Fallout Episode 1 Recap: Great Orange Sky

Fallout Episode 1 Recap: Great Orange Sky

Fallout Episode 1 sets the stage for the entire series to come. Its lead characters are introduced, as are the beginnings of their major arcs. For those who’ve done their homework and played Fallout games before, particularly Fallout 3, there will be quite a bit of the show that feels familiar. For the lorehounds, this will be an interesting and useful trip to the department of backstory.

You can watch all eight episodes of Fallout on Prime Video. It’s already streaming in full.

Straight up, if you don’t want spoilers for Fallout‘s pilot episode, do not read anything that follows this top line of text. I mean it. I am going spoiler bonkers below. Like any episode recap, this is a yarn for people who have either seen it and want a little extra insight, or they just want a digest of what happened in the episode. If you’d prefer not to cop any spoils, please watch the episode and then come on back. I’d love to see some proper discussion in the comments.

If you’d like to catch up on our Fallout episode recaps, you can find each one listed below.

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Image: Kotaku Australia

Fallout Episode 1 series does not begin with the series’ famous overture “War, war never changes.” Rather, it begins with Nat King Cole’s Great Orange Sky, the first of many licensed songs that evoke The Sound of Fallout. This song sets the tone for what is a particularly long episode of the new Prime Video series, clocking in at 1 hour and 10 minutes, longer than the standard hour of the episodes that follow it.

It is October 3rd, 2077, a red-letter day in Fallout lore. It is the day the bombs fell. Cooper ‘Coop’ Howard (Walton Goggins, Justified, The Hateful Eight) is a down-on-his-luck actor living in Hollywood, using his fading star in Westerns to play children’s parties. On this particular day, he’s working a birthday party in the Hollywood Hills, and Downtown LA is the backdrop. He poses for pictures, smiles at the kids. He wears his cowboy hat and leads his horse around to the children to pet. He is also casually asked to “do his thumbs up,” an apparent signature move. He politely declines before being quietly accused of being a pinko by a couple of leering dads.

Make a note of the thumbs up thing. It will be important later, both in the next few moments and in a few episodes’ time.

As the birthday cake prepares to come out, the children are gathered in the lounge of a spacious, art deco home. The television nearby displays a news broadcast going wholly unnoticed, on which a weatherman is becoming visibly agitated. “I can’t do the weather when I don’t know if there’ll be a next week!” he says to someone off camera. There is a nuclear paranoia reminiscent of the Cold War — its on everyone’s minds, a kind of background radiation in all their lives.

Coop has brought his daughter to work and, in a quiet moment together, reiterates a lesson about holding up your thumb to judge the size and proximity of a potential mushroom cloud. The moment is grimly prophetic. As his daughter looks out over the DTLA skyline, the bomb explodes, the giant mushroom cloud rising into the air in silence. She does as she was told and holds up her thumb to judge its size. Comparing them, she turns to her father and asks a harrowing question. “Uh, my thumb or yours?”

Coop turns to see the blast for the first time, the blast wave now rushing toward them. As it strikes the house, he bundles his daughter up and bolts for his horse while the party attendees scream and flee in every direction. As he and his daughter charge into the Hollywood Hills on horseback, the camera tilts to show one, two, three more mushroom clouds tearing Los Angeles apart.

I loved this scene as a way to set the stage for the show that comes after. The bomb going off in silence is a horrific moment, one that lands on the strength of Goggins’ performance, running the mental calculus for his own survival and that of his daughter. That would be enough on its own. Pivoting the camera to reveal that it wasn’t one nuke, but many takes the breath away. It’s the end of the world. Where the hell’s he running to?

Seeing Fallout begin Episode 1 this way told me the show might be onto something. I didn’t expect it to come for the heart like this. Banger intro. Really liked it.

219 years later

Fallout fans have likely been waiting for the Episode 1 gets to the vault. Here you go.

Meet Lucy MacLean (Ella Purnell, Yellowjackets, Arcane). She’s your all-American girl of the future. She’s lived her entire life in an industrial-sized nuclear fallout shelter, surrounded by the same people every day. Unable to find a suitable husband in Vault 33 that wouldn’t also be a relative, she has requested a link-up with the nearby Vault 32 in hopes of finding a partner. Lucy brings up her S.P.E.C.I.A.L. skills right away — her dainty persona conceals a woman who is clever, acrobatic, and good with a rifle.

It’s clear from the off that Lucy’s arc in the show will be that of a good person having little pieces of their innocence torn away by the harsh realities of the real world. As a storytelling conceit, that may be your vibe, or it may not. We’re not that far into the story yet, but the show does quite a bit to telegraph Lucy’s arc to come. She’s certainly no damsel, but she does begin the story as something of an ingenue.

Her brother Norm is is everything she is not. Where Lucy is tall and beautiful, he is short and sallow. The proverbial runt of the litter, Norm is quiet, withdrawn, and shrewd. He does not seem to share the smiley disposition of his fellow vault dwellers. He seems to see through the Vault’s carefully managed veneer, which seems to have made him something of a misfit.

