Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Fallout Review: Lucy and Gang Start Down The Lonesome Road In “The Target” and “The Head”

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In case you missed my first impressions of Amazon’s new Fallout series, safe to say I walked away extremely impressed with the first episode. Everything a fan would expect from an adaptation, from the sets, to the costumes, the characters, the references, even the basic premise, was accurate beyond the expectations most had when the series was first announced. But hey, that’s one episode, right? We’ve seen plenty of shows come out strong and then lose momentum almost immediately.

This week we’re going to look at episodes 2 and 3 of Fallout and see if it managed to avoid this problem. Spoiler alert; they very much avoided this problem.

Lucy aims a gun at a subject of conversation from Fallout

The thing I appreciated most about these episodes, most notably the second, titled “The Target,” was their refusal to waste any time moving the story forward. After the first episode took on the task of establishing our trio of main characters, I figured their plots would gradually intersect as they embarked on solo adventures. Nope, cut that nonsense. “The Target” is named for a scientist (presumably the Enclave one mentioned in the previous episode) being hunted by seemingly everyone in the greater Los Angeles Wasteland, and it is this hunt that brings our trio of protagonists together in the town of Filly.

While Fallout spent its first hour introducing its characters, this second episode very much introduced a variety of plot questions. Who is this scientist? What tech is inside his head that everyone wants so badly? Why would Moldaver want it, and who exactly is she? Why is CX404 the best good doggo in the world?

I immediately have/had dozens of theories about all of this. A cursory knowledge of Fallout lore and factions will immediately inspire many questions about this scientist and this particular wasteland, and I am so curious to see the larger machinations at play here.

The third episode, titled “The Head,” is named for the ending of “The Target,” where Lucy cuts off the dying scientist’s head in order to bring it to Moldaver. The plot does slow back down in this episode, as Lucy loses it to a monstrous water creature named a Gulper before the Ghoul ambushes her, leading to him using her as bait to try and get the head from the monster’s stomach. I imagine the season will build up to the greater reveal about what is happening here. For now, I’m content that Fallout wasted no time bringing these characters together and introducing the main conflict.

Lucy’s Wasteland Adventure

These characters also remain absolutely wonderful, with Lucy still owning the spotlight in every scene.

When I first heard about Amazon making a Fallout show, I assumed the most difficult thing to do would be to make an interesting Vault Dweller main character, but somehow this show has perfectly replicated that Fallout feeling of the isolated do-gooder being exposed to the harsh, outside world for the first time. These episodes remain Lucy’s journey more than anyone else, with the majority of its events framed through her naive, but resolute eyes.

I am a huge fan of how the narrative is directly attacking her world view and beliefs. Lucy immediately runs into prejudice against Vault Dwellers, all out firefights, monsters and ghouls, near-death experiences, kidnapping, torturing, basically every terrible thing the world can immediately throw at her. She starts the second episode in awe of the outside world and by the end of the third is cutting a man’s head off, absolutely over the whole experience.

There’s a version of this where Fallout goes too far and this is basically just violence for violence’s sake, or some awful narrative about how she needs to be more serious and badass, but instead these obstacles are used to reinforce the hero’s journey Lucy has undertaken. It also serves as excellent world building, as we learn alongside Lucy what the average person’s life is like.

(These episodes also continue to do an excellent job using fun fan references to establish the world while also giving all of us Fallout fans fun stuff to geek over. A destroyed water chip a la Fallout 1? Love it.)

Maximum Learns A Lesson

We see similar things through Maximus, who undergoes his own traumatic sequence of change throughout these two episodes. So far, Fallout has portrayed the Brotherhood in a fairly unflattering way. They are largely just religious bullies with absurdly powerful armor, and quickly cut down to size when they can’t rely on their overwhelming tech advantage. Whether it’s the Yao Guai making mincemeat of Knight Titus or The Ghoul outsmarting and beating Maximus, this show makes clear that the Brotherhood are not badasses to be admired, but a harmful, abusive hierarchy of bullies.

Squire Thaddeus makes this rather explicit when he talks about turning the bullying he received onto Maximus, or with Maximus immediately treating Thaddeus like garbage under the guise of Knight Titus. This is just how they do things. Their relationship seems somewhat different when Maximus saves Thaddeus from the Gulper, but there’s little reason to expect this to continue.

The Ghoul sits waiting in a chair from Fallout

Ghoulish Experience

Where Lucy and Maximus represent relative newcomers to the reality of the Wasteland, The Ghoul/Cooper is very much a veteran. We didn’t get to see much of The Ghoul in the first episode, but “The Target” and “The Head” show us all we need to see and then some. He’s brutal, trigger-happy, and resourceful, with no regard for much beyond his own wants. I wasn’t sure what to expect of his character, and Fallout surprised me by making him rather unlikable here. “The Head,” especially sees him torture Lucy with no remorse whatsoever, especially when he uses her as bait for the Gulper.

Obviously, there is more to The Ghoul than this. Fallout obviously includes the pre-War scenes so that we wonder just how bad life has been for him since the bombs fell and he presumably lost everything. Still, I didn’t think they would practically introduce a main character by having him treat another, extremely likable main character like this.

He represents the worst of the outside world for Lucy, something she must either overcome or give in to, and a challenge she was utterly unprepared for while living in Vault 33.

Vault Check

You can see this in the Vault scenes. These are thoroughly unserious people, sheltered beyond belief and with no idea how to survive the circumstances thrust upon them by the raider attack. Fallout has never been shy in its critiques of rampant capitalism, and Vault 33 is a living, breathing example. These Vaults are basically run like Vault-Tec corporate offices, with secretaries outside Overseer offices and meetings resembling managers giving worker drones generic corporate talking points and motivational slogans. Norm is very much just a disillusioned office worker going through the motions.

With their water chip broken, you have to imagine Vault 33 is going to be abandoned at some point in this series, and none of these people are truly ready for that. They are trying to rehab raiders and carry on as if nothing has happened. They learned practically nothing.

I love how these episodes immediately position Lucy at one end of the moral spectrum, with The Ghoul at the other. I’d imagine the constant struggle to pull each other towards their respective sides will be an ongoing plot point throughout the series.

Either way, this has been excellent to watch. Join me next week when I cover episodes 4 and 5 of this show.

Fun tidbits:

It speaks to how packed these episodes were that I barely mentioned CX404. I absolutely love this doggo and would have been furious if The Ghoul actually killed her.

Sunset Sarsaparilla! The classic Geiger counter sound! Classic black leather armor! I love all the references.

Cooper inventing the thumbs up Vault Boy is weird but I’m a fan.

I love that The Ghoul used the tried-and-true Bethesda method of running backwards shooting/swinging at the dangerous enemy while fighting Maximus in the power armor.

“Though shall get sidetracked by bullshit every goddamn time.” Truer words were never spoken, Coop.

Images Courtesy of Amazon

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