conflict between all of the factions of the wasteland when raiders kidnap the overseer and throw life into chaos. Desperate to save her father, Lucy MacLean (Ella Purnell) embarks into the wasteland to find him.

The show primarily focuses on four characters against three ongoing storylines. Lucy is a naive and gentle young woman used to the simplicity and warmth of life in Vault 33 but struggles to do the right thing in the morally complicated world of the wasteland — where the majority of people she meets want to kill her, eat her, or steal her organs. Moisés Arias (Wizards of Waverly Place) is on hand as her brother Norm MacLean, who begins to suspect dark secrets are being hidden in the Vaults. Aaron Moten does well in the role of Maximus, a low-level Brotherhood of Steel recruit who lies his way into stealing a power suit and attempting to quest into the wasteland by himself.

The show’s best character comes with Walton Goggin’s turn as Cooper Howard — a pre-war Hollywood western star who found himself converted into an immortal ghoul, traveling the wasteland as an anti-hero gunslighter. The role is fascinating, playing off of Goggin’s cowboy roles in Hateful Eight and Justified. In a big way, his role is the heart of the show. He’s not a moral actor, but the most well-suited to surviving in the wasteland due to his gunfighting skills and willingness to do what it takes to survive. He has mysterious motivations for the majority of the season but serves as a persistent wildcard for the entire plot.

As Juicehead points out in his review, Fallout: Season 1 is structured the same way as the games – with a central motivated character tied to the fate of the wasteland. This central story is interrupted by dozens of hours of side stories and digressions, which isn’t well-suited to a television format. While the show does a good job using these digressions to evolve Lucy’s understanding of the wasteland, they mostly kept the main story looming in the background for the central six episodes. This makes the world feel vibrant and lived in, even when the plot gets shelved.

Mild spoilers ahead

The other major complaint being leveled at the series is that it appears to take a cavalier attitude toward several popular factions in the video games as well as their timelines. While there are lore digressions online that suggest this complaint is erroneous, the show suggests one of the popular factions from Fallout: New Vegas is completely destroyed offscreen — which is being read as a snub at the only popular game in the franchise not produced in-house by Bethesda Game Studios. This is somewhat undermined by the post-credits scene, but the show’s cavalier approach to the series timeline is creating some confusion among lore enthusiasts.

Fallout: Season 1 is certainly flawed, and many of its subplots are still waiting to be resolved when Season 2 is eventually released in a couple of years. Thankfully, the show’s enthusiasm has created a demand for it. The heart of the Fallout games is the exploration of human nature and the consequences of moral realism. It depicts a world where every choice costs lives, and where the future is bleak and hopeless. Lucy and Cooper’s stories — about their respective willingness to have their souls destroyed by the wasteland — capture the heart of this well. While it does have shallow preachy moments and makes mistakes, it works despite its worst instincts.

As a famous man once said, “It just works!”

The Bottom Line

 

Fallout is not perfect, but manages to capture the heart of what makes the video game series popular.

 

8

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

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