Fallout – the TV Series – On Amazon (And The Ironies Therein)


The Apocalypse Is All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses To A.I.

There is a bold irony in the Fallout television adaptation being produced by Amazon, a mega-corporation with a lot in common with some of the corporations lambasted within the series for being maniacal controlling monsters. The show narrative calculates the arc-trajectory of such megacorps’ schemes as they strive to dominate the future, and where their efforts land to explosive effect for humanity. Fallout also points out that the Pip-Boy, the signature wrist-screen vault-dweller’s wear, is intrusive tech, which, much like some of Amazon’s flagship products, steals our privacy and links us willy-nilly to the whims of faceless authority. Thus, the main line of interest I’d like to pursue is the seeming confluences of where the writers of Fallout are speaking to the state of capitalism itself, the entertainment industry specifically, and the conflict of art versus product. How far into the shift from art to “content” are we that Amazon’s contextual hold over this narrative isn’t a larger issue for viewers? Or maybe… that’s exactly why Fallout is such a hit– such a “break-through” and breath of fresh air. I want to suggest the cheers of the online audience and the appreciations of respect paid to the material (while creating something new!) are like a thumbs up to the lone writer(s) in the distance somewhere hidden within the Amazon machine, just generally trying to see what the howling wind might tell us.

Cooper Howard: “Back when I was in the Marines, they taught us that If they ever drop a really big bomb, told us to hold up your thumb just like this. And if the cloud is smaller than your thumb, well, you run for the hills.”

Janey Howard: “And if it’s bigger than your thumb?”


A spectre is haunting the wasteland, as Marx might have said it. It’s a mean mother, it seems to always get what it wants, and appears to have no feelings at all. I’m talking of course about corporations making art.

Oh, I suppose it also applies as a description of the beloved Ghoul character in the ‘Fallout’ TV series (played by Walton Goggins). But he’s no commie, right? He shoots those sons-of-bitches. Well, at least on TV.

 The show Fallout (Released in April of 2024) is wildly entertaining and an instant hit, with plenty of fan engagement online (and apparently quadrupling the number of players of the games). Of course, Amazon may not release the numbers of viewers; I’m not sure if their artists have that available to them under the terms of the recent strike or not. You see many streaming services try to keep these things secret fearing it may give writers and showrunners too much leverage over the money men. That’s the general state of the television and movie production industry these days; artists are vault dwellers expected to produce and obey, and access to the surface and the real levers of power is a dangerous struggle. But, why? What’s on the surface of it all?

The industry is going through some major changes recently. Private equity firms are investing in streaming services and the profits aren’t going back into writing and producing, but instead into stock buybacks. Whereas in the past the money holders at least had some interest in the long term survival of the industry, recently the type of investors in Hollywood are changing, and this in turn is changing Hollywood. Great TV is a relatively recent concept, and what’s known as the ‘Prestige Era’ of television, or ‘Peak TV’, arguably started around 1999 with the likes of ‘The Sopranos’. Some think it faded around 2010, or may be coming to an end now, being replaced by ‘Trough TV’, all you can stand quantity-over-quality style. You could blame it on oversaturation from the ‘streaming wars’ and services like Netflix notoriously canceling shows people love after the first few seasons, spreading themselves thin. But undoubtedly there’s an aspect to the shift that results from the simple fact studios were taking more chances on the new and different before, whereas now they’re being handled more like businesses, minimizing risk. Unsurprisingly to many, the interests of capital are hostile to the values of culture, at least to some degree. When art is treated as any other investment, expecting surefire returns, it turns out it’s not form-fitting like some widget in a factory line. Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. That can be good for art, because it encourages artists to dream up new solutions and every accident is a new wellspring of inspiration; lights start to go on. However, if we’re talking finance, every accident is a red mark in a ledger, a no-tomorrow ordinance. The lights start to get shut off.

A board meeting of the big players in the Fallout Universe. Vault-Tec, Rob-Co, West Tek, and others, watched over by some shadowy figures.

The theme of such all or nothing thinking and the vampiric mega-corporations who live in its troth are, in Fallout, the adversaries of humanity.  But Fallout’s satire is brilliant in that it shows you the motivations for each faction’s behaviors, and the show follows this tradition, extrapolating Vault-Tec’s premises to absurdity.

This world where corporations seem to have a clear desire to own the largest stake in the future, fighting each other tooth and nail to own the biggest fleshy stake in humanity, is a world all too familiar to us these days. And so the reversal of the old McCarthyist scapegoat seems easy here, when Lee Moldaver explains who she is too Cooper Howard (Later, The Ghoul): 

“I’m not a communist, Mr. Howard. That’s just a dirty word they use to describe people who aren’t insane.” 

