Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Fallout Review: Ghouls and Ghosts Take The Stage In “The Ghouls” and “The Past”

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After 3 character heavy, table-setting episodes to kick things off, Fallout starts moving things in a more plot-heavy direction in this week’s featured episodes. These are also episodes that begin taking some more…let’s say controversial directions with Fallout lore. It’s impossible to talk about this season as a whole without discussing the ramifications of certain reveals, and this is really where they all began.

Let’s go ahead and talk about it in this week’s review for “The Ghouls” and “The Past.”

Super Duper Problems In “The Ghouls”

Lucy in Fallout Episode 4

“The Ghouls” is definitely the more character-heavy Fallout episode between the two, as both Lucy and the Ghoul spend it involved with a Super Duper Mart gang that produces a drug helping keep ghouls from going feral. It’s an interesting plot device, and not one I remember from the games. Feral ghouls tended to just happen or not, and humans always just generally lived in fear of ghouls turning feral over time.

I’m left with questions about how widespread this drug is and how many people are producing it. The narrative intentions are clear, especially heading into future seasons of Fallout, and I like the concept. I’m mainly curious if this is something that will be introduced into the Fallout games moving forward.

Whatever its implications on larger franchise lore, this premise was an excellent one for the character arcs of both Lucy and the man formerly known as Cooper Howard. Lucy has been through the ringer this season, and I think this episode hits the peak of the physical danger she must overcome. She gets forced to chop up a dead ghoul, drink irradiated water that, has her finger cut off (after biting one of the Ghoul’s off like a badass), sold to the aforementioned gang, nearly chopped to pieces by a Mr. Handy for her organs, and eventually makes her first kill after unleashing captive feral ghouls on their owners.

Meanwhile, the Ghoul absolutely delights in all of this, at least so long as he remains conscious without the anti-feral drug.

Snip Snip in Fallout Episode 4
Snip-Snip means well

This moral struggle forms the centerpiece of the episode, with the Ghoul giving what he believes to be a crash course in surviving the world of Fallout. He represents the worst of the outside world, as a dishonest, brutal, selfish, murderous person with no qualms about anything to achieve his desires. While he does seem to try and teach Lucy a lesson in his own twisted way, he also clearly had no real intentions of her surviving this episode. He would have happily moved on with his life, vials in hand, while Lucy was savagely ripped apart.

Pretty much anyone would have been fully corrupted by this ordeal, but Lucy perseveres, continuing to prove the strength of her own will. She gives the Ghoul all the medicine he could ask for after escaping the Super Duper Mart, and in “The Past,” she helps Maximus despite being fresh off said escape, with no reason to trust anyone.

These are the kind of moments that define a hero character, and Lucy is one hell of a hero character. She most certainly learns the ways of survival in this world but does so without losing the core of her being. Rather, she incorporates her lessons and then Uno reverses her own onto the world, influencing it for the better.

The Ghoul may have intended to teach Lucy a lesson, but by the end of the episode he is the person transformed more by the experience. Lucy surviving and helping him acts as a reminder of the man he used to be, rather than the literal and figurative monster he has become.

Maximus in his power armor, sitting by a fire, from Fallout
Maximus or “Knight Titus” has a chat with his Squire

Maximus goes through a similar journey here, as his bonding experience with Thaddeus (T-Boys!) leads him to admit the truth about his true identity and Knight Titus’s death. This leads to a confrontation where Thaddeus steals the power armor’s fusion core, leaving Maximus trapped inside until Lucy comes along to help. This could have also reinforced the worst beliefs and insecurities Maximus holds, and probably would have if Lucy doesn’t come along.

Of course, Maximus almost certainly dies without Lucy, again proving the powerful influence of a single do-gooder in the Fallout universe.

