The following contains spoilers for the premiere of Foundation on Apple TV+ (S1E1, “The Emperor’s Peace” and S1E2, “Preparing to Live”), and also references the Foundation series novels.
Welcome, dear reader, as we begin to review the Apple TV+ series Foundation with the two-eipsode premiere, featuring Episode 1, “The Emperor’s Peace” and Episode 2, “Preparing to Live.” Foundation is a project that has been a long time coming. The original trilogy of novels was written by Isaac Asimov in the 1940-50s, with four additional novels produced in the 1980-90s. As a whole, it is considered one of the all-time great sci-fi/fantasy series, up there with Dune and Lord of the Rings. Serious attempts adapt the series to the big screen date back to at least 1998, and to 2014 for the small screen.
That said, the novels, especially that original trilogy, are a bit heavy on big ideas and dialogue, and light on action and suspense. In fact, one of the key narrative elements of the stories is that generally the conflict is already resolved before anyone can even lift a finger. So watching some of the trailers and teasers that came out leading up to the premiere, I have to admit I was a little concerned that they had gone overboard trying to liven up the source material with chase scenes and explosions. These two episodes have allayed that fear though. So far, I think they’ve really struck a nice balance here between the cerebral and the physical.
As stated in the warning banner, we will be discussing all of the Foundation novels, occasionally comparing this adaptation to the original story, and also looking ahead to events and characters to come. I’ll try to not get too spoilery, and given the amount of changes we’ve seen so far, basing anything off the original content may be misguided anyway. With two episodes already under our belts, there’s a lot to talk about. So let’s get to it.
One of the most amazing things about the premiere is how prescient this 70-year old story is for the times we are living in today. An empire in decline. Science under attack. Homogeny and tradition at odds with diversity and change. Fear versus hope. Foundation comes to us in the same month where we just commemorated the 20-year anniversary of the Twin Towers falling. Set 20,000 years into the future, we scale up to terrorists toppling a space needle reaching out to geostationary orbit. The reaction, a “show of strength” to allay the people’s sense of fear, is utterly predictable.
Gaal Dornick is facing another rather familiar sounding scenario on her home world of Synnax. Facing a climate crisis of rising sea levels, the warning scientists and mathematicians have been labeled heretics and killed in the Seer church’s “Purge” (or “Cleanse,” in their twisted terminology). Hari Seldon’s invitation allows Gaal to flee just barely one step ahead of her own execution, as people whisper and stare on her way to be picked up and whisked away.
Once she arrives, she finds out that she has leapt out of the frying pan and into the fire, as the Galactic Empire has been watching her for some time now, and only allowed her to come to Trantor in order to become a pawn in their efforts to contain Hari Seldon’s mass following. Hari bets on Gaal and she proves her worth when she holds true to the math and declares his calculations to be correct in court. The Empire is dying.
Not only is the Galactic Empire being ruled exclusively by old white guys, it is being ruled by one white guy exclusively. Seldon informs the three “brothers” that they could stave off the darkness a few more centuries if they end imperial cloning. There is value in difference and the new. After all, Cleon XII (Brother Day) is not just the Emperor, he is literally referred to as “Empire.” His stagnation is the Empire’s stagnation.
Brother Dusk is most affected by Hari’s suggestion. Like the Empire, he too is in decline—and he has regrets. His eyes are opening to the hubris of their progenitor. Thinking about their dynastic legacy, if what Hari says is true, the weight of the 100 million dead from the Space Bridge attack lies on his shoulders. He attempts a minor bit of atonement by taking over cleaning the mural from the master geneticist that his younger self had killed, and frustratingly fails at it. He meets directly with the Anacreon and Thespis ambassadors, but ultimately confesses that they will die because, as Demerzel tells his youngest self, Brother Dawn, they “always choose this.”
Preparing to Live
In Episode 2, the exiles of the Foundation have embarked on the journey to Terminus. The 5,000 members of the Foundation are using the four year plus trip to prepare both for the establishment of their colony and the work ahead for the Encyclopedia Galactica project. For Hari and Gaal, there are also preparations being made to live and to die.
In just a few short months, Gaal and Raych have gone from Gaal declaring him “cute” while seeking Raych out in the Space Bridge terminal, to going at it like rabbits in every isolated corner of the ship. They’re even having a baby together, and the “birth plan” is to have the embryo removed and stored in the ship’s seed bank, where it will be safe until planet fall. Once on Terminus however, nothing is assured, as simulations and estimates are still showing that over a third of the population will die.
