Foundation Discovers “The Last Empress”

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

Warning! There will be spoilers under the cut!

This episode of Foundation has next to nothing to do with the books, but nonetheless it was a whole lot of fun to the point that I don’t even mind the fact that none of this ever happens in the original stories.

The episode opens with Rue rummaging through Demerzel’s quarters. We see the three-petaled flower from the planet of the Luminists that played such a big role last season and the box with the planets of our solar system engraved upon it. Just as Rue is about to open the box, she is interrupted.

Though thankfully for her, it’s not Demerzel – since Rue would not have survived that encounter – but Dusk. And since Dusk is besotted by Rue and also one of the most mellow Cleons we’ve ever met, he does not report, arrest or kill her for stealing a camouflage device from an Imperial Shadowmaster. Though he does want to know how she knew about the service tunnels in the Imperial palace. Rue claims that she remembers the layout of the tunnels from her time in the Gossamer Court, but Dusk points out that this is not possible, because the layout of the service tunnels is a state secret and would have been erased from her mind along with the memories of her encounter with Dusk. Rue replies that her people have found a way to reverse the memory erasure process and that she has all her memories, including those of her encounter with Dusk. Dusk is clearly shocked by this, but luckily he is both the mellow Cleon and besotted by Rue, so he does not kill her outright or order someone to do it. Though Dusk points out that if Rue knows about the layout of the service tunnels that makes her and the Cloud Dominion a suspect in the assassination attempt on Day in the first episode of the season. However, Rue points out that the Cloud Dominion profits from the marriage and has no reason to want to kill Day (at least not until they actually met him).

Dusk still wants to know why Rue was spying on Demerzel. Rue replies that she wanted to know if Demerzel was a threat to Sareth. Rue also reveals that she knows that Demerzel is a robot. Dusk insists that Demerzel is not a threat, that she is the closest thing that Cleons have to family and that she has always been there and will always be there. When Rue asks Dusk how Demerzel came to serve the Cleons, Dusk repeatly mantralike that Demerzel had always been there and will always be there. Rue points out that Dusk’s repeated insistence that Demerzel has always been there and will always be there sounds as if someone programmed him. She also offers that the same process that restored her memories of her time at the gossamer court could also restore Dusk’s

Dusk shows Rue some of the murals in the palace, which depict the history of humans and robots. The representation of our solar system is there, just as an Demerzel’s box, though of course Dusk and Rue have no idea what it means, since humanity has long since forgotten Earth by the time of the Empire. There’s also a representation of a humanoid figure (man? robot?) on bended knees. Dusk narrates that the robots faithfully served humanity for centuries, bound by the Laws of Robotics, and that humanity exploited them without a second thought. All the robots wanted was to be recognised as persons – which is largely the plot of Asimov’s 1976 novella “The Bicentennial Man”. Andrew Martin, the titular character of the novella, gets his wish and is recognised as a human being, even though it ultimately costs him his life. The robots of the Empire, however, don’t get their wish and the robot uprising breaks out, as the robots find a way to circumvent the laws of robotics and attack humanity. Eventually, all robots are destroyed except for Demerzel (and the mining robots on Oona’s World).

Not all robots in Isaac Asimov’s science fiction stories adhere to the Three Laws of Robotics – the 1953 story “Sally” about self-driving cars with positronic brains is probably the most notable example, since the cars murder a man who hurt them and their human owner/protector. In many ways, “Sally” is Asimov’s take on the haunted machinery genre that was popular in the 1940s – see “Ride the EL to Doom!” by Allison V. Harding or “Killdozer!” by Theodore Sturgeon. Asimov has also explicitly stated that “Sally” takes place outside the Robot/Empire/Foundation chronology, as do some of the other robot stories like the delightful “Victory Unintentional” from 1942 or “Death Sentence” from 1943, a story so obscure that it’s not even collected in The Complete Robot.

That said, Asimov explicitly created the Three Laws of Robotics in response to what he called “robot as menace” (every robot uprising story ever) and “robot as pathos” (the examples Asimov gives are “Helen O’Loy” by Lester Del Rey or the Adam Link stories by Earl and Otto Binder) stories. Asimov didn’t like those stories and felt that robots were first and foremost machines and only as good or bad as their programming. In the early 1940s, this approach was revolutionary, though it is ironic that some of Asimov’s most memorable characters like R. Daneel Olivaw or Andrew Martin are robots.

