What They Say:
Hari finds himself trapped in a mysterious prison. An assassination attempt leaves Day shaken. Gaal and Salvor devise an escape plan.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I’m definitely an outlier in that I quite enjoyed a lot of the first season of the series because I changed my mindset early on to view it as an “inspired by” project rather than a direct adaptation. Which was always going to be problematic considering the design of the source material and just how slim it was on characters. Yes, there are characters we know and love from it, but they’re paper thin and so much of it is more about exposition for the meaning of events and humanity as opposed to storytelling sometimes. I love Asimov’s works dearly but the Foundation books that tell more fluid stories come from the later novels focusing on his past by other writers. It’s simply how his original works were done back in the early days that they’re like they are.
The second season starts off rough but does manage to recover some and mostly in certain areas more than others. The general idea is that it’s now nearly 150 years after the events of the first season and things are getting complicated. The advancement of time works well because the Foundation has expanded rapidly on Terminus and has some local reach and they’re also now preparing for a new Seldon event as the alarm has gone off for the Vault for the first time in those 150 years. This looks like a new cast of characters operating from there and they’re set up with some distinctiveness where there’s a military side to deal with the impending threat they view of the Empire and the political side that’s going to be managing the event and the population itself. It’s interesting and I hope we spend more time there because the novels always had me interested in the Encyclopedists – something that’s barely been talked about in this iteration.
The material focusing on Trantor is interesting as Lee Pace is definitely bringing some intensity to the role – and that’s just the physical side of it. I really dislike that Demerzel took to basically seducing him to try and control him and that we see an assassination attempt on him mid-intercourse. It felt like a pointless diversion just to show how she repairs herself considering her head is sliced in half and for Empire to show his physical prowess – which isn’t always as good as he thinks it is. But it shows some real weaknesses in the state of things as his personal shield is breached and he faces a lot of pain in order to get healed. And with his paranoia over being replaced by one of the genetically-altered clones that he’s trying to move them away from, he’s a little over the map while still being consistent. And all of this comes as one of the queen’s from an outlying empire is arriving for a potential marriage contract, which says a lot about the state of the Galactic Empire in general that after thousands of years this is being considered.
There’s a lot of neat elements to all of it and the dialogue is great and fun to watch unfold. The arriving ship and all the technology and scale is just fantastically creative and a beautiful thing to see on screen because it doesn’t feel like it’s just lifted from another show. The costuming for the arriving people with the cloud elements definitely hits a sweet spot for me and the delivery of some custom and rare inks that makes Brother Dusk is equally as fascinating to watch unfold. The dynamic between the various aspects of Empire has a lot going on as well and while there isn’t jockeying for position, it continues to be clear that Brother Day isn’t as in sync with the other two as they want him to be and that’s making Day as Empire feel very wary of trusting his brothers all that far and openly at times.
As for where the show doesn’t work, it’s two-fold and both of them can be easily solved. The first is that we continue to follow Seldon’s story as two separate uploaded consciousnesses. This is an entirely unneeded storyline and should never have happened. At most, they just need to have him show up from the Vault sequences and that’s it. If you’re going to tell more story about Harry, adapt the Forward the Foundation novels as flashbacks to show him coming to understand how psychohistory works and highlighting more of why the Galactic Empire is failing. Jared Harris is a great actor but this isn’t who Seldon is and even accepting that it’s perhaps a distorted digital version doesn’t help either. It corrupts the character when you want to humanize him instead, which the prequel books if adapted could do.
The other area that doesn’t work is everything with Gaal and Salvor. Having them meet – 138 years into the future – is just plain bad. Both characters’ stories should be done and over with and moved on from. Each season should be made up of new characters entirely and I can give on the Empire element as a way to provide some continuity with those actors. But the rest? Gone, gone, gone. And the method of it, using the Invictus ship, and just everything about it is wrong. I can see them trying to use this as a way to explore/explain the Second Foundation but it’s just done so badly and focusing on all the wrong things to achieve it that it becomes a slog to get through it all. It all feels so pointless and like a misread of the source material.
Foundation is a guilty pleasure to be sure and not all of it works. I’ve long been able to separate a lot of shows from the original works and enjoy what’s brought to the screen and Foundation is certainly a challenge because the original work is both so simple and so complicated to bring to life. And it is, to use an awkward word, very foundational to my experiences in science fiction along with many other Asimov works. The second season opening is not an easy accessible piece right from the start with what it does to focus on Seldon, even as it gives us insights into his childhood, and everything with Gaal and Salvor is just plain wrong. But so many other area are just fascinating to watch play out that I can’t help but to want more of it.
Streamed By: Apple TV+