Striking a balance on each major storyline within its hour runtime, 'Foundation' delivers a solid episode of television.
- - Getting to visit each major storyline makes for a more well-paced and suspenseful hour
- - Jared Harris gets more to do than just appear in super-brief cameos, reminding the audience of his immense talent
- - The slow-build story with Salvor Hardin pays off in raising the stakes
- - Some of the carefully placed revelations feel too writerly in how they're handled
- - There's still not enough time afforded to Gaal Dornick as a character considering her presumed importance
- - The story with Brother Dawn struggles to stand out compared to more action-heavy plots
Now that we’re in the back half of the first season of Foundation, it’s easy to wonder how much the show’s writers can wrangle in its massive story into coherent installments. So far, episode by episode, Foundation has crafted striking visuals and boasted a couple of very good performances, courtesy of Lee Pace and Leah Harvey, but it’s also felt like a story that’s somehow too big to fit into hour-long chapters. Rare has been the case when the show has ably balanced its four major plots — following Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell), Salvor Hardin (Harvey), Brother Dawn (Cassian Bilton) and Brother Day (Pace) — within the same hour.
And so it’s with that in mind that we come to the seventh episode, “Mysteries and Martyrs.” Where last we left Salvor, she was being strong-armed by Phara, the Grand Huntress of the Anacreons (Kubbra Sait) to leave Terminus with her lover Hugo (Daniel McPherson), to pilot a ship in the hopes of finding a long-abandoned warship called the Invictus. And we last left Brother Day as he struggled to maintain his power over a planet full of religious zealots now seemingly led by the cultist demagogue Zephyr Halima (T’Nia Miller), and he was especially frustrated at his long-time servant Demerzel (Laura Birn) kneeling at Halima’s feet.
Salvor’s adventure continues with an initial bit of heartbreak: after she and Hugo pilot the ship through a lengthy asteroid belt, they locate the “world-killer” Invictus and are forced by Phara to get into space suits and land on the exterior of the ship in the hopes of gaining entry. Phara notes that the ship may have been thought lost for centuries, but its defenses still work, and so she’s using an Imperial Guard and his uniquely genetically coded blood to access the interior of the ship. But in making the jump from their ship to the Invictus, Hugo is lost when he inadvertently is knocked by a piece of asteroid debris and floats off into the vast reaches of space.
Worse still, as soon as Salvor, Phara and the others get close enough, the Invictus’ guns start firing at them. The good news is that Phara’s gambit with the Imperial Guard works — only once he dashes to the outer entry door and is identified by the ship do the guns stop shooting at them. The bad news is that Phara’s hardened personality means that as soon as the guard has let them in, she has no use for him: she shoots him point-blank in the head and pushes him into space because “he served his purpose”. Yikes.
The real “yikes,” though, comes once the rest of them enter the Invictus and find countless frozen bodies suspended in mid-air. After recalibrating the atmosphere and the gravity, Lewis (Elliot Cowan) realizes that the lights in the ship appear to be flickering in some sort of countdown. It’s here that Phara reveals what else the Anacreons know: they saw the Invictus do a jump through space mere weeks ago and believe that the lights are counting down to the next jump, based on random coordinates. Salvor grasps that this is what happened originally to the Invictus: its denizens were unable to fix the ship, becoming stranded and eventually dying. And the ship, based on the current countdown, is just four hours away from jumping again to parts unknown.
Brother Day’s story isn’t much better. After reading Demerzel the riot act and learning from her that her own robotic mechanisms and design mean she couldn’t ever betray him even if she wanted to — and thus, that kneeling was not in and of itself an act of betrayal — he finds that Zephyr Halima’s request of him is simple but impossible. She wants him to end the Cleon dynasty, specifically the whole “genetically clone one person over and over and over again” thing, and her request isn’t meant as a tactic to get more protection for the people of her planet. As opposed to playing defense against Halima, Brother Day announces in front of her followers that he will let the Triple Goddesses of the planet decide whether or not he’s more than just a clone, walking the Great Spiral.
