The following contains spoilers through Foundation S1E4, “Barbarians at the Gate,” on Apple TV+, and also references the Foundation series novels.
Welcome, dear reader, as we continue to review the Apple TV+ series Foundation with Episode 4, “Barbarians at the Gate.” With this episode, the world building is finally behind us and we’re getting into the real meat of this season. On both Trantor and Terminus, the next generation of leaders is still dealing with the fallout from the events of 35 years ago. The Star Bridge bombing, the retributive strike against the “barbarian” worlds, and the dire predictions of Hari Seldon’s psychohistory.
For the Empire, the mathematician’s ghost haunts their every decision. Brother Day looks back and sees that every one of Hari’s warnings were ignored, and all of his predictions are coming true. Bemoaning the rash decisions of his predecessor, he embarks on a rash decision of his own in an attempt to stave off at least one of their looming crises.
For the Foundation, their reverence for Hari Seldon has the opposite effect, leaving them paralyzed with indecision in the midst of their own crisis. Would Hari’s plan assume they take action themselves or wait for help? Is Salvor an outlier than the plan could not possibly predict, or does the plan depend on her actions? It’s the classic conflict between free will and destiny.
The evolution of the Empire’s genetic dynasty continues to be one of the best elements of this show. It’s so smart and interesting. It’s hard to believe that it was not part of the original stories. We start out this episode with a fairly shocking scene that I never would have expected: 17-year old Brother Day (Cleon 14) attempts to commit suicide by jumping out of a palace window. Throughout the scene, Gaal is recounting a story of someone coming to Hari Seldon hoping to learn if “the predictive models could chart the significance of his life.”
What would drive Brother Dawn to this action? An important factor might be that he’s the first of the Cleon clones to be raised entirely in the shadow of the Star Bridge bombing. He was “born” the day after the platform was finally destroyed, giving up on their greatest triumph and leaving only a planet-wide scar as remembrance. We can see that Brother Dawn lacks the bold confidence of his elder counterparts. He is out of sync giving condolences to Ambassador Thanwall. He is not respected by the staffer summoning him to Brother Dusk. He stammers over the gardener’s last name and generally comes off as low status, unless prompted to remember he is an Emperor.
And then, a love interest. Now, Cleon 1 never married, and having no heirs seems to have been part of the motivation to invent the Genetic Dynasty. Brother Day is having his “physiological need” satisfied by the concubine du jour. Marriage is not on the agenda for the clones. What would happen if a clone took a queen? Or worse yet, gave birth to an heir? Sadly, Brother Dawn brings the Shadow Master into his confidence as a person who “eliminates problems” so that he can learn the gardener’s name. But now, the “problem” may be his budding romance, as he spies the Shadow Master keeping tabs on the girl.
Brother Day and Dusk
The consequences of the events of 35 years ago are also impacting the relationship between Brother Day (Cleon 13) and Brother Dusk (Cleon 12). Brother Day has no patience for either his younger or elder counterparts. He feels that he’s been left holding the bag as the “to-do list” that Hari Seldon gave them is being checked off, one item at a time. The Imperial Statisticians, at Cleon 12’s orders, have been tasked to try to decode psychohistory, but Brother Day finds that all they are doing is self-reinforcing the belief that Seldon was a charlatan. Finally, he confronts Brother Dawn with a devastating take down:
On your watch, the Star Bridge fell, and from that scar, insurgency was birthed. On your watch, two worlds were incinerated with not a care to innocents or consequence. On your watch, Hari Seldon and his followers were allowed to flee. You have bequeathed me an Empire rent by impulsive action. The same will not be said of me. Not on my watch. I would save our legacy.
Despite this, Brother Dusk still smugly seems to think he’s in charge, until Demerzel turns on him and orders the servants to take his things back to the palace. Once back at the palace, he orders forces to be sent out to Terminus to find out what has happened to the comm buoy and remind the Foundation that they still owe allegiance to the Empire. Of course, this is exactly the pre-programmed reaction the Anacreons are counting on.
Well, no more fooling around, Salvor Hardin is a straight up mentalic. She can predict the future state of coins flips. She gets feeelings when something is wrong and can tell when someone is lying. And well beyond that, she can pry into a person’s thoughts and memories. She sees the deadness inside her prisoner, and deduces that she is the Grand Huntress of Anacreon (which let’s face it, is much more impressive than “Warden of Terminus”).
