There’s no reason why this mysterious ghost ship wouldn’t allow Gaal to access all of the information she requested. No reason to keep everything a mystery that she must use her amazing math powers to deduce from the information she can access. If it was a matter of security and Raych didn’t want just any old space junkers who might come along to be able to hijack the ship, it would have been a simple matter to restrict access to Gaal.
Perhaps it’s a mental test devised to keep Gaal sharp after floating through space for 35 years in a tube of goo. But the most likely answer is just that the scene demanded a mystery. It’s a performative bit of intelligence designed to show a character solving a problem with her brain instead of her fists, and to create a more dynamic tableau for the viewer than a computer-voiced exposition dump. Which is all fine. It was indeed more interesting to watch Gaal unfurl the mystery of her destination through the applied use of astrophysics.
But it also explicitly establishes something that the show has feinted at for most of this season. Intelligence is just window dressing. The application of ideas provides a different form of catharsis than the explosions, but both serve the same purpose—entertainment. That reads like an accusation, and I promise, it’s not. Well, not entirely. I have no desire to treat the idea of fun as a contemptuous, lowbrow pursuit, lest I embody one of my favorite Onion headlines. But it is a legitimate reason for some viewers to disengage from the series. It’s pure space adventure and perfectly happy to shove heady, contemplative discourse into the locker.
Knowing that, there are things “Upon Awakening” does well and things it doesn’t. The more engaging sections are Gaal’s silly pretending to be smart spaceship mystery and the ongoing crisis on Terminus. Less successful is the extended backstory given to Gaal’s time on her home world, which doesn’t tell us anything that wasn’t easily deduced from our introduction to her character in the first episode. Worse, it takes that initial delicate sketch of a young woman at odds with her people and makes it significantly dumber.
We learn that Gaal wasn’t just from a religious people, but was herself an elevated member of the church known as an acolyte. We learn that her people weren’t just suspicious of science, but have shuttered down all places of learning and outlawed all books. And the Book of Folding—that intricate three-dimensional text containing the elaborate mathematical poem that Gaal solved in order to win the contest that sent her to Trantor—was the first and only book she ever read. Everything is made explicit to the point of being cartoonish.
What was it about this one encounter that caused a true believer to doubt everything she was born to believe? When Gaal dove underwater to retrieve the book from the dead man’s ankles, she swam past numerous other victims of her church to find him. It was a chilling detail, but if he was just one of many, what made his sin ignite Gaal’s curiosity? The speech he gave in the abandoned university about knowledge and progress was a miniature version of Hari Seldon’s own monologue about psychohistory, and reiterated the show’s science vs. faith stance.
Apparently that was enough to immediately tear Gaal away from everything she was raised to believe. She was allowed to relinquish her stones and leave the church. Why was that an option only available to her and not the man she sentenced to death? Like the emotional tear between Raych and Hari in the second episode, Gaal’s origin story occurred over such an abbreviated timeline that it felt like inauthentic narrative device instead of a thoughtful exploration of one person’s growth. It diminished her story and the show would have been better not including this piece at all.
Over on Terminus, things aren’t looking so great for our pals. While Salvor may have successfully captured Phara, the town is still surrounded by the Anacreons and their giant cannon. To every resident of Terminus’ surprise, an Imperial ship arrives in orbit to save the outpost. But what makes one a Grand Huntress, if not cunning in capturing one’s prey? Phara is led into the Terminus central tower just as she hoped, in order to yank out an EMP bomb from her (hopefully prosthetic?) eyeball, causing a detonation that lays out the town’s protective shield.
The Anacreons immediately attack the town. Back inside, Salvor has a delightful stand-off with Phara, where she shrugs off the huntress holding her mother hostage, deadpanning that it means nothing and she’s just getting in the way of negotiations. It was the finest performance Leah Harvey has delivered yet. This is followed up by a delightful hallway brawl that managed to pack the short distance the two fighters traversed with a borderline comical array of improvised weapons, even making space for a callback to that most humble of equipment, the sundial.
With Phara victorious, she admits that she has no greater reason for coming to Terminus than revenge. She blames the chaos that emerged in the wake of Hari Seldon’s proclamation as the catalyst that led to her planet’s bombing and now wants to destroy his project in return. Her final act of triumph is blowing the imperial warship out of the sky, where it explodes in spectacular fashion against Terminus soil.
The non-mystery map portion of Gaal’s space flight helps expand on what we know of Raych’s decision to kill Hari. It’s made explicit that his decision was part of a predetermined plan, one that included his own execution for murder. Before being blown out the airlock, he faces the camera and addresses a message to Gaal, assuring her she can solve the mystery that didn’t actually need to be a mystery. Gaal now knows she’s headed to Hari’s home world, where she’s certain only punishment awaits her for her supposed part in his death. These are two good cliffhangers to end the episode on, and I have to admit, despite my reservations, I’m fully engaged into seeing how these kids get out of their respective messes.
- Gaal listens to the official report of Hari’s death given by the dude with the distractedly limp, wavy hair. He mentions that Hari was launched into space in a casket of his own design, which I’m sure is the last time that fun fact will come up.
- This is the first episode without The Empire. Man, I hope those guys are okay!
- The flashback was dumb, but tying books to the rocks that drown you is good poetic punishment.
- Drowning heretics in the water brought on by the environmental devastation of the planet, which was brought on and now ignored by the faithful is some real subtle allegory.