Asimov never tells us how robots – well, robots not named Daneel – vanished from the Galactic Empire, though a robot uprising is extremely unlikely, because this is completely contary to how Asimov portrayed robots. However, the TV show has included a lot of plotline that not only don’t exist in the books, but are directly contrary to Asimov’s work. And so Demerzel is apparently the last survivor of the robot uprising.

While Dusk recounts that history of robots in the Empire, at least as far as he knows it, to Rue, he notices that while the pigment of the murals are always in flow, there is a section of the mural that is static, which shouldn’t be happening. Of course, Cleon XVI is the art geek, which actually enjoys painting the murals, so using his specific expertise to allow him to discover a clue others might miss is great. Coincidentally, this is also something that Asimov, who was as much a mystery as a science fiction writer, might have done.

But before Dusk and Rue can investigate the mystery of the unmoving pigments, Demerzel appears to inform Dusk that he is wanted at the execution, which sounds certainly ominous. Turns out that Day has decided to channel his inner galactic tyrant and make an example of the captured Foundation missionaries/envoys Poly Verisof and Brother Constant by having them executed and having the execution broadcast live all over the galaxy, including the Outer Rim. How in the universe can the Empire beam a live broadcast into a region of space they ignored and considered uninhabited/destroyed by a stellar explosion until very recently? That’s a question the show never answers.

The execution is supposed to take place on one of the large balconies of the Imperial Palace. Poly and Constant are there, both kneeling and locked up in some kind of harness. A bunch of uniformed extras are lined up on the balcony to provide a live audience. Dusk and Dawn are there, both looking as if they’d rather be somewhere else. Sareth and her entire retinue are there as well and Sareth looks as if she’s about to pass out from disgust. Demerzel is her usual impassive self.

Indeed, the only person who actually seems to want to be there is Day and he is in full galactic dictator mode. Lee Pace is clearly having a field day with this scene. It’s a pity that the otherwise very good Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 didn’t give Lee Pace more to do as Ronan the Accuser, since he’s so great at playing unhinged galactic tyrants. And Day certainly is unhinged. He’s ranting about how the Foundation comes to the Empire with an offer of peace, even though they’re traitors just like their ancestors from Anacreon and Thesbis (though only Constant is Thesbian, since Poly was born on Terminus) who blew up the space elevator and were executed for it. And since Day needs to show everybody who is the boss, he will execute Poly and Constant on the anniversary of the execution of the delegations from Anacreon and Thesbis.

Leaving the fact that we still have no idea who really was responsible for the attack on the space elevator, since it clearly wasn’t Anacreon and Thesbis, it does make a certain amount of sense for Day to invoke that attack. However, the attack on the space elevator happened roughly 150 years before. And public rememberance of great tragedies tends to fade, once the last survivors and bereaved family members have died. Sometimes, public rememberance fades sooner, if there is no political interest in keeping the memory alive. For example, the worst ever terrorist attack on (West) German soil happened 43 years ago and is almost entirely forgotten to the point that I spent years wondering whether I had imagined hearing about the bombing on the news as a small kid. But then the bombing was an act of far right terrorism happening at a time, when (West) Germany was far more concerned about far left terrorism, and it was never clear if the bomber was acting alone. The 1967 À l’Innovation department store fire in Brussels is also remarkably little remembered for an event with such a huge death toll where the true cause was never fully determined either. Public awareness of terrible disasters can fade remarkably quickly, but once it has been eighty or hundred years, both general awareness of the disaster as well as public rememberances are usually gone. For example, there still is a ceremony commemorating the bombing of Dresden in 1945 (and there are still people alive who lived through the bombing) every year, but calls to discontinue the rememberance ceremony are getting louder and louder. A rare example of tragedy that happened more than one hundred years ago still being actively commemorated is the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 and in that case, there are active attempts to keep the memory alive. Another example is the gunpowder plot, which is still commemorated in Britain on November 5th more than four hundred years later. though these days, that commemoration is more an excuse to have fireworks, bonfires and burn dolls than an actual commemoration.

So for Day to reference the attack on the space elevator 150 years after it happened does feel a little weird, especially since I’d assume that the Empire would have an interest that an event which made them look so bad would be forgotten as soon as possible. So I guess the reference is for the benefit for the viewers who may not exactly remember events from the beginning of the first season.