They have this conversation at a meeting for the subversives which takes place at a funeral home, a gravesite, with the name ‘Hollywood Forever’. Call me crazy, but the writers may be saying something about the state of the industry with this one.

“Hollywood Forever.” Where the cool subversives meet to talk about cold fusion and the end of the world.

Watch the whole scene where Cooper’s old actor and military friend Charles Whiteknife gives him the card. He’s a full on leftist and his spiel about Vault-Tec could double as a speech about the situation with the writers in Hollywood.


SNIP-SNIP: “Hold still, love. This won’t hurt a bit!”

Planning the future is the goal of the executives and middle managers in the fictional corporations of Vault-Tec and others, and Fallout’s writers may be warning us of the all too real counterpart in the room with them. But perhaps by including these themes in their writing they can be making life into art and hoping to create a culture where they can fight back.

So, it’s a special thing, art that connects with an audience and challenges. 

There’s always a certain kind of magic, and it’s a kind of cold fusion where one can sit in front of a screen and actually undertake the process of becoming, like one does when growing in life.

But the model of profit over art is antithetical to this. And it’s such a fine balance between valuable magic, and desert.

There’s a kind of apocalyptic dread that creeps in through the cracks when technology surrounds us that we have no say in accepting as part of society, and the landscape is made of signals that we can only try to hide from but not erase. But people look at you strangely when you complain about all these ‘conveniences’ and wonders of modern living. To me, Norm (Lucy’s Brother) is perhaps the biggest hero of the Fallout show. He’s left behind and he’s faced with a sheer wall of complacency and conformity and dread – he’s seen the trouble at the edges. He knows something just isn’t right. And he goes after it full bore. 

Norm Maclean, Lucy’s Brother. A hero in his own right.

Norm calls out Chet for not wanting to know the truth about the vaults, and tells Chet, “You’re a coward.” And Chet’s response is poignant and aimed towards all of us as passive consumers of the technology that both comforts and enthralls us, “We’re all cowards. That’s why we live in vaults.” Sure, it’s us. It’s our nature. But in another, more virulent way, it’s not us, Amazon, it’s you.

Don’t believe me? Look at how Roku and Apple are currently fighting for advertisement space in the moments you pause your shows, even on ad-free services. Even if you own your Roku TV and are using your Apple device with an ad-free platform, don’t pause or take a breath, because the ads in the future will be ever-more pernicious, taking up every spare pixel in the world to sell you some crap. 

SEBASTIAN LESLIE: “Hollywood is the past, forget Hollywood. The future, my friend, is products. You’re a product. I’m a product. The end of the world is a product.”

And it’s getting harder for everyone to ignore. Even conservative cowboy actor Cooper Howard couldn’t help catching on, already starting to have doubts when he talked with his actor friend Sebastian Leslie (Matt Berry) at the wrap party for his big Vault-tec ad. Sebastian was the only one of Cooper’s old friends who answered his invite to the event; the others, Sebastian said, were part of a wave of ‘radicalization’ sweeping the industry. 

Sebastian wasn’t like them, he lent his voice to the new Rob-Co ‘Cogsworth’ robot, which, he admits, he didn’t get paid nearly enough for and elicited a hint of humiliation about the ordeal.

Cooper: “I thought the studio owned that character?”

Sebastian: “They did, and then Rob-Co bought the studio!”

 But at least they’re not part of the other camp. At least they’re not dirty commies!

Sebastian: “Radicalism is sweeping through Hollywood like a bad case of the clap. Even got your friend, Charlie Whiteknife.’

Cooper: “Are you kidding me? Charlie?”

Sebastian: “Mm.”

Cooper: “I served with that guy.”

Sebastian: “They have meetings and everything, it’s a shit show. But you my friend, you know which way the wind is blowing. And it’s that– [points to two men in Pip Boys and pocket protectors] a world run by people who wear pocket-protectors to a pool party.”

Cooper: [Sighs] Yeah, you might be right about that.”

It would take such a detached-from-life type of brain to try to turn the world into a giant billboard. That type of person is not humanity’s ‘bud’.

This is (probably not) the future Bud Askins wanted.


What do the social-engineering Vault-Tec executives and overseers think of themselves though? Lucy confronts her father in the last episode of Season one, and he simply runs away from her judgement (but not before attacking her friends and threatening to drag her forcefully back into his fantasy world). What’s his side of the story?

