What does the idea of the Foundation mean to David S. Goyer and Josh Friendman’s show? It seems telling that the only real rumination on the unimaginable scope of the galactic empire is couched in the monologue Brother Day recites to Azura when he lays out the truly awful punishment he’s administering for her role in corrupting Brother Dawn. He makes certain to frame it clinically, that this is a requisite measure to keep word of Cleon’s tainted bloodline safe, but it’s obvious from the dark satisfaction Day takes in informing Azura of the completeness of his cruelty that his actions are not security, but revenge.
The idea of killing 1,551 people with the wave of a hand is terrifying, and also one of the few moments in the show that allows us to visualize the sheer scope of the galactic empire. The other came right at the start of the season with the terrorist attack on the Star Bridge. When it comes to tearing down the entire universe, no amount of bodies are enough, but when it comes to putting it back together again, it narrows down to just two.
In one of her many redundant voice-overs, Gaal states that “It takes more power to build than to burn” and that seems to apply to the show itself. We are given glimpses of suffering on an unimaginable scale, but for those working to preserve the galaxy; the scale diminishes to a precious few. It’s unfortunate that the story should contract down to the destiny of two characters as the season draws to a close. Not because their stories are bad, necessarily, but because it’s a narrative that is already being done in countless instances elsewhere and doesn’t play on the singular qualities of a property like Foundation.
This finale hinges on the the visit from Hari Seldon. As first mentioned in episode 5, Hari’s coffin was no mere vessel, but a bio-mechanical Chia Pet that utilized Hari’s own body to build the very Vault that’s been idling on the surface of Terminus since the Encyclopedists arrival. The brief scene of Hari’s corpse being subsumed by the expanding tendrils of his own coffin was as trippy as anything the show has done. The Vault is less a collection of galactic knowledge and culture than the server running Hari’s advance AI; which he built and put into place so at the right time he could emerge dramatically and inform everyone he lied to them.
As it is, the citizens of Terminus are not there as historians, but to be forged by the inhospitable climate into hardened survivors who can take back the galaxy. Also, with no proof to back up his assertion, Hari immediately dispels the narrative around the crime that caused the initial blood feud between the Anacreons and the Thespins hundreds of years ago. He does this in hopes of calming the hatred between the two peoples so they will choose to form a coalition. Despite having an unknown number of their own very recently murdered by the Anacreons, the Terminans are also down with joining the two rogue planets. Ever a pragmatic people.
The first season is now complete, and Foundation has decided it’s absolutely not going to explore the god it made out of Hari Seldon. He’s a semi-interventionist deity who descends out of his floating sky palace to offer a few cryptic words of encouragement before disappearing again. He can even flat out change the directive of his plan to his followers and they just accept it and move forward. This series has never leaned overly hard into themes or subtext, but what there has been has dropped away quietly through the season, leaving little in its stead.
For everything ghost Hari does know, he has no idea who Salvor is, or why she receives psychic images of Gaal. We learn that due to the Encyclopedists’ policy that everyone drop their eggs into a communal bucket and birth whoever they pluck out like a reproductive key party, Salvor is actually sort of Gaal’s daughter. The psychic reverberations Salvor experienced throughout the season were not a result of a conduit to Hari, but her inheriting the same psychic ability as her mother (one of them). This knowledge makes Salvor antsy and she decides in the middle of the night she’s going to skip out on her inauguration as mayor of Terminus and bounce off the planet.
Hugo intercepts her just as she hops aboard the ship and gives her a character-defining talk about her fierce independence and restless spirit so worn out, he may as well been quoting Pee-Wee Herman to her. It’s a tired speech that also happens to contradict the tired speech Salvor gave in the previous episode about her new found dedication to the plan. Perhaps it’s due to a lack of imagination on my part, but it only feels like plot maneuvering that would compel her to give up her life and her family to hunt down a person she never met who is floating unknown in the infinite ether of the cosmos.
