‘Fallout’ Season Finale Review: Goggins’s Gunslinger Shines in Battle Against Corporate Dystopia


Warning: This article contains spoilers for season one of “Fallout.”

What do a suave 1950s movie star, an old western cowboy, and a post-apocalyptic bounty hunter all have in common? Well, on a normal day, probably not much — but in Amazon Prime Video’s recently released “Fallout” series, Walton Goggins does quite the job of weaving all three into one very compelling character.

“Fallout,” based on the video game series which originally hit shelves in 1997, takes place in a dystopian future that has been ravaged by nuclear war. It should be noted that Goggins’s character, Cooper Howard, is not actually a 1950s movie star. Rather, the show imagines a retrofuturistic reality in which the cultural and political characteristics of the early Cold War never dissipated, and as a result, Cooper very much feels like he’s from the ’50s. Though the series actually takes place close to the year 2100, Cooper’s world is permeated by ’50s music and palpable nuclear tensions that evoke the Atomic Age, imbuing the setting with an intriguing — if somewhat off-putting — combination of technological progress and societal stagnancy.

All that said, the main events of “Fallout” take place another 200 years later, in a world where Earth’s surface has become a “Wasteland” characterized by crime and nuclear radiation — as a result, part of the population lives in underground vaults created by the mega-corporation Vault-Tec. Cooper, who is still alive in this far future due to a combination of radiation exposure and regular medicinal treatment, now has a markedly different physical form, and is known as “The Ghoul,” roaming the surface as a gunslinging anti-hero. Meanwhile, vault-dweller Lucy MacLean (Ella Purnell) journeys to the surface in search of her father, Hank (Kyle MacLachlan), who was kidnapped in a raid by the villainous Moldaver (Sarita Choudhury). Elsewhere, the soldier Maximus (Aaron Moten) strives to survive his harsh daily life in the Brotherhood of Steel, a technocratic military organization. The stories of these three main characters are united by their search for a MacGuffin that the season finale reveals to be a crucial energy source.


In large part because of Walton Goggins’s standout performance throughout the season, the finale’s most exciting aspect is the culmination of The Ghoul’s story. As some final questions are answered in flashbacks to the circa-2100 period, the nature of The Ghoul’s quest for vengeance in the main story becomes clear, and his action-packed, smooth-talking exploits are a joy to watch. The finale wisely stays consistent with the season’s affinity for combining bombastic, gory battles with the soft allure of romantic music from the mid-20th century, a unique mashup which contributes a wonderfully dissonant feeling to the action at hand. One last satisfying quality of the season finale is its inclusion of multiple twists that have interesting implications for both Lucy and The Ghoul, priming them both for continued escapades throughout the Wasteland in the show’s next season.

The episode particularly excels when The Ghoul is at the heart of the action. In a scene where he faces off against several Brotherhood soldiers, The Ghoul wonders about a flaw he knows was once common to their heavily-armored suits, which the season otherwise indicates would be dominant in combat settings. Even with their guns trained on him, the soldiers are evidently paralyzed by a combination of fear and anticipation, as The Ghoul monologues with effortless charm. In an instant, he cocks his pistol into position and demonstrates his sharpshooting prowess, hitting a soldier in the exact spot he figured to be a weak point in their armor, thus emerging the champion of this western-style standoff. In the exhilarating sequence that follows, The Ghoul picks off the soldiers one by one in the dark, as the flashes of his bullets only briefly illuminate his figure and the sound of spattering blood chillingly conveys the soldiers’ predicament.

Another striking part of the action is a full-fledged battle between the Brotherhood and Moldaver’s forces, set to Nat King Cole’s 1964 song, “I Don’t Want to See Tomorrow.” This juxtaposition of languid, rich music with bloody, slow-motion fighting comes amidst a reveal that Hank is actually a Vault-Tec loyalist who was preserved in cryosleep before nuclear war initially broke out and facilitated further bombings of the surface when Lucy was a child to ensure the continued success of the vaults. The contrast between the rich music and the horrifying visuals thus becomes brilliantly representative of Lucy’s newfound moral struggle, as she must face the reality that her near-perfect life in the vault — often associated with the music of mid-20th century America — was built on foundations that resulted in the now-barbaric conditions of the surface.

Another key twist in the finale brings The Ghoul’s story full circle and sets up an interesting plot thread for season two. In flashback sequences throughout the season, we learn that Cooper’s wife, Barb, works for Vault-Tec, and that she seems more prepared than Cooper to embrace a nuclear future in which humanity must survive in vaults. In the finale, as Cooper covertly listens to a conversation between Barb and other executives about how best to ensure profits for Vault-Tec, Barb makes the horrific suggestion that the corporation drop the atomic bomb themselves. This moment serves as an excellent payoff to the season’s gradual teases of Vault-Tec’s ulterior motives, indicating that the true crux of this dystopian future is not political disarray, but corporate greed and inhumanity. The reveal becomes more nuanced when The Ghoul comes face-to-face with Hank, whom we learn he originally met 200 years prior; The Ghoul struts out of the shadows, blasts a bullet across Hank’s cheek, and asks: “Where the fuck is my family?” He thus implies that Barb and his daughter, Janey, were perhaps preserved in cryosleep like Hank, and that his desire for vengeance boils down to a hope that he can still find his family after all this time.

Overall, the “Fallout” season finale features gripping action, intriguing payoffs, and one last standout performance from Walton Goggins, positioning the series well for its recently-confirmed second season. In one of the episode’s final scenes, to the tune of The Ink Spots’ “We Three,” Lucy embraces her uncertain future and follows The Ghoul into the gloomy night, as he trudges in the general direction of the Hollywood sign. After a moment, another sign flickers on just below; it cheekily reads, “Sponsored by Nuka Cola.” Ultimately, in this Wasteland of a world, season one of “Fallout” indicates that corporate control is perhaps more of a poison than the nuclear threat itself.

— Staff Writer Kieran J. Farrell can be reached at