The following contains spoilers through Foundation S1E9, “The First Crisis,” 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 9, “The First Crisis.” This week we whittle down to just two storylines, with Gaal and Brother Day having resolved their core conflicts last week. In this episode, we get resolution to the conflicts at the heart of Savlor Hardin and Brother Dawn’s arcs. Seemingly, the season is pretty much wrapped up one episode early. The bad guys are all dispatched, disarmed, or captured, and all that remains is to see how we move forward from here. And yet…
Recall that in the Foundation and Podcast interview, showrunner David S. Goyer promised that in next week’s finale “some crazy sh*t happens.” Perhaps there was a hint in Salvor’s mom calling the Vault a “door.” A hint that it holds more than just another instantiation of Hologram Hari. What that might be though, I cannot imagine. On Trantor, we might expect Brother Day to make another rash decision. Or two. And honestly, I’ll be surprised if we don’t end on some sort of cliffhanger with Gaal, and I doubt it will be set 138 years into the future.
Well, I’ve got to admit, this one caught me off guard. Sure, there were people theorizing that Azura could be a plant, but I never took it seriously. In hindsight, her access to technical devices did seem a little too easy for a mere gardener, and that speech about the Scar was probably a dead giveaway. Call me a sucker for a sappy romance, I guess.
Of course, before that big reveal, there were several other nice moments leading up to it. Like Dusk’s using Dawn’s color blindness to mask the additional three raptors in his painting. Ah, that was so diabolical, I loved it. I also loved how the hologram busts of the dead Cleons follow Brother Dawn, staring him down, as if the past generations are passing judgment on him. Rightfully so at this point, as his attempts to fend off the Shadow Master are truly pathetic.
It would seem these are likely the same folks who brought down the Star Bridge, having been working on this for decades. It could even be that whole terrorist attack was an Ocean’s 11 style distraction while the real goal was getting some of Cleon I’s DNA. It was an “illicit biohacking facility” that was raided by Demerzel at the beginning of Episode 2, after all. Speaking of, I’m glad we don’t have to try to shoehorn in her somehow justifying doing the genetic manipulation herself. Though we will just have to turn a blind eye to how in the world she would not pick up on the differences as she raised Dawn from birth.
Now all that remains to be seen is whether Brother Day’s experience on the Maiden will or will not make him serene towards Dawn’s genetic anomalies. My prediction would be that we’ll see a new Dawn decanted, as this show doesn’t show us something that enticing without following through on it a few episodes later.
I also did not see it coming that Lewis would connect himself to the navigator chair and save everyone by wishing them home. Redeemed at last. That said, things on Terminus are not good. The Null Field has expanded to cover the entire planet, leaving Salvor as the only person who can possibly resolve the crisis, acting as some bizarre amalgam of chosen one and deus ex machina. I still want to believe that the writers will disabuse Salvor of the idea that psychohistory pivots around the actions of an individual, but I’m starting to lose faith a little bit.
Beyond Salvor always seeming to be reading one page ahead in the script, I have a lot of quibbles with other things related to the Terminus storyline. In this episode, there was a higher than usual amount of reality bending in service of “cool” scenes:
- The path of bodies leading up to the Vault was a cool visual, but wasn’t the Null Field expanding towards the town? So if anything, there should have been a trail on the other side of town, leading away from the Vault, not towards it.
- Salvor finding her mom at the end of that trail, having managed to crawl into the ring of flags even, was very inspiring. But didn’t she get a nosebleed in Episode 2 just from leaning in a little too close to its leading edge?
- Everyone just kind of mills around and waits for a full minute as the Thespins fly in, land, disembark their troops, and then aim the ships’ guns into the Anacreons with that cool hand-held remote control thing.
- Phara apparently has psychosis from being awake when the Invitus jumped, yet her second in command, who was also awake, is the rational one trying to tell her the fight is over. A psychosis that is barely distinguishable from her norm, until she blasts away at the Vault—which was, of course, very cool.
- And of course, the coolest “cool” scene of all, Salvor walks over to the conveniently-placed-near-her bow, picks it up, and turns into a space age William Tell, driving one right through the (adam’s) apple.
Despite all of that, the general gist of the novel’s first crisis is coming together. As predicted, the Thespins were pulled along so that they could be part of the resolution. And low and behold, the Vault contains an interactive AI hologram of Hari, just as predicted.
