Foundation Gets “A Glimpse of Darkness” and Introduces Some Major Players

Season 2 of Foundation just started, so I guess I’m doing episode by episode reviews again, at least for now. For my takes on previous episodes, go here.

Warning! There will be some pretty big spoilers under the cut!

Okay, that’s more like it. Of course, this episode of Foundation is still something of an unholy mess and Gaal Dornick continues to wear out her welcome even further, but there’s actual stuff from the books here and some of it is even fun.

The part that’s the least fun of the episode is once again the continuing adventures of Salvor Hardin, Gaal Dornick and Hologram Hari. After managing the raise Hugo’s, now Salvor’s ship at the end of the last episode, Gaal and Salvor are just about to take off before a storm hits their corner of the world ocean of Synnax, when a royally pissed off Hari Seldon emerges from the Prime Radiant.

And why is Hari so royally pissed off? Well, turns out he was conscious the entire 188 years or so that Gaal spent in cryo-sleep. Gaal blabbers something along the lines of that she’s sorry, but that she was so depressed upon learning that Raych was dead. Harry insists that Gaal and Raych were never meant to be together and continues to rant that they upset his precious plans, whereupon Gaal confesses that she checked the Prime Radiant and that the plan has gone off track – badly.

“And whose fault is that?” Hari rants, “It’s yours, Gaal, because you prevented me from setting up the Second Foundation to keep the plan on track.”

This statement is very significant, because this is the first time we explicitly hear about the Second Foundation which will play a very important role in stories to come. But before Hari can expound upon why the Second Foundation is important, Salvor interrupts to point out that a storm is coming in and that the ship won’t survive it, unless they get it airborn now. So if Hari wants to set up his Second Foundation, he should project his consciousness into the computer and help to start the ship.

“And who are you?” Hari asks, whereupon Salvor replies that they met on Terminus. Hari points out that the Hari Salvor met on Terminus wasn’t him, but the other one. Salvor also unwisely mentions that she is Gaal’s daughter, which sets Hari off on another rant about how Gaal came to have a daughter. I suppose Hari hasn’t quite realised that Salvor is also his granddaughter.

In many ways, Hari’s rants reminded me of the frustrated fans of the Foundation books ranting at the TV series for getting everything wrong and messing it up. Even the fact that he focusses his ire on Gaal fits, because Gaal remaining in the series long after she should have exited the story is major symptom of things going wrong.

However, before they can fix anything, Gaal, Salvor and Hari first have to get the ship in the air. So Hari does vanish into the computer to boot up the system. The ship is ready to fly, but barnacles in an exhaust port (the ship spent a long time under water) prevent it from taking off, so Salvor hands the controls to Gaal (who has no idea what to do, not being a pilot), while Salvor goes outside in the storm to remove the barnacles. This leads to a completely superfluous action scene, which would have been far more at home in The Mandalorian and which is only in this episode, because apparently we cannot expect the audience to focus on people – gasp – talking and explaining important plot points.

This is yet another example of not trusting the audience to actually listen to the characters explaining something, if there isn’t an action scene involved. It’s the same impulse that gave us the so-called “sexposition” scenes in Game of Thrones, where the characters would discuss worldbuilding details while having sex. And frankly, I find it insulting to assume that audiences can’t focus on some worldbuilding and exposition without an action or a sex scene. After all, plenty of people watch courtroom dramas, where the various lawyer characters explain what happened and what’s going on, while talking. Sometimes, there are flashbacks, but there are no sex scenes, at least not in the courtroom, and almost no action scenes either. Medical dramas are similar, a lot of talking about what could have caused these symptoms. So if audiences are perfectly happy to listen to people talking about how and why X killed Y and why patient Z is sick in real world set shows, why don’t production teams trust audiences to listen to characters talking about dragons, the history of Westeros, psychohistory or the Seldon Plan in an SFF show?