Preparing to Die
While Gaal is uncomfortable speaking as “The Foundation” rather than as just herself, Hari is having the opposite problem. People are becoming too familiar, he is no longer “Dr. Seldon.” For him, these last few months have been an unexpected gift. While he planned for Empire to exile the Foundation to Terminus, he was also convinced that he would be executed in the process. Gaal changed that. Now he needs to fade into the legend that he was originally intended to be, in order to keep the plan on track.
So Hari plans his own assassination. At least, that’s my interpretation of events. He wants to wear his favorite shirt, despite the ink stain. While collecting it from the laundry, he indulges himself for a moment to say thanks to all of the people working there. He nudges Gaal to start taking over some of his administrative tasks. He and Raych stage a very public argument at dinner. And then finally, he has Raych, his adopted son, stab him in the heart.
That much all seems to make sense (after a few rewatches, admittedly). However, once again, Gaal throws a monkey wrench into Hari’s plan, this time by showing up just as the tragedy plays out. Raych hurriedly rushes her out of the room, races down several hallways, and shoves her into a life pod along with the murder weapon. Why did he do this? What could it mean? As cliffhanger episode endings go, this one blew me away. I did not expect that from this show.
A couple of quick takes on the rest of the episode:
- Gaal says she gets to know the names Salvor Hardin, Hober Mallow, and the Mule. Salvor Hardin and Hober Mallow feature as the heroes of the original Foundation novel. The Mule is the villain of Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation, the second and third books of the original Foundation trilogy. Gaal Dornick only features in the very first part of Foundation, playing a mostly similar role in the trial of Hari Seldon and the establishment of the Foundation, and never meets those other players. That’s obviously going to change in this adaptation.
- Salvor Hardin is the woman we see in the bumper scenes of Episode 1 (no, that’s not an older Gaal). The “Warden” who drags Poly to safety and the one who reaches up into the Vault, unaffected by the null field. These scenes are set 35 years into the future, and who knows how many episodes we’ll have to wait for her reappearance.
- Gaal also mentions Stars End, the planet furthest away from Trantor and the center of the galaxy. Stars End plays a significant role later in the third book of the original trilogy, Second Foundation.
- In Gaal’s opening monologue, she says, “But to understand our future, we have to remember the past, and the ones who caused it all. A mathematician. A martyr. A murderer. And the most important player of all, Hari Seldon.” So Raych would apparently be the “murderer.” If Hari is separate from the three roles, does Gaal consider herself the “mathematician” or the “martyr?” And who then is the third?
- Something that might not be clear from these first two episodes. Raych was adopted by Hari, so he goes by Raych Seldon. Making it all the more tragic that Hari asked Raych to murder him.
- Is Gaal a “Seer” (of the Synnax religion)? She seems to “hear” Jerril say something as he first approaches her on the jump ship. She tells Hari that something is wrong with the Star Bridge well before the bombs go off, and she knows something is wrong with Raych before he has stabbed Hari. And of course, she also somehow woke herself during the jump through hyperspace, which was surprising to the supervising spacers. Speaking of that incident, Jerril tells her to figure out what she is before someone else does and uses her.
- Eto Demerzel refers to the “Robot Wars” as she repairs the damage to her shoulder. In the novels, Eto is an alter ego of R. Daneel Olivaw, a robot character who bridges Asimov’s Robot and Foundation series.
- On day two of their trial, Hari refers to “the ancients” having built a “repository for the world’s wisdom” that burned down. This would be the Library of Alexandria. Hari correctly guesses that like that ancient library, the Imperial Library would burn one day. He just didn’t guess that it would be within a few days of his saying so.
- Anacreon is one of the “Four Kingdoms” that drives the first “Seldon Crisis” that Salvor Hardin resolves in “The Encyclopedists,” Part 2 of the original Foundation novel. Given the pounding their home world received in Episode 2, it seems unlikely that they will be able to resurrect themselves to that level for this series.
- The boy who tries to reach the Vault and passes out in the opening scene is named Poly. This could be a young Poly Verisof, who plays a role with Salvor Hardin in “The Mayors,” Part 3 of the original Foundation novel.
- Per Ambassador Xandem, only two weeks have passed between Episode 1 and Episode 2 (his government has been denying their involvement for two weeks, he tells Empire). Hari says these last few months have been a gift, and Gaal and Raych’s relationship has obviously had more than just two weeks to flourish. Are we looking at different timelines now between the events on Trantor and the events on the Foundation ship travelling to Terminus?
