- One gasmask from World War I, crumbling
- One child-sized modern gasmask
- Five American Civil Defense manuals from before 1970 relating to surviving nukes and/or fallout
- One Soviet equivalent
- Signed copy of The Mothman Prophecies by John A. Keel addressed “To Suzy”
- Copy of The Federal Siege at Ruby Ridge by Randy and Sara Weaver, signed “Mark Laursen, Freedom at any Cost! Randy Weaver”
- Black and white photograph of people in a market with their backs to the camera, captioned “Empty shelves, Moscow”
- Three World War I soldier postcards, one of which has a cartoon of a Tommy in oversized uniform and the words “Wanted: five minutes with the guy who said it’s clothes make the man.”
- Two ’78s: “When They Found The Atomic Power” and “When the Atom Bomb Fell”
- A painfully racist postcard from 1907, with a cartoon of a black man being stung by bees
- A fascinatingly racist bumper sticker with the confederate flag over the White House, and the words “I have a dream.”
- A confederate flag bumper sticker with the words “Dead Yankees don’t lie!” written on it.
- A Chairman Mao magnet from China
- Four or five Soviet pins from the 1980s
- A button that says “Nixon: now more than ever”
- A black and white picture of Jesus from about the ’50s, and Jesus waves his arm if you shake it
- An entire photo album of a family of strangers from the teens into the ’20s
- Numerous SWAT Playmobils
- Two WWII ration books from my Grandmother
- A 10,000 Reichsmark bill from 1923
- An Outline of Abnormal Psychology, 1929
- A blue and an orange wind-up, plastic chattery teeth with feet
- Sixty-year-old face powder in a pink box
Spoilers for the game Fallout 3, ahoy:
The internet suggests that a lot of people knew they were hooked on Fallout 3 the moment the tutorial is over, and you leave Vault 101 to see the (irradiated) sun for the first time. For me, the opening credits in which “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” by the Ink Spots* plays, and then the camera (as it were) pulls back to show a world of desolation and ruin confirmed that Rogert Ebert, may he rest in peace, was wrong about video games not being art.
I have happy memories of Sonic, Super Mario (or rather, watching my brother and cousins play them much of the time) and of playing Mariokart 64 and Super Smash Brothers (and failing atrociously at Goldeneye) after homeschool group was over on Fridays.
I would never have insulted video games as a medium. But for more than a decade, I was stuck firmly in the N64 and the Sega Genesis era of games. I have been amused in passing by the violence of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but only enough to steal a few cars, then drive off a cliff with the cops on my tail. Not enough to really want to get anywhere in the game.
And though I don’t dislike fantasy, it rarely really gets me, so video games never grabbed me as much from that angle. I’ve beaten Shining Force 1, but I have never played Final Fantasy, Warcraft, or Elder Scrolls or anything like that.
My video game knowledge completely stalled out. Games were a bit base with me. They were about a ticcy sort of entertainment, or an itch to scratch when you want to do something with your hands. They were not about simply wanting to see what happened next.
And then I saw Boyfriend play Fallout: New Vegas and said “oooh, pretty backgrounds” and then I got very interested in the nuclear side of the apocalypse via On The Beach, and a few months ago I said, hell, Boyfriend, hook up that Xbox 360, and let’s play Fallout 3.
I was confused for weeks about basic movement, and I missed a few choice things like captions for months. It took me more than six months to play for about 130 hours. Hell, this game is seven years old already. But this game taught me (rather dangerously) that there is a whole ‘nother medium that I could fall into. It was like pretending and like watching a movie that never ended — like an emotionally effective Choose Your Own Adventure book. It was a revelation.
Everything I would gush about in respect to this game would sound obvious to people who play them. And to people who don’t (like my mother, who sticks with Myst and The Neverhood-style puzzle games without violence) it’s hard to describe the mixture of violence, frustration, curiosity, amusement and joy, within this post-apocalyptic Washington, DC.
I never played a game with emotion before, not really. I took joy in the claymation in the aforementioned Neverhood. I know the frustration and the satisfaction red shells can bring in Mario Kart. I even enjoyed the semi-tedious RPG fantasy of Shining Force. But it didn’t fully click until Fallout 3.
Basically, nuclear war happened 200 years before (which is weird, because the terrain makes it feel more recent). You were raised in Vault 101, and your dad (Liam Neeson!) raised you up, and then one day mysteriously left the vault. All else — as in, you and a thousand side quests before you find him again– follows. The outside is a Mad Max-ian wasteland, except there are ghouls, supermutants, and warring human factions. It’s a first-person shooter, except that it’s also a sprinkle of RPG, and also you can gather objects, and wander around, and talk to characters, and read things, and basically choose a great many things including the order in which you do almost everything.
Oh, and it’s DC. It’s familiar enough DC to give me the creeps (though not as much of the creeps as when you go to Pittsburgh in the expansion!). The metros are the grimmest part. They’re depressing, dank, and easy to get lost in. This was a world in which their reality and ours diverged somewhere after WWII, and it’s a parody of the ’50s (or the World Of Tomorrow ’50s) turned into dust and radiation. (Though the old world lingers, albeit sometimes in chunks of rubble, garbage, and dead people form. And in clouds.)
Since my thoughts are not easy to organize, let me just offer a few scattered impressions of the most memorable bits, starting with the myriad sad ones:
-Night and day. I have never played a game where there is night before. The fact that a video game can actually provoke that feeling of being stuck somewhere where you should not be, with no ride, when it’s getting dark and you’re in trouble, amazes me. Night brings about fear, even if daylight is also dangerous in these times.
-The violence. The extent of my experience with even slightly realistic violence in games is Grand Theft Auto, where I mostly just ran over a few people while fleeing, and Wolfenstein 3D, which is so old I played it in MS dos. Fallout 3 gives you head-exploding bloodshed often. It’s cartoony in its way, but can be unsettlingly graphic when you are the one causing it to happen.