Though once again, I suspect that the issue lies not with the actual showrunners, writers and producers, because people like David S. Goyer, Josh Friedman, Jane Espenson or Eric Carrasco (with whom I actually had a very nice Twitter exchange about his work on Masters of the Universe: Revelation without knowing that he was also involved in Foundation) are all genre people and good writers. No, I suspect that the problem lies with the higher echolons of Apple Plus executives who don’t think audiences are smart enough to get SFF and push many of those inexplicable changes on the showrunners and writers.

Once the combined efforts of Hari, Salvor and Gaal (well, mainly Hari and Salvor, since Gaal doesn’t know squat about spaceships) have gotten the ship into orbit, the three of them get back to the actual meat of the story. Hari explains why a Second Foundation is necessary to keep the plan on track and that the Second Foundation must know the plan, while it has to remain hidden from the First, because too much information would knock the Foundation and the plan itself off course. This is all pretty much straight from the books and hearing it all laid out made me happy.

Hari also points out that a war between the Foundation and Empire is imminent. Salvor of course wants to go off and help them, but Hari tells her that they can’t help the Foundation, but that they must resolve the crisis on their own. Which again is exactly what happens in the “The Dead Hand” a.k.a. “The General” segment of Foundation and Empire. Honestly, it’s such a relief to actually get to references to things which happen in the books.

Gaal displays the deviation from the plan and suggests using her precognitive abilities to go to the point in time where the plan diverges from the path. There’s also a line about how Gaal’s precognitive abilities and Salvor’s occasional flashbacks to a past that’s not hers are two sides of the same coin. Anyway, Gaal does manage to briefly project her mind to the future and finds herself in a Terminus on fire and experiences a feeling of overwhelming despair. And we know who tends to project exactly such feelings…

Because Gaal’s initial glimpse of the future didn’t reveal very much, it’s decided to try again. However, this time Gaal insists that she must open her mind the way the religious fanatics back on Synnax, hence gone extinct with the rest of the planet, used to do – by drowning. Of course, there is no water basin or pool aboard the spaceship, so Gaal decides to use the fire suppression system, which removes oxygen from the atmosphere inside the ship instead. If you think that Gaal Dornick is a bloody idiot, you’re not alone. Though she does remember to give Salvor a breathing mask first. Hari, being a hologram, doesn’t need to breathe, of course. He is also remarkably unconcerned about the fact that Gaal needs to “drown” to get a vision, but then Hari has plenty of reasons to dislike Gaal, plus he knows that she’s nuts.

Gaal’s plan works, too, and she gets her vision. And so we get a flash forward of Gaal running through the burning streets of Terminus. There are bodies all around and Gaal is running from something or rather somone. We get to see a man in a leather coat with goggles and some kind of electrical weapon glove. He finally captures Gaal and says something about how he has beaten her Mentalics – apparently some kind of warriors corps with psi powers. This is not as ridiculous and out of place in Foundation as it sounds, because yes, people with psi powers play an important role in the series. Foundation is, after all, a science fiction series of the 1940s published in Astounding, whose editor John W. Campbell really liked stories about psi powers and absolutely considered them hard SF.

The man with the goggles and the electrical shock glove eventually realises that he has the wrong Gaal, a Gaal from the time of the Empire, before Hober Mallow pierced its hide. And then he asks the all-important question: “Where is the Second Foundation?” Gaal obviously has no idea where it is, which does not stop the man with the goggles from using his own telepathic powers to try and pull the answer from her mind. However, before he can get anywhere, Gaal is revived by Salvor and Hari.

She briefly related what she saw and heard, the the person who pursued and captured her is called “The Mule” and that he is telepathic. She also relates that while she did not divulge the location of the Second Foundation, she realised where it was when the Mule tried to pry it from her mind. It’s on a planet called Ignis, which is quite close to Synnax, close enough to get there for a ship without a jump drive without requiring cryosleep. So that’s where Gaal, Salvor and Hari will go next.

