Foundation explains “Why the Gods Made Wine” and still has next to nothing to do with the books

Season 2 of Foundation is currently streaming, so I’m doing episode by episode reviews again. For my takes on previous episodes, go here.

For even more Foundation talk, I was a guest at the most excellent Seldon Crisis podcast and you can listen to us talking about Foundation, Asimov and the golden age of science fiction here.

Warning! There will be spoilers under the cut!

Unlike last episode, this episode does make some progress in the stories of Poly Verisof and Brother Constant as well as Hober Mallow. However, the majority of the episode is devoted to Hari, Gaal and Salvor and to Tellem Bond and her Mentalics.

Poly Verisof and Brother Constant arrive on Trantor aboard an Imperial jumpship with some stunning visuals of Trantor and its docking rings viewed through the hole at the center of the jumpship. Brother Constant is fascinated by the Spacers (Foundation jumpships don’t require Spacers) and the advanced genetic engineering that created them. The Spacer casually mentions that the Empire has long lost these advanced genetic engineering abilities and is instead exploiting the Spacers.

The arrival terminal on Trantor still looks a lot like it did all the way back when Gaal Dornick arrived here back in the very first episode, complete with a giant hologram of Brother Day welcoming visitors to Trantor.

At immigration desk, Poly Verisof introduces himself and Brother Constant as representatives of Terminus on the Outer Rim. The immigration officer icily replies that the Empire does not recognise these worlds. “That’s what we’re hoping to change”, Brother Constant replies cheerfully.

Even though the metal detectors or whatever they are glow ominously red, as Poly and Brother Constant pass through them, they are initially left alone and use the opportunity to take in the sights. Brother Constant, who is after all a girl from Thesbis, for whom Terminus is the hub of the universe, is mightily impressed by the size and grandeur of the city. Poly Verisof not nearly as wide-eyed and impressed, but then he is a lot older and knew people who had lived on Trantor and probably told him about it.

There is a brief conversation, where Brother Constant asks Poly if Trantor really is the heart of the galaxy and how it can still look so impressive and alive, even though the Empire is collapsing. For Constant, there is never any question that the Empire will indeed collapse – she is a true believer, after all. Poly Verisof tells her that the rot begins at the outer edges and takes a while to reach the center.

As for Brother Constant being a true believer, there is a second conversation in which Poly Verisof tells Constant that he believes in Hari Seldon and psychohistory, because he saw Hari Seldon or rather his hologram walk out of the vault with his own eyes. Brother Constant, however, never personally saw Hari Seldon, but only heard second and third hand accounts of his appearance – after all, Poly Verisof is the only surviving person who saw Seldon, everybody else is long dead  – and still believes. Poly Verisof is a believer, but Brother Constant has faith.

This dialogue is not in the books, though it sounds very much like something Asimov might have written. Though I have to quibble that in the original stories, the Foundationers don’t believe in Scientism or the Church of the Galactic Spirit, since they know it’s all a scam to pacify the Four Kingdoms. But then, Brother Constant is from Thesbis. And Poly Verisof, who in the books is one of the few members of clergy who know that it’s all a scam, explicitly says that he only believes in Seldon, because he actually saw him.

Poly Verisof also asks Constant to flush his stash of drugs, because he fears he won’t have the strength to do it. Constant replies that if Poly had the strength to ask her, he has the strength to do it, but then goes ahead and flushes the drug.

However, their discussion about belief versus faith is rudely interrupted, when Imperial guards show up to arrest Poly and Constant very much like what happened to Gaal Dornick and Hari Seldon in the very first episode. They’re even still using the same sensory deprivation hoods.

As for why Poly Verisof and Brother Constant have been arrested, we know that the Emperors Three and Demerzel want to learn more about Terminus and those rumours of flying magicians at the edge of the galaxy and even dispatched Bel Riose (who was last seen two episodes ago) to learn more. And suddenly, two travellers claiming to be amabassadors show up on Trantor itself. Of course, they’ll be arrested and questioned.

Talking of the Emperors Three, the episode briefly checks in with the Cleons. Brother Day is holding a rally in a very Brutalist looking arena. There’s a huge crowd, including Imperial patricians from far flung worlds of the Empire, as well as Dawn, Dusk, Demerzel as well as Sareth and her retinue. Thankfully, the Imperial balcony is big enough to accomodate all of them. Day orates that this arena was once used for bloodsports and gladiatorial games in the Empire’s glorious past, but has since been abandoned. They’re really laying on the Roman Empire parallels thickly, are they?