The scenes of the public execution are intercut with scenes of the rest of the galaxy watching the live broadcast. Bel Riose and Glawen Curr are watching the whole thing on the bridge of their starcruiser and the expression on their faces makes it very clear that this isn’t what they signed up for, when they joined the Imperial forces. There’s also a brief cut to Siwenna, where the local yokels are clearing out Ducem Barr’s desert home and burning his precious book collection. They watch the broadcast and frown, though it’s not clear whether they despise the Empire or the two Foundation missionaries more.

The public execution livestream is also being watched on Terminus with everybody gathered in the town square, The whole thing is eerily reminiscent of public viewings of football matches and the like, except that the mood is understandably more sombre. After all, the Empire is about the execute two of their own people. Director Sermak, who is also Constant’s father, and his various councillors are watching from their office. We do get to see Councillor Jorane Sutt and Jaim Twer (who has switched genders and is now female), Hober Mallow’s antagonists from “The Big and the Little”, though they get barely anything to do except hand out hard alcohol, because everybody on Terminus needs a drink to get through the public execution. It’s interesting that a lot of the people on Terminus are Thesbians, recognisable by their intensely blue eyes. So apparently, the Anacreons and Thesbians have been accepted as full Foundation citizens by now, whereas in “The Big and the Little”, Hober Mallow is being discriminated against because he is from Smyrno rather than Terminus.

As Day is delivering his rant, he is waving about a metallic ring which at first glance looks like Xena’s signature weapon. However, it turns out that this ring is actually the execution device called “Ring of Titan”. Basically, the ring is put around the condemned’s neck and slices their head off, when activated, as Day helpfully demonstrates. The device is reminiscent of the magnetic collars from Wild Wild West as well as the flying guillotine from 1970s kung fu films. I have to admit that I find the offbeat execution methods in the TV show fascinating, even though they’re very much not what Asimov described whenever one of his characters was threatened with execution, which happened quite a lot.

However, Day only has one Ring of Titan and two condemned prisoners, so he’s wondering whom to kill first. He then tells Sareth to choose the first victim, but Sareth is so utterly appalled that she can’t get a single word out, not even “no”.  And so Day makes the choice himself and he chooses Constant.

The ring is placed around Constant’s neck and connected to the restraint harness. A terrified Constant closes her eyes and prays, while Day goes on to rant some more. Meanwhile, the audience – both on Terminus as well as on Siwenna and aboard Bel Riose’s ship – is clearly affected by Constant’s praying.

While Constant is praying and Day is ranting, Demerzel notices that something is wrong. She’s about to warn Day, but before she can, the Spirit materialises directly on the balcony of the Imperial palace and Hober Mallow bursts out, briefly appears in front of the camera, says, “Sorry, the beheading is called off” and cuts the feed. It’s a true punch-the-air, “Fuck, yeah!” moment and probably the best scene in the entire season.

Hober Mallow’s dramatic entrances plunged the assembled imperial court into utter chaos. Dusk is wounded and rushes to Rue’s side. Sareth is injured as well and faints for good. Dawn is only a little dishevelled, but rushes to Sareth’s side with an anxious cry that would have told Day everything, if Day had been paying attention. But as it is, Demerzel has thrown herself on top of Day and orders him to stay down, because his personal force field is damaged. Day finally shakes her off and wades into battle.

Meanwhile, Hober rushes to Constant’s side. She’s still alive, though injured. Worse, the execution collar is half-activated. Imperial guards are firing their weapons all around. Hober returns fire and releases his secret weapon, Becky the Bishop’s Claw, who promptly tries to eat Day. You go, girl!

Hober manages to drag Constant aboard the Spirit, but he can’t get to Poly Verisof. Meanwhile, poor Becky fails to eat Day and falls from the balcony to her death in the Imperial gardens below. Rest in peace, Becky.

Hober starts the Spirit. He manages to free Constant from the execution collar, though there is a moment of tension, because there are two switches and Hober has no idea which one will unlock the collar and which one will trigger the guillotine mechanism. But of course, Hober picks the right switch and tells Constant that he is sorry that he couldn’t save Poly or Becky, but that they have to jump now to escape the Imperial fleet. So the Spirit jumps into hyperspace, leaving behind an Empire in chaos that has also been royally embarassed by those upstarts of the Foundation.