Now Gaal’s flash forward is an incredibly important scene, probably one of the most important ones in the series so far. Because we get to see the Mule, a character I hadn’t expected to see this early in the narrative. The time frame, approximately 150 years into the future, fits as well, because the Mule shows up around the year 300 in the Foundation era to take down what’s left of the Empire and completely shatter the Seldon Plan. As for how and why the Mule is able to do all this – he is a telepathic mutant, the random result of a roll of the genetic die that Hari Seldon could neither foresee nor plan for. Worse, the Mule’s telepathic powers give him the ability to instantly take over everybody he encounters and make them his slave. In the short novel “The Mule”, we see this ability in terrifying action, when he takes over and converts Captain Han Pritcher, a member of the Foundation’s military determined to stop him.

In short, the Mule is one of the most terrifying characters you’ll ever encounter, spiritual ancestor of the equally terrifying Jason Wyngarde and Aldo Ferro from the X-Men comics, Jim Jaspers from the Captain Britain comics (Marvel, please make a Jaspers Warp movie and do it right) and TAO from WildC.A.T.S. What makes the Mule so terrifying is that you have no chance to beat him, no defence against him. If you try to kill him, he’ll do to you what he did to Han Pritcher and make you his slave. Not even the all-knowing Hari Seldon can help you to defeat him, because the Mule is the one thing Hari could no foresee.

So in short, “The Mule” is a huge deal and a large part of what made the Foundation series as memorable and beloved as it is. So seeing the Mule in the flesh was both exhilarating and infuriating. Exhilarating, because I’ve been waiting for this moment for more than thirty years. And infuriating, because we’re not actually supposed to see the Mule or know what he looks like. For in the books, the identity of the Mule is a big secret, because no one who has seen him is able to tell the tale later. There is one character who claims to know what the Mule looks like – basically scary and impressive, like the dude with the leather coat, goggles and electrical glove, who looks as if he stepped right out of a 1980s/90s SF B-Movie – but he’s not telling the truth.

The reveal of the true identity of the Mule is one of the most jawdropping and heart-stopping moments of the entire series along with the reveal of where the Second Foundation is located (it’s not Ignis. Or Helicon. Or Tarzenda). And to waste that moment and give us a B-movie villain, which is very much not what the real Mule looks like, too, is an infuriating storytelling choice. In his review, Joseph Kolacinski notes that the B-Movie villain dude may not be the show’s version of The Mule, but the Warlord of Kalgan, a character who serves as a front for the real Mule. He sincerely hope he’s right, because you don’t waste one of the best moments in the entire series like that.

Another thing that bothered me is the implication that Gaal falling in love with Raych and going on a weird escape pod odyssey across the galaxy is the reason for the rise of the Mule and for knocking the Seldon plan off course. Because it’s another symptom is the show’s intention to turn Gaal Dornick into the most important person in the universe rather than a minor character who appears only in a single story. The very point of the Mule is that he is a freak accident, a product of random genetic chance that Hari Seldon and the Second Foundation could not foresee.

But while every Foundation reader is salivating over the Mule, Gaal has a different concern. For she confesses to Salvor that there was a part of the vision that she didn’t reveal. For just before she was captured by the man pretending to be the Mule, she saw Salvor lying on the ground, quite dead. This reveal is actually the end of the episode and apparently supposed to be a kind of cliffhanger, but in truth it’s just massively underwhelming. Because the show just gave us the fucking Mule and expects us to care that Salvor Hardin is dead? Salvor Hardin who’s not even supposed to be in the story anymore at this point, let alone at the time of the Mule? I like Salvor, but her story has been told and she’s just superfluous at this point.

However, the rise of the Mule and the final fall of the Empire is still some 150 years in the future at this point. For now, the Empire is still chugging along, which means it’s time to check in on our favourite clone Emperors and their robot. We first see Brother Day as he is contemplating the giant murals in the palace, particularly one showing a pre-genetic dynasty group of Empresses. Brother Day is still absolutely convinced that he wants to marry Sabeth of the Dominion and have children.

Demerzel finds him and reports that she has found the perfect person to send against the Foundation, namely a general named Bel Riose. This is another name that will excite readers of the books, because Bel Riose is the titular general from the story “The General” a.k.a. “The Dead Hand”, which coincidentally is also the only story other than the very first story “The Psychohistorians” and the 1980s prequels to be partly set in the Empire and actually feature an Emperor, Cleon II.