His perspective is given in a moment of this final episode where the action in the show is most like the game, in the battle at the observatory. The Brotherhood of Steel is battling Moldaver’s people for the cold fusion. Maximus is entrenched with the brotherhood, changed by his experiences with Lucy, and meanwhile, Lucy is on the observatory deck where all has been revealed about her family’s truth and she is reeling. And Hank Maclean, Lucy’s father, is delivering a speech, which is the voiceover for the battle. 

The Battle for Griffith Observatory, and cold fusion technology

Overseer Hank Maclean: “I did what was necessary to save our people. And that woman over there [Moldaver], she’s no different than me. Lucy, I loved your mother. But she stopped being your mother when she left home. When she took you into danger.

“You’ve seen what it’s like up here. Everyone equally afraid, equally miserable. Forced to do horrible things in order to survive. Lucy, I had to make a choice, between their violent world and our peaceful one. And I believe, Lucy– I know– I made the right choice.”

[Battle rages, blood splatters.]

Soundtrack: ”I don’t want to see tomorrow unless I see it with you.”

Overseer Hank Maclean: “If the problem with the world is factions, endless fighting, endlessly at war, then what is the solution but to get rid of the factions? To make the world us, only ours to shape.”

In the middle of the battle there’s a nice big kiosk they walk past that says ‘Griffith Observatory Information with a big juicy flag behind it and a comfy chair for a real live person to sit in to talk to you. I mention this because I recently had to get my blood drawn and there was no receptionist, there was a machine to check-in with, and it was malfunctioning and couldn’t read my license. The ordeal had that nerve-scraping feel of low-key being in a Kafka novel. Low-rent Kafka characters, that’s our fate in the corporate-destroyed tomorrow. Pool parties with pocket protectors and Pip-Boy Slavery. That’s the future.

No wonder people want to blow up the world.

Hank Maclean’s explaining his actions, exonerating himself of wrongdoing, attempting to placate his daughter who hates him, and for what? Why does she hate him? For sheer practicality, ugh. That’s one word for it. For pragmatism to the point of annihilating an entire city to keep her in ignorance underground. Safety, he calls it.

Another word for it might be tyrannical elitism, a 1984-style despotism, where the rule of the overseer is absolute and no one is permitted to question the leaders (or in ideal circumstances, even know there is something to be questioned).


The show is a success– and proves that good writing and television production are possible in 2024. But it feels like this might be a fluke or even a cry from people in the industry for help to keep a certain future from manifesting. The industry is in a bad and precarious place, and artists are feeling trapped.

The 2023 writers strike lasted 146 days and was five days from becoming the longest in the guild’s history. 97.9% of their members voted in favor to authorize the strike, and many spoke of an existential threat to the craft. And many believe the resolution of that strike wasn’t near enough to fix things.

That there, that’s not me. I go where I please.

I’m not here. This isn’t happening.

As Daniel Bessner wrote in his recent article, ‘The Life and Death of Hollywood: Film And Television Writers Face an Existential Threat’ :

Since the end of the strike, the industry has continued to contract. “It’s a great shaking-out point,” the A-list writer told me. “A lot of people who are very smart are willing to say, ‘I don’t know what it is going to be in a year, but it ain’t going to be this.’ ” Barry Schwartz, a film and TV writer in the industry for almost two decades, told me that post-strike, mid-career writers are making “extremely conservative choices.” “People aren’t speccing,” he said—submitting uncontracted scripts—“and if they are, it’s not original stuff. People are chasing IP or waiting on an assignment.” And younger writers, he said, are keeping their heads down.

Art, and the relationship of the audience to it, is an alchemical bond. It has the makings of a science, but there’s magic in it too. If you make it didactic you lose people, but if there are no moral stakes it feels empty. Fallout is timely and resonates, the games are seeing a huge surge in popularity as well; the show has been renewed at least for a second season. It is art that’s fun and yet meaningful to the real world, which is affecting hearts and minds. There were once trials in Washington D.C. against art that may have messages about communism– the time period in America’s history known as McCarthyism. But thankfully such draconian witch-hunt-y censorship tyranny is a bygone era in our great land (I kid, and give a Vault-boy thumbs up and wink). The Fallout show has a self-awareness about social strife and political violence that is another aspect of its layered appeal. It espouses the view that everyone wants to save the world. But they have different ways of going about it. So things inevitably get fucked up. Big, if true! 

Meanwhile, the crisis is already here, and the boards of these corporations are trembling with their perceived responsibility to steward the future… for their own power. Humanity at large– we’re the human capital, the variable concerns, unknowns in the spreadsheet to be calculated into harmony with the boss’s vision. 