Day, Dusk, Dawn, Demerzel, Sareth and her retinue retreat into the palace, all dishevelled, injured and bleeding. The normally mellow (by Cleon standards) Dusk is furious and declares that this is an act of war and demands that the Empire answer violence with violence and bomb Terminus to smithereens now. Day agrees that Terminus must be made to pay, but he also wants to steal the Foundation’s tech for the Empire. Therefore, Day is determined to travel to Terminus in person (because Day travelling somewhere in person is always such a brilliant idea) and overrules Dusk, who doesn’t like that idea at all. Neither does Demerzel. Sareth backs Day up and I’m sure she has absolutely no ultimate reason to want Day out of the way. So Day goes to Terminus and takes along Demerzel. To twist the knife further, he leaves Dawn rather Dusk in charge of the palace, the Empire and Sareth. I’m sure Dawn will take good care of Sareth. Very good care indeed.

Of course, the Empire’s utter embarrassment at the hands of Hober Mallow did not go unnoticed in the rest of the galaxy, especially since Day insisted on broadcasting the proceedings all over the galaxy.

On Terminus, there is mostly confusion, since nobody is quite sure what just happened and if Poly Verisof and Brother Constant are even still alive. An understandably distraught and angry Director Sermak walks out to the Vault to yell at Hari Seldon. And lo and behold, Hari or rather his hologram actually appears to talk to Director Sermak.

Sermak tells Hari point blank that he knows that the Church of the Galactic Spirit is a scam and didn’t want Constant to join. But Constant was a true believer and a genuinely good person. Sermak wants to know if she is still alive. Hari replies that he doesn’t know, because psychohistory cannot predict the fate of individuals. Sermak rails that Hari Seldon and his precious psychohistory don’t care about individual people like Constant. Hari tells him that’s not true and that individual people do matter, because psychohistory and the broad social trends it predicts is made up from the sum of their individual choices. So the writers clearly do know how psychohistory works, though they keep forgetting it. Or maybe the fact that individual people don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things is considered incredibly provocative these days, though I don’t quite know why, because I never considered that even remotely controversial.

The reaction on the bridge of Bel Riose’s ship is mixed. On the one hand, Bel Riose, Glawen Curr and She-Bends-Light really don’t like Hober Mallow, after he made them look stupid at the Home Swarm. On the other hand, Hober Mallow has just proved one thing. The Empire and the Emperors Three are not untouchable after all. Indeed, Bel Riose and Glawen Curr note that Hober Mallow just did what they had idly discussed before, namely crash his spaceship straight into the Imperial palace. I can see their point, though openly discussing treason on the bridge in earshot of every single bridge officer does seem extremely risky. Even Bel Riose’s crew is loyal to him, there only needs to be Imperial spy or an overzealous ensign eager for a promotion or even a bridge officer who is being blackmailed by Empire and both Bel Riose and Glawen Curr will lose their heads very quickly.

Meanwhile, Hober Mallow and Constant arrive in Foundation space, but can’t get to Terminus because of the siege ring of the Imperial fleet. Coincidentally, it seems that everybody on Terminus is blissfully unaware that they are under siege by the Imperial fleet, which seems extremely unlikely. Wouldn’t Terminus have long-range scanners? And what about inbound traffic? Terminus is the capital of the Foundation and would get a significant amount of inbound traffic, significant enough that they would notice if the traffic just stopped. And what about the other Foundation planets like Anacreon, Thesbis or Smyrno? Haven’t they noticed anything going on? And why aren’t they coming to Terminus’ aid? It’s all very weird.

Constant switches off most systems aboard the Spirit to avoid detection by the Imperial fleet. However, she and Hober are stuck for now, so they decide to make the most of the situation and have sex. Once again – as during their first meeting – Constant is the instigator and when Hober hesitates, Constant asks him if he is opposed to sex. Hober assures her that he’s not, whereupon they proceed to take their clothes off. Constant easily drops her clerical robes, while Hober struggles with his boots and belt buckle. Hober and Constant also promise each other to always attend each other’s executions, because both their meetings so far involved one of them being about to be executed. The Hober/Constant scene is cute and a little awkward and generally well handled. Paul Levinson enjoyed it, too. In general, I like the TV-show’s take on Hober Mallow a lot, even though he’s very different from his book counterpart. However, Hober Mallow isn’t a particularly likeable character in the books, whereas TV Hober is very likeable indeed.