- It’s fairly clear that Anacreon and Thespis have been set up in the Star Bridge bombing. Given the changes being made to the source material, and the fact that his name has already been brought up, could these be the machinations of The Mule at work already?
- Raych kills Hari (presumably) with the same knife we see him hand over when he and Gaal went to see the Trantorian Seer Priest.
- Is Hari really dead? Yes, that might sound crazy, but hear me out. Raych pulled something off from behind Hari’s ear right before he and Gaal ran out of the room. Could that have been some sort of life sign monitor? How else would those over-the-top klaxons and sirens be set off, announcing Hari’s death to the entire ship? Given that the next episode is titled “The Mathematician’s Ghost,” probably Hari is indeed dead. But if so, then what was that device?
- Gaal refers to the clones of Cleon I as having been “decanted” at different ages. Hari makes a similar wine analogy saying that each clone is just a grape from the same vine.
- A Bishop’s Claw is mentioned both in Episode 1 as the source of the howl the kids hear up valley and in Episode 2 as the attacking animal that foils the mining simulation. The simulation trainer says they are “endemic to the Outer Reaches.” Meaning on more than one planet? How would that work?
- The Star Bridge from Episode 1 is an amazing visualization of what’s known as a space elevator. This is a real concept that people are really working towards building here on Earth—though not any time soon.
- Gaal says that the 34.2% mortality means 1710 people die. That means there are 5000 people overall recruited to the Foundation project.
Best lines of Episodes 1 and 2:
- “If the Empire is good for anything, they can damn well build.”
- “This building will burn one day. Stealing is a mercy.”
- “Art is simply politics’ sweeter tongue.”
- “Don’t overthink the stick.”
- “You alright?” “The hook hurts, but I’m trying not to wriggle too much.”
- “You can’t save yourselves, but you can save your legacy.” “Mine or yours, Dr. Seldon?”
- “Change is frightening. Especially to those in power.”
- “We could say they did it. The resource of news could say it every hour on the hour until the air is made of that and there’s nothing else to breath.”
- “Martyring dissidents is a risky enterprise.” “So is annoying your emperor.”
- “Hari… I was Dr. Seldon when they began this journey.”
- “Don’t lie to me. It’s OK for Hari Seldon to lie to me, I expect that. But not from you.”
- “The more human I act, the more human I am.”
- “If I want to sentimentalize old emperors I can just look across the dinner table.”
- “How often do we choose this?” “You always do.”
In the News
Here I try to point you to a few of the more interesting and informative news items over the last week (or so) related to Foundation:
- Several general reviews about the show dropped on Wednesday before the premiere, including articles from SlashFilm, Gizmodo, and BBC.
- LRM Online has a short four minute interview with Lou Llobell (Gaal Dornick), hitting the highlights of her experience filming the series.
- Back in July, The Hollywood Reporter had the definitive interview with showrunner David S. Goyer that should be mandatory reading for fans of the show. His one-sentence pitch to Apple TV+ was “It’s a 1,000-year chess game between Hari Seldon and the Empire, and all the characters in between are the pawns, but some of the pawns over the course of this saga end up becoming kings and queens.” He reveals that there is a long-term plan for eight 10-episode seasons, and we know that Apple TV+ has already committed to a Season 2. As part of the page-to-screen adaptation, they’ve figured out a way to have six of the characters continue from season-to-season, spanning the centuries. We can already surmise a potential list for those six are, assuming Gaal is to be one, the Dawn / Day / Dusk instantiations of the Emperor account for three more, their robot minister Eto Demerzel will not age, and then Hari Seldon himself making appearances when the Time Vault opens post-Crisis. That presumes Empire continues to play a role throughout the 1,000 years, which would be a fairly big deviation from the novels.
- Since this is our first article, let’s also look at a few podcasts that can give you some helpful background information. Two good audio podcasts are the “Seldon Crisis” podcast and the “Stars End” podcast, which both are in the process of doing in depth reviews of the novels. There is also a YouTube channel “Foundation Era” that has a pretty thorough picking apart of the trailers and teasers for the show.
That’s all for this week. Please let us know your thoughts and feelings about this week’s episode, and any theories you have on what’s to come, in the comments below. Remember that 25YL will provide continuing coverage of Foundation throughout Season 1 and beyond.
All images courtesy of Apple TV+