The character arc of the series is Lucy being at opposites with the Ghoul, then in the end coming to align with him after her experiences in the wasteland, while simultaneously we’re given The Ghoul’s back story as Cooper Howard. And Maximus gets the one thing he wanted– to be revered among the Brotherhood of Steel only to find he’s changed and it’s not his true wish any longer. The harshness of the wasteland and the way it can potentially change people is epitomized in a moment in Cooper Howard’s film career, when he is asked to shoot the character Joey Toro in the film ‘The Man From Deadhorse’.

From Fallout.Fandom.com/Wiki:

The film starred Cooper Howard as a sheriff, and another actor, Jorge, as a villain named Joey Toro, with a climactic scene featuring Cooper’s character shooting Joey to death (despite Joey begging for mercy) after the following monologue:

“There’s an old Mexican eulogy, ‘Feo, fuerte y formal.’ Means he was ugly, strong, and had dignity. Well, Joey… I’ll give you two out of three on that front.

”Cooper initially disliked this scene, complaining to the director Emil Dale that he felt he should spare Joey; however, he was told by Emil that the new direction was needed to show that even a good person could be driven too far, and also to show a more public anti-communist stance, as a prominent film writer, Cadillac Bob, had recently been fired due to communist ties. Cooper’s character had one final line directly calling out communism after Jorge’s death, presumably for this purpose.”

We’re in an ugly situation with late capitalism, the dystopian hold of creeping dread and feeling of powerlessness to change things is strong, but so are we… and the faceless corporations, can they be said to have dignity? As we fight to have our own as individuals and collectively, what way will this all go?

The Ghoul isn’t what we thought he was throughout most of the story, and perhaps he’s not any longer the man who acquiesced to corporate control asking him to spout this script line. But he is haunted by his past and though he has come to align with Lucy, he has unfinished business. For both Cooper and Lucy, the turn in their character comes not from enemies, but in the fire of betrayal from people they love. With Cooper it was his wife, and her corrupt alignment with Vault-Tec. And Lucy was betrayed by her Father’s involvement with them as well, which really set her journey in motion, as well as that of the entire wasteland, two hundred years earlier. 

But Lucy has shed that skin of being helpless by the time she finds and confronts him. She’s faced danger and has a tougher hide. In fact, she may have been lost to her father the moment she walked out the vault door and found out the premise of the vault was a lie, just as her mother did and was. But she is a better person than her father, because she embodies what he only said he stood for. The principle Hank Maclean gave lip service to, Lucy lived out loud when she interacted with people on the surface, every time. When she befriended Maximus and walked with the mysterious man protecting cold fusion tech, to track her Dad, she put her best foot forward (before she cut off his head–but he asked her too!). When she faced off with the ghoul and battled with his complex character, she fought the golden-rule-underlined fight and helped him, even after he sold her for organ harvesting. When she released the people from captivity in Super-Duper-Mart and… well, okay, she let out Feral Ghouls there in her stupidity– but she was saved by her high luck and dexterity stats. And gained a lot of XP from that battle. And the ghoul– he hasn’t lost his fight; he’s not gone feral and he stays the course, even if it’s mostly for justice and revenge. They’ve kept something of their original character, even when that original character was instilled with love by those who betrayed them. 

This first season is a story about peeling away from a past that is still every bit with you, like a mutant second head, and moving on despite the pain. And maybe the subtext is the lesson that we can remain human and strong in a world that compromises so much of integrity and wants so much to pave out our future, for our supposed benefit. 

Dave’s not here, man.


For me writing and film (and really good TV) is like the soil, it’s where good things grow inside, and music is the map. And money might work a bit like radiation, powering but also poisoning. We’ve got to find a way to survive this wasteland. If our community can’t make the world safe for risk takers, for creative people who desire and take chances, and reward effort and ingenuity, we’re radroach-meat. People deserve perks to overcome struggles, not to mention the mutants of conglomerates and deathclaws of wall street leeches that plague Hollywood these days. And if we can’t manage that, Bud, then maybe we should bet on the ghouls, even the feral ones, or consider that we don’t really need the whole body of capitalist machinery to power the wasteland (the severed head might do just fine). 

Because given the way the world is going, and knowing the factions’ hearts and minds, soon enough, creative forces won’t be able to sustain themselves against the onslaught of the profit-motive mind. People will fall further through the cracks, and the art –or ‘content’–  will suffer more and more. And Amazon and the other big media conglomerates… will be out here dropping bombs.

Cypress is published around the web with fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. You can find a number of his essays at https://www.cyberpunks.com/author/cypressbutane/ . He is currently working on a novel about the creation of the first conscious A.I. called ‘The Vodka Is Good, But the Meat Is Rotten’. The title comes from an early text interpreter’s translation of ‘The Spirit is Willing, but the Flesh is Weak’