Their father, Hank (Kyle MacLachlan, Twin Peaks, Portlandia), is the Overseer of Vault 33. He’s a charming older man, a product of the white picket fence, golly gee confection of 1950s Americana and he presides over a vault that reflects those values. We learn that he himself grew up in another vault — Vault 31 — and that he moved to Vault 33 through a similar link-up request to the one his daughter now makes. MacLachlan is in fine form here. He’s warm and unctuous and clearly cares about his daughter. He’s as American as apple pie.

Inside the vault, projectors are used to create the image of a countryside scene — mountains, a cornfield, and even barns. It’s here that Lucy’s wedding will be held.

Lucy’s request is granted, and a link-up with Vault 32 is arranged. She wears the vault’s one shared wedding dress, and for the moment, the two vaults are connected, and she sees her husband-to-be for the first time. The subterranean vault doors open, and the envoys from Vault 32 arrive to exchange pleasantries. Through that door walks Monty, who might be the prettiest boy Lucy has ever seen. Though dressed in a Vault Dweller blue-and-yellow jumpsuit, he’s James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. He wears his hair long, his expression permanently fixed in the practised, wry pout of someone who studied Marlon Brando’s performance in A Streetcar Named Desire. Raised her whole life to think only of America and its repopulation, Lucy spends their wedding dinner pelting Monty with questions like “What’s your sperm count?”

At this dinner, Hank reveals some good news to his fellow vault dwellers. He tells them that by the time Lucy and Monty’s children come of age, the surface radiation will have receded enough that they can leave the vaults to begin recolonisation efforts. Hank provides no proof that the radiation is receding, nor does he state where he got this information from.

There’s a lot that happens in the sequence that follows, but due to the strictures of the embargo I agreed to so I could watch the series early, I’ll leave it there. I am sure some of you will already be piecing together where this is going because you’ve likely played this game before. Suffice it to say, events transpire that will lead to Lucy making a calculated decision to leave the Vault.

The Tale of Knight Maximus

At this point, the show switches to its third POV, and its first from outside the vault. To the strains of So Doggone Lonesome by Johnny Cash, this is where we meet Maximus, an aspirant in the Brotherhood of Steel who wants to become a Squire to one of the Order’s armour-clad Knights. This is the first time the show confirms it is set in the ruins of Los Angeles. The Brotherhood appears to have taken up residence in a bombed-out Air Force base (it could even be the remains of LAX; it’s hard to say). The rotting hulks of planes and fighters litter the compound.

Maximus’ training is all about utility. He is quizzed about ‘relics’ from the before times and asked what they are. He describes one image depicted on a flashcard as a rotor. It’s not, it’s circuits, and his instructor calls him on it. Maximus needs to be able to tell good salvage from bad if he ever hopes to make it as a Squire and, eventually, a Knight. He’s a shitkicker, and while certainly ambitious, the Brotherhood seems to feel he’s firmly in the Not What We’re Looking For category. This is reinforced by his being assigned to latrine duty.

It’s here that the show introduces the well-known T-60 Brotherhood of Steel armour that fans know so well. A huge drop ship arrives over the base, offloading a small horde of Knights.

The armour does indeed look quite cool, but on my lower-quality pre-release screener, it had an aspect of high-end cosplay to it. There’s a particular way that shows made for streaming like Fallout are shot — you see it on Netflix all the time. They have to be shot quickly and affordably because the margins these platforms run on are razor-thin. One of the first things this approach damages is the vapour-thin curtain protecting the audience’s suspension of disbelief. It felt like that was happening again here. I hope that when the show arrives in glorious 4K (or whatever maximum res your screen will allow), it all looks a bit nicer and more believable.

Maximus and his friend, Aspirant Dane, sneak off to look at the armour under cover of night and find their way into a garage similar to the one from the Fallout 4 trailer. The armour is held aloft with chains, suspended on old car hoists. They are interrupted by a squad of guards. Thinking they’ve been caught, Maximus and Dane immediately plead their case, but they’re not in trouble. At least, not for this. The guards lead Dane away, their fate unknown.

The next morning, Maximus awakens to the sound of celebration outside his barracks. He emerges to find Dane surrounded by other Aspirants, patting them on the back. The reason Dane was taken away was to be anointed — made a Squire of Knight Titus. They are shipping out. Maximus can’t believe it and, in his heart of hearts, feels it should have been him. That night, back on latrine duty and still stinging at being overlooked, he takes his frustrations out on the shitter.

Again, he awakens to a commotion, but this time not a celebration. Dane screams gutturally, sat on their bed. It seems someone put razor blades in their boots, and their feet are torn to shreds. They can’t walk. Maximus is taken away for the crime, but he remains impassive throughout. Did he really sabotage his only friend so brutally? The show is content to let us wonder, and I think it’s one of the better creative choices that Fallout makes.

Dwelling on what’s out there

Back in the vault, Lucy is preparing to leave, but she’s encountering some resistance from the other Dwellers. They’re scared of the outside world. Their whole lives have been spent hearing about the dangers the world beyond the vault doors presents. And now she wants to go out there?