Leaving “The Past” Behind

Maximus and Lucy staring ahead in concern from Fallout
Maximus and Lucy cross a bridge once they come to it

Shortly after reuniting, the two of them run into some fiends on a bridge, causing a tense confrontation that ends with the fiends attacking and Maximus shooting them dead. This is another moment directly challenging Lucy’s good nature, and one that seems to stick a little more despite the comparative lack of threat with everything else she’s been through.

Maximus sees the attack coming, and in his own way, tries to teach Lucy a similar lesson to what the Ghoul did in the previous episode. He doesn’t have the Ghoul’s life experience, but he is still more familiar with this world than Lucy and understands the inherent dangers in every person and situation they come across.

Lucy and Maximus end the episode stumbling upon another Vault, which Lucy obviously views as a respite from her disastrous struggle so far. However, this is Fallout, so no one expects this to go well.

Their adventures in “The Past” also lead them to the bigger of the controversial plot revelations this week, and one of the biggest of the entire season; the nuking of Shady Sands, former capital of the New California Republic.

This event is expanded upon later in the season, but it’s obvious why fans reacted the way they did. The NCR is one of the more popular factions in the Fallout franchise, and Shady Sands itself is an iconic place in the lore, as the intended first settlement visited by the original Vault Dweller back in Fallout 1 and eventual capital of the NCR in Fallout 2. There is also a schism in the Fallout fandom between those who like the Fallout 1, 2, and New Vegas, which take place on the American west coast and heavily feature Shady Sands/the NCR, and the Bethesda games, which largely don’t.

I understand the reaction, as more of a fan of the former than the latter, but there’s no doubt that Fallout wanted fans to be upset by this revelation. They wanted an emotional reaction from those familiar. And they wanted us questioning who nuked the city and why, they want us asking what happened to the NCR, and whether it is still around.

Just purely as a reveal in a TV show, especially for those familiar with the franchise, I thought this worked pretty well. For those who are not familiar, the further reveal that the shots of Maximus being found by the Brotherhood take place in the aftermath of the Shady Sands bombing is enough to get the larger tragedy across.

There is a lot more to talk about here, but we’ll save that for later in the season as more information is uncovered. The larger point made with this scene, though, is one final bit of cruelty and death for Lucy to confront, and to drive home the question about whether life in a Vault really prepared its residents for the world outside.

The Mystery Of The Vaults

Norm smiles at another Vault Dweller from Fallout Episode 4
Norm gets to enjoy some sinister jello cake

We can see just how badly things are going back in Vaults 32 and 33. 32 tore itself apart after discovering an undisclosed secret about Vault 31, presumably involving what Norm later finds out about all the 33 Overseers coming from 31. Seeing that Vault 32 is entirely cleaned up from the massacre later, without anyone besides Norm and Chet knowing about it, is obviously extremely sinister and raises further questions about what the hell Vault 32 figured out.

Their solution to their tragedy seems to be to double down on life as it was before, which we’ve already seen isn’t working anymore.

Something interesting about the ending to the first Fallout game is how the protagonist goes to such great lengths to save their Vault, and is shunned for it. They are deemed as impure and no longer belonging within the community they were tasked with rescuing. I wonder if something similar might happen with Lucy here. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we see Lucy exposed to the absolute worst of the wasteland at the same time that her Vault is trying to move on as if nothing ever happened, and I’m curious what happens if/when Lucy wants to go home.

It’s one of just many fascinating mysteries/questions that Fallout has begun to establish as this season kicks into high gear. It’s full speed ahead now, and I can’t wait to talk about it.

Fun Tidbits:

Steph in Fallout Episode 4

Steph with the eye patch gives off major Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill vibes, and I’m here for it.

Gotta love Norm getting crucial lore off of computers, like a proper Fallout player.

The second Lucy drank the irradiated water, I was hoping they’d follow through with some RadAway, and I was not disappointed.

Maximus’s line about monsters living in Vaults works on so many levels I could write an entire article about it.

Lucy being a dork for pre-War tech was a clever excuse to lore dump and worldbuild.

Images Courtesy of Amazon

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