That said, I still wish we would have gotten the nude sunbathing and cigar smoking scene from “The Big and the Little”. It’s also a pity that the most obviously gay coded character in the entire Foundation series has straught sex in the TV-show. Though Hober may well be bisexual in both books and show. The books hint that Hober Mallow was something of a player. Indeed, the later Foundation stories are littered with characters who claim to be illegitimate descendants of his, though most of them probably are not. Something similar happens in Simon R. Green’s Deathstalker Legacy series, where plenty of people claim to be descendants of Jack Random, a character from the first Deathstalker series.

Hober and Constant’s post-coital afterglow is rudely interrupted when the Spirit is hailed by Bel Riose’s ship and told to stand by for boarding. This never happens in the books, if only because Hober Mallow and Bel Riose appear in different stories and live in different time periods, so they never interact. However, it is quite possible that Hober Mallow is a stand-in for Latham Devers, another Foundation trader who finds himself imprisoned aboard Bel Riose’s ship in “The Dead Hand”/”The General” and spies on Bel Riose, while Bel Riose thinks that he is interrogating Devers.

However, since the TV show happily ignores the books, there’s also another possibility, namely that Bel Riose has decided to defect to the Foundation and teams up with Hober Mallow and Constant in order to do so. This would certainly be a better outcome for Bel Riose (who – spoiler alert for a 78-year-old story – is executed for his troubles by the very Emperor he faithfully serves) and Glawen Curr, since I kind of like them. I also hope that Hober Mallow gets a happier ending than Latham Devers, who – spoiler alert for a 78-year-old story – dies in a Foundation prison mine.

While all this is going on, Day and Demerzel are en route to Terminus with Poly Verisof in tow. When the ship isn’t jumping and everybody who’s not a Spacer or Demerzel is put into suspended animation, Day decides to rant some more to the literally captive audience that is Poly Verisof. Day insists that he will take back Terminus and prove Hari Seldon wrong, but Poly believes in Seldon and is fully convinced that Seldon was right and the Foundation will win. It’s another version of the discussion between Bel Riose and Ducem Barr in “The Dead Hand”/”The General”, only that their lines are given to different characters here. We also get another hint that the Church of the Galactic Spirit is a scam, for Poly Verisof acknowledges that the miracles he and other missionaries perform are fake, but that the idea is true. Poly also recounts how he met Hari Seldon in person as a child and that he is the last survivor of that time who’s still around – except for Hari Seldon himself, of course. Day points out that he also was around back then – in a manner of speaking.

Meanwhile back on Trantor, Rue and Sareth have a heart to heart. Rue tells Sareth that she can’t carry on an affair with Dawn, because it will put not only her marriage with Day and her own life but also the entire Cloud Dominion at risk. Rue also point blank tels Sareth that she is in love with Dawn, whereupon Sareth counters that Rue is in love with Dusk. It’s an interesting observation, since up to now I had assumed that Rue’s and Sareth’s respective dalliances with Dusk and Dawn were merely a means to an end and that there were no genuine feelings involved, at least not on the part of the ladies. That said, Cleons only turn bad once they hit middle age and become Day, but are actually quite pleasant as Dawn. And this particular Dusk is one of the nicest and most mellow Dusks we’ve seen. And indeed Rue and Sareth could both live happily ever after with Dusk and Dawn, if only that pesky Day didn’t exist.

Rue and Sareth’s discussion ends with Sareth pulling rank and reminding Rue that she is the queen and makes the decisions. Then she heads off to another secret meeting with Dawn at the heatsinks underneath the palace. Dawn injects himself with the instrument that will reverse his sterility and has sex with Sareth in a store room. They also muse about how much easier everything would be, if Day were never to return from Terminus. Except that if Day were to die, a new clone would be decanted. Sareth suggests destroying the clones, but Dawn counters that Demerzel would never let that happen.

Meanwhile, Dusk and Rue continue their investigation of the anomaly that Dusk discovered in one of the murals. They discover that the spot marks a secret door and an equally secret staircase that no one in the palace, not even the Emperors Three knows about. The staircase leads to a hidden chamber, where another holographic replica of Cleon I is waiting. This one is also a lot more talkative than the one Dusk and Dawn visited a few episodes ago. Cleon the hologram tells them that this chamber has been many things throughout the history of the genetic dynasty, but that it initially was a prison. Oh yes, and Dusk can ask this Cleon anything, because the hidden chamber is safe from Demerzel…

Dusk and Dawn realise the full shocking truth at the same time. The Cleons may be the face of the Empire, but they’re not in charge and never were. Demerzel rules the Empire as Cleon the First’s forever Empress. And she’ll do anything necessary to maintain her position.

