It’s been an epic ride these past ten weeks, but at last the Foundation finale is here, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Last week, we left young Brother Dawn with his life on the line on Trantor, his elder clone Brother Day on his way back to pass judgment. Meanwhile, Hari Seldon finally revealed himself to the people on Terminus, his transformation from mathematician into messiah seeming to be complete.
Seldon gives an impressive speech about the need to work together to overthrow the empire. Jared Harris dominates the scene. Curiously, nobody seems to question his second coming, but the change in plan certainly gets everyone’s attention. It appears that there’s more to Hari’s plan than scientific research; like the audience, the characters on the show always seems to be playing catch-up with Seldon. His character becomes darker the more we learn about what he truly wants: a Second Galactic Empire.
But just as we begin to doubt him, Hari shows his personable side as he takes a moment to speak to the children. His charm shines through and we remember why so many have followed him this far. Of all the characters on Foundation, Seldon is perhaps the most well-rounded and intriguing, challenged only by Brother Day.
Salvor Hardin, meanwhile, is upset that Seldon hadn’t been sending her the visions she saw throughout the series, answering the question of whether she had any special meaning to Hari but opening the question of where the visions truly came from. The show misses an opportunity to question what gives Hari Seldon the right to define what the future of humanity should look like. For while his goal of alleviating the coming dark age is laudable, there’s no doubt that it is him calling the shots without consulting anyone.
Meanwhile, Thespins and Anacherons join the new alliance with Terminus and Hugo takes command of the Invictus. Yet Salvor can’t let the question of the visions go, and it’s quickly established that she is, in fact, the daughter of Gaal and Raych. The reveal is huge, but it seems passed over here, with Salvor accepting this enormous news too easily.
Salvor’s need to be special highlights one of the major themes from the original Asimov work: the flow of history cannot be changed by a single individual, only by large movements. Seldon forming an alliance of three worlds underlines this point, as do events involving the Cleon dynasty. Salvor (and even Hari) not being essential in the grand scheme of history is important, and Foundation shouldn’t fall into the trap of creating legendary heroes.
Under arrest, Brother Dawn’s fate seems set as Dusk presses Day to make the decision he must to preserve the Cleon lineage. Day, however, seems willing to listen to the plea from his younger “brother”. The younger clone questions whether Brother Day has never felt the same urges he succumbed to, with Day’s face telling the whole story. The ruling dynasty, like royals in our own time, must frequently put aside their personal desires in place of doing their duty. It’s clear that these feelings are not as alien to the dynasty as Dusk would have everyone believe.
Day, of course, knows that he has no soul, that he is, as Dawn says, just an echo of the first Cleon. The show has been building to this scene ever since Hari Seldon told the man who would become Brother Dusk that the empire will fall unless the Cleon dynasty ends its rigidity.
Day takes a moment to walk in the gardens with Azura, explaining what he sees as his duty. He makes a fair point that as leader of billions, he must care for the direction of the galaxy as a whole rather than the interests of the individual. While occasionally the show has fallen into good vs. evil tropes, it’s at its best when the lines between who is right and wrong are blurry, just as it is in reality. Yet, as has become the norm, Foundation immediately snatches away any notion that we should feel sympathy for Brother Day when he seemingly murders not only Azura’s entire family but anyone she’s ever known.
Here we see another potential departure from the message of Asimov’s work. While the entire Cleon thread is outside Asimov’s universe, it’s been compelling. Yet Asimov also believed that it was human society as a whole that was flawed and that caused its own demise. In contrast, here, the general feeling is that the Cleon dynasty alone is flawed, with society possibly recoverable without their influence. Rather than everyone having to change their natures, it was just the leaders.
While Day may not have seen a vision during his time on the Maiden, his experiences amongst the pilgrims have affected him, perhaps showing that he does have a soul after all. Recalling Hari Seldon’s claim that the Cleons must be flexible, he is about to grant clemency to Brother Dawn, much to Brother Dusk’s anger. Dusk gets even hotter when Day reveals that he seemingly believes in Seldon’s psycho-history. As the two squabble, Dusk strikes Day and Demerzel kills Dawn, taking the decision out of their hands. It’s a shocking death, with Demerzel reminding the emperors that she is loyal to the Cleon dynasty, not one individual.
Brother Day’s sorrow for the boy he considered his son flies in the face of his insistence to Azura that he remains unconcerned with the individual. We wonder whether Day himself has had his DNA corrupted as he begins to smash the preservation tank of the original Cleon, part in anger and partly to survive. While Day being genetically corrupted seems an obvious answer, it might be more intriguing if Day himself had developed to become different from those who had gone before. Showing that the Cleons have the potential to grow opens up many possibilities.
The Blue Drift
138 years later, Gaal finally reaches her destination: home. She touches down in the middle of the ocean, feeling happy to return to where she grew up and trepidatious knowing that everyone she knew is now dead. Despite all the technology available in the future, her boat has oars; the brief shots of her on the ocean beautiful. She finds her family house long ruined.
Gaal dives below the surface of the water in search of a mysterious light. The light is from an escape pod, and Gaal rescues the daughter she doesn’t know she has, Salvor Hardin. It seems that no matter how far she runs, Gaal cannot escape her place in history.
The first season of Foundation has been a mixed bag. The show took a slight stumble after its impressive opening when it moved away from the Hari Seldon story to events on Terminus. However, the season quickly recovered thanks to the intriguing Cleon arc, which reached its peak in “The Missing Piece” and last week’s “The First Crisis.” The Gaal-Raych-Hari storyline also held its own, and was missed in the few episodes after the two-part opener.
The show has been visibly impressive throughout and features stand-out performances from Jared Harris and Lee Pace, with Lou Llobell also making an impression in her first significant role. The plotting has served up its fair share of surprises but occasionally strays into the obvious.
Foundation is an excellent piece of genre television and arguably the centerpiece of Apple TV+’s lineup alongside Ted Lasso. However, whether it’s actually a good adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s work is another matter entirely. The show frequently straying from the source material and is in danger of missing the point of the original novels completely. The show too often chooses action set-pieces over more reflective material, with the big questions of the novels often passed over or just barely touched on.
So while Foundation may not please the purists, it was undoubtedly far better than it could have been, considering that many believed the novels could never be filmed. Thrilling, entertaining, and relevant to our own age, if you haven’t seen Foundation yet, now is the time to go and binge-watch!