Foundation season 1 episode 4 recap: Barbarians at the Gates

In Foundation season 1 episode 4 the stories on Trantor and Terminus get ever more suspenseful.

Leah Harvey as Salvor Hardin in Foundation
(Image: © Apple TV Plus)

What to Watch Verdict

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

Pros

  • +

    Leah Harvey's performance as Salvor Hardin continues to be a strong point

  • +

    The balance between the storylines on Trantor and Terminus is handled well

  • +

    Getting to see Gaal again, if briefly, is encouraging

Cons

  • -

    The use of one of the 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

Foundation season 1 episode 4 “Barbarians at the Gate” continues in the path of the previous episode, “The Mathematician’s Ghost,” in two ways: first, it still doesn't provide any clarity 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. But perhaps a bit more encouragingly, the episode follows the key stories that the last episode left hanging. On one hand, we have the three Brothers on Trantor, including the teenage Brother Dawn trying to get a better grasp on his identity and what it means to be a clone. On the other, we follow up the cliffhanger on Terminus in which its warden, Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey), is beset 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. 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 level by the essential force field which surrounds him 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 lives. 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 mathematician 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 says that Hari was killed by “his protege,” thus highlighting that the false narrative that Gaal murdered Hari has traveled far and wide.) 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 and Terrence Mann in 'Foundation'.

Lee Pace and Terrence Mann 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 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. But Salvor’s concerns are absolutely correct, because as the episode ends, the Anacreons have their weapons at the ready, prepared to do damage.

Ah, but that’s not quite true — there’s one more brief scene before “Barbarians at the Gate” concludes, though to call it a “scene” might be overstating things. Though we've heard Gaal's voiceover from time to time, she’d yet to appear in the last two episodes. At the close we see her, still in some kind of cryogenic deep-freeze in the escape pod, floating along in space and about to be picked up by some mysterious spaceship. How long has Gaal been floating in space? She still looks basically the same, but just 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 ostensible lead character. Maybe in episode 5, we’ll finally get some tangible answers about what happened to Hari Seldon.

More Foundation season 1

Josh Spiegel is a freelance cultural critic who has been published in Slashfilm, SyFy, ScreenCrush, The A.V. Club, The Hollywood Reporter, The Washington Post and others. His favorite films include Singin’ in the Rain, The Rocketeer, Pinocchio and A Matter of Life and Death. His favorite TV shows include Ted Lasso, Only Murders in the Building, Deadwood and Lost. He lives in Phoenix with his wife, two sons and too many cats.