Now Streaming: FALLOUT, Jonathan Nolan Elevates Video Game Series to High Art, Briefly

Ella Purnell, Aaron Moten, and Walton Goggins star in the Prime Video series.

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Now Streaming: FALLOUT, Jonathan Nolan Elevates Video Game Series to High Art, Briefly

A venerable series gets new life in a post-apocalyptic world.

All eight episodes are now streaming on Prime Video.

Reportedly, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy had an idea for an original series in the Fallout video game universe that pleased the right people and they proceeded to develop a series. Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Tomb Raider, Captain Marvel) and Graham Wagner (Silicon Valley, Portlandia) came on board and are credited as the show's creators; they also wrote the first three episodes and served as showrunners.

As a Fallout newcomer, I had expectations for a visually imaginative series, based on Nolan and Joy's involvement (and their previous show, Westworld), and the first three episodes, written by Robertson-Dworet and Wagner, and directed by Nolan, certainly met my expectations, introducing Walton Goggins as cowboy actor Cooper Howard in modern-day, albeit alternate-history Los Angeles, as the city is destroyed by nuclear bombs.

Picking up 219 years later, Ella Purnell is introduced as Lucy MacLean, living in an underground vault with a community of people who are well-adjusted to their post-apocalyptic circumstances. Approved to marry a "breeder" from a neighboring vault, Lucy enjoys her wedding night, but wakes up to hell when her new husband is revealed to be a murderous raider from the surface, who is part of a group that kidnaps Lucy's father, the vault's "overseer" (Kyle MacLachlan), and leaves few survivors behind.

The perspective then switches twice more, as the show's other primary characters are introduced in separate locations, somewhere in the wasteland that the Earth's surface has become. Maximus (Aaron Moten) is a stolid soldier in the militaristic Brotherhood of Steel who goes rogue; The Ghoul (Walton Goggins) is a bounty hunter, but actually is Cooper Howard, brought back from the dead thanks to drugs.

The exposition is dramatized expansively in the first three episodes, with an emphasis on extended, balletic, explicitly bloody scenes of combat and death that would make Sam Peckinpah blush, with bullets and sharp weapons ripping bodies apart, often in slow motion. The show's other writers and directors follow that template in the remaining five episodes, though it's tamped down a bit until the finale.

Personally, I enjoyed the world building much more than the action sequences, which tend to glory in the violence to ridiculous lengths. They're not truly disturbing, in that they're filmed in a glossy manner that emphasizes the video-game nature of the mass murders that are depicted. Really, it's more a numbing effect, which lessens their effectiveness.

Ella Purnell makes an excellent hero, a plucky survivor who knows how to take care of herself and looks after the well-being of others. She goes to the surface in search of her missing father, and that drives much of the narrative, as her good intentions are sorely tested by what she encounters on the surface.

Walton Goggins is superb as always, his blustery personality glowering in his ghoulish makeup. As a bounty hunter, he is relentless and scary, but the series keeps flashing back to his past, as an actor and family man, married to a successful businesswoman, raising a young daughter, which embodies his ghoulish character with a haunting pathos.

Aaron Moten is saddled with having to act quite often inside a mechanical suit; he does his best, but is limited by the role's limitations. His character suffers by comparison. Moises Arias portrays Norm, brother to Lucy, who is left behind in the vault to tell the story from the underground perspective as he eventually discovers a Great Mystery with Great Secrets.

Those secrets are not revealed until the final episode, which plays them out both underground in the vault and above ground with Lucy, Maximus, and The Ghoul. The finale raises the tempo and concludes the first season with a flourish.

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Aaron MotenElla PurnellPrime VideoWalton Goggins

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