Brother Day, however, wants absolutely nothing to do with Bel Riose, because the man has the tendency to ignore orders, is not properly subservient and much too popular for Day’s liking. Brother Dusk agree with him. Demerzel, however, insists that Bel Riose is exactly the right man for the job. We don’t Bel Riose yet, but so far his introduction as the brilliant but unconventional general who is the only person who could possibly stop the rise of the Foundation is remarkably close to the books, as is the fact that the Emperor neither likes nor trusts Riose. In the end, it’s this distrust that doooms Riose and in turn the Empire, while the Foundation once again doesn’t really have to do anything except trust in the Dead Hand of Hari Seldon and let history run its course to win. Coincidentally, Demerzel’s insistence on pushing Bel Riose on Brother Day once again made me wonder whether she isn’t a lot more invested in making Hari Seldon’s predictions come true. After all, in the books Demerzel and Hari are on the same side and want the same thing.

However, before the Cleons have to deal with Bel Riose, there is still a wedding to plan and an engagement dinner of sorts to get through. We see that the Cleons no longer move in synch due to the genetic drift and now need a movement coach to make sure that they give the appearance of moving in synch and being three versions of the same person.

The dinner does not go well. Sabeth does manage to charm all three Cleons, but she is also very cocky and forward to the point that I strongly suspect that she will not survive her wedding to Brother Day for long, if the wedding ever takes place at all. At any rate, Sabeth is as doomed as Bel Riose and the Empire itself.

Sabeth asks to see the chambers where the clones are grown and Day obliges and takes her there. He explains how the process works and what would happen if he or any other of the Cleons got killed and replaced by a new clone. Sabeth wants to know what happens if they have children. Day assures her that euthanizing the clones won’t be much of a problem. As for how Day and Sabeth will have children, Day reveals that he is sterile like all Cleons, which makes sense to prevent Cleonic by-blows from running around the Empire and upsetting the genetic dynasty. However, the process can be reversed and then Day and Sabeth can have children conceived in test tubes. The most promising embryos are selected and implanted, for why leave anything to biological chance. Artificially conceiving their future children to prevent genetic disorders does make sense for the future rules of the Galactic Empire (and that they have long to rule), but personally, I raised an eyebrow at the implantation bit. For why subject Sabeth and the future heir to the Empire to the potential risks of pregnancy, when you’ve got a chamber full of artificial wombs right there? Honestly, I think someone needs to read the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The third plot strand in this episode takes us to the planet Siwenna, a location that will be familiar to readers of the books. Siwenna is a world on the furthest edge of the Empire, beset by civil war and ruled with an iron first by a cruel Imperial vice roy with very little oversight. In “The Big and the Little”, Hober Mallow travels to Siwenna to see for himself what has become of the Empire. He meets an impoverished patrician named Onum Barr who tells him the story of how Siwenna became a hellhole and goes to visit a power station only to realise that Imperial technology is large, clumsy and aging and that the technicians tasked with maintaining it have no idea how anything works. This convinces Mallow that the Empire is doomed, because they have stopped innovating.

Siwenna shows up again in “The Dead Hand” a.k.a. “The General”, where Bel Riose travels to Siwenna to interrogate Ducem Barr, the sole surviving son of Onum Barr, about his father’s contact with Hober Mallow decades before, which makes Ducem Barr the one person with the most knowledge about the Foundation. There is a Ducem Barr listed in the end credits, so I suspect we’ll get to see him eventually.

But for now the Siwenna in the show is an Old West inspired planet on the outer rim which has been cut loose and ignored by the Empire. The inhabitants have been eeking out a meagre living ever since then.

However, the first person we meet in Siwenna is not a local but a Foundation missionary named Brother Constant who uses a Bishop’s Claw monster as a mule. Brother Constant, who is a young woman BTW, has just stumbled upon something, a fellow Foundation missionary who was lynched by binding him to a tree and waiting for him to be killed by lightning, for Siwenna’s inhabitants worship a lightning bolt hurling deity. There actually is a priest lynched in “The Big and the Little”, though this happens on Korell rather than on Siwenna and the circumstances are quite different, because the priest is a trap for Hober Mallow.

