Foundation review: Episode 104, “Barbarians at the Gate”

Previously on Foundation, our colonists arrived on the inhospitable world of Terminus to set up The Foundation, believed by genius mathematician Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) to be the only way to lessen the effects of the darks ages to come, a period following the impending fall of the galactic empire. Predicted through “psychohistory,” the idea of this fall has been derided by the three cloned emperors who rule the galaxy. As Seldon’s legacy on Terminus looks to be under threat, the historic events that began with the attack on the Star Bridge continue to be felt…

The show has now moved into adapting the second part of Foundation, “The Encyclopedists.” The transition between movements has been rocking in places, with the show cutting much of the politics and depiction of Terminus as a scientific community to instead focus on the harsh life of the colony. In many respects, life on Trantor and the storylines surrounding Brothers Dawn, Day, and Dusk have been more intriguing, despite them not being in the original book.

Opening on that planet, Brother Dawn (Cassian Bilton) is looking to test the theories Hari Seldon espoused in the most extreme way possible by jumping from the imperial palace. While he was alive, Seldon told the Cleons that only movements of groups can be predicted, with individual fate being a mystery. He can answer questions about causes, political trends, ideas, but not what will happen to one person, whether that is Brother Dawn or the young gardener who sees him jump and survive.

Brother Dawn is not like the other clones, nor any that came before; as we soon see, his words and actions are not in sync with his older counterparts. Of course, he is young, but Brother Darkness’ words last week — “something’s wrong” — echo in the memory. It’s difficult to imagine any of the other Cleons willing to test out what Hari had to say, even Brother Dusk. And when Dawn becomes infatuated with the gardener that he initially seemed to intend harm, it seems out of place for the Cleons, as we’ve never seen any of them have a personal relationship with anyone outside of the one with Demerzel.

The interesting religious question of whether a clone can have a soul is raised as a schism erupts over the death of Proxima Opal, a figure clearly modeled after the Pope. The subsequent conclave threatens to replace Proxima with Halima, who doesn’t adhere to existing doctrine. Halima’s assertion that the Cleon clones are without a soul is an indirect allegation that they are less than their subjects, which threatens their leadership.

Meanwhile, on Terminus, we return to our cliffhanger from last week, where Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey) is being held at arrow point by a group of Anacreons claiming to be searching for salvage. However, few salvage teams are so well-armed. Taken hostage, Salvor is forced to take the group to The Vault. The young boy’s ghost again appears to her, showing that he does indeed exist and has some profound connection to Salvor.

As he interrogates their leader Phara (Kubbra Sait), Salvor reveals the true horror of Brother Day’s attack on Anacreon, which resulted in 80% of the planet’s population dying in a year. As Salvor can predict coin tosses and feel inside Phara’s thoughts, Salvor learns that she seems to possess some level of mentalic powers, a concept that will be important in the series’ future.

Salvor soon realizes that Phara is far more important than she’d been letting on, and that Dr. Lewis Pirenne, Chairman of the board of trustees, fears all-out war with Anacreon. Surrounded on all sides, Terminus prepares for battle as the enemy digs in to establish a camp. Yet Phara seemingly doesn’t want war, merely the ship’s remains that brought the colonists to the planet. Her world was shattered, and she is now desperate.

Lewis, a scientist, is stereotypically meek compared to the more military-minded Salvor. Here we get a significant change from the original books, where Salvor was a politician, not a warden. Salvor is no hero in Asimov’s work; in the books Salvor thinks in political terms. It’s difficult to see how this show’s Salvor Hardin will carry out the actions that the original does.

“The fate of one individual will always remain a mystery.”

Faced with the religious denunciation and events on the outer reach, Brother Day (Lee Pace) has come to realize that Hari was right all along. Meanwhile, Brother Dusk, who was Day at the beginning of the series and was the man who set events in motion, is still defiant in his belief that Hari was a charlatan. Brother Day moves against him, confining his elder “brother” to Trantor.

The theme of fate vs. choice runs throughout the episode as Hari’s predictions begin to be realized. The same theme echoes across the stories involving Brother Dawn and the Cleons and with Salvor. What might her role in Hari’s plan be?

The show emphasizes that the destiny of a single individual is unimportant and unpredictable compared to the grand movements of crowds; whether Salvor exists as part of the plan or in defiance of it, we don’t know. Yet the appearance of the “ghost” boy wielding a knife at the old imperial library, possibly Raych, suggests that The Vault, Hari Seldon and Salvor are all indeed linked.

Given the themes, Barbarians at the Gate closes with the welcome return of Gaal Dornick and the promise that perhaps next week we might get some answers as to what really happened with Raych and just what the secret of The Vault might be.

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