After a bit of back and forth about what will happen when she leaves, and with people from within the Vault moving to stop her exodus, the famous Vault Exit sequence begins. It’s all there — the short metal bridge, the control box, the heavy, cog-shaped door shrieking and clattering as it moves out of the way to reveal bright white light beyond. For the die-hard fans, I’m sure this will be the episode’s standout moment. It threw me back to playing Fallout 4 for the first time, and the clever trick of game’s audio engineers sliding all the volume up for the moment that wheel begins to move. It sets your teeth on edge. It makes you cower a little. It puts you in the foothills of a fight or flight response, exactly the vibe for stepping into the Wasteland, and the show does a fine job of replicating that.

The show then immediately undercuts this grand moment somewhat with what has to be the episode’s lamest joke. I’ll let you witness it for yourself. Your mileage may vary, but I groaned out loud.

Lucy exits the Vault and into the Wasteland. In the cut between her final moments in the Vault and the first shot of her in world beyond, the show’s colour timing changes. Lucy’s world, once quite vivid is suddenly a little more washed out. The blue of her suit no longer pops as brightly in a Los Angeles reclaimed by the desert. There is evidence of desperation around the outside of the Vault. Skeletons litter the doorstep, people who tried to make it in and were left to die on the day the bombs fell. Another little piece of Lucy’s innocence is stripped away.

The entrance to Vault 33, it turns out, was right near Santa Monica Pier. Santa Monica State Beach, comically wide in the real world, has swallowed all of Santa Monica, Dogtown, Venice, and Marina Del Ray, and now stretches across what used to be West Hollywood.

What’s up, Shellhead?

After being led into a kind of tribunal with a bag over his head, Maximus is unmasked. He is on trial for what happened to Dane. He’ll be killed if he can’t convince them of his innocence. “Violence against a Brother of Steel is a sign of weakness,” says the Brotherhood, hypocritically threatening Maximus with literal violence and death.

Directly accused of the crime, Maximus denies responsibility, but does at least admit that he wanted it to happen. Apparently that’s all the Brotherhood needs to hear to condemn Maximus to death. Asked for his final words, Maximus makes a Hail Mary play: he offers his life for the Brotherhood. (I feel like he would have already had to make an oath of this kind to even get his foot in the door as an aspirant? But no time for questions, the show is moving on.) Because the Brotherhood is a kooky operation run by mentally ill weirdos, they actually like his offer quite a bit and decide to make Maximus the new Squire of Knight Titus. Saved, and a step closer to the prize he’s wanted all along, Maximus weeps with joy.

He returns to the barracks, unable to keep the smile off his face. He locks eyes with Dane, patched up, and here we get an interesting little moment. I feel like Dane believes Maximus put the razors in their boots. I feel like they know in their heart that he did it. But there’s also a sense that they understand and, even more strangely, respect him for wanting it that badly? I’m interested to hear what other people make of this short little scene because it stayed with me. It gestures at a fucked up dynamic between comrades, but the Brotherhood plainly collects fucked up people.

Branded with the Brotherhood Seal as part of his anointment, Maximus is given his marching orders right away. “One of the denizens of The Enclave has escaped. And has risen a weapon with the potential to do great harm.” If you know your Fallout lore, you’ll know who The Enclave are. I’m sure this group will be very important later in the story.

Each Knight is given flashcards with images of wanted individuals on them. Maximus, working for Knight Titus, is handed two: a picture of a bespectacled, hawkish looking man (Michael Emerson, Person of Interest, LOST) and a happy looking German Shepherd, who we can safely assume is the game’s beloved canine companion Dogmeat.

The Ghoul

It’s night, and we’re approaching what looks like it might be some kind of fortification. A careless raider gets a little too close and is immediately fragged by a trap of some kind. This does not seem like somewhere you want to be wandering about.

A group of honest-to-god cowboys ride into the area under cover of night on horseback. They navigate what appears to be a small town right out of a Western within the walls and find their way to a graveyard. In this graveyard lies a particularly obvious headstone, festooned with IV bags, the lines from the bags running down into the earth.

The midnight cowboys are here to dig up a Ghoul, and they’ve come prepared. One of them has a live chicken in tow, saying that if what they’re about to dig up is a feral Ghoul, it’ll go for the chook, and everyone will know to take it out. The grave is swiftly uncovered and the coffin within, wrapped in chains, is exhumed. The cowboys warily crack the casket from a distance with a length of rope.

The Ghoul emerges from his coffin and, as we all live and breathe, we see a skinless, leering, 250-odd-year-old Cooper Howard. Despite his concerning skin condition, Howard appears to have found his ideal life as a real outlaw. It turns out the cowboys are hunting a bounty — the same Enclave escapee as Maximus and Titus. They appear to have a little more information than the Brotherhood does, telling Howard that they believe the escapee is on his way to meet with a witch named Moldaver in California. “That’s where you’re from originally, right?”

Howard senses an opportunity. He quickly and effortlessly dispatches the cowboys before marching off into the night. That’s his bounty now.

He does not appear to notice the chicken.

Fallout Episode 1 ends with the sound of Sheldon Allman’s 1960 novelty track Crawl Out to the Fallout.

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