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'Foundation' 1.05 review: Upon Awakening

As it hits its halfway point, 'Foundation' finally makes some plot-driven progress.

Lou Llobell in 'Foundation'.
(Image: © Apple TV+)

Our Verdict

'Foundation' takes things in an encouraging direction by advancing plot and returning to the world of Gaal Dornick.

For

  • - 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

Against

  • - The opening flashback to before Gaal arrived on Trantor feels like unnecessary filler at a key moment
  • - The brief presence of Jared Harris only makes it easier to wish he was in more of the show
  • - The show continues to be maddeningly vague in even approaching its big questions

This post contains spoilers for Foundation. Check out our last review here.

As was the case with last week’s episode of Foundation, the latest installment, entitled “Upon Awakening,” is another situation where the opening credits end up giving a few details away that are better left unrevealed. That’s the best place to start, because “Upon Awakening” goes one better than last week. There, Jared Harris wound up in the opening credits, which seemed more than moderately surprising because his character Hari Seldon had been killed two episodes earlier. This week, Harris is still present, but his fellow recognizable name among the regular cast, Lee Pace, is not.

And so it goes: though we see some of the Imperial Guard in this week’s installmen — more on them soon — the three Brothers (including the middle one played by Pace) are absent this week. Instead, “Upon Awakening” focuses on two specific stories. One is following up on the intended-to-be breathless 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 the hell 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” does spend a great deal of time with Gaal. Of course, this show being this show, it spends the first 20 minutes “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 heavily focused on maintaining the status quo that they punish a man who values knowledge and preparing for the potential of oncoming climate change by tying him up, sticking a few rocks onto his feet and kicking him to a deep and watery death. (If only that were hyperbolic.) Gaal has been secretly pursuing her mathematical ambitions, in spite of her parents’ distaste for higher learning and knowledge, so much so that when she is informed by recording by Hari Seldon that she’s being invited to his library on Trantor, she does so in the dead of night in secret. 

Daniel MacPherson and Leah Harvey in 'Foundation'.

Daniel MacPherson and Leah Harvey in 'Foundation' (Image credit: Apple TV+)

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 all but 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 all 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 watched its four predecessors first. Llobell is fine, and the production design remains top-notch, but this stretch fills in very little about a character who’s already naturally sympathetic as an audience surrogate.

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 in real time, 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. (For some of us, this may recall a moment from the first series of the revived Doctor Who, featuring Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor, pulling a similar move with his female companion. If you know that show, you know the scene.)

Leah Harvey in 'Foundation'.

Leah Harvey in 'Foundation' (Image credit: Apple TV+)

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 pretty 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, and what she can figure out. 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 space walk, Gaal realizes what the problem is: 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 has 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 here. But clearly, the Anacreons have bigger fish to fry. Soon after the plot kicks up here, the Imperial Guards sent by Pace’s Brother Day last week arrive thanks to their speedy technology (which, as you may recall, was not afforded to Hari and his followers). 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 said Grand Huntress very quickly. Salvor immediately sees this as a long-game trap, and she’s proven right in short order: 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 especially well-done and surprisingly, disturbingly believable — and a bit too enigmatic for its own good. If the above presumption is right about Hari Seldon’s death (or “death,” who knows at this point) being part of the greater plan, wouldn’t it have been a mite helpful to inform Gaal about this before she was shot out into space for parts unknown? 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, which is both surprising in that there’s not a ton of social-media chatter and unsurprising in that it cost so much that Apple likely wants a return on its investment — it’s hard to see where Hari’s plan is leading everyone. And that may be the point, but it’s not dramatically exciting.