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'Foundation' 1.4 review: Barbarians at the Gates

The stories on Trantor and Terminus get more suspenseful in this episode of 'Foundation.'

Foundation
(Image: © Apple TV Plus)

Our Verdict

A fleetly paced episode of 'Foundation' narrows its focus effectively, even as questions regarding the premiere remain.

For

  • - Leah Harvey's performance as Salvor Hardin is a strong point so far
  • - The balance between the storylines on Trantor and Terminus is handled well
  • - Getting to see Gaal again, if briefly, is encouraging

Against

  • - The use of one of the regular cast members, in a surprise return, is maddening
  • - The lack of answers surrounding the major questions on this show is frustrating
  • - As beautiful as the show looks, the drama within it remains mildly lifeless

Let’s start today’s Foundation review by talking about opening credits. There used to be a time, back in the days of network TV, when simply looking at the list of credited guest stars in a given episode of TV might end up spoiling you about a possible surprise appearance on a twisty TV show. Episodes of Lost ended up teasing the arrival of the Man in Black or Richard Alpert or many others simply by stating that Titus Welliver or Nestor Carbonell was among that week’s guest cast, information usually provided in the first few minutes of an episode even if those appearances weren’t until the end of said episode.

There’s an easy enough trick, of course: just block that bottom part of the screen with your hand so you don’t get spoiled. But shows like Foundation (and it’s not just this show) have upended things by making this problem apply to the regular cast as well. If you’ve been following along with this Isaac Asimov adaptation, then you know that the two-episode premiere concluded with the shocking murder of Hari Seldon, the controversial mathematician whose psychohistorical predictions of doom and gloom for humanity got him exiled to the Outer Reach of the galaxy. It’s shocking not just because Hari has been a very key part of the show so far, but because he’s played by Jared Harris, arguably the most famous actor among the regular cast. So the third episode understandably removed Harris from the opening credits — Hari’s dead, right? Why would his name be in the cast anymore?

Ah, but there’s the rub, because before any action has even occurred in this week’s episode, “Barbarians at the Gate,” whose name appears first in the opening credits? Why, Jared Harris’s. It’s a stunning thing to see, all the more so considering how little of the episode Hari even appears in. Yes, Hari Seldon does turn up in this episode, but the way in which he does is almost laughable — this is why Jared Harris gets a credit? All Hari does is appear via recorded flashback, during the trial from the first half of the premiere where he warned Brothers Dawn, Day and Dusk (Cassian Bilton, Lee Pace and Terrence Mann, respectively) about the dangers of ignoring his warnings. Harris appears for no more than 30 seconds, but hey, get that top billing. 

Lee Pace and Terrence Mann in 'Foundation'.

Lee Pace and Terrence Mann in 'Foundation.' (Image credit: Apple TV+)

“Barbarians at the Gate” continues in the path of the previous episode, “The Mathematician’s Ghost,” in two ways: first, it continues to not provide any clarity at all as to why Hari’s adopted son Raych (Alfred Enoch) killed him or framed our narrator Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell) while sending her away to parts unknown via escape pod. But perhaps a bit more encouragingly, the episode follows the key stories that last episode left hanging. On one hand, we have the three Brothers on Trantor, including the teenaged Brother Dawn trying to get a better grasp on his identity and what it means to be a clone who seemingly can’t die for a very long time. On the other, we follow up the cliffhanger on Terminus in which its warden, Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey), is beset upon by a group of Anacreons, who have traveled there illegally.

On Trantor, the real situation is that all three Brothers are beginning to fray at the edges a bit. We start with Brother Dawn apparently trying to kill himself: he calmly jumps out of a high window, only to be stopped at the ground by the essential force field surrounding himself so no one can actually touch him. (It’s a field shared by all three Brothers, as we see when Brother Day is visited by a beautiful woman tasked with handling his ... sexual needs, only to find that she can’t touch him, not even his arm.) Brother Dawn is spotted in his attempt by a young woman, Azura (Amy Tyger), who works on the grounds of the castle where the trio of emperors live. Brother Dawn becomes obsessed with her, so much so that we later see him build a robotic flying insect so he can look at her from a distance. 

Meanwhile, Brothers Day and Dusk — who, if you’re keeping track, were Brothers Dawn and Day during the premiere episode, which took place roughly 35 years before this episode’s action — are at each other’s throats, in part because a communications beacon near Terminus has been inexplicably destroyed. And it all comes back to the dead Hari Seldon, his warnings and the fact that now-Brother Dusk was perhaps too lenient in his ruling to exile Hari and Gaal, as opposed to killing them outright. (It should be noted here that now-Brother Day notes that Hari was killed by “his protege,” thus implying that the false theory of Gaal being his murderer has traveled far and wide over time.) In the episode’s concluding moments, the forces of the emperors are tasked with traveling to Terminus, to figure out what happened with the beacon and to visit the surviving exiles to remind them of Trantor’s brute force.

Lee Pace in 'Foundation'.

Lee Pace in 'Foundation.' (Image credit: Apple TV+)

But the Brothers needn’t worry, because Terminus is having problems of its own. The Anacreons, led by their Grand Huntress (Kubbra Sait), are responsible for having destroyed that communications beacon, and they’re prepared to do the exact same to the makeshift city where Salvor, her father Abbas (Clarke Peters) and others make their home, if they can't get to the Vault itself. Salvor tries to get some intel out of the captured Anacreon leader to no avail, largely because her fellow Terminus survivors look on Salvor as an outsider among outsiders. Remember, she’s the only person so far who can touch the floating Vault —even when she brings the Anacreon leader with her to the Vault, it’s to knock her out (successfully, it should be noted). But Salvor’s concerns are absolutely correct, because when the episode ends, the Anacreons have their weapons at the ready, prepared to do bloody damage.

Ah, but that’s not quite true — there’s one more brief scene before “Barbarians at the Gate” concludes, and to call it a “scene” might be overstating things. Though we keep hearing Gaal narrate the show at sporadic moments, she’s yet to make an appearance for the last two episodes, until the close of this one. We see her, still in some kind of cryogenic freezing in the escape pod, floating along in space and about to be picked up by some mysterious spaceship. Has Gaal been floating for decades? She still looks basically the same, but how much time has passed? And who’s about to pick her up? 

“Barbarians at the Gate” is a better episode than last week’s, both for having more forward momentum and for implying that it hasn’t actually forgotten about our first ostensible lead character. Maybe next week, we’ll get hints at a few more tangible answers about what happened to Hari Seldon. Be on the lookout for Jared Harris’s name in the opening credits — maybe it’ll be a clue.