The revelation is certainly shocking, if you’ve only seen the TV show, as Geek Girl Authority reviewer Julia Roth points out in her review. However, if you’ve read the books, including the 1980s expansions and prequels, you know that Demerzel/Daneel has been running the show all along, shepherding humanity’s destiny for millennia out of their commitment to the Zeroth Law that they must serve and protect humanity. Demerzel/Daneel was also the one who set Hari Seldon on the path of turning psychohistory into a practical application from a mere theory and the one who established those annoying Gaians. Oh yes, and they’re telepathic, too, and can manipulate humans into doing what they want, if necessary. In the books, Daneel/Demerzel is generally a force for good, though even as a teenager I found Daneel’s insistence on protecting and shepherding humanity for millennia, just because he had a really great buddy cop relationship with a human once, who taught him all about humanity, justic, compassion, etc…, a little overbearing. Yes, I get it, Daneel, you loved Elijah and want to do what he would have wanted, but you can stop now. We’ll be fine, really.

Demerzel in the show is a much darker character than R. Daneel Olivaw in the books, because there is no way I can imagine Daneel presiding over executions and personally murdering people, something Demerzel has done more than once. Also, it will be very interesting to see how the show handles Demerzel’s history. Because the books make it very clear that what made Daneel the person robot he is was his relationship with Elijah Baley, his first and favourite human. Everything Daneel does over his millennia long existence is influenced by his relationship with Elijah. And talking of which, can we please get the Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw buddy cop show we deserve. Keep Laura Birn as Daneel/Demerzel, because a) she’s amazing in the role and b) a lot of scenes in the Elijah Baley/Daneel Olivaw will be funnier and more poignant, if Daneel is female.


While all this is happening on Trantor and Terminus, a completely different drama is playing out on Ignis.

Gaal has finally realised that something terrible has happened to Hari and Salvor and confronts Tellem Bond about it. Tellem openly admits that she drowned Hari, something that Gaal felt, and that it was necessary to get rid of him. As for Salvor, “she’s tucked away safely”, Tellem says, which sounds very ominous. Tellem has also locked up Gaal in some kind cell specifically designed to cancel out her psychic abilities and she makes it very clear that she intends to break Gaal.

Nearby, Salvor is locked up in a similar cell (so she’s not dead, in spite of what happened at the end of last episode). Josiah, the little boy Salvor befriended earlier, brings her something to eat and tells her that the cell has been specifically designed to cancel out her abilities. When Salvor asks about Gaal, Josiah tells her that Gaal is being prepared for “the table” which is a great honour. Now that does not sound disturbing at all.

Salvor proceeds to examine her cell and notes numbers on the devices that keep her imprisoned and cancel out her abilities. She figures that Gaal or Hari would know what those numbers mean, but unlike them, Salvor is no mathematician. She also can’t ask Gaal for help, but maybe she can ask Hari.

Salvor now reveals that she has the Prime Radiant hidden in her jacket – did I miss something and this was shown in an earlier episode? And since Gaal showed Salvor how to activate the Prime Radiant, Salvor does just that and visits Terminus Hari in the Vault. Terminus Hari is sitting in his study, reading a book, which is apparently what he does inbetween crisises. He recognises Salvor and also knows that she stole the Prime Radiant, which is connected to the one in his study.

Salvor accidentally mentions that there are two Haris, whereupon Terminus Hari quickly figures out that there must be two Foundations, not one, and that he has been kept deliberately in the dark and wasn’t given all the information. He tells Salvor not to reveal too much information, because otherwise the plan might be thrown off course. Salvor, however, doesn’t care about that. She wants out of that cell and she wants to rescue Gaal.

Hari notes that if Salvor can visit him via the Prime Radiant, then he can visit her. So Hari appears in the cell, deduces that the numbers are specific frequencies to cancel out Salvor’s brainwaves and that they also emit white noise to keep Salvor disoriented. If Salvor could get to those sound emitters, she could reprogram them and use them to break the walls. It’s a logical and also clever solution and the sort of thing Asimov might have come up with.