Day then proceeds to unveil a giant statue dedicated to the last Empress, the mother of Cleon the First. This coincidentally is one of the two giant female statues seen in the title sequence. What I found a bit irritating – beyond the fact that they would simply let a big chunk of real estate on Trantor lay abandoned for decades, if not centuries – is that there is blue sky visible above the arena. In the books, Trantor is a domed city.

Finally, Day declares that Cleon’s mother – who is also Day, Dusk and Dawn’s biological mother, come to think of it – will not be the last Empress after all and announces his impending nuptials to Sareth.  There’s a lot of applause, while Dawn and Sareth make gooey eyes at each other  and Dusk makes gooey eyes at Rue and actually seems to be enjoying himself, because at least the Cleons had a good run. But then, we know that this Dusk is one of the most mellow Cleons we’ve ever seen. Demerzel, meanwhile, looks as if she is quietly planning to murder everybody present. And knowing her, she probably is.

Sareth then steps forward, clad in a flimsy dress that’s clearly held in place only by double-sided tape, and gives a speech of her own, a speech that she clearly did not share with Day beforehand. Sareth declares to the assembled patricians and citizens that yes, she will be their new Empress, but that she will not just lord over them, but that she views her new role as an obligation towards the people of Trantor and the Empire, because the people are all the Empire.

In his review, Paul Levinson compares Sareth to Evita Perón, which is certainly an apt comparison. Another good comparison would be Princess Diana, who also was a lot more charismatic and popular than the rather bland royal she married. It’s also notable that neither woman lived to be forty, Evita Perón dying of cancer at 33 and Princess Diana in a car crash at 36.

Because make no mistake, even if Day actually marries Sareth, she and most likely her entire retinue as well will all die horribly. Day glaring dagger at Sareth and exchanging some very telling looks with Demerzel was foreshadowing enough. That’s also the reason why I can’t really get invested in the whole Sareth storyline. Because it’s very obvious that she will die.

While all this is going on, Hober Mallow arrives aboard the Spirit at the place where Hari Seldon or rather hologram dispatched him. However, there’s nothing there – it’s just empty space. Worse, Becky, Brother Constant’s semi-tame bishop’s claw, is hungry and Hober has no way to feed her.

Before Hober can figure out what to do about Becky, he is interrupted by the arrival of a giant spaceship of a type that we – and apparently Hober – have never seen before. The Spirit is pulled into the giant spaceship, Hober disembarks and meets people floating in zero G inside, who demand to know what he’s doing there. Turns out Hober has stumbled upon – or rather Hari Seldon led him to – the Spacer Hive, where the Spacers breed more of their kind.

The Hober Mallow scenes are brief, but extremely interesting. For starters, the Empire is completely dependent upon the Spacers for interstellar. Without Spacers, there’s no way for the far flung worlds of the Empire to remain connected. Also remember that the Spacer Brother Constant met told her that a) the Empire exploits the Spacers and b) no one in the Empire has the genetic engineering knowledge that created the Spacers.

In “The Big and the Little”, Hober Mallow travels and Korell and Siwenna and realises that a) the Empire’s technology is big and unwieldy and outdated and b) no one knows how to build these systems anymore, so if they break down for good, no one can repair and replace them. Meanwhile, the Foundation’s technology took a different path from the Empires and not only evolved and improved, because also became smaller and more nimble. Hober also realises that though the Foundation isn’t yet strong enough to beat the Empire, in another hundred years or so it will be, especially if Foundation technology keeps improving. The title refers to the contrast between the big, unwieldy legacy technology of the Empire and the small, nimble technology of the Foundation.

In the books, the technology gap involves nuclear power and nuclear powered gadgets, which seemed suitably futuristic in 1944, but is hopelessly outdated today. I think the whole Spacer plot is the TV-series’ version of the story of the tech gap between the Empire and the Foundation. Because while the Empire depends upon the Spacers, even though it treats them badly, the Foundation’s jump ships don’t require Spacers. This gives the Foundation an edge over the Empire. And if Hober Mallow were to persuade the Spacers to turn against the Empire…

The Hober Mallow and Brother Constant and Poly Verisof plotlines are the ones that interest me most, but that’s not where the episode focuses its energy. Instead, the vast majority of the runtime is spent on Ignis with Hari the Second, Gaal and Salvor and Tellem Bond and her Mentalics. It’s not all bad, but it’s not the story I really want to spend a lot of time with right now.

