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Yet Again, I’m Falling for Fallout

It’s been nearly three weeks since the release of Fallout, Amazon Prime’s tv series based on the video game franchise that’s been around for almost thirty years. As a lifelong fan of the games series who’d played most of them at their release (except for Fallout which I played shortly after Fallout 2 and Fallout: Tactics which I never got around to trying out), I watched the news of development of the series with equal parts excitement and fear. Most companies don’t really have a good track record for bringing favorite franchises to life, and all I desperately hoped for was something halfway decent.

Well, I’m happy to report that since it’s release, I’ve watched the series three times already, and to me, it’s like a love letter to what made the games so great while being an entertaining show with an interesting and well-told story.

I think the most important thing to keep in mind was that Fallout games were never realistic or even striving for realism. The games, though serious in tone, also contained plenty of twisty and absurd humor, and the mechanics of exploding bodies or being able to successfully sneak while wearing a shiny power armor only supported that non-realistic setting.

The tv series draws from it with its over-the-top characters, absurd situations, and gory fight scenes that can’t be taken seriously or considered realistically gory when every time they happen, a cheerful music from the 50s and 60s accompanies the whole sequence. Yes, the show seems to tell us, we know this is absurd—enjoy!

But it doesn’t mean Fallout is an absurd comedy show full of game references. Quite to the contrary, it tells a mature and interesting story of human greed and weaknesses, but also of growth and sticking to one’s values, and it does it in a non-intrusive, non-preaching kind of way.

Because Fallout isn’t going to handhold you if you’re new to the franchise. You will get no lengthy explanations of what the setting is or what the rules of the world are, but the show will let you put things together as you watch and will trust you to make the right connections or match the seemingly contradictory pieces. As a viewer, I felt like I’m being treated like a mature adult who can figure things out on her own rather than being explained everything.

Even in the beginning, in lieu of the introductory monologue explaining the world, we get a pre-apocalypse scene that will show the setting in the retro sci-fi aesthetics, suggesting that we’re dealing with an alternate history world rather than our own. And how the entire scene plays out… To avoid spoilers, I’ll just say that I thought Teagan Meredith’s acting when she lifts her thumb and asks her dad that one question was perfect.

Speaking of acting, a good series can’t do without good characters, and for the most part, Fallout doesn’t disappoint. But it’s worth keeping in mind that the characters are also matching the setting, which means they are a little over the top.

The main character, Lucy MacLean, is a poster picture for a vault dweller: believing in upholding one’s values and principles, trustful and willing to help… but also very naïve about the outside world and unaware how different the surface dwellers are in their way. At the same time, she’s smart and resourceful, so it’s easy to cheer her on as she slowly puts things together and adapts to the post-apocalyptic ways of life while trying to preserve who she is. I welcomed a character who isn’t all confident and shunning all the help because of her “she can do it all on her own” attitude.

The Ghoul, of course, is the lone gunman stereotype, but instead of being quiet and brooding, he is quite conversational and full of witty comments, including the ones that quickly suggest he might have been around for a while… like 200 years or so. He does have a darker and ruthless side, so he isn’t your average wise-cracking action hero.

In comparison to the other two, Maximus falls a bit short. It isn’t about the acting or the story—it’s that one point where the showrunners’ subtlety could have used being less subtle. Through most of the show, Maximus seems like a selfish little a-hole, and only by episode 6 my husband suggested that perhaps they were trying to show that emotionally and socially, Maximus is still that 4-year-old child who doesn’t have strong concepts of what’s “right” and “wrong” within wider society as the Brotherhood of Steel only taught him what he should and shouldn’t do. But all he had to go on to make that guess was one scene: a flashback of the young Maximus in his formative moment, repeated throughout the entire season, and it felt like it wasn’t enough. There was also a disjoint about how clueless the character was in some situations while having the wits and knowledge in other circumstances, creating an impression of a character who wasn’t consistent and fully fleshed out.

But the show doesn’t end on the main characters. The whole supporting cast is colorful, interesting, and also skimming the absurd lines in the best ways the games have gotten us used to. And there is, of course, the dog… No Fallout game would be complete without Dogmeat, and she’s in the show as well, having her own somewhat tragic story—but certain bonding scenes toward the end of the season suggests she might get a bit of happiness after all…

Speaking of games, I mentioned that the show feels like a love letter to them, and throughout the season, there’s plenty for seasoned players to spot. From Filly that looks much like Megaton City from Fallout 3 (minus the unexploded bomb in the middle), to various items being part of the settings. None of them are intrusive, placed where they would naturally occur, but they always brought genuine delight when they appeared on the screen.

What’s more important, the show seems to hint at the nature of the games as well. There’s a scene where Lucy looks at her knife and then at weapons available in the armory, and it felt like a player comparing the stats of one to another and making the right decision about which one to use. Or the scene where the Ghoul says, “Wasteland has its own Golden Rule. Thou shalt get sidetracked by bullshit every goddamn time.” which feels like a direct reference to the open world games where it’s easy to forget about where you were going with all the little side quests and interesting locations popping up along the way…

Yet, despite of all the game references and lack of hand-holding when it comes to the setting, I think the creators did a good job in creating a show and a setting that is approachable to casual viewers who had never played the games. All they need is some tolerance for absurd and willingness to make guesses and speculate as they put things together.

The last thing worth mentioning is the story itself, told in a satisfying way that allows the viewer to speculate and put pieces together. I was pleasantly surprised when the opening scene, which I thought was just the way to introduce the world from the time before the bombs fell, turned out to be quite pivotal for the bigger overarching plot, and the well-placed flashbacks provided a lot of additional information about the world and the ways some characters were connected. It’s also worth noting that the first episode’s title is “The End,” while the last episode’s title is “The Beginning.” A small thing, but speaks volumes of the care and work that’s been put into the story itself and the series as a whole.

I could keep going for several pages more as it feels like I barely scratched the surface, but suffice to say that I personally found Fallout well-worth the triple binge, and I have no doubt that I’ll watch it again soon. Probably, right after I get a dose of wastelanding in Fallout 4. And since the second season has already been confirmed, I’ll be waiting impatiently and hoping that they’ll keep up the excellent work from season one, because there’s been so much that we haven’t seen yet: super mutants and deathclaws included. If they do, Fallout: the tv series will definitely earn its rightful place as a valid part of the franchise.

Joanna Maciejewska

Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games. Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English. Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.

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