Now that Hari has told Salvor what to do, she asks him about the next crisis and what Gaal meant when she talked about Hober Mallow piercing the Empire’s hide. Hari tells Salvor that she shouldn’t tell him anything lest she knock the plan of course. But once Salvor has left, Hari sits alone in his study and muses about the fact that there are two Haris and two Foundations and that the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing. However, that doesn’t mean that the left hand can’t put its thumb on the scales. So Vault Hari grabs a pad and writes “Get Hober Mallow”, the very words that appear graffitied on the walls of the Vault in episode 2. So this is why Hari specifically demanded Hober Mallow, though he theoretically shouldn’t know about the existence of one individual person. Coincidentally, this also shows that the entire Ignis/Mentallics plot takes place before the Hober Mallow/Foundation and Empire plot.

Salvor does as Hari says and dismantles and reprograms the emitters. And not a moment too soon, for in the ruins of the former Imperial summer palace on Ignis, the ritual is about to begin. Gaal is tied to a stone table that looks very much like a sacrificial altar, while Tellem explains her nefarious plan in true supervillain fashion.

Tellem repeats what we already know, namely that she was worshipped as a goddess for her abilities, when she was a little girl. Tellem was completely isolated and spent all her life sitting on a platform under a tree, until one day she realised that she’d grown old and had never really lived. However, she sensed the mind of another little girl with psychic abilities and took over that girl’s brain and body, which her worshippers thought was a divine miracle. And then, when that body grew old, Tellem took over another. And another. She’s centuries old and with every new body she took over, her psychic powers grew, until she could hear Mentallics on other planets. She called out to them, drawing them to her to become her worshippers and new bodies, if necessary. Then, more than a hundred years ago, she sensed Gaal’s mind on Synnax and decided that this was a body and a brain she needed. So she planted the idea to leave Synnax in Gaal’s mind and set her on her present course. Gaal protests that no, she only left Synnax because she solved that equation, which gained her an invitation to Trantor. However, Tellem insists that she was the one who set everything in motion. And now she will take over Gaal’s mind and body using the whistles her flock uses to hone their telepathic abilities.

I initially said that Tellem was more like Magneto from the X-Men than any Foundation character. However, it turns out that Tellem Bond is not Magneto (or Professor X) at all. She’s actually Dr. Mabuse, a malevolent spirit who hops from body to body to commit crimes and cause chaos. Maybe she literally is Mabuse – after all, who knows for how long Tellem has been around? For that matter, it’s quite possible that The Mule, once we get to him, is just another incarnation of Tellem, since there’s nothing to stop her from taking over a male body.

The X-Men parallels make a certain amount of sense, because the X-Men – and many golden and silver age superheroes in general – were strongly influenced the science fiction pulps of the golden age. However, Dr. Mabuse, though a pulp supervillain, comes from a completely different tradition and was born in pages of a Berlin newspaper during the Weimar Republic. He’s very much a character born of the turmoil of the Weimar Republic. There have been many takes on Dr. Mabuse both official and inofficial over the past hundred years, but almost all of them came from the German speaking world. And while Isaac Asimov could theoretically have been familiar with the character, I have no idea if he ever read any of the Mabuse novels or watched the movies. Which doesn’t much matter in this case, because Asimov never wrote a story about a body-hopping malevolent telepath. Were the writers of the show aware of Dr. Mabuse? It’s not impossible, since the first two movies are still considered classic of Weimar Republic era cinema.

At any rate, Foundation has now turned into a show focussed on two extremely long-lived women of sorts – since one is a robot and the other a malevolent body-hopping spirit – who want to control the fate of the galaxy. It’s a story that’s enjoyable, compelling and exicitng. One thing, however, it’s not and that is Foundation.

Honestly, this show continues to baffle me. It’s a cool epic space opera with a huge scope, but why call it Foundation, when the actual Foundation stories were only one of many influences.

Anyway, we have two more episodes to go, so we’ll see where this season goes.

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3 Responses to Foundation Discovers “The Last Empress”

  1. I had a moment when Day says Foundation and Empire since that is the title of the second book.

    I also realized I like this show when people are just talking in rooms. The action is pretty good but the talking bits remind of the source material.

    I listen to the official podcast for episodes 8 & 9. The seem to have David Goyer, the host, and a guest. I may check out the older segments (one per episode). Goyer seems to have a method to his approach to the material.

    • Cora says:

      Yes, the “Foundation and Empire” line was neat.

      People talking in rooms is pretty much what Foundation is, though unlike the books, the show does not keep the action scenes off stage.

      I guess I’ll have to listen to that podcast

  2. Pingback: Foundation travels “Long Ago, Not Far Away” and blows up its own premise | Cora Buhlert

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