But the moral questions are there, even if they are inconsistently applied. I feel no regret killing the soulless human raiders. But the feral ghouls who were once humans give me the creeps. In the game, you pick belongings off of bodies for loot, and the ghouls seem to invariably be carrying a pitiful collection of a few caps (currency) and maybe a single fork, or worst of all, something like a teddy bear.
Even supermutants, who are entirely unsympathetic until you meet a sane one, can creep you out to kill sometimes. After slaying ten of them one evening, I started to feel all too I Am Legend about the whole thing.
I always feel a pang of regret in killing robots as well. Hostile robots were programmed that way. Raiders and such have made their choice!
-Truly horrible easter eggs abound. Fallout’s mascot is the in-game mascot of the Vault-tec corporation known as Vault Boy. He’s a smiling cartoon fellow who represents the game’s one foot in pure retro-future, ’50s kitsch, in which smiling housewives tout their brand new robots. The other foot is a grim future that (obviously) cannot realistically portray nuclear war, but is intending to disturb you all the same.
Somewhere in Georgetown is a house in which the robot will read a poem if you ask him to. It’s a nod to “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury, in which the dogged automatic house keeps functioning long after everyone is dead. The Fallout 3 house contains what is obviously intended to be a child’s room, with a child’s skeleton on the bed. This kind of thing leads to coping habits. I collected a few useless items in-game, such as teddy bears. I did not take them from that house, or from what appeared to be a child’s grave in another area. I have standards.
There are lots of bits of data you can pick up along the way that also add to the picture of this destroyed world. There are diaries by a nurse trying to help people right after the bombs fall. There’s a log from a scientist slowly going mad in a vault after his child dies (yep). There are so many touches that make the world feel too big to even get to. I know I missed important characters, and whole quests, because there was just too much to do.
-Ghouls and their rights. The game more or less gives you the option of if you want to be prejudiced against ghouls, some of whom are perfectly normal non-player characters (NPCs) with which you can speak. One of them in the ghoul town is named Carol. Since ghouls are old, she remembers the day the bombs fell. She can tell you about it if you ask, and it’s as eerie as any cold war sci-fi classic.
When you get to a place called Tenpenny Tower, you find a snobby population of humans warring with a cranky ghoul named Roy Phillips and his followers who want to be able to move in. One of the many skills you can hone in the game is speech, and you can choose to try to resolve the situation peacefully. You can speak to some of the bigots (and they aren’t all bigots) in the tower and convince them to let the ghouls move in.
You feel good and righteous when you do that successfully. Until you come back a few game days later and find that the ghouls have killed everyone, including the endearing NPC Herbert “Daring” Dashwood. The choice to commit horrible revenge upon the killers is yours to make, and it seems to be a popular one. (Myself, I killed Phillips and let the others live.) I was furious with that ending when I found out about it, but I appreciate the gut-punch it delivers all the same.
-Dad and other companions. No game that gives your dad the voice of Liam Neeson, and gives him a habit of calling you “sweetheart” is going to let things be okay in the end. Of course still I thought things would be okay in the end.
The game gives me such an irrational attachment to NPCs. You can pick up followers, including a dog called Dogmeat, a supermutant called Fawkes, and various other short-term followers you must protect on one quest or another. You have so many choices in Fallout 3 — including ones to be downright evil, such as when you can NUKE THE ENTIRE TOWN OF MEGATON — but I mostly stuck with playing myself, with a later character drinking problem. That meant I was not leaving any computer people behind, and I was constantly afraid my stupid dog would get himself killed while attacking a giant radscorpion or something.
But, oh. I had a moment with the dad character that killed me. You are supposed to escort your father and some other unhelpfully helpless scientists characters across the wasteland. A supermutant attacked, and I — forgetting that there are essential characters who cannot die — was worried about my father and his mere pistol. I lost track of him in the heat of battle, and then he appeared with some kind of laser gun he had taken off of a supermutant. It was a Hollywood moment of “fuck yeah, dad!” and a game full of uncanny valley-faced pixel dudes delivered it.
And then dad had to sacrifice himself. And it was upsetting. Like a story. So I added to the story, and I I went to the expansion pack area of the creepy swamp, and I killed bizarrely-strong hillbillies and drank game alcohol until I felt I could go on with the business of living in the wastes.
-This game starts with you losing your home in Vault 101, you find and you lose friends and safety over the course of the game. It took me a while, but I began decorating my house in Megaton with teddy bears, with souvenirs I couldn’t bare to sell, and with memories of dear old dad. It felt like home. You start to relish safety and downtime on some days, and the next you wander recklessly, itching for a fight.
-After losing Liam Neeson-dad, and after being depressed and frustrated during a 100 trips into the DC metro-horrors; after the no-winning at Tenpenny Tower, there is a final charge on the water filter project that dad was working on, and which has been taken over by the evil Enclave (the US government, for serious).
You are allied with the Brotherhood of Steel, who have some fascistic, racist leanings, but you kind of win their respect over the game. You have power armor, and though I kind of prefer my earlier, scrappy, Mad Max/gasmask-faced, shotgun-toting look, the armor is the classic Fallout look (seriously, it’s on every game cover). The Brotherhood has power armor. I was followed by Dogmeat and the friendly supermutant Fawkes, who you can rescue in a scary vault if you like, and then he later appears to help you out as you flee the Enclave (in another “fuck, yeah!” moment with a less flipping-you-off end result).
And then the Brotherhood mentions they finally got their giant robot working again. The one that was supposed to have been fighting the Chinese communists who took over Alaska right before the bombs fell. The one whose name is Liberty Prime, and who drops mini nukes and who speaks in robotic catch phrases about communism being a lie.
You follow the robot as you charge the water filter, taking out Enclave troops, and it makes every God damned depressing, confusing thing worthwhile during the last 130 hours. The game is such a sandbox, that I forgot I was going to be given some kind of ending. I had no idea the ending would make me giggle happily.