We don’t normally delve into Gaal’s voice-over narration too much in these articles, but the ones sprinkled throughout this episode stand out from the rest and deserve a little of our attention. It all starts out amicably enough with Gaal talking about history as mankind’s greatest invention. Fairly typical of what they’d done thus far, seeding the episode with an overarching narrative for us to consider as we watch. However, as she says, “a villain becomes a hero, a lie becomes a truth,” the camera shows the 3D printed statue of Hari Seldon. Coincidence?
From there, we get three more voice-overs, also a little unusual. When Brother Dawn discovers the secret hidden in Brother Dusk’s painting, she talks of “what we choose to tell our children, and censor.” No longer carefully curating and shaping history, but outright adding and subtracting from it. As Salvor lands on Terminus, she talks of “all the facts fall[ing] short of believability” to the point where “fantasy feels reassuringly solid.” This is also where Gaal adds herself to the story, telling us “since this is my history, I get to decide which parts have been subtracted, which have been added.” Lastly, as Salvor triggers the Prime Radiant, Gaal talks of history now as a weapon. “Used correctly, the past can alter the present.”
Taken as a whole, this is a little bit disturbing. We know that showrunner David S. Goyer likes unreliable narrators, but what do we make of an unreliable narrator who flat out tells us she is adding to and subtracting from the story as she is telling it? When they showed us Brother Day’s vision of swirling salt in the Mother’s Womb and then later revealed that there was no vision, that was a perfect use of the trope. Chef’s kiss. Loved it. But if everything we are watching might be fantasy, I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Crazy Theory Time
This brings me to a theory, and as with other theories I’ve put out there, this one might be way out in left field. I’m wondering if they might not be setting up Gaal to be the Mule. OK, crazy, I know, but bear with me for a second. In the recent Mindscape podcast interview (more on this below “In the News”), Goyer had a few things to say about the Mule. He says that the Mule will and will not be showing up in a way the audience is expecting, and indicates that he is interested in showing how the Mule became the Mule.
We expect the Mule to be someone no one suspects, but we expect them to be an outsider. That is just not Goyer’s style though. He wants to show us the fall of the Empire. He wants to show us the origin story of Salvor Hardin. He wants to show us the Second Foundation forming from the ground up. These things cannot happen off screen and/or be introduced already fully formed. That’s not good television.
The Mule is the greatest enemy of the Foundation, but we need to see them become that greatest enemy. What if the Mule started out as an ally? What if the mentor-student relationship that has been touted as being at the heart of this series is one where the student turns against the mentor? What if this is why Gaal has been used, abused, and kept in the dark by Hari this entire season?
Gaal Dornick hardly exists in the original novels, making her selection as the character in which the show’s continuity is invested a strange choice. Of the recurring characters who will give us stable anchors throughout the upcoming seasons (Cleon, Demerzel, Hari), she is the only one who is completely human. Doesn’t that stand out as strange? Cleon is the “bad guy” of the moment, but we know his destiny is to fail and fade away. Demerzel could step up into the role, but that would go very far against Asimov’s vision for robots. I don’t think they’d go there. That leaves only one other recurring character to be Moriarty to Hari’s Sherlock.
A couple of quick takes on the rest of the episode:
- I totally missed this last week, but the Raven blew up after Gaal’s cryopod departed. We can see it burning up as Hari walks back to the bridge, and the explosion can be seen reflected in the cryopod’s glass. As many critical viewers have commented, Gaal basically just threw away the Second Foundation—and potentially doomed the entire galaxy to 30,000 years of darkness—just for her self-centered, young adult angst bullsh*t.
- Ask a historian what was mankind’s greatest invention, and they’ll say history. Well duh.
- In my review of Episode 4, I mentioned something that Goyer said on the official companion podcast about Anacreon, Thespis, and Terminus all sharing the same sun. I assumed, of course, that he must have been mistaken when he made that off the cuff remark, because that would just be silly. However, in this episode, we see a young Salvor and her father using the magic telescope (don’t get me started) to view not just one, but four planets all amazingly lined up in a single image. I presume at least two of these are Anacreon and Thespis, as implied by their conversation. The other two may round out the “Four Kingdoms” that were originally part of the first crisis in the novel, or maybe they’re just moons or something. This is so bad, it made me weep a little bit on the inside.
- Both Brother Day and Brother Dawn got out of their comfort zone and mingled with the masses. They also each removed their aura and nanobots, experiencing pain and discomfort for probably the first time.
- When Phara arrives on the scene at Terminus, she sees only a gathering of enemies. When Hari arrives, he sees a hopeful gathering of future allies.
- So not only did they drag the Thespin lancers along in the Invictus’ wake, but they also snagged the Beggar—which was 10,000 km away (as stated when they jumped across in Episode 7). That’s a heck of a wake.
