Foundation review: Episode 105, “Upon Awakening”

Episode 1. Lou Llobell in “Foundation,” premiering September 24, 2021 on Apple TV+.
Episode 1. Lou Llobell in “Foundation,” premiering September 24, 2021 on Apple TV+. /

As we reach the mid-season point on Apple TV+’s Foundation, the show is something of a mixed bag, which isn’t unusual for any first season. From the highs of the opening two episodes, Foundation has so far failed to live up to the initial promise, with what’s happening on the desolate world of Terminus not being as interesting as the events on Trantor.

Beyond the interesting dynamics with the Cleon emperors, the original material doesn’t live up to Asimov’s. Yet while moving away from the source is a negative, it’s understandable that Foundation needs to bridge gaps in the original narrative and update the material for modern sensibilities.

As we closed last week’s episode, we returned to Gaal Dornick and the escape pod that Raych Seldon used to send her into deep space following the murder of his adoptive father Hari Seldon. The issue has been unaddressed for two episodes, with the mystery of what happened between Hari and Raych hanging over the series.

Will we get answers? Yes and no.

“Upon Awakening” is very much Gaal’s episode; it flashes back to events before she left her world of Synnax and returns to the theme of religion vs. science as the local university is closed and “heretics” are persecuted. The episode expands on a previous reveal, revealing how the planet was flooded thanks to melting polar ice caps. Climate change has sunk the world into superstition and backwardness. In many ways, it’s a small-scale version of the doom predicted by Hari for the universe, with a dark age following the fall of the galactic empire.

Gaal was uncertain about The Awakening, torn in different directions between faith, science and personal relationships. She is forced to partake in the execution of Professor Arren Sorn, who espouses much the same view as Hari: that only knowledge can solve the problems that Synnax faces. This time, Gaal cannot help her mentor, perhaps adding some depth to her later decision to stand with Hari.

Indeed, Gaal’s situation on Synnax has symmetry with Hari’s on Trantor. Their desire for knowledge leads to danger, and while Gaal is threatened by religious fanaticism, Hari faces down an oppressive political regime. Both would rather keep their people ignorant and in danger than admit that their systems are flawed.

“May The Light Never Dim”

Back in the present, Gaal’s escape pod docks on a mysteriously abandoned ship, and she wakes from stasis. Thirty-four years have passed since she was ejected into space. Still, the trauma of Raych seemingly murdering Hari was, for her, just moments ago. Investigating her surroundings, Gaal finds she was partially blamed for Hari’s murder, and she momentarily sinks into despair.

Watching recordings of Raych’s interrogation, he offers little explanation for why he did what he did. Yet the idea that the “murder” was a pre-orchestrated plan by Hari has always seemed obvious, even if Raych’s life appears to have been the cost. Once again, Gaal’s life comes full circle, as just as with Arren Sorn she was unable to do anything about the execution.

Meanwhile, the situation is tense on Terminus as the colony is surrounded by Anacreon forces. These scenes return partially to Asimov’s original text, with Salvor Hardin beginning what will eventually be her successful saving of the settlement, putting her on a collision course with Dr. Lewis Pirenne and the Board of Trustees. However, the decision to position Salvor as a warden rather than a politician not only robs the storyline of the potency it had in the book but repositions the argument as military vs. science, with Salvor presented as the hero savior and Pirenne the cowardly scientist, a view that in many respects is counter to that offered by Asimov.

That’s not to say that things on Terminus are much improved over previous weeks. The Anacreons are far more than savage warriors; they outsmart both Terminus and an imperial ship to gain access to the colony. While the resulting firefight is action-packed and impressive, it’s hard not to believe that such an overwhelming force should have taken the settlement far easier and quicker. The good guys are seemingly oblivious to a hail of fire and are better at fighting than professional soldiers, something seen all too often in TV and movies.

The Foundation novels were never about heroes and villains, or a black-and-white morality. As Phara holds Salvor prisoner, the consequences of Hari’s predictions become less a matter of right and wrong and more about the gray area, with the Anacreon leader pointing out that they enflamed the empire and added to their suffering. Can it be that Hari’s prediction that the galaxy would fall may, in fact, come true because he made that prediction? As the Anacreons down the imperial ship, it seems all-out war is now at hand, and Hari’s shadow looms large. After all, Hari was described as a murderer in the opening episode.

Although we seemingly get a few answers regarding Hari and Raych’s story, any sense of resolution is stripped away in the closing moments of the episode as Gaal works out the mysterious ship she docked with is headed to Helicon, Hari’s homeworld. As she refuses to go there, a hologram of Hari appears, and the clues that his death was planned begin to add up.

“Upon Awakening” is a return to form for Foundation. The episode is undoubtedly more substantial for Gaal’s presence and the resumption of Hari and Raych’s story. The scenes on Terminus are action-packed and give the show another opportunity for impressive visuals, particularly with the shooting down of the imperial ship. The episode is a much-needed boost for the show going into the second half of the season and is another recommended watch.

Rating: 8.0

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

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