Review: Foundation final episode and season 1

I’m a week late but still…spoilers…

The penultimate episode managed to bring the story to the bit fans of the books were expecting: the vault opens and out pops the dead Hari Seldon. The final episode provides the twist with Seldon explaining that the whole Space-Wikipedia project was misleading. Foundation is there to restart a galactic society proactively as a hegemonic power and not just as a handy guide for rebooting civilisation.

So what about everything that happened on Terminus that wasn’t in the books? Well, Seldon’s plan was that Gaal Dornick would keep things on track, which didn’t happen because of Gaal’s psychic powers, which he hadn’t planned for (the AI ghost of Seldon, doesn’t know this but the story fills in the pieces). Luckily, Salvor Hardin filled in the gap in the plan because…Salvor is the genetic daughter of Gaal and Raych Foss. That had been hinted at earlier in the series or at least that the exiles to Terminus were banking embryos. It’s a neat resolution to the question of how the obvious chaos of events married up with a supposed infallible plan. Everything we saw went wrong because of the one canonical flaw in the Seldon plan (psychic powers) but all works out in the end (or more correctly, the start) because of those same powers.

The warring parties put aside their differences and everybody is happy, which is all a bit neat for resolving a bitter socio-political cultural rivalry that’s lasted centuries (Thespin and Anacreon). Seldon helps bring them together by revealing the truth behind the source of their rivalry in a way that can’t help reminding me of that one episode of Avatar: The Last Air-bender. So, it’s a little implausible but then again in our modern world France and Germany have been firm allies for seventy years despite the Franco-Prussian War, World War I and World War II and so on.

It’s overly neat as presented but no worse than your typical Star Trek or Doctor Who resolution of major political disputes…which highlights another issue with Foundation. Its source material is worse in this regard and even the original series of Star Trek had a few extra decades of sophistication of how space stories might represent realistic cultures and politics. However, Foundation is presenting itself as a big, serious show. It has pretensions and doesn’t quite know how to balance that with both the camp and silly aspects of space opera as a genre.

This takes me to the other show in this show aka the Lee Pace & Demerzel show. The Empire storyline has had a lot more freedom to do what it likes. The only apparent connection with Asimov’s books is Demerzel, who maybe is Daneel Olivaw (or maybe not, given events). This sub-show leans more heavily on the camp excess and Lee Pace knows who to indulge in being consistently over the top and deadly serious at the same time. Thranduil and Ronan the Accuser are both pop-culture characters that Pace depicted as men with straight-faced dignity being both awful and absurd. He does it very well and in this episode, he gets even more to do.

The scene with former-gardener/revolutionary Azura in which he explains with what seems like a kind of evil empathy, how he has arranged to erase her from existence but systematically murdering everyone who knew her is a compelling piece of political horror. It’s important as well, given the way Brother Day’s plot arc has shown that he is a man with the capacity for human understanding and personal growth. Despite some of the textual elements that suggest he has no soul, the performance and his arc belie that. He’s far from robotic and while we might call Azura’s punishment “inhuman” that term is misleading. It is horrific and excessive and an abuse of power but it is firmly rooted in the personal and the emotional. There’s no lack of empathy there but rather Brother Day twists his own empathy to devise something deeply immoral.

Anyway, if you didn’t know beforehand, Galactic Empires and Galactic Emperors are evil, even if they are handsome men who have gone through personal self-growth. The show spends a bit of time to draw a circle around that point and underline it.

It’s interesting that the order in which events are shown. If Brother Day’s horrific meeting with Azura was shown AFTER the fate of Brother Dawn was decided, then the significance of Brother Day’s acts again Azura would appear differently (still immoral but it might be read as the show trying to suggest that Day is motivated by grief).

As for Brother Dawn, we get a different kind of horror. Brother Day decides to forgive, forget and let Dawn stay part of the trio. Brother Dusk firmly disagrees and Demerzel solves the problem by snapping the neck of Brother Dawn. In the process, Demerzel snaps the Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics into tiny pieces – or maybe doesn’t. Whatever and whoever Demerzel is, she’s already been killing people and killing a clone whom she believes doesn’t have a soul is less of an issue for a rules-lawyering robot than the previous human deaths we’ve seen her involved in. It’s more the emotional impact that is shocking. Prior, Demerzel establishes her parental love for Brother Dawn. She carries no ill will towards him but nor can she have him disrupt the Imperial project.

Together, the Terminus and the Trantor plots don’t quite fill the episode. To fill the gap, Salvor Hardin leaves Terminus in a spaceship to go and look for Gaal Dornick. Flipping into the future they both finally meet on Gaal’s watery homeworld where the series began. I guess we will see where this goes.

This isn’t the strongest of the episodes but it is entertaining and emblematic of the strengths and problems of the Foundation series. The Asimovian material isn’t strong enough to adapt into a big prestigious production. The fall of a galactic empire is a brilliant idea for a sci-fi Game of Thrones but the pace of that show only adds to the problems of adapting a 1940s sketch of a future history that is loved more its ideas than its plot or characters.

The obvious comparison is with season 1 of Star Trek: Discovery. Great performances, some genuinely entertaining high space-opera excess once it go into the Mirror Universe parts but…just really didn’t feel like Star Trek and felt less like Star Trek when it was more obviously trying to be Star Trek. Foundation has a similar problem, it is a stronger show when it indulges in camp space-opera but is less confident dealing with the original material. It probably should have been a 6 episode mini-series and cut down on some of the Terminus twists and turns that really didn’t add much.

I’ll probably watch Season 2 but I’m not particularly excited by the idea of another season. It’s not currently a compelling must-watch show. The good news is the storyline gets stronger in the books and the parallel structure this season bodes well for adapting the two big plots of Foundation and Empire. However, at the current pace* we won’t get to the filling in the Foundation sandwich for a few seasons.

*[no pun intended]

3 thoughts on “Review: Foundation final episode and season 1

  1. I think I’ll just watch HaCF on Netflix before it leaves on 12/13 to get my Lee Pace fix. I just finished season 1 and it seems like a “Mad Men” type of show I can actually enjoy (unlike Mad Men).

    Like

  2. Demerzel killing might break the original three laws but it’s not incompatible with the later “Zeroth Law”: A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm. Demerzel clearly sees the continuing stability of the Empire under the Cleons as less harmful than the alternative.

    Liked by 1 person

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