- Brother Dusk says the end of the Robot Wars are recorded in their visual history, placing that event within Cleon I’s reign (presumably, since he has the last robot).
- Azura pauses at her door because she’s unsure which Cleon she’s looking at.
- Azura has her hair slicked back because she’s “evil” Azura now.
- In an interesting parallel, Brother Dawn is telling Dusk to forget logic and try empathy, while Salvor is telling Phara to let logic speak louder than her emotions.
- How does the Null Field expanding to encompass the whole planet make any sense? How are they supposed to resolve a crisis if everyone is either knocked out or forced off world?
- I suppose it was a nice touch that her dad’s advice to “open your fist” becomes key to triggering the Prime Radiant.
Best lines of the episode:
- “And somebody’s emotions got real insistent that the Empire were doing them wrong.”
- “I can’t promise it’ll all go right. All I can promise is I won’t be the part that goes wrong.”
- “I’ll leave you to reflect on your own glorious moment. Take your time. Appreciate the subtleties.”
- “I am also Empire, you know.” “Yes Empire, but we both serve.”
- “But, truthfully, you still smell terrible.”
- “So what now?” “Now is where it ends.”
- “The girl. Yesss. Quite a performance. It was a pleasure to observe it. Tailored though it was to the young, and foolish.”
- “Never presume to understand what I want.”
- “My face? My face is your face.”
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:
- T’Nia Miller (Zephyr Halima) had two interviews, coming off her big crescendo in Episode 8, one with Screen Rant and one with Comic Book Resource. Both are great, and show how much she enjoyed the role and the folks she got to work with.
- Lee Pace (Brother Day) shared some exclusive behind the scenes photos from the Great Spiral filming with Variety. Apparently the food Empire would have been hallucinating about was pizza.
- Pace also gets a little philosophical in his interview with the AV Club.
- Kotaku has an article about the art of Foundation, featuring a collection of over 25 concept art images posted by different folks involved in the production of the show.
- Creative Bloq has a behind the scenes look into the visual effects on the show, interviewing Goyer and several of the VFX artists themselves.
On this week’s official companion podcast (for Episode 8), show runner David S. Goyer was joined by consulting producer and writer Liz Phang (who was primarily responsible for revisions on the Maiden storyline). Here are a few of the more interesting tidbits they revealed:
- The clones are always desperately seeking to individuate themselves.
- The writers wanted to leave us wondering would Cleon have always killed Halima, or was it just his way of lashing out because he didn’t have a vision?
- Either way, he definitely made Demerzel carry out the execution because he resents what she represents. The clones all go through life suspecting that they are “less than.” He hates that she represents something larger than the genetic dynasty, longer enduring.
- Demerzel has a soul. She has thoughts and feelings that are her own, but then she has this set of rules and programming that sit atop, that in some instances will literally take over her body and force her to do things she doesn’t want to do
- Hari has issues with trust and with expressing vulnerability. They will explore this in the future, and it sounds like that will be specifically focused on his relationship with Gaal.
- Cleon I was as fit as the clones. He didn’t have the genetics tweaked to improve upon himself.
- The Invictus burned through the regular human navigators. They would sign up knowing their brains would be fried, but their family’s bank accounts would be fat.
Goyer also did another lengthy podcast interview, this time with the Mindscape podcast. As always, there were a lot of things discussed that are worth passing along:
- Goyer mentioned in passing that the show is set 25,000 years from now. [My understanding was that Foundation is supposed to be set 50,000 years in the future, but I could be wrong.]
- Goyer works with The Science Exchange, which tries to partner filmmakers with scientists, to get more scientific accuracy in these depictions.
- He admitted that in previous comments, when he said the slow ships traveled at something like half the speed of light, that was an error. They actually travel via a series of pre-existing jump gates. There were plans to have a scene to show this, but it got cut.
- He believes that taking liberties with the science is worth it if the show can inspire the next generation of scientists, like Star Trek and Star Wars.
- First thing, it has to be a watchable show. Sometimes the sciencey answer is boring.
- He describes plans for the planet Helicon in Season 2 that flat-out defy real-world physics, but he insisted on it for metaphorical reasons.
- The second season is all written.
- Seldon has shortcomings that are a product of his experience and childhood, and they will explore that in the future. This informs his math and psychohistory.
- The Mule will not be in Season 1, but will also not be in Season 6.
- The Mule will and will not be showing up in a way the audience is expecting.
- He is interested in showing how the Mule became the Mule.
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+