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Fallout TV Review: TV's Most Irradiated, Deliriously Warped Apocalyptic Gem

A Retrofuturistic Nightmare Vision of Mutant Monsters and Barbaric Satire That's Impossible to Shake

Amazon Prime Video

Imagine a world where Dr. Strangelove and Mad Max joined unholy forces to produce the most perversely irradiated bastard child in entertainment history. That's essentially what Prime Video has unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace with Fallout - a deliriously demented TV adaptation of the iconic video game franchise that instantly ranks among the medium's most unsettling, bone-chillingly visceral, and bitingly satirical dystopian nightmares.

From its shocking opening moments, which abruptly flash forward over two centuries into a post-apocalyptic hellscape ravaged by nuclear war to find gigantic mutant axolotls devouring terrified survivors, it's clear Fallout won't be your typical Walking Dead-style zombie thriller. Jonathan Nolan establishes an ominous descent into madness with his indelible direction of the first three episodes, including an audacious sequence depicting the moment civilization collapsed from the viewpoint of a cheerfully oblivious suburban family watching TV.

No, Fallout aims to mutate your perceptions and push your insanity buttons in infinitely more warped ways across its enthrallingly off-kilter 8-episode descent into a post-nuclear societal underbelly of barbaric tribalism, grotesque body horror, and pitch-black satire skewering the ugliest aspects of American capitalism/imperialism. It's a heady, nightmarish cocktail of high-minded sci-fi philosophizing and Grand Guignol grindhouse shocks distilled through Nolan's unmistakably idiosyncratic vision. And once you mainline it, you'll find Fallout's radiation seeping into your DNA, making it impossible to get this gloriously mutant abomination out of your system.

A Boldly Original Vision That Expands the Video Game Mythos

Wisely avoiding a straightforward rehash, showrunners Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Graham Wagner have crafted an original story and characters set within the iconoclastic world of the Fallout video game universe. We experience the scorched hell that once was Los Angeles through the shell-shocked naïveté of Lucy (Ella Purnell), a youthful vault dweller raised for 219 years underground in an eerie recreation of 1950s American suburbia, blissfully ignorant of the radioactive apocalypse that wiped out society on the surface world.

When a cataclysmic event forces Lucy to flee the hermetically sealed confines of her subterranean utopia, her Wizard of Oz-like awakening sets the tone for the rest of the gleefully cynical series, which joyfully subverts the former vault inhabitant's cartoonishly rose-colored worldview by exposing the harsh realities and horrors awaiting her above. From the bombed-out retrofuturistic cityscapes populated by depraved cannibals and hideous mutant monstrosities, to the barbaric tribalism and cult-like dogmatism inspiring warring factions who'll just as soon eviscerate anyone too weak to survive, Fallout spares no opportunity to rip the quaint curtain aside and reveal the nightmare fuel lurking underneath.

Where lesser shows might exploit this fertile premise solely for easy shock value or a rote savagery-of-anarchy narrative, Fallout establishes itself early on as a penetrating work of barbed social commentary upending the entire fallacy of American exceptionalism at its core. Robertson-Dworet and Wagner aren't just deconstructing some cheesy videogame tropes - they're laying siege to the poisonous dogma of manifest destiny, toxic masculinity, and the delusion of inferiority that justifies any atrocity committed in the name of "re-establishing order" or "reconstructing civilization."

The mere notion of post-war recovery rooted in the restoration of antiquated pre-war conservatism gets mocked at every opportunity. It's all brilliantly encapsulated in the secret war room headquarters of the Brotherhood of Steel faction that operates like a demented Strangelovian boardroom of crackpot bureaucrats, facilitating horrific "human trials" purportedly in the name of human renewal. Every moment brims with an unsettling contrast between the optimistically retro-futurist iconography and the gut-churning barbarism and inhumanity it's ultimately a façade for.

Fallout is a searing delivery system for some of the most trenchant anti-authoritarian, anti-fascist commentary in recent pop culture memory - all wrapped in the irresistibly lurid packaging of some of the most jaw-droppingly visceral genre imagery this side of a Clive Barker splatterfest. And Purnell makes for the ideal initially wide-eyed witness in this blasted hellscape, keeping us anchored in a rubbery-faced combination of shock, abject horror, and morbid fascination as Fallout's perverse delights only grow more extreme.

An Unforgettable Cast of Mutant Horrors and Barbaric Villains

But while Lucy may be our protagonist, it's the masterfully realized antagonists that truly burrow into your psyche and set up camp. Front and center is Walton Goggins, truly ascending to the upper echelons of indelible primetime villainy with his terrifying, enthralling work as The Ghoul - a mercenary bounty hunter mutated into an almost demonic undead entity by radiation yet still possessed of unexpected tenderness and humanity buried beneath his gruesomely disfigured visage.

