Foundation fails to find “The Missing Piece”, but at least gives us a lot of nearly naked Lee Pace

Since we only have two episodes to go, I’m doing episode by episode reviews of Foundation, so here is my take on episode 8. It’s a little late, because I had technical issues and had to wait until I was actually able to watch the show. Reviews of previous episodes of Foundation as well as two actual Foundation stories may be found here.

For more Foundation discussion, check out the Star’s End and Seldon Crisis podcasts.

Warning! Spoilers under the cut for both the TV series and the book!

There are only two episodes to go in season 1 of Foundation and I’m still not sure what this show is trying to do, since adapting Foundation clearly isn’t it. Nor do I know who this show is supposed to be for? Cause those people who actually wanted to see Foundation will come away disappointed even with all the goodwill in the world. And the people who vehemently hate the idea of adapting any SFF by dead white authors of the golden and silver age in general and Foundation in particular won’t be watchng anyway. So who is the intended audience? Viewers who just want a generic flashy space opera? But in that case, there are plenty of books which better fit the bill. Or just make up your own story, especially since that’s what the showrunners are doing anyway. Or are they aiming at that mythical mainstream audience who only watched Game of Thrones for the sex scenes? But if that’s your target audience, Foundation is about the worst book you could to adapt.

Like the previous episode, “The Missing Piece” divides its runtime between three separate storylines, namely Brother Day versus the generic Triple Goddess religion, Salvor Hardin’s adventures aboard the Invictus and Gaal Dornick and Hari Seldon’s hologram aboard the Raven.

This time around, Brother Day’s storyline is not the worst of the lot, if only because nothing that features Lee Pace wearing nothing but a loincloth can be all bad. However, it still has fuck all to do with the books nor does it have anything to go for it except nearly naked Lee Pace. Unfortunately, he’s also badly sunburned and covered in sand for much of the time, which rather spoils the effect. According to this interview in the AV-Club, Lee Pace read the books long before he was cast for the show and was of course keen to appear in Foundation. Though I wish that Lee Pace and Jared Harris, both of whom are great in their respective roles, as well as the rest of the cast would have gotten a more accurate adaptation.

When we last met our intrepid Cleon clone, he had just announced that he would embark on the gruelling pilgrimage known as “walking the Spiral” as a ploy against Zephyr Halima, frontrunner in the race to determined the next high priestess of the influential cult of Luminism, who also happens to think that clones, including the Emperors Three, are an abomition against her faith cause they do not have souls. Now Brother Day knows all this is nonsense (though I’m not sure the show does), but unfortunately Zephyr Halima happens to be a talented speaker with a gift of moving the masses. So he decides to beat her at her own game and use her religious beliefs against her.

In my last review, I wrote that I expected Brother Day to cheat, and he does – sort of. However, Brother Day actually subjects himself to the gruelling pilgrimage, which kills more than half of those who attempt it, and even takes off his personal forceshield and has the nanobots filtered out of his blood, which is frankly idiotic, because he could easily have gotten killed.

Now let’s talk about the whole lethal pilgrimage for a moment. Because frankly, it makes zero sense for a religion to have a ritual, which kills more than half of its followers. Even if you have trillions of followers, systematically killing the faithful is never a good idea, if you want your religion to thrive and survive. Okay, there was Jonestown, but the so-called People’s Temple were a small cult under the control of a deeply disturbed man. And while crucification reenactments and flagellants are/were a thing, they were never more than a fringe phenomenon and the Catholic church actually persecuted flagellant cults in the 14th century. Walking the spiral recalls the spiritual exercise of walking a labyrinth, but again that’s supposed to be a spiritual and meditative exercise, not a gruelling death march. And while pilgrimages are a common feature of many religions, they are not supposed to kill worshippers and indeed there usually is an infrastructure in place to support pilgrims. I suspect one inspiration for the deadly spiral pilgrimage may have been the various deadly crushes and stampedes that occurred in Mecca during the Hajj during the 1990s and 2000s and cost hundreds, sometimes thousands of lives. However, these crushes and stampedes were tragic accidents, pilgrims risking death was never the point and indeed the Saudi Arabian government has done a lot to manage the crowds better and make the Hajj safer.

