There is a narrative device that occurs frequently in entertainment that I have never seen attached to a name. It’s the convention where you feel your sympathies aligned with an objectively terrible person because all of a sudden, they’re cornered by a newer, more aggressive opponent.
For lack of a more succinct descriptor, I call it the Homer vs. Patty and Selma Principle. As a rule, on The Simpsons, Homer is always wrong (before his third act change of heart, at least). Should Patty and Selma be around to witness his buffoonery, they call him out on it, but in such a cruel and cutting way, that the viewer’s sympathies shift back to Homer, despite him behaving so selfishly.
It creates a weird dissonance in the viewer, and one I experienced in full effect watching Brother Day verbally spar with Zephyr Halima. Day is a jerk; a narcissistic, iron-fisted ruler incapable of envisioning the galaxy thriving if he isn’t at the center. But somehow, I found myself annoyed with Halima as she condescendingly informed “Cleon” that he has no soul. And she’s right! Not necessarily about him having a soul, but that his myopic vision and self-preservation above all things will certainly hasten the destruction of the galactic empire.
But whether it’s sincere or a very skillful deception, Halima’s brand of true-believer zealotry doesn’t provide the galaxy a better alternative. Regardless, the speech she gave in the previous episode has cemented her place as the front-runner to head the Luminarians, and for now, she’s not budging on any of Day’s bargaining. Day recalls Hari’s promise that his equation showed a major religious defection, and he’s willing to subject himself to a brutal ritual pilgrimage in order to quell it. Though, this is as much to salve his ego as anything.
“Mysteries And Martyrs” makes good on its title by ensuring one or both are featured in every storyline. Salvor and the Anacreons arrive at the Invictus. It appears Phara and her crew had already discovered the 700-year-old “crown jewel of the Galactic Fleet,” but the ancient ship’s defenses are still functioning and have already destroyed two Anacreon corvettes. The cannons protecting the ship from assault are unable to lock onto smaller targets, however, so everyone has to suit up and individually propel onto the ship’s surface.
It’s a beautiful scene, with the diffuse light of a nearby sun filtering through the asteroid field in which the ship is resting, but it was not very dynamic set piece. Salvor just kind of drifts along through space before a quick edit deposits her on the Invictus’ hull in a superhero crouch. Everyone else then just gently lines up behind her. Everyone but Hugo, that is. Salvor’s lover makes the descent one degree off and as such goes idly catapulting off into space. It was an onscreen “death” with no build-up and barely any execution that it seems obvious his disappearance has more to do with the old mining communication systems he and Salvor had noticed earlier in the episode than an offhand and ignoble end for a major character.
The interior of the Invictus makes good on everything you want from your ghost ship. It has hallways jam-packed with floating desiccated corpses and ice-crusted debris piling up in the corners as though it were an abandoned farmhouse. The otherwise stillness of the ship is disturbed by semi-regular interval of pulsating lights. One of Terminus’ tech experts brought aboard to repair the ship deduces it’s a signal indicating when the ship will make another interstellar jump.
Some accident aboard the ship nearly a thousand years ago caused the jump drive to malfunction, causing it to pop across the galaxy at regular intervals as the stranded crew starved to death. Now, Salvor’s people and their captors have four hours to fix the drive before the next jump occurs, possibly sending them into the heart of a sun, or just so far away, they too will never be heard from again.
While this is not ideal, neither is Phara’s plan to get the ship working so they can kamikaze the Invictus straight into the surface of Trantor. She and the Anacreons have no intent on surviving this scheme; they just want to take the center of the galactic empire with them. Learning this forces Saldor to wrangle the aged, non-combatants in her group to fight back against their captors. They all duke it out above the ship’s sludgy-looking cooling tanks, but they are quickly subdued. The catwalks everyone fought on were distressingly closed to the bubbling, toxic liquid that’s been fermenting for over five hundred years, and the setting alone made for a tense fight scene. Let’s hope Hugo is out there finding help and not just pulverized against the face of an asteroid.
Not content to merely provide a phantom ship, this episode also gives us digital ghosts. Hari lives again, in a manner, as an incredibly sophisticated digital package of Hari’s memories and experiences that’s also able to react with surprise to events he didn’t know about, and deduce the answers to ones he suspected. He can also change his clothes. As a piece of speculative technology, it’s very broad and not particularly convincing in the world the show has presented so far. As a means to give us more Jared Harris, it was perfectly lovely.
Hari confesses to Gaal that Raych murdered him because he was afflicted with a neurological disorder that causes rapid, severe mental degradation. This device of someone learning of their own mortality and therefore becoming more willing to sacrifice their life in a manner of their own choosing feels a little too pat here, but Hari’s continued explanation that him going senile would irreparably damage people’s willingness to continue following the Seldon plan makes some sense.
He understands how tenuous his vision is, and is unwilling to contribute to its harm. The whole conversation Hari has with Gaal about the power of myth to drive people forward is maddening because of the show’s ongoing insistence to dodge the religious nature of Hari’s plan. When Gaal mentions to Hari that the Foundation isn’t a religion and he isn’t a god, Hari weakly responds that gods are impervious to knives. It’s a weak response because the thing about gods is they die all the time. It’s rebirth that make them so special, and we are witnessing Hari’s rebirth. This tension is the fulcrum the whole show balances on and they act like they don’t know it.
Hari and Gaal go back and forth over the events of the night of Hari’s death to try and figure out how Hari’s plan went so wrong. He specifically planned everything to take place while Gaal was doing her nightly swimming laps. The big reveal for the episode is that Gaal knew to come to Hari’s chamber because she’s gifted with some psychic ability. Hari may have suspected this, but wasn’t confident enough to factor the possibility into his plan. How Gaal’s abilities and her place 34 years into a future she wasn’t meant to see is going to be the next great mystery.
- I didn’t touch on Brother Dawn’s story. He deepened his relationship with Jacenta, and the two even shared a brief, chaste, flora-infused love scene. We learn that, yes indeed, he is a genetic anomaly and the Empire apparently even keeps spare clones behind tasteful, genital-blocking art deco walls in case one of them is defective. It’s odd to think there are apparently layers of clones like shark’s teeth. It undermines the very ritualistic nature of heredity we’ve witnessed with previous incarnations of the brothers. But I guess it is more practical.
- Also, apparently bra clasps have not changed in 12,000 years?
- It was neat to see a bit more of the scar, and to see a regular person like Jacenta navigating her life there. Her suggestion that Dawn could just drain his nanobots, change his face, and just lose himself in a new life seems absurdly naïve, though.
- Day is furious at Demerzel’s heresy by kneeling to Zephyr Halima. Demerzel counters that if her action was truly in opposition to The Empire, she would not physically be capable of bending her knees. It’s a fun little puzzle about the nature of faith and the hard interpretation of rules, and the kind of snippet I wish the show explored more deeply.
- Day also had a good point about Demerzel not exactly being in a good position to judge anyone else’s soul either.