The Fallout TV show finally corrects my big game frustration: giving romance the focus it deserves

(Image credit: Prime Video)

Aside from the whole nuclear wasteland thing, the Fallout games are a lot like real life in the sense that it's hard to find a nice, interesting guy to fall in love with. There are always beautiful and complicated women around — nearly all of New Vegas' "sleeping partners" are female, and Fallout 4's French synth maid Curie is still one of the most beloved romance options in the series, despite her inexperience. But the Fallout TV show's ambitious male lead, Maximus, is the franchise's first to enjoy a truly intimate relationship.

Though, it doesn't seem that way at first. Initially, Max looks too calloused by his environment to handle something as soft as love. As a fledgling member of the militaristic Brotherhood of Steel, Maximus knows only hunger, fealty, and power. But after meeting protagonist Lucy, the sunny Vault dweller, Maximus starts entertaining less demanding bonds, like those built on trust and affection. You may know them as the stuff of an honest relationship. 

Take a chance on love


(Image credit: Prime Video)

 Paladin Danse from Fallout 4 is probably Maximus' best in-game equivalent, since he also starts out as an indoctrinated Brotherhood member. "I never thought there was room for anything in my life besides the Brotherhood," Danse says after you successfully couple with him, foretelling the realization Max ultimately comes to in the show. "I'm glad I was wrong."

But not even Danse gets as vulnerable as Max is willing to. When you press him on it, he admits that "We can't let our relationship interfere with our work," but for Lucy, Max repeatedly risks death. He lets her escape with his target, the cold fusion scientist Wilzig, so that she can avoid getting blown apart by the mean mutant Howard. When they get comfortable in a Vault, and Max discovers an affinity for relaxing and eating popcorn, he extinguishes this rare peace — it's the first time he's been able to just sit in decades — as soon as he senses she's in danger. 

As Max continues to choose Lucy, even in the face of easier options, or roads with more glory, we watch him become less anxious. His eyes take on a damp sparkle that should be impossible in a place as dry as the wasteland. But, when he and Lucy kiss for the first time, it seems perfectly obvious that the only everyday commodity that can transform the abyss is love. In that moment, the two rotten human heads they're holding (and inadvertently press together in a secondary, zombie makeout) are less incredible than their loyalty to each other, despite everything.

Love is a battlefield


(Image credit: Prime Video)

Fallout has never had so much faith in a romantic male lead. But it's not like the Fallout games haven't at least tried to make boys seem palatable. You can marry the handsome butcher's son Davin in Fallout 2, for example. Though, marriage usually implies your romantic bond is everlasting, or at least deeper than a pothole. Fallout 2, instead, makes it so that marriage is the next step after a random hookup. Marrying Davin doesn't preclude you from selling the poor guy into slavery for $200, and it doesn't deny the rumors you've heard about him, that he likes visiting his father's two-headed cattle late at night. That's two strikes against love, I think.

Fallout 4 tries to remedy this with its general surplus of romance. More than half of its receptive companions are male, and many of them, like the hardened widower MacCready, have worthwhile backstories. Getting to know them reveals the painful dedication required to live past the end of the world; they add tangible footholds to Fallout's oppressive, gray atmosphere.

But Fallout 4 men hardly ever engage in cat-and-mouse mystery and tenderness, worthwhile elements of love that should theoretically be able to withstand an unforgiving mushroom cloud or two, like Godzilla. Like, When you finally reveal your feelings to MacCready he starts to stutter — "I…I don't really know what to say." Then he abruptly decides he's besotted: "For once in my life, everything's going right and I have you to thank for it," he says. It feels unearned. It feels too much like you're playing a video game. Even in such a scripted environment, love should be more than the sense that you've hit the right combo. The Fallout show finally gets it right with Maximus. For him, love isn't a battlefield, it's the only battle worth fighting. 

Fallout season 1 is available on Prime Video now. For more opinion on the show, here's why it has made us want to revisit the games and why we think it feels like an adaptation of a game that doesn't exist.

Ashley Bardhan

Ashley Bardhan is a critic from New York who covers gaming, culture, and other things people like. She previously wrote Inverse’s award-winning Inverse Daily newsletter. Then, as a Kotaku staff writer and Destructoid columnist, she covered horror and women in video games. Her arts writing has appeared in a myriad of other publications, including Pitchfork, Gawker, and Vulture.