Foundation review: Episode 108, “The Missing Piece”

Last week’s episode of Foundation began the build toward the season finale, with threads starting to combine to create the circumstances envisioned by Hari Seldon that cause the empire’s downfall. From the Anacreons efforts to relaunch the deadly Invictus to Zephyr Halima threatening the empire on religious grounds, the Cleon dynasty has surely never faced a more significant challenge. Yet the biggest threat of all may come from within, with Brother Dawn revealing just how different he is from his clone brothers.

“The Missing Piece” doesn’t address any of these issues in its opening moments, instead flashing back to Anacreon in its prime. Foundation has so far treated the Anacreons as somewhat one-dimensional villains who occasionally feel like the Dothraki in space. While their anger at the injustice done to them by Brother Day when he destroyed their world provides motivation for their atrocities, it’s been painted in broad strokes.

Finally, here we get a more nuance in the form of a story told through the eyes of a young Phara and her brother, who is obliterated by the empire’s bombs. The question of whether terror is a justified response to terror is left unanswered, but it’s good that Foundation is making this conflict far more morally gray than it appeared in previous episodes.

The old rule that unless you actually see somebody die on screen they’re not dead rears its head as Hugo is miraculously seen to have survived his drift through space, landing on a nearby asteroid. While the character’s survival is welcome, it cuts the legs out from under the idea that space is dangerous and somebody can die at any time. It’s no Glenn under the dumpster, but it does feel a little like the show has cheated.

On the Invictus

Back in the present, the countdown is still running against Salvor Hardin and the rest of Phara’s hostages. Almost immediately, we grapple with one of the major issues in the storyline: Terminus’ presentation is entirely without fault. The Anacreon threat to wipe out the colony can never receive any sympathy when Terminus is morally pure, thus blunting the show’s attempts to make the Anacreon cause less clear cut. Likewise, despite her threats, Phara is becoming ever more likable, with her skillful takedown of a sentry gun and ready quip afterward possibly being the  most badass moment of the series so far.

Finally making her move, Salvor and Lewis Pirenne are the last ones alive on the bridge; an ominous warning written in blood suggests whatever happened to the Invictus came from outside. Salvor decides to sacrifice herself to save everyone on Trantor, plugging herself into the ship and intending to take it to Terminus, where the people are planning an evacuation. As always with the Terminus sections of the show, we get plenty of action here, with Phara interrupting plans as Hugo’s reinforcements arrive. The first major space battle of the show is brief but well done, as is the ship’s jump. Both Phara and Salvor’s plans fail.

On The Raven

Meanwhile, on The Raven, Gaal Dornick and the resurrected Hari Seldon are headed to Hari’s homeworld of Helicon and need to talk about Gaal’s mentalic abilities. The young mathematician reveals she’s always had a sense of events to come, which adds a new aspect to her character that isn’t too similar to Salvor’s powers. While we seemingly got some answers from Hari last week, there is more to his plan. The Raven transporting him and his adopted son Raych to Helicon was vital, as it was part of a design to set up a second Foundation which will become central to the plot of future episodes and seasons.

The calculating Hari always intended the second Foundation to be secret, essentially allowing Terminus to be a decoy and sacrificial lamb. The development of Seldon from the man we were introduced to at the beginning of the show is a major positive for the series. The new Hari is far more dangerous, willing to manipulate people and events alike, both one-to-one and at the galaxy-wide level.

The scene of Hari allowing Gaal to leave the ship is masterfully done; we see the fire burning behind Hari while Gaal steps into the icy blue of the escape pod chamber, ready to undertake another 138-year journey and leave everything behind. We’re still not sure if Hari is the hero or the villain of the piece.

At The Maiden

Brother Day is about to follow through on his arrogant declaration that he’ll undergo the arduous and holy trial of walking the spiral in an attempt to upstage Zephyr Halima, who he has so far failed to control. While the Cleons may be seen as the primary antagonists of the series, they are among the show’s most well-rounded characters despite not appearing in Asimov’s original novels, and while their inclusion might be controversial amongst fans, it allows Foundation to maintain some continuity of character between seasons, which will presumably involve big time jumps.

From being the emperor, Day is now just another pilgrim. He makes a new friend on his journey, receives his assistance, and when the time comes, offers it back. It seems in this moment that perhaps the trial has indeed taught Day some humility, as he seems genuinely moved at the old man’s death. Also, although it seems like the emperor is on his own, Demerzel is there in spirit, showing just how much the android means to him. Him clutching the salt bracelet means more than a thousand words of dialogue. The scenes during the trial are amongst the best in the series, giving viewers a whole new look at Brother Day and what drives him. Seeing him as a pure villain again will be difficult, although still possible considering the end of the episode.

Halima’s assertion that the Cleons have no soul would seem to be disproven, with Brother Day declared holy. It is now to him everyone bows; his gambit has paid off. On his way to his ship, the Emporer smugly thanks Halima for inspiring him to undertake the life-changing trial, but soon proves that he learned nothing as he sends the conflicted Demerzel to kill Halima.

Back home, Day is back to his murderous arrogant self, wolfing down an impressive meal as he refuses to admit to Demerzel that he saw nothing in the cave. His smug smile says it all; the flashback confirming that he saw nothing almost feels unnecessary. It might have been more interesting to leave the question open for debate.

Rating: 7.0

Overall this was a good episode that again answers some questions while raising new ones. With the threat of Luminism seemingly quelled, Hari would appear to have been wrong about a religious threat to the empire, although those who’ve read the original novels know where that thread is going. What fate awaits Hari and Gaal is up in the air, but neither is in as bad a position as Salvor, the dying Lewis, and Phara. The moral ambiguity of many characters is expanded upon in the episode, with Phara, Hari, and Brother Day all seeming like more complex individuals than before, While the Invictus and Zephyr Halima seem out of the picture, the threat to the empire is surely not over yet.

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