Don’t Bother Running: Fallout S1E1 Review — “The End”

A title card reads Fallout
Courtesy of Prime Video

The following review contains some spoilers for Fallout S1E1, “The End” (written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet & Graham Wagner and directed by Jonathan Nolan)

If the mushroom cloud is bigger than your thumb, don’t bother running, cowboy Cooper Howard (Walton Goggins) tells his daughter at a kid’s birthday party, seconds before a nuclear bomb rips apart the skyline.

So begins Prime Video’s TV adaptation of Fallout, the game franchise from Bethesda Softworks. For those who have never played the video games. Fallout is set in an alternate United States 200 years after a nuclear apocalypse has wiped out civilization.

What made Fallout (the game) unique was that its world is a highly stylized 1950s America of high-end space technology mixed with classic Americana. What started as a top-down style of gaming morphed into a first and third-person open-world RPG. Fallout became known for its dark humor, quirky characters, and detailed world to explore.

Now Prime Video has released a live-action TV show based on the IP, which stars Ella Purnell, Walton Goggins, and Aaron Moten, among many others. Does Fallout rise with its mushroom cloud to be a truly great show? Or does it settle with the radioactive dust to be forgotten? Let’s see!

Cooper and his daughter give each other a thumbs-up
Courtesy of Prime Video

This first episode had a lot of heavy lifting to do. Not only did it need to draw in the viewer, but also introduce all the characters, settings, and motivations that exist in this wonderfully funny and horrible world.

Overall I felt this first episode did a decent job introducing the characters and their motivations, although some characters were more interesting than others.

The episode’s first five minutes grab you by the throat and won’t let go. As we are introduced to Cooper Howard and his daughter, we get to see the rich and entitled families he works for, as well as hints about his past and the scandal that cost him his acting job. Then, bombs go off and the narrative jumps 219 years into the future.

A nuclear mushroom cloud is seen in the distance, with a cloud rushing towards six white chairs sitting on the grass by pool
Courtesy of Prime Video

This is where the episode gets very interesting, as we are showcased two characters with different views of the world, and when confronted one embraces the past and the other the future.

Lucy MacLean (Ella Purnell) is a Vault Dweller—a descendent of the people who fled the fallout and lived in self-sustaining vaults underground for hundreds of years. She is a vibrant person, who wants nothing more than to get married and start having lots of sex to produce children for the future human race. She is sweet, innocent, and kind, and asks awkward questions like, “What is your sperm count?” This all goes south as she is introduced to her husband from a different connecting vault, and we get the feeling that something is not right. After a quick love-making session, he attempts to kill her after she finds out he and his group are raiders who murdered everyone in the other vault.

She fights back and runs to her friends only to find them being slaughtered by the raiders, who kidnap her father and make cryptic comments, seemingly knowing who she and her parents are. The Vault dwellers end up reclaiming their home, but Lucy is troubled when they don’t want to try and rescue her father.

It’s here Lucy must make a choice: stay in the Vault, or embrace her destiny and venture out into the wasteland.

One thing I liked is that Fallout does not present Lucy’s desire to be a wife and mother as bad, or one that must be shaken off. It’s a choice and something she gives up because it does not fit her anymore, even as we see how it does fit other characters. I appreciated this more balanced look at this issue.

A woman sits on a bench, inside a long tunnel with lights running along the top and windows on the side.
Courtesy of Prime Video

The episode’s second narrative is that of Maximus (Aaron Moten), an acolyte of the Brotherhood of Steel, a cult that has risen out of the ashes of the US Military. Unlike Lucy, he has no family and his only value has been being a part of a unit, with the goal to one day be a Knight.

When an act of sabotage allows for a spot to open for him to squire to a Knight, he almost loses it after he is accused of hurting his friend to get the position. What is interesting is that his claims of loyalty fall on deaf ears; he is only selected when he says he is willing to die for the Brotherhood to survive.

This contrast is the core of what makes this episode interesting. Lucy sacrifices her life of anonymity and being part of a group to be an individual. Whereas, Maximus sacrifices his individuality to become a drone in the collective.

Lucy eschews tradition, whereas Maximus embraces it. One wants to give his life so that the collective can thrive, and one wants to take her life away from the collective so they can thrive. Fallout promises to continue to address this idea as our heroes stories play out.

Besides the core theme, S1E1 makes use of its immense budget by delivering spectacular environments and costumes, notably the Brotherhood of Steel Power Armor, and the Vault sets. The Vault is a stand-out when it comes to set design, ripped right out of the video games. Everything about it feels old world, yet high tech. For example, when Lucy is injured and injects herself with a Stim, it looks like a giant syringe from the 1950s, yet is used to heal her almost instantly.

A woman in a blue jumpsuit with long blonde hair wearing an eye patch smiles at a young man facing her
Courtesy of Prime Video

The costumes are also wonderful. The Vault jumpsuits are bright and cheery, and the Bounty Hunters of the Wasteland are grubby and filthy. In short, the world is very immersive and begs the viewer to get lost in its scenery. At the episodes start, I was sad to see the intro of old-world LA and the rich elites’ homes end so fast. I would have loved to hang around a while and soak in its illustrious beauty, that also has an edge of cruelty beneath.

Fallout’s premiere had to walk a tightrope of being true to the source material, while also not being so overburdened by the past that new viewers could not enjoy it. The episode I am happy to say very handily delivers on this, in particular with its outlandish humor (e.g., a pair of vault dwellers try to deliver a Jell-O cake to the party even as the massacre is taking place), and larger-than-life characters.

The world of Fallout is cartoonish, extremely stylized, and gory as hell, yet sanitized. The world is one that rewards the long-time gamer with endless Easter eggs, references, and characters, while also not requiring anyone to have heard of Fallout before turning on the episode.

Fallout is a wild, fun, and irreverent journey, with colorful characters, humor, and gore—in short, the end of the world has never been so fun.

Written by Byron Lafayette

Journalist, film critic, and author, with a (possibly unhealthy) obsession with Pirates of the Caribbean, Zack Snyder and movies in general, Byron has written for many publications over the years, yet never shows his face. To partially quote (and mangle) Batman V Superman "If you seek his face look around you"

One Comment

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  1. Other than the opening — ramparts gallantly streaming — this show is a waste of any right-minded viewer’s time, no matter how much money was invested on it.

    Instead, please consider reviewing BABY REINDEER, something surprising in the best of all possible ways.

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