On Ignis, Hari is standing on the beach – a beach which doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the planet or rather this part of it, cause planets are big and have lots of different ecosystems. Salvor shows up patrolling the perimeter and tells Hari that she is feeling uneasy, because she keeps sensing the Mentalics’ dreams. Hari tries to Bond with Salvor, who is his granddaughter after all, and keeps on trying throughout the episode. At one point, we see them fishing together, which Hari enjoys and Salvor very much does not. Hari tells Salvor point blank that he knows she doesn’t trust him and that she is worried Gaal will turn into another Hari (you mean, she’ll stop being whiny and annoying? Yes, please). Hari also tells her again that he didn’t know how serious the relationship between Gaal and Raych was until that night and that maybe Raych should have displayed better judgment and shouldn’t have pursued a relationship he knew would come to nothing. Hari isn’t wrong here, since the entire Hari and Gaal subplot we have been subjected to since season 1 could have been avoided if Raych had simply stuck to the plan.

Hari also reveals that the actual Prime Radiant, the one Gaal hid aboard the Beggar, and the one on Terminus are linked via the Vault, but that neither the Prime Radiant on Terminus nor the Hari hologram on Terminus have the whole picture, lest they accidentally reveal something they shouldn’t.

I honestly wonder why Salvor is so concerned about Gaal. Yes, Gaal is her biological mother, but Salvor’s intense desire to seek her out at the cost of all her other relationships to her mother, Hugo, her friends on Terminus, etc… never really made sense. Also, Salvor doesn’t really have a reason to dislike Hari. After all, Hari Seldon’s hologram swooped in to resolve the first crisis without undue bloodshed and also confirmed that the cause of action Salvor has suggested was the right one. Plus, Salvor grew up hearing how great and important Hari Seldon was. So her feelings don’t make a whole lot of sense.

Salvor continues patrolling the perimeter and meets a little boy, who won’t or can’t talk physically, but who does talk with his mind. He shows Salvor what happened to him and how people who hated and hunted down Mentalics slit the throats of several of them and threw them into a ditch, including the little boy. However, the little boy survived and was rescued by Tellem Bond. He then takes Salvor to meet the rest of the people in the camp – cause everybody seems to live in a very makeshift camp by the seaside. The people surround Salvor, eager to share their stories. Unsurprisingly, the stories are all terrible – people being hunted, locked in cages, hanged. The stories all end the same. Tellem Bond shows up, messiah-like, to rescue them. If you wonder how Tellem can show up in so many different places and presumably on different planets to rescue the beleaguered Mentalics, you’re not alone.

It’s also notable how very low-tech all the persecution and slaughter scenes are. There are iron cages, improvised gallows with hemp nooses, people having their throats slit, etc… Those scenes might have been from any high fantasy or historical show. Which wouldn’t bother except that scenes of mass slaughter in the Foundation stories – which do exist, though they usually happen off stage and we hear about them second hand – aren’t like that at all. There are cities and planets being bombed, people threatened with gas chamber or lethal injection executions, etc… No iron cages, hangings or throat slittings.

A bit later, Hari, Gaal and Salvor talk with Tellem Bond. Tellem explains that the life of a Mentalic usually follows one of two paths. Either they are treated as gods, which isn’t particularly good or healthy for anybody, or they are hunted and persecuted, which is worse. Tellem created her sanctuary on Ignis to offer the Mentalics a third path, a fairly normal, if secluded life.

Hari says that if Tellem and her Mentalics help him and become the Second Foundation, they have the chance to do something important and help the entire galaxy. Tellem, however, doesn’t care about the entire galaxy and its fate. And she doesn’t want her people to fight somebody else’s war, thank you very much.

Gaal then tells Tellem that she has seen the future and that the Mule threatens everybody, including Tellem and her people. Tellem replies that it’s not possible for anybody to see the future. At any rate, she has never met any Mentalic who could. So Gaal isn’t just special among ordinary humans, she’s also special among Mentalics.

The whole thing also doesn’t make any sense, because in the real world precognition is actually one of the most common psychic phenomena. Many of us have had inexplicable hunches – you don’t need to be a Mentalic (and note that we have no evidence that psychic phenomena are real, in spite of years of research). So why would Tellem that while all the other psychic phenomena are possible, one of the most common that a lot of people have experienced in some form, isn’t?