She also has a connection to the Vault that psychohistory couldn’t have possibly predicted. She is an outlier, a danger to the plan. Or is she? Salvor now believes that the Vault has been projecting the image of the Mystery Boy directly into her mind, in order to lead her to the Anacreons. If so, what then of the full immersion hallucination of the Imperial Library? Are we leading up to her having a sit down with a Hari hologram and getting the scoop on this first Crisis (second if you count the exile decision)?
Despite her mental powers, she is still missing something. It would seem to be true that the Anacreons are “technologically bankrupt” after the Empire’s surprise attack devastated their home world. Recall that they were already emphasizing their need for asteroid-mined metals with their gift to the Empire in Episode 1. What is their strategy then in purposely drawing the Empire back to the Outer Reaches once again? I confess it’s still a mystery to me too.
Speaking of mysteries, I was taken by something said in last week’s official companion podcast. They said something to the effect that Isaac Asimov was really a mystery writer who just happened to use sci-fi settings. We can see that the writers on this series have that in mind and are trying to carry that spirit over into the show. With that in mind, I thought it might be good to review the list of mysteries we have built up so far:
- Who was really responsible for the Star Bridge bombing?
- Why did Raych kill Hari?
- Why did Raych send Gaal off in a life pod?
- Is Gaal a mentalic?
- Is Salvor a mentalic?
- Is Salvor the resulting child from Gaal and Raych’s embryo?
- What drove Cleon 15 (Brother Dawn) to attempt to commit suicide?
- Why are the Anacreons really on Terminus?
- Who placed the Vault on Terminus?
- What’s inside the Vault?
I’ve already given my answers to some of these, like #2, in this and previous articles. I believe the answers to #4, #5 and #6 are all an affirmative, and I’m looking forward to finding out what that all means for the future of this series. For #3, one theory I like is that the Foundation cannot have anyone present who understands psychohistory, so it was always Hari and Raych’s plan to somehow get Gaal off the ship. When Raych is talking regretfully about wanting to have it all with Gaal, he’s lamenting that she will be out of the picture, not himself. As for #10, I think the twist will be that the Vault’s Seldon will be an interactive artificial intelligence (i.e. the “ghost”), not just the non-interactive holographic recordings of the novels.
Do you have different answers? Do you have other mysteries to add to my list? Let me know in the comments.
A couple of quick takes on the rest of the episode:
- Brother Dawn makes a strange twirling movement with his left index finger before he jumps. I’m not sure what the significance of that is.
- The Master Statistician starts out, “Empire, may the light never dim.” Very reminiscent of the saying that “the sun never set” on the British Empire.
- Cleon 14’s suicide attempt was thwarted by his personal shield, which he apparently cannot turn off. Cleon 13 also does not turn his off during his “intimacy” session, and judging by his reaction at the girl’s touch, he’d probably like that option. However, Cleon 11 was able to turn his off when he met with the Seer Priest in Episode 2. Is this a capability only allowed to the elder member of the triumvirate?
- The “Mystery Boy” is obviously a young Raych, projected from someone’s memory of him running around the Imperial Library. That probably limits the candidates for the “ghost” to be Hari or Raych, and of course my bet would be on Hari, since it is coming from the Vault.
- Raych Seldon is a “Sinker” in the novels (the ones rioting on the vid that Brother Dusk shows Brother Dawn). The heat sinks are in a district of Trantor called Dahl and Dahlites carry knives despite a planetary ban on weapons, as Raych does in the series.
- We got confirmation that it is believed that Hari Seldon was murdered by his protégé, i.e. Gaal Dornick.
- The Grand Huntress rails against the “convenient slur” of being called a “barbarian,” but she refers to the Foundation as a “little doomsday cult,” so she’s really no better.
- For all his talk of being haunted by the ghost of a dead man, Brother Dusk nonetheless set his court mathematicians to the task of trying to figure out psychohistory for the Empire, so he doesn’t completely brush off Seldon’s predictions.
- We find out that Brother Day (Cleon 13) was 7 at the time of the Star Bridge bombing—making him 43 now.