Meanwhile, the Luminists care very little about the health and safety of their worshippers. And so we see Brother Day walking along the spiralling path and gradually loosing his clothes (yeah), while the sun burns his skin raw. In his review at The AV-Club, Nick Wanserki calls those scenes “a mostly naked Lee Pace walking around in a Robert Smithson installation” and that’s exactly what it is. He also manages to look positively Christ-like, when he walks about with an injured body clad only in a loincloth. And yes, I’m sure that’s deliberate. I suspect that masculine trinity of Day, Dusk and Dawn is supposed to evoke the Holy Trinity of Christianity, while the Triple Goddess is supposed to evoke the mother, maiden, crone triad found in many pre- and non-christian religions.

At one point, Day finds a companion, an elderly man who lives on a terribly polluted planet where all the stuff that’s too poisonous to manufacture on Trantor is made – clearly a reference to the outsourcing particularly of dangerous industrial production to poorer countries. The elderly man helps Day up, when he stumbles and Day tries to return the favour, when the elderly man falls, but the man refuses to go on. The mother aspect of the triple goddess is calling to him. Day genuinely seems to be bothered by the elderly man’s death, which must be a first for him, and lays him to rest by the side of the path. He’s not the first or the only one to die there, indeed, the path and even the cave at the end are littered with skulls, making the whole thing look more like the set of an Indiana Jones movie than anything found in Foundation. Coincidentally, the whole thing also makes me wonder why we are supposed to care about a religion that so casually kills its followers and then lets their corpses rot.

Day makes it to the cave at the end of the spiral, where he casts off his remaining loin cloth and takes a bath in a pool. Allegedly, the salt crystals in the cave and the water in the pool (and near lethal heat exhaustion and dehydration) are supposed to bestow a sacred vision upon the faithful. And indeed, Day tells a panel of priestesses about the vision he had, a vision of the salt crystals forming a three-petaled flower. This flower only grew on the Luminists’ moon, but is extinct now and of course, sacred to their religion. The three petals symbolise the three aspects of the goddess and also the three Emperors (because apparently no one noticed that neat little parallel until now), so the priestesses are satisfied that Day had a sacred vision and that he has a soul and is a real human. Zephyr Halima is out and her rival is named high priestess.

So far, so good. Except that Day didn’t have any sort of vision at all, but just made one up, based upon stories what other pilgrims saw and a sample of the extinct flower he’d seen on Demerzel’s dressing table. Nor is Day satisfied with having Zephyr Halima, he wants the bloody woman gone for good and so he sends Demerzel to poison her.

Demerzel is not happy with this at all – and not just, because she’s about to violate the First Law of Robotics in a huge way. No, Demerzel apparently genuinely believes in Luminism. And so she visits Zephyr Halima in her quarters to tell her that she thinks she would have made a great high priestess. She also tells Zephyr Halima that no, she did not coach Day in what to say and admits that she did walk the spiral eleven thousand years ago.

Given that Zephyr Halima is a fanatic, I would have expected her to make her religion’s equivalent of the sign of the cross and scream, “Burn the witch! Stake the vampire! Kill the demon!” But instead, Zephyr Halima is fascinated by Demerzel and all the things she must have seen in her long life. She also tells Demerzel that she is convinced Demerzel has a soul and that she need not obey the commands of the Emperors Three. Demerzel, on the other hand, is in tears and insists that she must obey.

This whole scene is well acted by Laura Birn and T’Nia Miller and I actually got some lesbian vibes from both of them, which would have made the murder by touch much more interesting. However, it makes no sense and doesn’t match how the characters have been portrayed before.

Because the Zephyr Halima we’ve seen so far was a strident fanatic who didn’t just challenge the Emperors Three for the sake of power, but because she genuinely believed every single word she said about how they were a soulless abomination. But in her scene with Demerzel, she’s suddenly the kindly and understanding priestess. Not to mention that there is no way that a religious fanatic who hates clones for not having souls wouldn’t hate robots, too.

