Photo: Apple TV
The Foundation TV show is an interesting adaptation, as it fundamentally changes the tone and most of the story of the original books by Isaac Asimov. And yet, Asimov himself was no stranger to retconning and changing his world, from the change from the first couple of short stories to proper novels to retroactively adding robots to the Foundation world well after the books hit shelves. This is to say, the smartest thing David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman have done with their take on Foundation was to tell a new story within the parameters and themes of the source material. As this season makes clear, this is not just sci-fi fall of the Roman Empire, but also part pulp sci-fi, like the stories that inspired Asimov, as well as part space opera, like the stories that Asimov’s work later inspired.
Arguably the biggest of these is the idea of the Cleonic Genetic Dynasty, an endless empire whose emperor doesn’t need heirs but simply clones himself. While clones and genetic engineering aren’t really a thing in the books, it fits right in and becomes the best part of the TV show — mostly thanks to the fantastic performances by Lee Pace, Terrence Mann, and Cassian Bilton and how they sell the idea of the Cleon holy trinity. After last season, we discovered that the Cleons were genetically sabotaged so that they would no longer be perfectly identical; this week, we find out that the first Cleon is keeping secrets from his own clones.
This discovery is brought upon by Dusk after getting curious about Empire’s ability to alter other people’s memories and wanting to do it himself to wipe away regret, prompted by a conversation with Rue while they watched their secret sex tape that she forgot about (seriously). The problem is that this power is now only given to Day, who changed the clearance after his assassination attempt because he stopped trusting himself.
Foundation has, from its beginning, shown some conflict between the Cleons brought upon by their different ideology based on their various levels of experience, but this seems different. Dawn and Dusk are legitimately concerned about their other self, and as Dusk tells it, Day has a reason to resent his older clone, as his reign was filled with conflicts he left Demerzel to resolve rather than do things himself — much to Day’s anger. This episode makes it clear that Day’s upcoming marriage and how it will take Dusk and Dawn’s position as Emperors away should be looked at as more of a coup than anything else. It is telling that when Dawn suggests they may be in danger, Dusk points to a painting of a pre-Cleonic emperor and talks about betrayal.
But is he talking about Day, or there’s something bigger at play, going back to the very first Cleon? We don’t know much about him, but when Dusk and Dawn talk to an interface of his memory, he immediately ignores their concerns about Day and offers some rather cryptic advice that suggests he’s hiding something. Worse yet, when Dusk checks the memory archives, he realizes that Cleon I had a much larger range of memories than his clones. What is the point of having clones of yourself if you’re hiding things from them? Unless, as Rue suggested, Cleon I did have some big regrets he wanted to hide, even from himself. Having the different clones is possibly the best big sci-fi idea of Foundation, as it offers a chance to have Succession–type family drama while continuously reminding audiences that the Cleons are technically still just the same guy, so they, in theory, do care much more about each other than if they were simply siblings. As Dusk, during a rare emotional moment, tells Dawn, their losing their throne wouldn’t be that bad because Dawn would get what the others always wanted — a life.
As for Day, he seems to be doing a great job at hiding how concerned he might be about the danger he’s in. He wears his personal shield aura in his bedroom following his assassination attempt, then acts like nothing is happening. Lee Pace continues to be fantastic as a petulant child with the power of a god, but he also has his match in Sareth, who spends the episode looking for evidence that Day killed her family — which we learn he totally did, and Demerzel is hiding of course — and even accuses Day of being a powerless wimp who can’t keep himself safe, let alone his future wife. While Sareth finds no evidence, she does find a video recording that shows Demerzel with half a head, revealing she is a robot.
Continuing with the main theme of the value of individuals, we get a flashback of Raysh hesitating to kill Hari back in season one. “An entire galaxy pivoting around the actions of an individual, you,” Seldon tells him to persuade him, and despite his hesitations, Raysh acts like a good and devoted fanatic and does the deed. Though Seldon still loves to tell people that individuals don’t matter, this episode once again shows that Seldon did rely heavily on individual people acting exactly as he wanted them to, and despite Gaal’s narration last episode saying that love doesn’t matter on a big scale, it is Raysh’s feelings for Gaal that caused him to get caught and executed for killing Hari, which led to Gaal not being at the right place at the right time to create the Second Foundation. Hari Seldon may blame Gaal for messing with his plans, but in his arrogance and his secrecy, he ignored the power of individuals to disobey orders, and now they’re trapped in Ignus with a crashed ship.
Indeed, after the team lands on Ignus, Salvor is chased by what she thinks is her boyfriend, Hugo Crast, but is actually a Mentallic (essentially a psychic), creating a vision in the group’s head. Turns out, the planet is only inhabited by a village of powerful Mentallics led by a woman who calls herself a god (the always delightful Rachel House). Though she offers sanctuary to Seldon and the others, she vows to stop the Second Foundation in private.
We’re at the midway point of the season, and so far, Foundation is better and more focused than ever. It is simultaneously more faithful to the overall story of the books while diverging in exciting ways that offer the kind of big sci-fi thrills and ideas we haven’t seen on TV in many years.
• Outside of Foundation, Asimov’s robot stories are, without a doubt, his biggest legacy, so it is fascinating to see Demerzel finally take a bigger role, even if we still have no idea what she is doing.
• So, what exactly is the Prime Radiant? In the books, it is essentially a recorder from which a dead Seldon communicates words of wisdom after each crisis, but here? It seems to be alive, but also a computer, but also an endless void?
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