All of this is an incrediblye roundabout way of saying, video games; holy shit, video games. I am used to television, movies, music, and books telling me stories. To feel invested in a character who dwells in a wide-open, free format where you don’t just get to play as a wanderer, but you get to choose which way to go next is to feel like they just now invented a whole new way of telling stories.
You guys were doing this the whole time? God damn it, you should have told me about video games.**
*Way back in 1986, The Singing Detective demonstrated that The Ink Spots could be used to sinister effect. I very much appreciate that the makers of Fallout did their homework.
Also, you can listen to the radio station which reports on YOU a lot, but also plays the same eight old timey songs while you play. I usually played at night, so I couldn’t do this, but wandering in the dark while listening to a solid version of “Anything Goes” was pretty tremendous. However, too much music plus killing feels a little Apocalypse Now dissociative. I mostly keep the music at home in Megaton.
** On the other hand, video games feel a little more disconcerting than even a great movie in a dark theater. I shake it off within the half hour, but they are still weird in that they make me feel not just that I was in another world, but that in this one I have to click on “a” in order to pick something up.
Drink once: every time someone reminds Jake he left town, every time Jake lies about his past, Eric and his affair are boring, the deputies are stupid, Mayor Green is pompous, Gail is worried, Hawkins knows way too much and is therefore MYSTERIOUS, Emily worries about her finance, Jake has too many ladiez to handle, nobody listens to Heather.
Drink twice: every time Gail is worried for good reason, Mayor Green and Gray Anderson clash, people behave with the amount of fear that would be warranted given ALL THE NUKES EVERYWHERE, Hawkins and his family have a positive interaction, Gracie stops being horrible, Skyler and Dale are capitalists, Bonnie is sassy and/or insulting, someone discovers more about what actually happened in the outside world.
Chug: if Eric has an interesting subplot, Jake’s questionable past is revealed, a woman actually carries a gun, or if Jericho can get something done without the Greens.
We open with Jeicho’s deserted streets, dust, and Jake’s voiceover saying “I’m tired of war, no one ever really wins.” But oh, they’re in Mary’s bar, and Stanley says “me, too.” And then Mimi says “we could play crazy eights instead, or hearts.” Ha, oh, show. But if WarGames can do it, so can Jericho.
Stanley, Jake, and Mimi have been playing cards in Mary’s bar all night. Jake asks Mimi what she’d be doing in DC, and she says sleeping, which she can’t do now because it’s too quiet. “Why do you think I left town?” Jake asks. Deputy Jimmy moseys in and says “I could tell her.” Mimi thinks shes knows, “the pressure got to be too much….I’m betting prom king, captain of the football team, most likely to succeed.” Beat. “Don’t quit your day job” says Jimmy. He smirks, Mary smirks, Jake smiles, Stanley says — well-delivered — “I think he beat up the prom king.” “Oh yeah, I did.” says Jake thoughtfully. Eric has wandered in to ruin this legitimately cute, funny, moment which manages to deliver Jake’s backstory without the usual melodrama. Stanley says “you must have a million stories about your brother screwing up” and Eric awkwardly smiles and says “Yeah, at least that many.”
Eric gets coffee, and let’s drink because he’s talking to Mary about their affair and telling April, and nobody cares. Jake notices, and Mimi exposits “secrets of a small town” and it almost works because she’s like that.
Wait, the lights are on! The jukebox is blaring loud enough to cause permanent damage, and this means the power is back. Yay? Jake unplugs just in time for the menacing score to kick in as the phone rings. And the phone are ringing all over town. The fluorescent lights in Gracie’s Market buzz on. There are multiple shots from all over town of people staring confusedly at their ringing phones.
It’s Assistant Secretary Walsh from the Department of Homeland Security! Everyone should stay where they are if they are safe. Help will be there. Repeat. And the TV has
flicked on with “Emergency Alert System: Please Stand By.”
Scary morse code over opening credits. Code which means “there is a fire.”
People are asking Mimi what’s up, because she’s an IRS agent, the closest thing to a fed. Optimistically, she says she is “this close to nonfat lattes and shiatsu massage.”
Hawkins’ daughter finds Skyler trying to check her email. Having mystery in her genes, MimiHawkins suggests “typing a straight IP address” but then looks puzzled. The internet, she explains, is “supposed to survive nuclear war.” The image changes to the “Emergency Alert” one as seen on the TV. “It’s working, but not for us. We’re being blocked out,” says MiniHawkins.
The Greens are talking about how the power is coming back, but no news is forthcoming. Mayor Green says Jake looks terrible, then lectures him on playing cards all night. Shut up, Mayor Green (drink), it was cute, and it featured some of this town’s least annoying people. Even Mary was tolerable. The Greens and DeputyJerk talk about who to call if they can actually call someone. Eric and Jake have weird tension, and then Jake wanders home because two Greens have been micromanaging this town for years, and they don’t need him right now.
Hawkins tells MiniHawkins to fill up the bathtub, but in a tone that guarantees a surly teen response. Because, he says, pumps pump water (“the water doesn’t get into that shower by magic” is such a dad thing to say, wow), and having more water is nice when the power goes out again. (Do they know their tap water isn’t contaminated? I hope?) Darcy wanders in and says “she’s your daughter, not your employee” which is a good point. But Hawkins has a better point that this shit is serious, and he might not be around forever, so she needs to get more survival skills. Hawkins goes outside for more mysteriousness. (Next week we remove “Hawkins is mysterious” from the drink list because this would kill everyone.)
Gail is busy vacuuming because she’s a mom, I guess. She’s asking Jake if he’s going to stay (hi, premature questions) and says “when you left, you left quite a mess.” (Drink.) She’s mom, so she’s just happy to have her boy back, but Mayor Green is still peeved. Tiresome Green exposition, and then Gail suggests Jake should tell his dad the truth. “You mean tell him…about my time away?” says Jake, clearly upset about this. And wait, does Gail know what her boy was doing? We the audience don’t know what’s up, but this scene suggests Gail knows the truth, which I never noticed before. “This house is too small for big secrets” dramas Gail. And now, electricity!