Meanwhile, Demerzel insists that she is programmed to follow the Emperors Three’s commands even against her will. However, Demerzel/Daneel is subject to the Three Laws of Robotics and “Thou must obey the Emperor” is not one of the Three Laws. Instead, the Second Law of Robotics states: “A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings [any human beings, not just Emperors] except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.” And the First Law of course states: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” So Brother Day ordering Demerzel to kill Halima is a clear case of the Second Law conflicting with the First, whereby the First Law automatically has preference.

Of course, there’s also the Zeroth Law: “A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm”, which only two robots ever explicitly formulated and followed, namely R. Daneel Olivaw and his pal R. Giskard Reventlov, whose decision to let Earth become an irradiated wasteland, so humanity would be forced to colonise space destroyed his positronic brain. So the only robot left following the Zeroth Law is Daneel a.k.a. Demerzel.

So far, I have interpreted Demerzel following the orders of the Emperors Three, including awful orders – after all, we see her overseeing tortures and a mass execution in episode 2 – as adhering to the Zeroth Law, because at this point in time, keeping the Empire in functional is best for humanity. And of course, in the Foundation prequels, Daneel/Demerzel manipulates Hari Seldon towards setting up the Foundation specifically to protect humanity.

But while Zephyr Halima clearly was a problematic and deeply unlikeable character, she wasn’t a threat at this point anymore and there was no reason to murder her. If there was a right moment to kill Zephyr Halima, it would have been before Brother Day went on that pilgrimage. Of course, getting rid of or at least reforming Luminism, so it stops trying to kill more than half of its worshippers with deadly pilgrimages, would be very good for humanity as a whole, but that’s not achieved by getting rid of one fanatical priestess.

As for Demerzel genuinely believing in Luminism rather than finding it an interesting moral problem, which is how Daneel treats the Bible discussions he has with Elijah in The Caves of Steel, sorry, but that doesn’t fit the character Asimov created at all. But then, Demerzel in the TV series appears to be a robot to whom the Three Laws don’t apply, which is worse betrayal of the spirit of Asimov’s work than any other nonsense the series has served up so far, because the Three Laws and Daneel are so very central to Asimov’s work.

Demerzel also reveals that she had a vision when she walked the spiral, which not only made me wonder, “And how does that work exactly, since she’s a robot and whatever causes those visions clearly only works on humans?”, but elicits much the same reaction from Brother Day. This is also the moment where it is revealed that Brother Day did not have a vision, just a nice soak in the salt pool. Of course, there is no real reason Brother Day would have a vision – unless there is a chemical component such as a hallucinogenic substance in the water that causes the visions – because Brother Day does not believe in Luminism. Just as I likely would not feel any effects from drinking or bathing in the water from the spring of Lourdes, because I’m not Catholic and don’t believe that there’s anything special about that water.

However, Foundation the TV series takes religion seriously in a way that the books never did and so Brother Day is not only troubled by the fact that he did not have a vision, but this is also apparently proof that he doesn’t have a soul. Now I don’t know which religion, if any, Brother Day subscribes to, but unless it’s a religion which has the concept of a soul as something separate from the body, I don’t know why he would be bothered by this.

While Brother Day is searching for his soul, Salvor Hardin, Phara and a dwindling number of shanghaied Foundationers and Anacreon goons are still exploring the stranded Invictus. It’s a very big ship, you know.

We are treated to a flashback to Phara as a litle girl playing in the forest with her brother, when Anacreon is bombed and her brother is killed. The casting doesn’t match, since kid Phara has green eyes, while adult Phara’s good eye is brown, and I’m not sure what the point of the flashback is at all. Do Americans need periodic reminders that indiscriminately bombing other countries/planets also kills and maims children? Because the rest of the world already knows that. And no, kids who survived bombings do not all grow up to become violent fanatics like Phara. In fact, the Thesbians, who suffered just as much as the Anacreons, seem to be much saner.

Otherwise, the Invictus plot is a standard “Let’s explore the creepy ghost ship” storyline that we’ve seen a hundred times before. The other nameless hijacked Foundationer is killed by an automatic gun set up to protect the bridge from mutineers. In a scene more appropriate to The Mandalorian, Salvor draws the fire of the gun, while Phara disables it with an arrow – yes, really.

