While this episode of 'Foundation' raises the emotional stakes for its leads, the cumulative effect is less impressive.
- - Lee Pace pulls off a carefully sly performance here as Brother Day's dark interior is further revealed
- - Jared Harris is agreeably coy as ever
- - The tension in all three storylines is solid without being truly remarkable
- - It's hard to see how any of these storylines are going to connect with each other by the end of the season
- - As impressive as this show looks, its characters remain a softer spot
- - There's an emptiness to the current cliffhanger surrounding Gaal Dornick
Every episode of Foundation feels like two steps forward, one step back. That sense hovers over the entirety of "The Missing Piece," the eighth episode of the show's first season, in which three of the four major storylines get screen time without feeling like there's any grand progress toward even a season-long endgame. If anything, the fact that three of the four storylines get screen time here only exacerbates the distinct feeling that we're watching three very separate storylines that are nowhere near coming together. As we approach the end of the first season, Foundation almost feels like it would be better served by having focused full episodes on separate storylines to create an omnibus or anthology-style or storytelling.
Think of the general arcs of each of the stories we focus on in this episode (the events on Trantor with Brothers Dawn and Dusk have to wait, as they're sidelined). First, there's the story with Brother Day (Lee Pace). While Pace's performance is excellent as usual, with an effective balance of cruelty and charm, what occurs to Brother Day in this episode only teases at the crux of the clones' arcs. Brother Day is currently being challenged by Zephyr Halima (T'Nia Miller) as being a soulless husk, the product of a decades-long experiment that has removed any humanity from the Cleon Empire. To prove her wrong, Brother Day has committed to a physical gauntlet, in which he will walk through the vast Spiral. Legend has it that anyone who completes this arduous journey is greeted by a profound vision that will reshape their entire worldview. The question at the core of Brother Day's journey is simple: will he be able to complete the trek and will he see a vision and thus prove his humanity?
At first, the answer to both questions appears to be a resounding "yes." On the first question, there's no doubt: though Brother Day winds up with sunburnt skin and chapped lips (having to walk through the Spiral in a baking desert), he does complete the quest even after being spiritually assisted by a fellow pilgrim. When he returns to share his vision with Zephyr Halima and her fellow Zephyrs, it seems like he's being genuine about what he saw at the cave at the end of the Spiral. It wins over Halima's fellow Zephyrs and even Demerzel (Laura Birn), Brother Day's robotic advisor who's also a believer.
Once Brother Day has completed his journey and proven his worth, he gives Demerzel a flower as a sign of her next job: to murder Zephyr Halima, which she does bloodlessly (through poison secreted on the skin). Demerzel, though she's still just a robot, seems to have far more humanity than her master. In the final moments of "The Missing Piece," she says she's glad Brother Day had a vision, because to reach the end of the Spiral and be greeted by nothing at all would be a fate worse than death. And it's more than obvious from the look on Day's face that his description of his vision earlier was a complete, and effective, lie. He saw nothing at the Spiral, thus confirming that the dead Halima was right: he has no soul.
The storyline imbued with the most mystery continues to be that focusing on Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell). After having wound up on a mysterious rescue ship 35 years after being sent into a cryogenic escape pod, she encountered a digitized version of the now-dead Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) while also realizing that the ship is headed to Helicon, Hari's home planet. In this episode, Gaal learns why from the ever-enigmatic Hari: though she had been thought to lead the first Foundation on the far-off planet of Terminus, Hari had himself something of a backup plan. Yes, there's meant to be a second Foundation on Helicon, one that's so secretive that the denizens of Terminus aren't supposed to be aware of its existence.
Gaal's own ability to see briefly into the future is somewhat sidestepped here, because she's understandably more concerned about why the second Foundation needs to exist, and more importantly why it needs to be kept secret from everyone else. Hari, even in digitized form, refuses to share any further details of the second Foundation. And so Gaal decides to call his bluff, having something of a violent temper tantrum and destroying many of the ship's protective systems. She gives Hari only a couple choices: either he can come clean about the second Foundation or Gaal will hop into another cryogenic escape pod and head back to her own home planet. Though Hari points out he could reprogram the pod to go wherever he wants it to go, he seems to let Gaal go further in the bluff. She sets the destination for her home planet, in spite of the fact that she'll be in cryo-statis for more than 100 years.
There are just two episodes left in the show's first season, so there's every hope that this is not the last we have seen of Gaal and Hari. Because if this is where the story ends (at least for now) for Gaal, it is mightily disappointing. Though we've already gotten clarity about why Hari died and why his adopted son was the one to do the deed, there is a maddening sense that we've just gotten to know who Gaal is. She serves as the show's narrator, and her journey felt like the core arc of the two-episode premiere. Since that time, Llobell's performance has felt as adrift as Gaal herself is. Fingers crossed there's more to learn about Gaal in the final two installments.
There is, of course, one major storyline left to discuss, and that's the one focusing on Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey), the Warden of Terminus. The primary thrust of this side of things is a ticking-clock deadline: there's only so much time left before the Invictus, the previously-thought-vanished ghost ship, makes a jump through space into parts unknown. Phara (Kubbra Sait), the leader of the Anacreons who forced Salvor to leave Terminus, is desperate to use the Invictus as a massive suicide-bomb ship of sorts, intended to destroy Trantor from the outside in.
Throughout the episode, as Salvor tries to get Phara — who we first see in a brief flashback as a child, radicalized when her planet is attacked for no good reason — to lay down her arms and change her plans, it's clear that a path of peace is impossible. The ship has been located by roving members of the planet of Thespis, but more importantly, Phara is steadfast and stubborn in her refusal to change her mind. The resolution of the storyline, for now, involves Salvor's fellow Terminus compatriot Lewis (Elliott Cowan) being shot for trying to help Salvor change the ship's course. And then the ship itself reaches its final countdown and makes the jump through space.
We will presumably find out the answer to this question soon, but here's the core issue with Foundation so far: all of these storylines seemingly have nothing to do with each other. Brothers Dawn, Day and Dusk are off in their own separate little worlds, which may seem logical to communicate their high-borne/high-cloned status as being so removed from the lives of the people they purport to rule. But the stories with Salvor and Gaal seem similarly distant from each other. I was honestly waiting to see Gaal's escape pod and the Invictus collide with each other before the episode ended. Maybe that will happen next week?
It's not that the performances here are bad, and the show's production values remain remarkable. But it's hard to see where Foundation is going. And just like Gaal Dornick herself when faced with the ghostly and Cheshire Cat-like Hari Seldon, I'm getting tired of not knowing the endgame.
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