Mary and Heather and a bunch of precious tots are wandering near the school, but the power spike catches the school on fire, and sends a jolt that knocks Emily out. Heather uses her in charge powers to send the kids away with their buddies. I gotta say, though you could break something from that jolt, it’s not like she was crushed by a train. I think in this case, you move the person away from harm. Heather prefers to try and wake Emily up as we cut to Mary’s bar and drunk Mimi being almost nice to Stanley, saying she would do what she could to help with his whole audit business if she could. Mimi is kind of terrible, and Stanley is a dope, and I yet I support this.
Hawkins mysteriously typing outside with a mini satellite dish. He can get around the internet block. He has a secret code from a fake Discover Card — ’cause what else are they for? This scene needs some absurd ’90s hacking graphics with tunnels and lights. And Hawkins is a on foreign website. Such mystery. Drink.
Everyone is standing too close to the burning school as April tends to Emily. Heather counts the kids, and realizes there is a missing dummy who went back for the school pet. Heather runs inside, because the women on this show may have some traditional jobs, but they’re generally up to whatever post-apocalyptic task is at hand. And I appreciate that.
Fire truck is here, but there are fires all over town, so they’re spread too thin. And this is an electrical fire, so they can’t use water. Jake is here to look worried, so is Eric. Mayor Green, still sick with flu, is trying to come micromanage things, but Eric calls and tells him to turn off the library’s power.
Jake pets the barely conscious Emily, who squeezes his hand and looks a lot more loving towards him than she has lately. Sigh. Annnd the firemen lost pressure. Jake runs off with Stanley to get the pressure back. April says Heather is still inside, and then with some seriously mediocre acting, says “Eric, no” as he rushes inside.
And we cut to Gracie’s store where again the humor works in this episode. Skyler’s terrible friend is staring at a magazine and says “I wonder what Lindsey Lohan is doing right now. Do you think she’s still alive?” Skyler has no time for this shit, but it’s actually a great observation and the only time I ever like Horriblefriend. In the nuclear hellscape that is America, there are celebrities, and you might well wonder about them from time to time. Skyler’s phone battery is dead, but Dale says he’ll charge it for her. She’s still hoping her parents will call, even though she feared they were dead several episodes ago.
More of the town teens roll in on skateboards, and one says “hey check it out, the library is burning, and I didn’t even do it.” “Is anyone hurt?” asks Gracie (not being horrible, so drink twice). “Probably” says evil stoner teen. I laugh. Skyler is lingering, and wants to stay and be nice to Dale, but he says he’ll charge her phone while she’s off gawking at the burning library. Oh, teens.
Heather finds little kid Ashlee hiding in a playroom, and I am reminded of the depressing thought that kids hide from fires sometimes. Eric busts in just in time to be trapped with the two of them. Stanley and Jake struggle to turn on the manual pump at he water tower, or wherever.
Heather, Eric, and Ashlee are totally fucked because of the fire. Basically, all of the scenes are a sanitized, but scary thing especially if you were afraid of fires as a child and I totally was. Heather and Eric cover Ashlee’s face with a damp towel, and then when the sprinklers start thanks to Jake and Stanley, they all run out.
April is busy flailing and asking the firemen why they won’t help anyone, which to be honest is a great question. Pretty sure firemen are supposed to check burning buildings for people stuck in them. Are they all volunteer or something? I guess the Greens really do have to do every God damned thing in this town.
Eric hands April the child. Jake climbs to the top of the water tower to check on the status of the fires, and there’s another one near Eric’s house, but nobody cares. BUT THEY DO CARE THAT HAWKINS IS BEING MYSTERIOUS IN HIS YARD, AND JAKE SEES IT, AND HAWKINS SEES HIM. Double mystery. Mystery men. Drink twice for good measure.
Jake sprints back to tell Eric there’s a fire near his house, but Eric being a martyr-ish Green stays to fight the school fire. It’s the right thing to do. April agrees. It is, but it’s boring.
Hawkins and Jake have a weird moment where Hawkins (again) aggressively asks if he can help (fight Eric’s fire) and then says “If I knew anything, I would tell your mayor.” Would you, though? “What do you know?” asks Jake. “Not much” says Hawkins, even though he was clearly using a computer just now. “Do. You. Want. My help?” smile-menaces Hawkins, and Jake manfully says “get in.”
At Mary’s, Mimi is once again talking about what she’ll do in DC, then prying into Mary’s affair. Mimi is full of Real Talk about how “guys like that don’t leave their wives for girls like us.” Mary says Eric is totally going to tell his wife about them, and Mimi pretends to change her tune on that matter. And this is boring, except that I love Mimi’s hatred of Eric.
Hawkins asks Jake how he learned to use the pool pump to get water. “I was a pool guy” says Jake sardonically. Drink.
Oops, it’s flashover time. And for a hot second we think Hawkins has left Jake in the lurch, but no, he’s just being helpful in getting more power for the pump. “That was quick thinking” says Jake as they fight the fire together. “Yeah,” says Hawkins, “I was a pool guy, too.” Ha. They exchange a funny look. Mysterious bros together. Are they both spies, or what?
Back at the school, a small crowd is cheering the firemen who are now rescuing books, even though they let untrained, clad only in a fireman’s jacket Eric run in by himself. NO ONE BUT GREENS CAN DO ANYTHING FOR THE TOWN. Eric tells Heather he saved Ashlee’s life, then he wanders off to find his wife.
Skyler comes back into Gracie’s store, and no, her parents haven’t called, but her phone is charged. Dale mentions the fire hit the trailer park (I KNEW IT, HE AND GRACIE ARE BLUE COLLAR BROS) so he is going to keep on sleeping at the store. But then, he already was. Skyler tries to convince Dale to come ask the mayor for help, but he’s got his bootstrappy pride, so he’s not having it, man.