Luckily, Salvor can grab hold of the gun of one of the dead mutineers and even more luckily, the gun still fires after 700 years. So Salvor shoots a hole into the hull, which sucks out the guts of one of Phara’s remaining goons in a gruesome scene. Then, Salvor uses the confusion to open the bridge, haul Lewis Pirenne, who’s the sole other surviving Foundationer, inside and close the door again, momentarily locking out Phara and her sole remaining goon.

Inside the bridge, Salvor and Lewis find – big surprise – more dead crewmembers, including the Captain who killed themselves and wrote “Exo” on a random bridge console in their own blood. Salvor and Lewis are not sure what this is supposed to mean aside from “outside”, but outside of what? Outside the universe? Or an outside threat? Please, not aliens. Because the Foundation universe does not have aliens, blast it.

However, since Phara and her goon are trying to break through the door from outside and the jump countdown is still running, Salvor and Lewis have more immediate problems. They locate the navigation console and receive an unpleasant surprise. Because it turns out that navigators used to be hardwired into the ship and that navigation basically involved making a wish where to go. Yes, my eyes rolled so hard they almost fell out of my sockets.

Salvor, i.e. the one with zero space travel experience at all, who hasn’t even been in space before this little excursion, insists that Lewis, who actually has a bit of space travel experience, plug her into the navigation console, even though Salvor doesn’t have the required implants and the process will likely kill her, if it works at all. However, since Salvor is super-special, she is confident she can take the Invictus to Terminus, before she dies. And yes, that’s actually in the dialogue.

However, before Lewis can cut into Salvor’s brainstem to plug her into the navigation console, Phara and her goon break through the door. Lewis is wounded and Salvor’s gun jams at the wrong moment, so Salvor and Phara have yet another physical fight.

Meanwhile, the Thesbians show up to demand that the Anacreons hand over the Invictus. Because Hugo was not killed after all, when he drifted off into space, but managed to make it to one of the abandoned Thesbian mining stations and called in the Thesbian fleet. And since the Thesbians still can’t stand the Anacreons – well, who can? – they were only too happy to help.

Unfortunately, that pesky countdown is still running and so the Invictus jumps, taking Salvor, Phara, Lewis, Phara’s goon and the Thesbian fleet to hell knows where.

Meanwhile, back on Terminus, Salvor’s Mom informs the Anacreon commander that they have problem, cause the repellant field around the Time Vault is expanding and will soon swallow up Terminus City, knocking out Anacreons and Foundationers alike. I suspect this means that Hari Seldon’s hologram will finally put in an appearance where he is supposed to be.

But for the time being, Hari Seldon’s hologram is still aboard the Raven with a very pissed off Gaal Dornick, who has just admitted that she has precognitive abilities. Hari questions her about that and Gaal admits that she gets feelings and hunches and prophetic dreams. One of those dreams showed her little community sinking beneath the waves of the world ocean of Synnax (after all, we haven’t had a climate change analogy in a few episodes), so Gaal taught herself highly advanced math to see whether her dream was correct and if there was anything to be done.

Hari takes Gaal’s precognition in stride and decides that this means that she’s even more of a math genius than he thought. However, for now they really need to get to Helicon, because the entire Seldon plan hinges on Hari’s hologram making it to Helicon. For you see, Hari Seldon or rather his hologram desperately needs to get to Helicon to establish the Second Foundation or the plan will be at risk.

And this right there is the only thing in this episode apart from a few names that’s actually in the books. Because Hari Seldon does indeed establish the Second Foundation as a behind the scenes safeguard for the First sometime after his followers get exiled to Terminus, even though – as Camestros Felapton points out in his review – we do not learn about the existence of the Second Foundation until “The Mule” halfway through the second book Foundation and Empire, though there is a brief mention of Hari leaving some of his followers behind in “The Psychohistorians”, the very first story in the first book, which was only written as an introduction for the publication of the fix-up in 1951.

So in a 56 minute episode, there’s one thing, which actually happens in the books, albeit offscreen, and that is Hari Seldon establishing the Second Foundation. And the writers get even that wrong, because Hari intends to establish the Second Foundation on the wrong planet, namely on Helicon, which he dubs Star’s End. Of course, that it’s at Star End is all anybody knows of the Second Foundation’s location in the original trilogy, though there are different theories where or what Star’s End is. The answer lies in an old proverb: “All roads lead to Trantor and that’s where all stars end.”

