What to Watch Verdict
Foundation takes things in an encouraging direction by advancing the plot and returning to the world of Gaal Dornick.
Getting Gaal back onscreen makes for a more satisfying story
Lou Llobell's performance remains a high point
The tension raised by the events on Terminus is matched by impressive VFX
The opening flashback to before Gaal arrived on Trantor is unnecessary filler at a key moment
The brief presence of Jared Harris only makes us wish he was in more of the show
The show continues to be maddeningly vague in even approaching its big questions
In Foundation season 1 episode 5, though we see some of the Imperial Guard in this week’s installment — more on them soon — the three Brothers are absent this week. Instead, “Upon Awakening” focuses on two stories.
One is following up on the cliffhanger from last week’s episode, in which the forces of Terminus are facing off against the Anacreons and their imprisoned Grand Huntress, all while Terminus hopes that members of the Empire will come to see what’s going on and hopefully save them. The other is meant to answer the question I have been asking for the last two weeks: what is going on with Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell), the young woman with a mathematical gift who was framed for the murder of Hari Seldon at the end of the series premiere?
At the very least, “Upon Awakening” spends a great deal of time on Gaal. Of course, this show being this show, it spends the first 20 minutes in “Before…,” as the superimposed caption states. That is code for “before the events of the premiere episode,” specifically before Gaal ever travels to Trantor and meets Hari Seldon in person. On her home planet, Gaal is a member of a faith-based group that is so focused on maintaining their status quo that they punish a man who values science and knowledge by tying rocks onto his feet and kicking him to a deep and watery death. Gaal has been secretly pursuing her mathematical ambitions, in spite of her parents’ distaste for higher learning, so much so that when she gets a recording from Hari Seldon, with an invite to his library on Trantor, she listens to it in the dead of night.
The good news for Gaal is that her parents don’t give her the same treatment as the other scholar — instead of killing her, they simply disown her, her father saying he wishes she was dead. As cutting as those words are, they don’t stop Gaal on her journey, as we know. That, in effect, is the problem of the first third of this episode — whatever else is true of Gaal and her upbringing, we already know that she’s going to Trantor, because well if you’re watching the fifth episode of Foundation, you likely already watched its four predecessors. Llobell is fine, and the production design remains top-notch, but this stretch fills in very little about a naturally sympathetic character.
Fortunately, the rest of the episode takes place in the “Now…”, which Gaal quickly finds out is indeed 35 years after she was booted out of the ship taking Hari and his followers to Terminus. There’s no jumping back and forth between timelines at this point. We have every reason to assume that she’s woken up on a rescue ship at roughly the same time as the events on Terminus. Gaal is shocked, of course, to realize that it’s been more than three decades and confused to find that she’s the only living entity on the rescue ship. After some initial frustration with the ship’s technology, Gaal is able to pull up footage of the aftermath of Hari’s death, where she learns what the audience may have already assumed: she is implicated in Hari’s death along with his adopted son Raych (Alfred Enoch).
She also sees an interrogation of Raych by current Terminus leader Lewis Pirenne (Elliot Cowan), where he stays mostly stoic but does say Gaal is completely innocent. She then tearfully watches Raych get executed (by being sucked out into space.) Right before that happens, Raych carefully emphasizes that a puzzle can still be completed even if a piece is missing, a suggestion he makes by moving his head away from Lewis and turning directly to the camera as if he knows he's talking directly to Gaal where she stands 35 years later.
It seems quite clear from an outsider's perspective (remember: I’ve never read the Isaac Asimov books on which this show is based, so I’m going in cold) that as heartbreaking as Hari Seldon’s death was, it was done intentionally. And not “I’m angry with you” intentionally, but “this must be part of Hari’s plan” intentionally. But let’s put a pin in that for a second.
After watching the footage, Gaal decides to get more information on where the ghost ship is headed. But the ship refuses to share its destination and Gaal notices that there might be some stars on the horizon being deliberately obfuscated. After she does a brief spacewalk, Gaal realizes the problem. The rescue ship is being taken to Hari Seldon’s home planet and since everyone thinks Gaal is guilty of his murder, she’s not keen to visit. But then Gaal notices a strange puddle of blood, which keeps moving until it leads her to none other than Hari himself, seemingly still in the throes of pain instead of being extremely dead and in a coffin shot out into space. So maybe Jared Harris does have a good deal more to do on this show?
Back on Terminus, the other half of the episode (or at least, the other half of the final 35 minutes) is a slow-motion tragedy. The previous episode concluded with the Anacreons prepared to lay waste to the people of Terminus, and that is essentially what ends up happening. But soon, the Imperial Guards sent by Pace’s Brother Day last episode arrive. Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey) and Lewis are pleased to see the Imperial Guard, but when they mention that they’ve captured the Grand Huntress of Anacreon (Kubbra Sait), they’re ordered to produce her. Salvor immediately sees this as a long-game trap, and she’s proven right. The Grand Huntress incapacitates Lewis and the others from Terminus because she and her people are luring the Imperial team closer. Why? Well, to make them all suffer, of course. That’s really all it is: the Grand Huntress has lost her family and is on something of a blood quest, one she makes Salvor watch in horror.
Foundation continues to be both gorgeous to look at — the destruction of the Imperial ship is disturbingly believable — and yet too enigmatic for its own good. Keeping Gaal in the dark is, of course, the writers’ way of keeping the audience in the dark, but there’s got to be a better way to keep your cards close to the chest. Halfway through this show’s first season — it was recently renewed for a second — it’s hard to see where Hari’s plan is leading everyone. And that may be the point, but it’s not dramatically exciting.
More Foundation season 1
- Foundation season 1 premiere review: episodes 1 and 2 review
- Foundation season 1 episode 3 review: The Mathematician's Ghost
- Foundation season 1 episode 4 review: Barbarians at the Gates
- Foundation season 1 episode 6 review: Death and the Maiden
- Foundation season 1 episode 7 review: Mysteries and Martyrs
- Foundation season 1 episode 8 review: The Missing Piece
- Foundation season 1 episode 9 review: The First Crisis
- Foundation season 1 episode 10 review: The Leap
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.
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