April and Eric are cleaning out their burned out house. Guess what didn’t burn? THE DIVORCE PAPERS filed by April! Whoops. But she doesn’t want to divorce him anymore, because things were nuked, and now he does manly things like run into buildings to save teachers and little children. And also, they’ve all had a rough day so let’s not get divorced now? Drink, because their conversation is boring.
Gail is setting the table and talking to Jake about how staring at the creepy TV wasn’t telling her anything. And she says “you know that thing you’ve been running away from?” Well, it’s your dad, so go talk to him or whatever. Does she know about what Jake was doing while he was gone, though? That last scene between them suggested as much, and now I am writing whole new headcanons about this. Eric and April arrive with one sad box each.
At Mary’s bar, Mary is trying to close down early, and Mimi has a knowing look about “girls like us.” But oh, there goes the TV. It has changed from the warning to an empty podium, as if the president or similar is about to address the nation. But it’s sinister as hell because nobody is there, and I start to imagine that that shot was set-up weeks ago and it’s just been broadcasting an empty room all this time.
The patrons are all agog. Mary sends Stanley off to tell people under threat of having to pay his tab.
Jake and Mayor Green are talking about how they, the Greens, are going to run the entire town and save everyone. However, Mayor Green in his weakened state is going to be nice and tell Jake he did good today. “Folks are saying how lucky Jericho is to have you back” says Mayor Green, and though he’s “tried to correct them, nobody listens to me.” The Greens share a LOL, and Skeet Ulrich continues to have a really attractive smile. But then Jake says being his dad’s son was hard, because his dad “always had a good judge of character, and you thought mine was lousy. When I left town, I was determined to prove you wrong, but everywhere I went, I seemed to prove you right.” WHAT’D YA DO, JAKE?! “I wasn’t just in San Diego” for one. (Drink!) But — “I don’t care” says Mayor Green. Basically, he doesn’t need to hear it, because whatever bad shit his son did, it made him less of a jerk. That’s…good? The audience still wants to know, Mayor Green.
Hawkins is typing mysteriously on his computer, and oops, Jake Green has a flagged passport, because he has traveled to dodgy countries! (Drink!) AND – drink again! — his legal name is Johnston Jacob Green, Junior. No wonder he has such daddy issues. Hawkins looks intrigued, and then is inside being mysterious, but also talking to his son in the basement about what all they’re going to do now that the power is back on. Drink twice because Hawkins and his son have a nice moment together.
The Greens sit around the table discussing what food they wish they had. It all sounds delicious, and makes me want to watch Signs a little bit, because of the amazingly creepy scene where the family eat dinner as the aliens roll in.
Stanley interrupts happy family time with news about the TV. Ooops, Eric has to come down to Mary’s bar. Drink because it’s boring, and it’s technically about the affair. Mary’s fading smile as Eric comes in not sans wife is kind of tragic, but I don’t really care — especially because the TV goes out, the wine glasses starts to shake, and outside there are missiles in the sky.
We drank: a lot. But we’ll fine-tune the drinking times next week. Or whenever I feel like watching. Because I made TWO categories here. Jericho Rewatch and Tuesday Apocalypse are two different categories, so I could rewatch on, like, a Thursday. Imagine that. [Caps via]
(Oh. Welp. So much for my attention span. I had other plans for this rewatch, including folks watching with me, and also my thyroid is evil, and such. But never mind. Pardon the delay, and I don’t promise it won’t happen again, but I’ll try to avoid it.
Back to Jericho. Back to our friend Skeet. Back to his whiny, self-righteous family. Back to the myriad characters who are vaguely annoying, and back to the mysteriously awesome whole. And if you forget where we are, go over here and then here.)
Episode 3: “Four Horsemen”
After a “previously” montage, we open with creepy music and rain falling remorselessly down. The mysterious Hawkins is braving the fallout in the air in order to move something to somewhere. He’s got the end of the world aesthetic down, with radiation suit, gloves, and gas mask. It’s 18 hours after the bomb. He’s taking something from a Ryder truck — anyone who has overstudied Oklahoma City is creeped out by those things on principle. There’s never anything good in them.
And then we’re back in Stanley and Bonnie’s basement, where blonde schoolteacher Emily is still a bit catatonic because she was forced to shoot one of the convicts who were holding her and Bonnie hostage in the last episode. Mr. Cop Who Isn’t Jimmy says he’s never killed anyone, and he’s a cop. Jericho is definitely your tiny midwestern town. (Hell, someone like that maybe would never fire their gun on duty.) Bonnie points out that Stanley doesn’t know that the rain is radioactive. Jake calls Eric to say that the people he sealed in the salt mine last minute have been in their too long. They’re dirty and it’s claustrophobic — but only CBS claustrophobic. It would be a lot more nightmarish in real life, but what on this show wouldn’t be?
Mr. Rooney — whose job I forget — is busy terrifying the children with his anxiety attack. Heather tries to console him, but it’s clear that he’s That Guy. The one who snaps. Be it alien invasion, war, or what have you, there’s got to be a manly man who snaps.
Stanley is back and he’s soaked. Uh oh. Jake tells Bonnie not to touch him, then radios his sister in law April the doctor. She tells Stanley to drink iodine and peaches. Stanley saw tanks “hailing ass towards Denver.” Who is out there, and are they friendly? April says if Stanley throws up in the next 20 minutes he’s going to die. Which seems slightly presumptuous, to be sure about that. And the cut to commercial music gets excessive, and we cut to “Jericho” and — according to the closed captioning — “(static hissing and syncopated beeping.)” Apparently there are secret messages, because that’s actual morse code. I don’t know — my knowledge starts and ends with dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot — but I like the simplicity of the caption’s explanation.