So in short, the Second Foundation is on Trantor and always was on Trantor, hanging out in the remnants of the Imperial University. Indeed, the Trantor reveal is so well done that I can still remember where and when I read it – on a bench in the yard of my high school, interrupted by annoying classmate Andreas W. at the crucial moment – more than thirty years later. And the show manages to ruin even that, though it’s possible that the Second Foundation will still end up on Trantor, as Paul Levinson, who’s no more happy with the change to Helicon than me, points out in his review.

Gaal, meanwhile, reacts just as the First Foundation always react to learning of the existence of the Second, with a mix of anger and betrayal. Also, she wants nothing to do with the Second Foundation, thank you very much. So she insists that Hari let her go back into the suspended animation pod that brought her on board in the first place. And when Hari’s hologram does not comply, Gaal smashes the temperature controls of the Raven, so it will overheat while passing through the asteroid field on the way to Helicon. Because Gaal would rather be boiled alive than go to Helicon. If you think that Gaal is pretty nuts at this point, you’re not alone.

Hari’s hologram eventually lets Gaal go and opens the door to the miraculously perfectly cooled escape pod bay, where Gaal gets into the pod, ejects right into the asteroid field and sets the course home for Synnax. It will take her more than a hundred years to get there, if the asteroid field doesn’t smash her to bits first. I suspect that this is the last we will see of Gaal this season, though she will probably pop up again, when the showrunners think the viewers need a familiar face to handle the time jumps.

I’ve tried to give Foundation and its many deviations the benefit of the doubt, especially since so far there was always still enough left of the books to make me hope that maybe, the showrunners know where they’re going. However, my goodwill is just about exhausted, because this show is just an unholy mess, a Frankenstein’s monster of different storylines stitched together with a little bit from the books. Space Patrol Orion, the other show of which I’m currently doing episode by episode reviews over at Galactic Journey, feels more Asimovian than Foundation, even though Orion is not an official Asimov adaptation, but was just inspired by his stories as well as many other golden and silver age science fiction stories.

The individual storylines aren’t even all that bad. Viewed on their own, the saga of the Emperors Three as well as the story of the ghost ship Invictus are compelling. However, I signed up to watch Foundation and so far, the show is not giving me nearly enough of the story I actually wanted to see. And considering that we have only two episodes to go, I don’t see how they will ever get there.

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12 Responses to Foundation fails to find “The Missing Piece”, but at least gives us a lot of nearly naked Lee Pace

  1. Chuck Litka says:

    I am curious as to what fans of the Foundation expected a true to the book visual medium version to be like, given the nature of the source material. I only know the Foundation by what you’ve written about it. I apparently was not a fan of Asimov back in the ’60’s, since I only have a couple of his books on my shelves from those days. I tried reading the Second Foundation a decade ago, and didn’t get two stories in — too dry for my taste. Clearly, I can’t imagine how I could write a visually appealing screenplay with actual characters to follow and still be true to the book. An anthology series, maybe? But how about you? How would you write the screenplay?

    • Cora says:

      Well, Second Foundation really isn’t the best place to start, because it builds a lot on what happened in the previous two books, so the impact just won’t be the same, if you haven’t read those. Though Asimov apparently wasn’t/isn’t to your taste, which is okay.

      I also accept that adapting the books as is wouldn’t work, because they’re talky and not very cinematic, especially the first one. However, I would have liked to see something which at least captures the spirit of the books, if not the letter. And the show we got very often isn’t that.

      As for what I would have done, I would have gone with an anthology series with a changing cast, keeping Hari Seldon, the Emperors (not in the books, but IMO that aspect works) and Demerzel as the connecting threads. Anthology series like Black Mirror, Love, Death + Robots or American Crime/Horror Story are popular after all.