A bit later, Tellem catches Gaal alone inside the Beggar and just lets herself in, which isn’t suspicious at all. She reads Gaal’s mind and sees the Mule vision, including dead Salvor, which seems to spook her. Tellem asks Gaal if she told Salvor about the vision and claims to be sympathetic to their situation. Tellem also tells Gaal that today is Salvor’s birthday, quel coincidence. Meanwhile, I continue not to care if Salvor Hardin dies at the hands of the Mule in the future, because as far as I am concerned, Salvor’s story ended last season and she should have had a long and happy life as mayor of Terminus and heroine of the Foundation.

Finally, Tellem tells Gaal that she and Salvor are welcome to stay and that Tellem would be happy to hand over her “children”, as she calls the Mentalics, to Gaal after her death, which won’t be too far in the future, since Tellem is ill. Gaal can even call the colony Second Foundation, if she wants to. However, Tellem doesn’t want non-Mentalics on Ignis, so Hari has to go. She also tells Gaal that Hari is holding her back and stopping her from developing her skills to the full.

Now there is a Second Foundation in the books, which become prominent in the second half of the original trilogy. And yes, the Second Foundation is composed of Mentalics. However, that’s where the similarities end. Because in the original trilogy, we never see the Second Foundation being established – it enters the story fully formed as a new party in the Galactic conflict. The Second Foundation deals with the Mule and then has to stop the First Foundation from getting too close to them. In the last Foundation novel Asimov wrote, Forward the Foundation, published posthumously in 1993, we do see the seeds of the Second Foundation being laid, when Hari discovers that his granddaughter Wanda, daughter of Raych, has psychic abilities and that one of his psychohistorians does as well. It is implied that Wanda and the other psychohistorian (I forgot the character’s name) will seek out others like themselves to form the Second Foundation. However, there is no Tellem Bond and no, the Second Foundation is not on Ignis (nor on Tarzenda nor on Terminus).

If anything, the whole storyline with Tellem Bond and her persecuted Mentalics reminds not of anything in Foundation, but of the X-Men comics with Hari Seldon (or Gaal) as Professor Xavier and Tellem Bond as Magneto. It’s the same conflict we’ve seen in the X-Men comics for sixty years now – should mutant fight to protect a world that fears and hates them, which is Professor Xavier’s way, or should they only live and work for themselves, preferably secluded from non-mutants, which is Magneto’s way.

Now the roots of the X-Men comics – and much of the Marvel and DC Universes – do lie in the golden age of science fiction, because the people who went on to create those comics grew up reading pulp SFF during the radium and golden age and sometimes the same people wrote for both the pulps and comics.

For the X-Men, the most notable influence is the 1948 novella “In Hiding” and its sequels as well as the 1953 fix-up novel Children of the Atom (note the title) by Wilmar H. Shiras (see reviews by Joachim Boaz and James Wallace Harris here). For some reason, Wilmar H. Shiras is largely forgotten, probably because she only wrote a handful of stories and one novel and then vanished for twenty years. “In Hiding” postdates the earliest Foundation stories, though it was published around the same time  as the later stories “Now You See It…” and “…And Now You Don’t”, which are the ones focussed on the Second Foundation. Other early example of mutants with mighty mental powers being feared and hated by those around them are the 1940 science fiction novel Slan by A.E. Van Vogt and the 1935 science fiction novel Odd John by Olaf Stapleton. I don’t know if Asimov ever read Odd John, but he certainly read Slan and the Children of the Atom stories, since they appeared in Asimov’s home mag Astounding.

In general, worries about evolution – and even more commonly devolution – and where it might go permeated the speculative fiction of the 1920s and 1930s. Among others, they are found at the heart of many a Lovecraft or Robert E. Howard story. From 1945 on, these fears about evolution were joined by fears of mutations caused by radioactivity, once an increase in birth defects was observed in the children of survivors of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Mutations caused by radiation exposure were a staple of science fiction – in books, comics and films – well into the 1960s. The Mule and the Second Foundation didn’t come out of nowhere, but resulted from the SFF landscape of the 1940s.

So in short, it’s not completely inappropriate that Foundation turns into the X-Men for about half the episode. That said, it still doesn’t really fit, because if I want X-Men, I’ll read or watch X-Men, thank you very much.