Mr. Rooney or Reney? It’s Reney. He’s going nuts, and Gray Anderson and some dude named Shep drag him away from the townspeople. It’s creepy. Mayor Green is still hacking from flu. Jake radios and wants to find out what the tanks are about. Jake says he’s going to Goodland when the rain stops to see what’s up. Emily says she’s coming as well, to find her fiancee who was supposed to fly into Topeka. Jake does his benevolent patriarchal, ex-boyfriend thing, but then gives in.
Back in the shelter, Eric tells IRS lady she can’t smoke in the shelter. I don’t care how citified you are, or how stressed you are, duh. Eric, April, and Gail (I had to Google her name) joke together about how “the mighty Johnston Green [was] felled by the flu.” Eric’s mistress and Mimi the IRS woman stare daggers at them all.
Back in Skyler’s fancy house, there’s overly cute poppy music playing. Skyler gives Dale a stale poptart. Things are looking up. Everyone is dead, but maybe Dale can finally score this hottie. This is very important.
Ooh, finally, a little context to this terrible thing that has happened. Gail is telling Mayor Green about how they used to hide under desks when they were kids. “Yeah, duck and cover” he says sadly. “That’s the first thing I thought of when I saw that mushroom cloud — did they have enough time to hide under their desks? That’s pretty stupid, huh?” “No” Mayor Green says, and then coughs. His wife pets his head. It’s actually a great scene. Duck and cover is in the top three of Cold War cliches, but this scene and the killer acting from Pamela Reed sells itself perfectly. The Cold War tropes and fears have become real, and it makes sense that when there’s finally a moment of quiet, you might start to think about that. I only wish there were more scenes like this, where people seem to almost understand that a 60 year nightmare has finally come to life.
Aaannnd, Eric’s mistress Mary the tavern wench is whining about Eric not leaving his wife. Boring, boring, boring. Go back to cold war terrors, plz.
Back in the root cellar with Stanley. He tells Jake not to let Bonnie see his lips, and that he’s feeling sick and nauseated. But the storm is over!
Eric goes outside with a geiger counter and, like, his sleeve over his face. Very high-tech. But it’s ok! Everyone in the town shelter follows. IRS Mimi touches a column and her hand gets covered in “black stuff.” Mary says “that used to be Denver.” Yeesh. Mimi’s face is a good response.
Jake is being In Charge guy, sending everyone to the medical clinic, while he goes to save the people from the claustrophobia of the salt mine. People are drilling, stand back, you Kansas rubes. Damn. Who else would it be?
Why are Eric and Jake going in first? Are there no miners, or construction workers? Do Greens have to do everything in this town? Hey, look, Jake and Heather still have way better chemistry than he does with Sad Emily.
Oops, Mr. Reney is dead. Heather knows this is a bad scene.
The clinic is full of people. Stanley is isolated in the children’s ward. He threw up because he drank a bunch of iodine. He wants to go back to the farm and delivers a terrible line about spider powers. Jake affectionately says “you’re still an idiot, so that’s a good sign” and I am reminded that these two also have good chemistry, and in spite of being old friends in the show, don’t really have enough moments together. (Jake, your family is terrible.)
Mimi is chasing April around being neurotic about having touched the column. She also points out that she can’t go home, because she’s from DC. Heather interrupts to ask about Mr. Reney, who has had a heart attack. Heather still smells bullshit. Gray Anderson lurking in either a sinister or guilty way isn’t helping.
Skyler and Dale are playing cards cutely and eating m&ms. The end of the world memo has not teached these teens. But oops, Skyler’s terrible friends who are even less aware that shit has gotten real in the past day come to the house to scold her for hanging out with undesirables like Dale. Good thing they’re not in this show much!
Mayor Green is trying to run things, but he’s sick, and his wife threatens to take his pants. It’s a cute exchange. Maybe Eric is the only entirely lame member of this family. Jake has a plan. People need to go out in four directions in order to get information. Gray is going one way, the dude who was with Mr. Reney is going another, Jake and Emily are going south. Gray darkly suggests they’re “the four horsemen of the apocalypse.” “Let’s hope not” says Jake.
Dudes are at Mary’s bar trying to get her sattelite dish working. But Mary is shunning Eric. It’s boring and I don’t care, until a Chinese or Korean newscaster appears out of the static on the TV. The map of the US behind him has some scary red target marks. Everyone in the bar is wide-eyed — Skeet Ulrich most of all, but that’s nothing new. After one terrifyingly clear shot, the static comes back. There’s a smattering of fearful outcries. Hawkins says that was indeed Chinese, Mandarin to be precise — he always knows too much — and Jake asks “are they just reporting it, or are they behind it?” Is America being invaded? No one knows. They’ve lost another horseman. There’s an argument about going out and Jake says “if this country is at war, we need to know it!” (Evergreen sentiments, am I right, folks?)
Mary and Heather try to figure out what cities they saw reded out on the TV. Hawkins meets Jake (finally!) and offers to be one of the drivers, but Jake refuses him when he says he has family.
Heather asks the non-Gray Anderson guy why Mr. Rennie (it’s Rennie) is dead. Dude is looking mighty guilty. Gray Anderson interrupts. Heather keeps looking suspicious.
Jake chases down Emily who is freaking out about her fiance. She is sure he’s dead, and Jake reassures her that they don’t know. Maybe Roger’s plane landed in a cornfield. “He’s gone, and I’ve here with you. You were the one who was supposed to be dead, not him.” Emily says bitterly. Jake should go without her.
Dale comes back to the store where DoubtYourCommitmenttoSparkleMotionGracie is staring at her sadly empty shelves. Gail arrives to bring back some of the food that was in the shelters. But Gracie still hardly has any food, and what she has is going bad. Gail says they should cook it.
Stanley find Mimi crying about her radiation poisoning, and is nice because “maybe I’m a nicer person than you.” Everyone is a nicer person than IRS agents, Stanley. “You’re really sweet,” Mimi says, “and you still owe the IRS $180,000.”