      I have no problem with adding action and fight scenes as well as more characterisation, since the original characters are very much cyphers, particularly in the first book. Though shows like West Wing, Mad Men or the new Battlestar Galactica show that viewers are happy enough to watch talky conference room scenes, as long as they care about what happens. I also don’t mind turning Salvor Hardin from a man of indeterminate race into a black woman, since race and gender really don’t matter for the character and the all male cast of the first book really doesn’t fly in the 21st century. Though I hope they will let Hober Mallow stay male and (implied in the books) gay. However, it would be nice if Salvor was closer to the actual character in the books, i.e. someone who wins by outsmarting the opposition and does not like violence rather than the action heroine with psychic powers the series has turned her into.

      I also would like to see the conflict with Anacreon resolved closer to how it is resolved in the books, where Salvor Hardin realises that the Foundation has superior technology, because Anacreon has lost access to Imperial tech. And Salvor offers to kindly share the Foundation’s technology with its neighbours, only that there is a catch, namely that Foundation tech is like magic and needs to be tended to by “priests” of a fake religion called scientism. So in order to get the tech, they will have to accept the priests as well. They could even have kept the bombing plot, since it’s a better explanation for why Anacreon no longer has access to Imperial tech than what is in the actual books. And while a robed priest pronouncing that he curses this battle ship, while activating a hidden kill switch, may not be as flashy as a space battle, it still makes for a good climax, as does the Anacreon leader trying and failing to shoot Salvor Hardin, because Salvor has a personal forceshield.

      • Chuck Litka says:

        I think you’re right to tackle the Foundation as an anthology, since that reflects the structure of the three core books. I would invent some characters who had undergone an experimental treatment to extend their lives, and who live for two or three hundred years to use as continuing characters, filling in for some of Asimov’s characters in the stories going forward, along with the characters you suggested. I’d want characters who might be a little more identifiable with viewers. They could have relationships between them not in the original stories.

        The fundamental problem with the Foundation TV show was that it came to be because it was well known, so it was likely considered a relatively “safe” project to sink tens of millions of dollars into — much more safe than some original concept. Never mind that it wasn’t a story that could ever be filmed based strictly on the books. Really, they should’ve filmed E E Smith’s Lensmen series for the Star Wars & Marvel crowd.

        Still, I guess some people like it — the booktuber fellow of “Book Odyssey” liked it at the halfway point, anyway. We’ll see if it gets the ratings to earn another season.

        Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

        • Cora says:

          I think Foundation has already been renewed for season 2, so it must be successful enough for justify a second season. And while the Lensmen novels never worked for me – probably because I only read them after I had already encountered countless works inspired by them – I agree that they would have made a much better TV show than Foundation, especially with a little modernising. In fact, almost every genre classic would have been easier to adapt.

          I don’t feel they made the characters more relatable for the TV series. The problem with Salvor Hardin or Gaal Dornick in the books is that they are cyphers with very little in the way of characterisation beyond “They’re very smart people”. I do like that the series has given Salvor Hardin or Gaal Dornick parents, boyfriends and personal tics. And even cardboard cutouts like Lewis Pirenne get more characterisation, which is a good thing. However, I don’t like that the series has made Salvor and Gaal super-special, when they were just very intelligent people in the original.

          • Chuck Litka says:

            It seems that it is just too tempting to make characters into superheroes. You can put them into and get them out of outrageous situations easily and visually in a spectacular way. Like in the movie John Carter. It wasn’t enough that his earth muscles gave him and advantage on Mars, they had turn him into a superhero who could leap far into the air and fight beast a thousand times his weight and size. Annoying. It’s why I like books better than film.

            • Cora says:

              I think the John Carter movie deserved better than being a complete flop, since it was a pretty good adaptation and was also hampered by the Disney was contractually obliged to make the film, but didn’t want it. However, the writers did succumb to the desire to make John Carter the superhero that he never really was in the original novels.

              The Barsoom series is one I’d love to as a TV series, though due to the lack of success of the movie that will probably never happen.

              • Chuck Litka says:

                The producers talked about the film on the DVD, and I gather that they discovered Barsoom from the comic books. It shows. At least they gave Dejah Thoris brains and agency. That’s one improvement.

                • Cora says:

                  Dejah Thoris also got more clothes. But yes, the Barsoom movie could have been better, though Michael Chabon is a very good writer and I assumed he would have read Burroughs.

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