Comparing Tellem Bond to Magneto is not all that far-fetches either, for even though I sympathise with her fears about Hari or Empire exploiting the Mentalics, I very much disapprove of her methods. Tellem Bond is a deeply unlikeable character, more unlikeable than Magneto in fact, who has been oscillating between good and evil since the 1980s (I’m not sure what he’s now) and who also has the benefit of having been portrayed by Ian McKellan in the X-Men movies. Tellem Bond has none of that. I’m not the only one who dislikes her either. Paul Levinson also notes how much he dislikes Tellem Bond in his review.

And Tellem Bond gives us plenty of reasons to dislike and distrust her. And indeed Hari says as much to Salvor and Gaal, that Tellem Bond is manipulating them all and that she is after the Prime Radiant. He’s absolutely right, too – well, he is Hari Seldon, after all. But of course Gaal and Salvor won’t listen and instead decide to celebrate Salvor’s birthday, when they see what they believe to be Hari taking off with the Beggar.

However, Hari taking off with the Beggar is as much an illusion as Raych and Hugo were last episode. Instead, one of Tellem Bond’s Mentalics has taken the ship (How can they even fly it, when it’s linked to Salvor and Gaal?). As for Hari, Tellem Bond is torturing him in a highly medieval way by chaining him up in a some kind of tidal pool… and the tide is slowly rising. Tellem wants to know where the Prime Radiant is, but of course Hari won’t tell her. Never mind that he doesn’t know, because Gaal hid it.

As Hari is about to drown, his life flashes before his eyes – and before ours, because we get a lengthy flashback of Hari’s past. It starts off with kid Hari on Helicon, scribbling calculations in his notebook, while his parents are hearding some kind of flying alien monsters called moonshrikes, which look a lot like the Salamence Pokemon, off a cliff using sheepdog drones. Kid Hari calculates the patterns in which the moonshrikes stampede towards the cliff and then goes to prove his theory by standing among the stampeding creatures unharmed. His mother is worried and his father hits him… again.

Next we see Hari as a young academic at university, still on Helicon. His early papers on psychohistory, still very much theoretical at this point, have attracted the attention of the Empire, as one Dr. Tadj (played by Irish actress Fiona O’Shaughnessy, another actress who’s actually too famous for a bit part in Foundation), university administrator cum Imperial agent and Hari’s boss points out. They are arguing when a young woman named Dr. Yanna Kine, who has just transferred from her homeworld Calda to Helicon, interrupts them. Yanna is looking for an office and Dr. Tadj puts her in Hari’s office to annoy him. Hari also is annoyed, until Yanna tells him that she is familiar with his work and believes in his theories and that they will accomplish great things together.

Hari and Yanna work together to develop a prototype of the Prime Radiant and fall in love along the way. Their romance culminates when Yanna tells Hari that she is pregnant and gives him a necklace which allows him to feel with her and her baby’s heartbeat.

However, Hari’s work continues to attract unwanted Imperial attention. Dr. Tadj shows up, bearing a job offer for Hari and Yanna to transfer to Streeling University on Trantor, where they will be much easier to monitor. Hari, however, isn’t interested in Imperial scrutiny of his work and says so. Dr. Tadj tells him that if he and Yanna don’t go to Streeling University, she will terminate all the funds for their research and confiscate the prototype of the Prime Radiant. Hari still doesn’t want to go, but Yanna tells him they should maybe consider it for their own safety and also that Dr. Tadj, since it’s pretty obvious that she is scared of the Empire.

Hari promises to consider the offer, but Dr. Tadj jumps the gun, quite literally, and shows up on Hari and Yanna’s doorstep to abduct the pregnant Yanna at gunpoint. Something goes terribly wrong and Yanna and her unborn child are killed, which Hari senses through the necklace she gave him. He decides to avenge himself upon Dr. Tadj and lures her to a meeting, hacks her car to take them to the same mesa where Hari did his first crowd dynamic calculations as a boy. He uses the sheepdog drones to call the moonshrikes, standing among the stampede unharmed, while Dr. Tadj is trampled to death.

Finally, we see Hari arriving on Trantor at Streeling University with the biggest library in the Empire. He is shown around by a man named Jerril (played by League of Gentlemen‘s Reese Shearsmith), who was revealed to be an Imperial agent way back in the very first episode.