Brother Constant promptly runs off to fetch her superior, only to find him in his bunk in their spaceship in a drunken stupour. Brother Constant rudely rouses the priest with an injection that instantly turns him sobre and takes him to their murdered comrade. Both Brother Constant and her boss know that the murdered priest is a warning and fear that they will be next.

“But why?” Brother Constant wonders, “They can keep their gods. We are just shining a light on the great force that underlies everything.” And what would that great truth be? Well, of course the teachings of the great prophet Hari Seldon.

The two missionaries have a presentation planned for that night and decide to go ahead with it anyway, even though their personal forceshields are not very good against lightning.

We next are treated to Brother Constant giving her presentation/sermon in the market place of a town on Siwenna, surrounded by hostile locals who are brandishing ropes. She has a little projector that shows 3D images of the vault on Terminus and Hari Seldon and a personal forceshield that may not work against lightning, but works really well against hostile locals trying to grab her.

Just when things are about to get hairy for Brother Constant, her boss arrives, floating to the ground via an anti-gravity cloak. The locals are more and more impressed by the show put on by those foreign missionaries who appear to be magicians and end their performance by flying off into the air via a tractor beam.

The whole event is very reminiscent of a US-style medicine show or tent revival, which is exactly what it is. Because the Church of the Galactic Spirit (just called Scientism in the books) is a fraud, its miracles are technology dressed up as magic. The personal forceshields are straight out of the books, though the anti-gravity cloaks of the missionaries are borrowed from another “science as a fake religion” story published in Astounding around the same time as the Foundation stories, namely Gather, Darkness! by Fritz Leiber, which was serialised in Astounding in 1943.

Now the fake religion of scientism was always one of my favourite things about the Foundation stories and something I really, really wanted to see in the show, because my sixteen-year-old self, who’d recently decides that religious people were all hypcrites, loved the idea of the Foundation using a fake religion to spread its influence and dupe the idiots. So I was absolutely thrilled to actually see Foundation missionaries do their thing and duping locals in the show.

Even better, Brother Constant’s boss is Poly Verisof, last seen at the end of season one as a young boy. As in the TV series, Poly Verisof in the books is the high priest of scientism and one of the fairly few people who know that the religion is a scam, because most of the priests and missionaries don’t actually know that their religion is fake. In the books, the priests are also not Foundationers, but recruited from the Four Kingdoms and given just enough education to be able to operate the Foundation’s technological miracles. Particularly smart acolytes like Limmar Ponyets from “The Wedge” and Hober Mallow are removed from the seminaries and told the truth about the Foundation. However, both Poly Verisof and Brother Constant are Foundationers and apparently true believers in their own faux religion. Poly Verisof is also the last survivor of those who saw Hari Seldon emerge from the Vault during the first crisis, which would make him some 144 years old. He is portrayed by 58-year-old British-Indian-Kenyan actor Kulvinder Ghir, who is way too young to play a 144-year-old, but still manages to be utterly delightful in the role of the drunkard high priest of the Church of the Galactic Spirit. The Siwenna scenes are a genuine delight and I would gladly watch a whole show of Poly Verisof and Brother Constant missionating the outer rim and spreading the good news about Hari Seldon and the Church of the Galactic Spirit.

However, Poly and Brother Constant’s mission trip is cut short, when they are recalled to Terminus, because the Vault has come alive and a new crisis is imminent. Poly Verisof is excited to meet Hari Seldon again. We also see that the spaceship of the two missionaries is a jump ship developed from the technology used aboard the Invictus. Again, this is true to the books, where the Empire’s technology stagnated or declined, while the Foundation, which is after all a colony of geeks, continued to develop and refine its own technology.

On Terminus, Poly and Brother Constant are welcomed by warden Jaeggar Fount and Director Sermak, who also happens to be Brother Constant’s father. There is an argument about who gets to talk to Hari Seldon, when he emerges from the Vault. Poly Verisof thinks that he should be the one to talk to Seldon, but Director Sermak and Jaeggar Fount only want him to hold back the crowds – after all, he is the High Priest and people will listen to him. Apparently, the Church of the Galactic Spirit is also a thing on Terminus rather than just an opiate for the masses of the Four Kingdoms.