Shep is writing a letter before he leaves on his four horsemen mission. Uh oh.
Mayor Green thanks Gray for going, then asks what happened to Mr. Rennie. Gray Anderson says “poor planning” killed Rennie. Gray Anderson is both petty and political and kind of right, because those fallout shelters were NOT maintained. Mayor Green has a point when he throws Gray against a wall in his office, however, and says that the people in town need both of them to not be petty dickheads.
Heather gets Shep’s letter, and it basically says that it was his fault about Rennie, and that he was too scared to call a doctor. This dude is a plot device, but still I feel bad.
The cops and Eric are charting the progress of the men. Shep’s radio is cracking up and he says “tell my family I’m sorry.” Obviously, Gray hears it on his own route, but denies it, which is the worst thing he’s done so far.
Jake pulls over. An entire plane is in the road, but with emergency slides inflated (so that could be worse). In the background, another plane is in worse shape. Those of us afraid of flying now feel slightly sick.
Back in town, everybody is cooking the meat that will soon go bad. But Gail has some corn, which is not going to go bad, so that’s stupid. Jake comes back to town with the black box from the plane. He says the planes are empty. Mayor Green remembers to kick two random little girls out the room, which makes sense. The confused pilot chatter is unsettling, and then it’s clear — one of them sees the mushroom cloud over Denver. Another saw another cloud near Texas. Jake explains to the other people that the pilots are fucked because there’s no air traffic control. Hawkins offers creepily “there’s ten thousands planes with nowhere to land. That’s about a million people in the air.” Yeesh. And it gets worse with the emergency landing. The room looks freaked out while they listen, and I don’t blame them, but dammit, shit is way worse than this, people. MUSHROOM CLOUDS HAPPENED.
Jake is on the case, though. He rewinds again and again, and calls Emily. Oh hello, her fiance’s plane set down in a field. “He’s alive” he says nicely. Emily is sort of annoying, but I am still happy for her.
Hawkins is doing creepy stuff in the basement. His wife mentions the “cook all the meat before it spoils” town party. “It sounded like Sam Cooke from here, but it could be Kenny Rogers” she says, and they laugh together. “Oh Lord” says Hawkins. Because white people in the midwest, ya’ll. Darcy says “the children would like to go” to the party, but Hawkins puts his foot down, they’re not ready with their fake back stories. Darcy gives in, and the moment is spoiled by TOO MUCH MYSTERY.
And the party to set to another, worse pop song. This show had an addiction. Dale passes by Skyler and her cool friends playing cards. Dale goes to hang by Gracie, who is unpleasant, but his devotion to her is kind of interesting. She says she’s glad there was enough food for everyone, but “a thank you would have been nice.” You’re right, Gracie. Your devotion to property rights is inspiring.
IRS Mimi stares at Stanley and is charmed by his goofiness. Bonnie knows this is bullshit. Mary flirts with some other dude, and Eric ignores his wife who is trying to tell him about the hospital. Heather and Jake sit together, and talk about Emily, who Jake says he owed. When Heather says “I’d say this makes you even” he says “not even close.” SUCH MYSTERY. And yet I still care a lot more about Jake and Heather. Stick with your lost fiancee, Emily.
Mayor Green is watching the party dourly and says “It might be a long time before we see Jericho like this again.” Yerp. And ya’ll shouldn’t be eating stuff like corn that won’t spoil tomorrow.
Bad, generic upbeat pop-rock song plays and plays. Terrible.
HAWKINS IS MOVING SOMETHING HEAVY AND CYLINDRICAL IN HIS BASEMENT. He’s putting up a new wall. Shit. Such a mysterious guy.
Shot of empty town square with tables and grills invites the question, why are those lights still on? Do you people think you have generator gasoline to spare?
Eric wakes up next to Mary and he has to go and I don’t care.
ANOTHER song plays as Dale the burgeoning business-teen FINDS THE SUPPLY TRAIN OUTSIDE TOWN! It crashed. Good job, Dale. I will allow this up-tempo tune because Dale has found all that Dinty Moore stew.
Frequently, the most terrifying part of an apocalypse movie or show is any snatches of news that leak through the haze of confusion and fear that comes after, say, a nuclear attack. The key is to tell the audience and the main characters a little (Jericho) but not too little (How I Live Now) about what’s going on in the outside world. Sometimes a flash of something is more terrifying than seeing the whole thing. Or at least more disturbing. The Day After makes you queasy, Testament makes you cry. Pick your poison (sorry, they’re both fallout).
Knowing this, and knowing about the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast — regardless of the myth of the mass panic, it’s a damned good broadcast! Especially the straight ersatz news parts! — it is no surprise that a nuclear war plot makes a fine radio play. I found The Last Broadcast thanks to Youtube algorithms which know me all too well.
“We interrupt this broadcast” and sudden, dead air has been used in all sorts of scary things since 1938, and it still works. None of us have ever heard or seen a program interrupted by news of nuclear war or alien invasion, and let’s hope we never will. But we’ve seen enough bad, big news that the aesthetic still chills. There seem to be quite a few TV movies, most from the ’80s and 90s, which use this framing as well. I may dive into them next.
It’s the ’80s, and the Soviet Union has invaded West Germany and has invaded our regularly scheduled ’50s throwback hour on an Ontario radio station. The news gets worse from there, and if the static seems slightly fake, the accents suspiciously Canadian except the one news person who clearly fell out of the ’40s, and nobody can say “nuclear” correctly, it’s still an eerie and disturbing hour and a quarter. It helped that I listened while drowsy, with eyes closed, thereby enhancing the surreal feeling (especially when I got up and was still in my boyfriend’s parents’ killingly normal apartment).
The play is amateur, but impressive for all that. The only information I could find about its origins was that it was made and voiced by Canadian students. Not sure if it’s highschool, or college, but I definitely didn’t do anything this much scary fun in either. (I know I didn’t go to highschool, shut up).