Talking of which, it is very notable how many well known British actors like Philip Glenister, Reece Shearsmith or Fiona O’Shaughnessy shows up in Foundation in small parts, smaller parts than actors of that calibre normally play. Is this a case of actors wanting to be in Foundation, because they loved the books, which is something we see a lot with geeky properties like Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel or Masters of the Universe: Revelation (which would never have had such a star-studded voice cast, if not for actors being fans) etc…? Or does Apple Plus just pay really well?

The Hari Seldon flashback scenes are very good, even though they don’t really push the story forward. In many ways, this is the TV series’ version of Prelude to Foundation, which has the distinction of being my introduction to Foundation and Isaac Asimov’s work in general. In both series and novel, Hari Seldon’s at this point purely theoretical work on psychohistory attracts Imperial attention and the Emperor, who is named Cleon, wants to use psychohistory for his own gain. In both cases, Hari wants nothing to do with that. I’m sure that any parallels to Isaac Asimov himself, who as a newly minted doctor of chemistry in the 1940s wanted nothing to do with research into nuclear weapons, which did not exactly improve his job prospects, are totally coincidental.

Prelude sends Hari on a mad flights across Trantor with its very different neighbourhoods, inspired by a journalist called Chetter Hummin, who tells Seldon that Cleon and his first minister Eto Demerzel are planning to have him arrested to forcibly take his research. In truth, Chetter Hummin and Eto Demerzel and yes, they’re both the robot Daneel R. Olivaw, though Daneel/Demerzel/Hummin is male in the books. Hari does end up at Streeling University for a time and teams up with a female historian who helps him to turn psychohistory into more than a mere theory. However, that female historian is called Dors Venabili not Yanna Kine. Dors is also a robot, who protects Hari Seldon and keeps an eye on him on Daneel’s order. And no, Yanna is not Dors by another name, if only because robots can’t get pregnant. After the ground gets too hot at Streeling University, Hari and Dors go on the run and have more adventures and pick up an adorable street urchin named Raych. Dors is eventually killed in Forward the Foundation, the next book in the series, though there is no Dr. Tadj involved.

So in short, I liked the Young Hari flashbacks, since this is probably the closest we’ll ever get to an adaptation of Prelude to Foundation. That said, they still feel oddly shoehorned into what is supposed to be a mash-up of “The Big and the Little” and “The General/The Dead Hand”, two stories that happen much later. Never mind that the flashbacks are almost ridiculously long, considering that this is something that Hari sees while he’s drowning. And Hari does not take twenty minutes to drown.

The episode finally ends with Hari supposedly drowning. Though I’m pretty sure he’ll be saved in the nick of time and not just because yesterday was Jarred Harris’ 62nd birthday. And even if not, there’s still Hari’s twin on Terminus.

This episode is not all bad, though it spends way too much time on Ignis with the Mentalics and not enough on any of the other storylines. And indeed the Stars End podcast and Paul Levinson both agree that there was way too much Ignis and also too much focus on Hari, even though pretty much everybody liked the Young Hari flashbacks. Only Geek Girl Authority reviewer Julia Roth actually seemed to enjoy the Ignis scenes, but then she latched onto Gaal and Salvor as characters and is invested in their relationship. If you think that Gaal and Salvor are kind of superfluous at this point in the story, the Ignis scenes are a lot less compelling.

Meanwhile, I continue to wonder who the target audience for this show is. It’s clearly not the fans of the books or fans of intelligent, idea-driven science fiction in general, because the show just isn’t catering to them at all beyond giving the occasional lip service to the originals. I still think that a more book accurate adaptation would have worked, especially considering how many politicians, scientists, tech business people, etc… have been deeply influenced by the Foundation books over the years in spite of their many flaws. And clearly the writers and showrunners wanted to make a more accurate adaptation, but the higher ups at Apple Plus nixed that idea, because they underestimate the audience as usual.

So who is the show for? The mainstream mundane audience which turned Game of Thrones into a major cultural phenomenon? IMO chasing the mainstream audience is futile, because these people are fickle. They want to watch the show everybody else is watching and they have long since moved on to Succession or Yellowstone or The White Lotus or And Just Like That or some other soap opera about rich people being awful and they only ever watched Game of Thrones for the sex scenes anyway. The mainstream audience occasionally latches onto a good show – Only Murders in the Building seems to be a current example – but chasing them is pointless, especially for a genre show. Game of Thrones was an outlier. But the mainstream folks who watched Game of Thrones won’t necessarily watch another SFF show, no matter how well made. I remember one review saying that Succession had all the backstabbing intrigue of Game of Thrones without those irritating dragons and white walkers and swordfights and weird costumes, complete failing to understand that for many of us, the dragons and white walkers and swordfights and weird costumes were the reason to tune in and that we don’t care about rich people in grey suits and grey offices being awful.