Goggins plays The Ghoul as an existential chameleon of sorts - shifting seamlessly between towering menace and reluctant nobility, often within the same scene. He's the warped personification of how morality itself becomes corrupted by pure hardship in this scorched societal vacuum. And you'll be forever haunted by Goggins' work, from the flashbacks to his relatively normal life as an actor prior to the apocalypse to his single-scene introductory monologue that establishes him as a quasi-Shakespearean monster of existential regret and indelible philosophical conviction.

But Goggins is just the tip of the skull-piercing munitions stockpile of unforgettably rendered creatures and cretins. All hail unto the mutants, for they maketh for some of Fallout's most chillingly visceral and geekily flawless creature design work. From the towering, spike-mawed Behemoths that attack with gory impunity, to the grotesque appearance of the aforementioned mutant axolotl (a masterpiece of SFX make-up where human fingers wriggle into view between gargantuan gleaming fangs), Fallout isn't content merely living up to the video game's grotesque visuals - it leaps beyond them into hellish new dimensions.

Even its more humanoid offenders like Dale Dickey's deliciously salt-of-the-earth matriarch gangster Ma June or Kyle MacLachlan's hazily Kurtz-ian explorer leave haunting impressions of a brutality that transcends mere post-apocalyptic warfare. In this world of roaming cannibals and raiders draped in stitched-together regalia of human remains, even ostensibly "friendly" figures like the eccentric scavenger clan or the Federation refugees give off an omnipresent vibe of untrustworthy instability - as though the thin tethers of their sanity and morality might snap at any moment. In short, every corner of the ravaged landscape brims with terrors, both overt and implied, mutated and psychological, making the gradual unraveling of these hidden pockets of turpitude all the more compelling.

Amazon Prime Video

A Masterpiece of Warped Tone and Pitch-Black Satire

Indeed, Fallout proves impossible to shake from your cerebral cortex not just due to its gallery of mutant monsters, but through its endlessly shifting, mutant tone that keeps you constantly off-kilter and unsettled. The show is a bravura exercise in maintaining momentum through a shapeshifting narrative fluidity and nightmare logic far more terrifying than anything an army of ghouls could elicit.

Just when you think you've settled into the relative safety of a dusty frontier picaresque, the soundtrack will suddenly shift gears from easy listening country tunes to the shrill horror score strings, signaling the impending arrival of some new single-digit lowlife. Fallout's ability to pivot from surprising laughs and gags to grisly Grand Guignol bursts of brutality at the drop of a hat is its most insidious gift - a tonal dance that keeps viewers eternally anxious about what fresh horror or depravity might lurk around the next irradiated corner. It's a deft subversion of expectations that matches Fallout's takedown of American imperiousness itself - no amount of cheery post-war optimism can cover its inherited barbarism.

It's also all in service of some of the most penetrating sociopolitical commentary in recent years. While never outright polemical, Fallout maintains a pitch-black streak of satire that burns hotter with each episode as the layers get peeled back on the desperate power grabs and delusions of grandeur animating the fragments of society still clinging to existence. The Cult of Brotherhood stormtroopers deliberately evoking Star Wars imagery, the cheerfully naïve vault bred to replicate the banality of American suburbia like some nuclear-age Truman Show - it all sears with an indictment of the hubris behind the post-war notion that warring tribes have any moral authority to determine the future of this irradiated husk.

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Even Lucy's status as a proverbial fish-out-of-water only fuels the series' scorched-earth (scorched-Earth?) takedown of another sacred myth of American cultural conditioning - the notion that surviving by-any-means-necessary will still pave the way to reclaiming some semblance of morality, progress or human decency. As the show gradually exposes the depraved depths various factions are willing to sink to in service of their so-called greater good, Fallout dispels any last shred of optimism that there's anything noble left worth salvaging from the wreckage of this world. By the final episode's haunting final shot, the sickly radioactive light has been permanently extinguished - and not by mutant ghouls, but the revelation that human darkness itself has been the true ruler of this charred landscape all along.

In the end, Fallout stands as the most gloriously warped, boldly unrestrained, and ringingly vital post-apocalyptic genre efforts in recent memory. While not for the faint of heart or easily nauseated given its penchant for graphic violence and body horror, it represents premium-grade peak TV from its indelible performances down to its ruthless indictment of humanity's seemingly perpetual appetite for infinite self-destruction. Bingeing Fallout may very well induce a radioactive hangover, but one you'll proudly wear as a badge of honor - evidence of surviving the single most thrillingly irradiated television nightmare of the year.


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