Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, telling the story of an empire in decline and a psychohistorian’s attempts to save the day, has long been considered unfilmable till that is David S. Goyer and Apple came along. Goyer, who was written screenplays for hectic films including Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, has waded into the iconic work with chutzpah, creating a show that is immersive and gorgeous.
Foundation (Season 2)
Creators: David S. Goyer, Josh Friedman
Cast: Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Lou Llobell, Leah Harvey, Laura Birn, Terrence Mann, Cassian Bilton
Runtime: 48 to 62 minutes
Storyline: A royal marriage and a vengeful queen, a church missing its deity, a psycho-historian lost in space and time, a mother who might lose her newly found daughter and an island of psychics…
Asimov geeks might be unhappy over the introduction of Star Wars elements but, well, the collective subconscious is a primordial soup from which all great ideas are born. And like the soup, it swishes around taking things in and throwing stuff out all of which bear some resemblance to everything that has gone before.
The galactic empire bears a passing resemblance to the one that struck back and Brother Day could be looked at as a charismatic and better-looking Palpatine. There are also shades of the Death Star in the Imperial warship, Invictus. However, Asimov based the Foundation novels published in the 1950s on Edward Gibbon’s six-volume History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which in turn was published between 1776 and 1789. And we are not hearing anyone throwing a hissy fit about deviations from those tomes, are we?
Goyer has approached Foundation like a marathoner, and we should do the same as viewers. We need to be in it for the long game; there are no halftime cliffhangers here. ‘If you endure, you will be entertained,’ seems to be the gospel according to Goyer.
More than a century after the events of Season 1, Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) finds himself adrift in a strange prison. There is an assassination attempt on Brother Day (Lee Pace), the cruelly charming ruler of the crumbling Galactic Empire. Day, with his brothers Dawn (Cassian Bilton) and Dusk (Terrence Mann), are clones of Cleon I who has been ruling for the last 600 years. Day wants to end the clones and proposes marriage to Queen Sareth (Ella-Rae Smith) as a way to do so. Sareth naturally has her own agenda. The robot Demerzel (Laura Birn), major-domo to the brothers, has her take on Day’s desire to break with tradition.
Gaal (Lou Llobell), Seldon’s protégée, realises Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey) is her daughter and also that in one version of the future could lose her. The three travel to the island of the Mentalics where the leader, Tellem Bond (Rachel House), tells them home truths such as “suffering is the price of admission” while joyously chomping down on shrieking sea creatures that are boiled alive.
On Terminus, the Church of the Galactic Spirit has been established with Brother Constant (Isabella Laughland) and Poly (Kulvinder Ghir) as their leading lights. Hober Mallow (Dimitri Leonidas), a cynical and charming trader joins the cause; yes, there is a splash of that piratical space smuggler, Solo.
Amidst all the weighty pronouncements and spectacular visuals, Foundation has its share of discourse on love, hate, jealousy, violence and identity. There is Seldon’s love for his wife, Yanna (Nimrat Kaur) (no, not Dors Venabili from the books) which brings about one of the most poignant statements from him about confronting grief and loss: “You take the pain and the what-ifs and weave them into a narrative that propels you forward.”
There is also the General Bel Riose (Ben Daniels) toasting his love with “to those who fight and ask why,” and the sweetest relationship between Constant and Mallow. There is the transactional one between Day and Sareth and one that cannot be named between the brothers and Demerzel. The Mule continues to be elusive. Is he the Warlord of Kalgan played by Mikael Persbrandt supposedly “driven by hate and psychic abilities”?
Things are the same and different in this galaxy “long ago and not far away.” Yanna says, “The gods made wine to compensate those who cannot afford revenge,” while Sareth has a contemptuous if elegant description of sex with “playing sanctum and sceptre.”
In Goyer’s “1,000-year chess game between Hari Seldon and the Empire,” we have miles to go before we sleep. Thanks to the magnificent path Goyer has created for us, strewn with all manner of visuals (a few more beasties to keep Becky company would have been welcome), and aural beauties and a mesmeric cast, we most definitely do not mind dawdling.
Foundation is presently streaming on Apple TV+ with weekly episodes of Season 2 dropping on Fridays