If I sound a bit cynical here, maybe that’s because I spent way too much time trying to connect with these mainstream viewers and readers, trying to discuss the movie/TV show/book of the hour with them and recommending other, lesser known books, movies or TV shows that they might enjoy, if they liked the popular thing. Only to realise that they only liked the popular thing because it was popular and because all their friends were watching or reading it. They didn’t care about other, often better works in the same vein, because their friends weren’t talking about those things, only weird people like me who don’t watch normal TV shows and movies and don’t read normal books.

These people have also been around for as long as I can remember. Back in the 1980s, Dallas and Dynasty were the shows that everybody talked about and everybody had to watch. So I tried to watch them – which wasn’t easy, because they were on after my bedtime – because I thought if everybody kept talking about those shows, if every second article in a TV mag was about them, they had to be good. Only that they weren’t. They were pretty bad, elevated only by a few good actors like Larry Hagman and Joan Collins who clearly knew how crappy those shows were and camped it up like nobody’s business. As for books, I remember when everybody read The Mists of Avalon (much as we would prefer to forget it, that book was a genuine mega-bestseller) and The Name of the Rose, even people who would otherwise never touch a fantasy novel or a historical murder mystery full of literary allusions.

So who is Foundation for? The general genre/geek audience? Apple Plus TV seems to be aiming at that audience, since they have a lot of SFF shows like Silo (you may remember the story from when it was still called Wool), See, For All Mankind, Severance, Invasion, etc… And aiming at a geek audience is not a bad idea for a streaming service, because SFF people are loyal to their shows, frequently have disposable income and are willing to spend some of it on entertainment. CBS All Access/Paramount Plus basically used Star Trek to build its subscriber base, because the only other original programming they had was the very mainstreamy The Good Fight and not a lot of people would be willing to pay solely for that.

However, there is a lot of SFF programming out there aimed at the genre audience, much of it good. There’s more Star Trek and Star Wars related TV shows out there than any one person can watch. Plus all the Marvel shows and all sorts of other SFF and horror related shows and movies. And frankly, the various Star Trek, Star Wars and Marvel shows probably have a much broader appeal than Foundation, which – though based on a beloved series of books – isn’t the most easy to series to connect with.

Right now, it seems as if the only people actually watching Foundation and talking about it are people who loved the books and are mostly frustrated by the TV-show, while both the mainstream and the geek audience are watching other shows.

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3 Responses to Foundation explains “Why the Gods Made Wine” and still has next to nothing to do with the books

  1. The coliseum may not have been abandoned. I thought they said it was not used for its original purpose. I figured it was a tourist attraction like the Coliseum in Rome.

    I may have known a young man seduced occasionally to watch Dynasty for the attractive women of all ages. That same young man thought one Joan Collins outfits could have funded a season of Doctor Who at that time.

    I heard somewhere online (podcast or news web site) they do not have rights to all of the books. I know that explains why Olivaw is not in it and maybe why no Dors.

    I am intrigued with the Mentallics. The founding of the Second Foundation seems like a fun place to explore.

    Overall I like the show. I want to know what happen nexts.

    I also like your take on the show. Thank you.

    • Cora says:

      You’re probably correct and the arena is still in use as a tourist attraction, since just letting it sit there unusued doesn’t make sense.

      Dynasty was one the comparatively few examples of a TV show setting fashion trends. Dynasty inspired clothes were everywhere and the royal blue colour worn by many women in the show was called “Denver blue” in Germany, named after the show which was called “The Denver Clan”, because someone said Dynasty sounds like the name of a Chinese restaurant.

      Of course, Dynasty was also probably the first mainstream show to have a gay character, even if poor Steven Carrington got confused a lot and fell into bed with Heather Locklear. BTW, a very young Kevin Conroy actually had a small part in Dynasty as a love interest for Steven and they even shared a hug, gay kisses still being too shocking for the time.

      I strongly suspect that the rights for the robot novels are kept separate, since those would be a lot easier to adapt than Foundation. That’s probably also why they use the name Demerzel rather than Daneel.

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