Shortly thereafter, everybody is gathered outside the Vault. Jaeggar Fount attempts to enter, but only get s single message conveyed, before the Vault quite rudely incinerates him. And just to make its point, the Vault also graffitis the message on it walls. “Get Hober Mallow!” I guess the Vault has read the books and knows who is supposed to be up next.

I have to admit I was not exactly looking forward to watching this episode, because watching Foundation often feels more like a chore than a joy, since it’s very much not the story I want to see and have wanted to see for more than thirty years now. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. The saga of the Emperors Three is always fun, the adventures of Poly Verisof and Brother Constant are a pure delight and even Gaal Dornick is not quite as annoying as usual and besides, she gave us a glimpse of the Second Foundation and the Mule.

As Paul Levinson points out in his review, the show introduces a lot of major players that will become important later on in this episode. Not only does the show tease Hober Mallow and Bel Riose, though neither has appeared on screen yet, but we also get Poly Verisof, the Church of the Galactic Spirit and of course the Mule and the Second Foundation, well before either of them should enter the story.

Personally, I suspect that showrunners might not be sure if they will get another season, so they’re teasing the meaty parts of Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation will before they should appear. Even Bel Riose shouldn’t yet appear in the story at this point, since this should be the story of Hober Mallow and his proxy war with the Empire via the Republic of Korell. Though it appears that the showrunners are skipping over the proxy war with Korell and may have combined Hober Mallow with Latham Devers, a similar character who appears in “The Dead Hand”.

Once again, this episode illustrates two major problems with the TV series. The first is that once again, the TV show cannot resist making the various Foundationers dealing with the crisises facing them special. The Vault asks for Hober Mallow specifically, whereas the books always made it clear that while general trends dictate what will happen, they can’t predict who the protagonists will be. If Salvor Hardin hadn’t kept the Four Kingdoms in check, someone else would have done it. If Hober Mallow hadn’t dealt with the Republic of Korell, somone else would have done it. The protagonists themselves don’t matter nor are they special. They’re just the right person who happens to be in the right place at the right time. In many ways, the Foundation stories are the counterpoint to the “great man” theory of history, because the stories very clearly say that anybody could have been that great man and that larger trends matter more than individuals. In many ways, this is a remarkably modern view. Which makes it so annoying that the TV show has to make all of the protagonists of the hour special in some way.

The other problem is one that’s inherent with the structure of the book series, namely the fact that the first five stories, collected in Foundation, are somewhat dull and talky and that everything that made the series the classic that it is happens in the second and third book. However, you can’t just skip ahead to Foundation and Empire and skip the first book – which new readers sometimes try to do – because that will ruin the impact of the later stories. Cause you first need to see the Foundation use their wits to triumph against steadily stronger enemies again and again and you need to see Hari Seldon be right again and again to feel the absolute shock when the Foundation faces its strongest enemy yet – the Mule – and Seldon is wrong.

Personally, I think it would have been best to cover the events in Foundation in season one rather than spending ten episodes on only three stories with lots of filler and massive departures. Because if you actually reread Foundation, “The Psychohistorians” is just set-up (and the show did handle that story really well) and “The Encyclopaedists”, which was only known as “Foundation” upon first publication in 1942, is the only story that really is fairly dull and mostly features people talking. “Bridle and Saddle” a.k.a. “The Mayors” has plenty of action, “The Wedge” would make a neat single episode story and “The Big and the Little” is a mystery which culminates in a courtroom drama. It would be possible to turn these stories into good TV by actually showing much of the action that happens off stage without changing the stories too much.

However, you have to trust your audience and that’s something Apple Plus just isn’t willing to do.

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2 Responses to Foundation Gets “A Glimpse of Darkness” and Introduces Some Major Players

  1. Pingback: Foundation meets “King and Commoner” and swears a lot | Cora Buhlert

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