As is frequently the case, the episode’s best stuff all came from Empire. Brother Day’s decision to torture Azura wasn’t just because she had the audacity to attack his lineage, it’s because she took something from him, a nurturing relationship. Day had begun to view his younger counterpart as more of a son, and the knowledge that his genetic purity is compromised has destroyed that.
Dusk, being the old bastard that he is, remains incensed by the whole ordeal and wants Dawn eradicated immediately. When Dawn arrives to learn his fate, the two brothers are in the clothing of their office. This is an official Imperial matter, not a disagreement among siblings. Unexpectedly, Day not only balks at killing Dawn, but cites Hari’s prediction in doing so. He argues that there is merit to an unchanging bloodline curdling into atrophy, and it may very well strengthen the Empire to allow for change. Apparently, Day’s time in the Maiden’s Womb affected him more than he lets on.
This very concept infuriates Dusk so much, he starts landing blows on Day. While the two literally fight it out, a frightened Dawn takes solace in Demerzel’s arms where, with no warning or hesitation, she snaps the young man’s neck. She is loyal to the Empire and Cleon’s bloodline, and being a millennia-old robot, this allows for a longer view than it may otherwise. Dawn remains just one link in an unbroken chain she’s served for centuries. This does lead to the absolute most bitching scene in the episode, though. When alone in her chambers, Demerzel succumbs to a very un-robotic emotion and pulls the skin away from her mechanical skull while screaming to the sky.
What’s more, it was all for nothing. Day learns that it was Cleon I whose genetic code that was tampered with, and it occurred long enough ago that Day himself is likely an impure clone. The repercussions of this fact remain to be fully understood, but it does result in Day smashing the vacuum-sealed sarcophagus his genetic forebear is sealed in.
Now we jump 138 years into the future where Gaal awakens from goo sleep orbiting her childhood home. Whatever reason she chose to come here is irrelevant as she discovers whatever ecological disaster that threatened her village has consumed it almost entirely. She spots a beacon under the ocean and investigates. She discovers Salvor’s ship—long since turned into an ocean habitat—and in the center, Salvor herself. On the surface, kind of mother and kind of daughter meet for the first time.
The whole season has shuffled Gaal around from one place to another in order to ultimately position her with Salvor. As such, she never managed to come into her own as a character and I can’t say I’m anxious with curiosity for what awaits her next. She now has ownership of Hari’s psychohistory model, but to what end? For me, everything I’m curious about what the show may approach with its second season is the entire galaxy except those two, though I’m very happy to be proven wrong.
This has been a fairly fun season of television with great production values and some clever ideas sneaking in at the periphery. My biggest hope for what comes next is the show’s ambitions grow to accommodate the setting. Not in term of set pieces, or spectacle. But simply in grappling with how very large the galaxy is, and what that means for the countless people within it.
- Thanks for watching season one of Foundation with me. What are your hopes for the second season?
- As it concerns the Anacreon/Thespin/Terminan consortium, are the small groups of armed soldiers who landed on the planet in enough of a position to forge treaties and alliances with other parties? I know a lot of the planet was wiped out in Empire’s revenge, but I assume there’s still a governing body that’s not standing in the dirt and pointing rifles at a bunch of ragged settlers.
- I like how the bridge of the Invictus shifts from a cool, dead blue to a warm copper when Hugo activates the bridge.
- The more I think about it, the more I can’t get over the design for the life pod Gaal was suspended in. All I can think looking at it is how the big, generous view portal on the front has to let in a whole lot of radiation over a 138 years.
- The show made a point to linger on giant alien fauna in a way it hasn’t this season. Day points out some four-eyed ungulate in the palace gardens, on Terminus, we see one of the giant predators lurking on the outskirts, and Gaal is bothered by some manatee/manta ray hybrid. It’s neat and all, I very much enjoy the Star Wars-esque alien establishing shot, but I wonder why they all showed up this episode when the previous were mostly absent of any major wildlife?
- I do wonder how Gaal and Salvor are getting off that planet. Hopefully that submerged ship is salvageable.