On Trantor, Brother Dawn and the castle worker Azura (Amy Tyger) are getting closer, with the two of them quickly embracing once we see them and making love where we had previously seen him struggle with doing so when with a sex worker. Azura offers Brother Dawn a gift of kindness, a color-correction device that would let the color-blind clone see red and green. But Brother Dawn reveals the fullness of his own troubles of fitting in. To wear that device would be to reveal his imperfection, and he shows Azura that there are essentially backup clones ready to replace him or the other Brothers if needed. Azura exhorts Brother Dawn to fight for his own personal freedom, masking his face and even the nanobots in his blood to avoid detection. But even after he spends time in the palace watching Azura ride through Trantor, Brother Dawn is chided by Brother Dusk (Terrence Mann) for even acknowledging anything outside the palace walls.
Back on the Invictus, Salvor and the mix of Terminus natives and Anacreons continue to explore the ship and stumble upon a slightly antiquated energy barrier that she conveniently is able to disarm. While that works, her attempt to get her fellow Terminus natives to fight back against the Anacreons only succeeds by creating an element of surprise for a few seconds. Eventually, the Anacreons push back, and when Salvor warns that they’re killing more of the Terminus experts (one of the wary fighters), she learns of their true plan. They want to bring the Invictus back to life so that they can embark on a suicide mission, sending it straight into Trantor and killing untold numbers of innocent lives.
And then, finally, there is the story of Gaal Dornick. When last we left Gaal two episodes ago, she was by herself on a mystery ship, unavoidably headed to the home planet of Hari Seldon (Jared Harris), 35 years after having been fingered as one of his killers. But more shockingly, Gaal was stunned to find Hari, wounded but not dead, writhing on the floor of the ship. Mercifully, we actually rejoin the action in progress.
Hari, of course, is dead — what we’re seeing is a glitching version of his digitized self (he essentially put his entire being into the cloud). Hari is temporarily able to stop himself glitching by focusing on Gaal, where he learns what we already know from her perspective: that she saw Raych (Alfred Enoch) killing him, that she was sent to the rescue ship and that Raych was executed. Hari, frustrated, says that Gaal should’ve led the first Foundation specifically because of the troubles going on right now.
But before he can answer the key question — why Raych killed him at all — he glitches further and appears to vanish. Upon vanishing, it looks like all is lost for Gaal, with the ship’s life support systems all but shutting down, until Hari’s upload completes (apparently). Now looking much better for wear, Hari proceeds to explain why he chose to die.
The explanation is twofold: first, he needed the Foundation to have a myth propelling it forward as opposed to just a man leading them. But more pressing, he had a genetic disease that meant he would die anyway, so he just chose to speed up the process. The explanation soon turns into an argument between the computerized Hari and Gaal, the former of whom is angry that Gaal upended his plan and the latter of whom is angry that she was being used as a pawn in said plan. But it all boils down to the final moment of clarity, as Hari pushes Gaal to grasp why she ever felt compelled to go to his cabin in the moments of his murder. As she thinks back on that moment and countless others where she seemed to know something would happen right before it did, she does the same in the ship, as it approaches Hari’s home planet, shielded by deadly space debris: she holds up a screen as a shield from some debris that blasts into the ship and realizes that she, Gaal Dornick, can feel the future.
It’s an interesting twist to end “Mysteries and Martyrs”, with the implication that Gaal isn’t just preternaturally gifted at mathematics, but also something close to a seer. Though Hari had included Gaal in his plan, it’s clear that her untold gifts are further screwing up that plan. And the ever-enigmatic Hari has yet to reveal why they’re headed for his home planet of Helicon.
This episode of Foundation is arguably the best yet, in part because multiple stories get to play out in ways that feel less like chess-pieces moving across the board in advance of the final gambit and more like genuine plot propulsion. Let’s just hope the show keeps things up in the last three installments this year.
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