“Fallout” Gives Us A Rich Neo Sci-Fi/Western in First Two Episodes

Ella Purnell (Lucy) in Fallout

What if America never let go of the nuclear age to the point of world destruction? This is one of the main questions at the center of Fallout, the Prime Video series adaptation of the beloved video game franchise of the same name.

In this series, the aesthetics of the 1950s never died, but the world did – with a nuclear war that tore apart the planet in 2077. The survivors of this calamity are of two stripes: the descendants of rich folks who were able to hide underground as vault-dwellers and the average people who had to make due in a world that was wilder, stranger, and more harrowing in the wake of atomic destruction.

Across its first two episodes, Fallout does some impressive worldbuilding, bringing in newcomers to the franchise and creating something new from the well-loved world fans know. The result is a darkly comic neo sci-fi/western that’s buoyed by intriguing performances and a world with endless possibilities stretching into the wasteland.

We follow three characters affected by the fallout in drastically different ways. First, there’s Lucy MacLean (Yellowjackets’ Ella Purnell), a lifelong vault dweller whose life is changed forever when she has to leave her sheltered life behind to find her father, Hank (Sex in the City’s Kyle MacLachlan) who gets kidnapped by surface-dwelling raiders. With the help of her brother Norm (Moises Arias) and cousin Chet (Dave Register), she breaks Vault 33’s biggest rule: never opening the surface door.

Then, there’s Maximus (Aaron Moten), who’s aspiring to join the Brotherhood of Steel, an organization of tech-salvaging knights. Maximus, who was rescued by a knight of the Brotherhood right after the war, is ambitious and hungry. He eventually, inadvertently, becomes a squire when his friend Dane (Xelia Mendes-Jones) is mysteriously injured, taking their place.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s The Ghoul/Cooper Howard (Walton Goggins), a former actor turned undead bounty hunter who’s been sustained by an addiction to chemicals that have kept him alive for over 200 years. These three disparate strangers become connected by one scientist – and their varying motivations for finding him.

Aaron Moten is Maximus in Fallout
Aaron Moten is Maximus in Fallout

From the start, Fallout’s strongest elements are its world-building and performances. From the Vault-Boy posters plastered across bunker walls to the desolate and dusty landscapes Lucy wanders through to the flashbacks to the day the bomb dropped, it’s clear that this is a thoughtfully made and intriguing world worth diving into. It all comes together to create the neo sci-fi/Western feel of the show, too, taking signifiers from both genres and mixing them into something compelling.

The performances, particularly of Goggins and Purnell really add and expand the feel of the series, playing up a classic black hat/white hat dynamic that anyone familiar with the Western genre will pick up on right away. For better and worse in this wasteland, it seems, the vestiges of the Wild West remain – complete with Mexican-style saloons that neighbor graveyards.

However familiar the genre elements Fallout uses to welcome viewers to the wasteland, it also subverts them from the beginning. You can see this in peeks at The Ghoul’s backstory and the discoveries Maximus makes about the Brotherhood, among other elements. At the same time, it feels like the series leans into some more recent prestige TV tropes that seasoned binge-watchers know well – and may take some of the fun out of the show by making it too predictable, but only time and the remaining six episodes can tell us that for sure.

For now, Fallout is off to a strong start and a compelling introduction for newcomers and longtime wasteland dwellers alike.

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