- The nature of the Seldon Crisis is that one man (now sometimes a woman as well) ultimately makes the choice that resolves the crisis, and yet psychohistory can only predict the movements of civilizations. “Psychohistory can’t account for individuals,” as the mantra goes. And the other irony is that that one person really has no choice. They are usually backed into a corner where there is only one possible choice left to be made. Free will loses either way.
- I really hope they eventually have a scene of Demerzel just opening up a can of whoop ass on someone, or someones (plural). Within the confines of the Robotic Laws, naturally.
Best lines of the episode:
- “I understand Empire has a physiological need for intimacy, but the current matter supersedes this need.”
- “Condolences.” “Condolences…Heartfelt.”
- “Want to drive and I’ll hold the gun?”
- “Repeated luck is more than just luck.”
- “I can’t tell if she’s lying, or if she’s just not telling the truth.”
- “I used to practice that smile in the mirror.”
- “Once this choice inflames the city in violence, you achieved elaborate suicide for us all.”
- “I might be an outlier, but I’m not the one screwing up the plan, Lewis.”
- “Trantor left us all here to die, your people and mine. We’re just dying at different speeds.”
- “Certainly now, the Empire will no longer be rent by impulsive action. “
- “You can’t play chess with someone who is willing to set the board on fire.”
- “Best man servant ever.”
- “Tell me. Tell me! TELL MEEEEEE!”
- “Your women are so much sharper than your men.”
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:
- A couple of nice analysis pieces from the good folks on Reddit that I think are worth mentioning. On r/TheFoundation, u/rtb001 posted “Cleons are Foundation’s Roman Tetrarchy” about how the genetic dynasty’s 3-generation rule might have its roots in a similar practice of the Roman Empire that staved off the “Fall” for a few hundred years. On r/FoundationTV, u/imfromthepast posted “[No Spoilers] the Mural” about how the Mural of Souls is being used as a “meta textual commentary” on the decline of the Empire.
- We also have a new podcast, Cracking Foundation, that has started reviewing the individual episodes with a 2-hour episode on the premiere. I like it and I’m looking forward to more from these guys.
On last week’s official companion podcast (for Episode 3), show runner David S. Goyer was joined by writer and co-executive producer Jane Espenson (who also wrote for The Nevers). As with the previous episode, there were a few interesting tidbits worth passing along:
- Hari planned the landing site (on the doorstep of the Vault). [Strongly suggesting Hari is responsible for the Vault being there, which we probably all could have guessed, but always nice to have to confirmation.]
- Each Brother Dusk is responsible for painting the Mural of Souls during their tenure, so that it is a continual work in progress. It is, among other things, a teaching tool for Brother Dawn, as it documents the “current events” from Brother Day’s reign.
- Salvor is a loner with a sadness to her. She feels unique and different than the rest of the people on Termimus, and she doesn’t know why. [Implying that there is a “why,” which in my mind pretty much has to mean she is actually Gaal’s child, removed to the seed bank on the slow ship and given over to her current (adopted) parents to raise after landfall.]
- This first season was shot in six different countries.
- They call the first segment with the ascension of Brother Darkness “The Short Film.” Goyer likens it to the life cycle of the butterfly and calls it a tone poem.
- The Short Film is really about Demerzel.
- They imply that Demerzel knew to put her hand at Brother Darkness’ back because he does this every time.
- They will address why Cleon 1 preserved Demerzel but not yet. They know the answer and it’s “really interesting.”
- While discussing which one is closer to Terminus, Goyer says that Anacreon and Thespis share the same sun. [Though I’m going to attribute that to talking off the top of his head, because that has gotta be wrong.]
New section this week, because I’ve made some errors that I feel should probably be addressed:
- Salvor names the bishop’s claw “Maybel,” not “Maple.” Forgive me, I’m working from screeners and do not have my usual access to the subtitles. It’s killing me.
- I did not understand that painting the Mural of Souls was Brother Dusk’s responsibility (“the senior member of the Genetic Dynasty,” as Demerzel tells the ambassadors), and thus incorrectly attributed Cleon 11 taking up the painting in Episode 1 as trying to make amends for Brother Day (Cleon 12) having the cleaner executed.
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+