Oh, right, fallout. That thing we forgot about in the first episode. The thing that makes nukes more than just aesthetically terrifying clouds in the distance.
This is a tight, fearful episode. A storm is coming from Denver, and not knowing what kind of bomb went off, the people of Jericho are terrified of what those clouds may bring down upon them. Emily is still outside of town, clueless as to what has happened. She meets the two escaped criminals (oh yeah, that happened) who are impersonating deputies, and who have killed the sheriff and kidnapped Deputy Jimmy and Deputy Occasionally-Mean Guy.
I hate when apocalyptic fiction goes straight to “oooh, rogues are on the loose because society has broken down!” if only because a nuke is a lot more interesting than a dude with a teardrop tattoo. However, Emily versus the fake cops works better than it might. It’s drawn out tension, which is enhanced when she brings the men to the Richman ranch (girl, cops do not have mustaches like that — but it’s a neck tattoo peeking out that gives it away) and has to communicate with Bonnie in subtle signing that this is a problem. Plus, we have two relatively competent ladies here, which is nice.
This episode does signal two obligatory difficulties for our characters in a nuke setting. Cons on the loose, and the invisible peril of fallout. But though we don’t know everything about the show yet, we do already know that this isn’t Testament. This is a CBS show. It’s going to be about network TV-level of grim survival, not about slowly wasting away. And, you know, a tv show needs characters.
In short, though the episode is well done, and though people might die, this episode doesn’t give you an apocalyptic stomach ache. Just a little anxiety, and a touch of claustrophobia as the townspeople race to get their shelters ready, and Bonnie and Emily try to casually outwit the cons.
Back in Jericho, there’s a great scene where the cops have grabbed every single book about nuclear anything from the library, and one is Our Friend the Atom (“some friend” notes Gray Anderson bitterly). Hawkins again knows a little too much about what do in case of nuclear fallout — or he’s read this manual I keep almost buying because of its perfect balance of creepy and cheesy graphic design — but his explanation is only “I was a cop in St. Louis, and after 9/11 we got up to speed.”
The town’s shelter doesn’t have a working air filter, and Gray Anderson will definitely be using that in his weird macho war with Mayor Green. For once, he may have a point. Actually he has one a lot, but he’s still annoying.
Towns people are taking stuff from Gracie’s store, but she stops Skyler from grabbing a diet soda (asserting her property rights, while still accepting that emergency food is being taken! Gracie is also kind of the town gossip and sort of unpleasant, but she’s not a villain, and Dale has a serious loyalty to her. All of this is interesting to me.) This leads to Dale and Skyler bonding in her sealed up house. Dale slept on Gracie’ store floor the night before, because he clearly has nowhere else to go now that he hasn’t got a mom. Skyler may not have a mom anymore either, and a sad conversation about that as the fallout-drenched rain falls brings the nerd and the mean girl closer together.
This is the first episode where Jake being in charge is assumed. Basically, this town cannot function without male Green leadership. No wonder Gray Anderson is tired of it. Hawkins is told to fix the HAM radio, and finds secret messages, then says he can’t get the thing working. Much mystery. All the mystery. We see Hawkins’ family for the first time, as they huddle together in the basement. They are not entirely likable, but they are intriguing. There is clearly tension between the son, the daughter, the wife, and Hawkins. Hawkins’ wife Darcy tells him “you always know something” and he says not to ask questions. What does he know? Is he a terrorist? Law enforcement? CIA? NSA?
Most of the scenes of people packing up bags with 90 minutes to spare are good. And the scenes of other townsfolk sealing up their houses is deliberately very early War on Terror. It’s definitely less excessive than the 9/11isms in the 2005 War of the Worlds, but it brings back mentions of how to be safe from a dirty bomb or chemical attack, if you’re the right age.
Eric — the insufferable junior version of his father — has to lecture a bar full of douchebags to go to shelter so they don’t die of radiation sickness. Good thing he has a flaw, which is his affair with the uninteresting Mary, who owns the bar. Eric’s wife isn’t interesting either.
(Somehow I hate a lot of these characters when I stop to think about, but I keep on watching. Actually, Jake may be an asshole who disappeared for five years, but I don’t blame him.
Basically, everyone is annoying except for Jake and Bonnie, and usually Heather and Stanley, but I feel like I need to apologize for finding Skeet Ulrich slightly attractive.)
Finally, realizing there just isn’t enough shelter for everyone in town, Jake decides to put people into the salt mines just in time. He, however, has heard Emily using the police radio to call for help. Which annoys me, because girl, you know nukes have happened. You’re not helpless, and are in fact quite savvy in your standoff with the cons. So you do have the capacity to realize that if Denver has been nuked, police don’t give a shit about your personal peril. Really, this is all just so Jake can come and save the day. One of the cons grabs Bonnie, Jake shoots the other con. Emily shoots the one who has Bonnie, and then she stands catatonic, so that Jake must hustle her into the Richman’s storm cellar. Unfortunately for this plot and later ones, Jake has much better chemistry with the painfully peppy brunette Heather than he ever will with sad Emily. I mean, they flirt while in peril and it almost works.
Instead, we get Jake saying he wanted to keep Emily safe, but she says she’s “never safe when you’re around.” So, to reiterate, both Jake and Hawkins are mysterious people. And Emily is a school teacher, so that means she can shoot people, but then feel awful about it. This is — and Heather’s random technical skills — is the extent of female competence on the show. We’ll get to that, once it becomes truly tedious. So far, things are just fast-paced and stressful on the show. And that’s working very well.
The final scene — pop song propelled yet again — shows townspeople in the shelters, and then Hawkins putting pins into various cities. It sure looks like the nukes hit more than just Denver and Atlanta. (Oops, Pittsburgh was one. Pittsburgh AND Philly? Musicians can’t handle visiting both, how can nukes?)
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