One can only watch a show built around the concept of the inevitable trajectory of pattern and behavior for so long before it rubs off on you and you start making predictions of your own. Four episodes in, it feels as though the equation for Foundation is set; an okay show that has some neat ideas and great production design but a lot of unfulfilled potential. Six episodes remain in this season, so there’s still plenty of time for the show to grow into something great, but after an exceptional first episode, the show seemed to slowly exhale and settle into its current deflated ambitions.
As I’ve already said, I’ve not read the books, so that likely makes me more flexible in my feelings for how the show approached the source material. Given the books were more or less a collection of reflective essays spanning centuries, there’s ample, fertile space to fill in the broad strokes with compelling stories, and flexibility in how they’re handled. But there’s a decided lack of originality to the execution of the show, and that’s disappointing. It feels like it could be one of any interchangeable high-concept sci-fi shows that have all bobbed along the surface of basic cable from the last 15 years.
Just as in the last episode, the best parts all belong to The Empire. Lee Pace does an impressive job playing slight variations on the same character. While each generation of the emperor may be identical genetic stock raised in identical surroundings, the external circumstances—and perhaps more importantly—the relationships they form with their brothers shade each iteration differently. The clone who was a boy when Day ordered the retaliation against the terrorist attack is now the primary. He feels that retaliation was one of many of Dusk’s decisions causing the empire to slip into chaos, and he resents him for it. This Day is more erratic and passionate than his predecessor, curious and even guilty that he allowed his own youthful fears to be manipulated into genocide. Of course, he is still the egomaniacal lord of the galaxy and is utterly unconcerned when his tantrum at a group of royal mathematicians is so severe he causes the lead statistician to suffer a fatal heart attack.
In contrast to Day, is Brother Dawn (Cassian Bilton), a delicate and uncertain boy who seems at all times out of step with his brothers. When we first see him he throws himself out the windows of his chamber, only to be saved by an invisible shield that surrounds his body. We don’t know how many times he may have attempted this before. This act is only witnessed by a court gardener, who is understandably fearful for her life, just absolutely cheeses it off somewhere out of sight. Later he seeks her out to confront her about what she saw. Unprompted, the gardener offers Brother Dawn wolf’s breath, which she claims has analgesic properties. While his suicide attempt initially appeared brought on by either severe ennui or possibly morbid curiosity about the limits of the protections placed upon him, this offer suggests there is something wrong with Dawn’s health. Whatever it is goes uncommented on by the rest of the court, but must be common enough knowledge that the staff is aware.
On Terminus, Salvor has to contend with the invading Anacreons. She’s forced to let the leader through the perimeter shield, but is able to maneuver their transport close enough to the Vault to knock her captor unconscious from the expanding nul-field effect. It’s a neat application of the field, and understandable that the Anacreon would be so baffled by the giant floating obelisk that she wouldn’t be more attentive to the misdirection. Now held prisoner in the settlements central tower, the leader, Phara (Kubbra Sait) insists her people are just scavengers, hunting the system for tech. However, her ownership of a ceremonial bow informs the settlers that she’s actually Grand Huntress, a position of great power and responsibility. She still claims that she’s come for the settlers unused slow drive so that she can help her people leave their irradiated and near-inhospitable planet. But that still doesn’t jibe with Salvor. Meanwhile, the rest of the Anacreons have surrounded the settlement and have set up a big ol’ cannon to blow some stuff up.
In the midst of all this, Salvor experiences another hallucination so strong it transports her to the Imperial library. Here again she confronts the boy who’s been flickering at the periphery of her vision. He brandishes his signature knife and we understand we’re seeing young Raych. She doesn’t know who he is, but the significance of the location is not lost on her. The Vault has some relationship to Hari Seldon, though the relationship between the Vault and her remains unclear. Facing uncertainty that this connection was not factored into The Plan, Saldor agonizes that she may be the one to disrupt the entire model. Instead, she is reassured that she just might be the one to save it.
This feels very much at odds with the whole tenor of the show, and ostensibly the book it’s based on. A more fitting model for the show would be something closer to Star Trek, with an emphasis on a group of people working together to solve problems. Instead the narrative places a lot of weight onto chosen characters like Salvor to act as fulcrums against which all other events balance. Granted, this is not a novel storytelling approach, but it feels like a contradiction to invite the viewer along on a hero’s journey for the ones destined to preserve the accuracy of a galactic-scale algebra problem that repeatedly underlines it does not and cannot factor for the individual. Finding the tension between the micro and the macro, delving into how individual actions accrue toward the galaxy-tipping actions of the whole is a worthwhile aspect for the show to engage with. The first episode demonstrated this very well—on a visual level, at least—by taking time to linger on the people harmed in the various bombings and atrocities. As it continues, though, the show has just begun to feel small.
- And there at the very end of the episode, we meet back up with Gaal. But who is piloting this mysterious ship coming to intercept her?
- Saldor’s monologue to Phara about the suffering experienced by the Anacreons after the bombing was both affecting and too-long. For the most part I’ve enjoyed Leah Harvey as Saldor, but this one seemed a bit more than she could wrangle.
- The Empire’s anti-kinetic energy field was very evocative of Dune’s shields. Maybe I’m just excited for Dune. The circular, golden ratio pattern it made as the consort pushed her finger through was very cool looking, though.
- Also speaking of Dune, what was the significance of Hugo’s eyes briefly flashing blue as he interrogated Phara? Ah heck. It was probably nothing.
- I enjoyed the aside at the beginning showing the funeral for the religious figure and the consequence the power struggle over her replacement has for The Empire. It was evocative, impressionistic, and the conversation about it amongst the brothers afterward performed as both good character development and world building. It was a good encapsulation of the show at its best.
- Looks like Brother Day is off to Terminus!
- Also, Lee Pace raising his hands above his head and exclaiming “A mausoleum of calculus” was quality ham.