And here is the last of my episode by episode reviews of season 2 of Foundation. For my takes on previous episodes, go here. And yes, I know this is late, but then I had a lot of other things to deal with.
Warning! There will be spoilers under the cut!
When we last visited the Foundation, Dusk and Rue had just learned the truth about Demerzel, Hari Seldon has bashed out Tellem Bond’s brains and Bel Riose had just blown up Terminus on the orders of Day.
This episode starts off with explaining how Hari is still alive, considering he drowned at the end of “Why the Gods Made Wine”. Well, it turns out that Hari did not drown after all. Gaal realised what Tellem was up to and used her newfound mental abilities to control one of Tellem’s goons and instruct him to free Hari, whereupon Hari strangled the guy with his own chains and left him floating in the basin. That was the body Salvor (and everybody else) saw floating in the tidal basin. Gaal just created the illusion that it was Hari, much like the scarred Mentallic created the illusion that he was Hugo Crast.
Come to think of it, Hari the Second a.k.a. Hari who has a body (and the season finale still doesn’t explain how he came to have one) is pretty hardcore, bashing out Tellem’s brains and strangling a random Mentallic with his own chains. Plus, he arranged for the treacherous university admin who murdered Yanna to be trampled to death. Somehow I can’t imagine Isaac Asimov’s mild-mannered mathematician doing all that, even the young Hari we meet in Prelude to Foundation.
After Gaal rescued Hari, she told him to hide in the woods and count prime numbers, so Tellem and the Mentallics wouldn’t find him. Gaal also counted prime numbers to mask herself from Tellem. They couldn’t tell Salvor, because they feared she might accidentally reveal the plan to Tellem. Before Gaal, Salvor and Hari can celebrate their reunion and deliverance from Tellem Bond some more, the alarms aboard the Beggar go off. The remaining Mentallics have found them and surrounded the ship. The little boy, Josiah, tells them that they can come out now, because she’s gone. Hari is understandably reluctant to open the airlock – after all, the Mentallics tried tried to kill them all. But then another Mentallic, a blonde girl, steps forward and says that they don’t understand. The Mentallics aren’t angry that Tellem is dead, they’re glad to be rid of her, because she controlled them, too.
Hari, Gaal and Salvor are warmly welcomed by the Mentallics and it’s obvious they’ve got a ready-made Second Foundation right there. The Mentallics throw a feast, Salvor entertains some kids with her coin and a woman treats Hari’s scrapes and bruises. However, the little boy Josiah looks a little strange. He gets up, his eyes glassy and distant, and grabs a gun. As I predicted, Tellem did pull a Mabuse after all and possessed Josiah.
Josiah raises the gun to shoot Gaal. Hari, Salvor and the rest of the Mentallics become simultaneously aware of what is happening. Hari and the blonde Mentallic girl try to wrest the gun from Josiah’s hand, while Salvor pushes Gaal out of the way and hurls her knife at Josiah. Hari and the Mentallic girl succeed in wresting the gun from Josiah’s hand, though Josiah is badly wounded and has Salvor’s knige in his chest. Alas, it’s too late. Josiah has already fired. He misses Gaal, but hits Salvor instead.
Josiah’s eyes turn normal again and he tells Hari and the blonde girl that Tellem possessed, but that she’s weak and doesn’t have enough strength left to possess someone else. When Josiah dies – which he promptly does – Tellem will die, too. Is this truly the end of Tellem Bond? Time will tell. Though I think they missed the chance to have Josiah say, “It wasn’t me. It was Tellem. She used my brain”, which is what Mabuse’s hosts always say after his malevolent spirit has passed on to a new host.
But even if Tellem is truly gone – and that it a big “if” – the damage is done. Salvor was hit and has a massive bleeding wound in her abdomen (How can a shot wound caused by an energy weapon bleed?). She tells Gaal that hey, at least they proved that the future Gaal saw was not immutable, because if Salvor dies on Ignis, she can’t die on Terminus 150 years in the future. Gaal and Salvor hug and Salvor calls Gaal “Mom”, before dying in her arms. And that is the not even remotely book accurate end of Salvor Hardin, though to be fair, the books never tell us how Salvor Hardin died. However, book Salvor lived at least into his sixties and certainly wasn’t shot by a possessed kid on Ignis.
Now I’ve stated before that both Salvor Hardin and Gaal Dornick have long since passed the point where they had a role to play in the story, so it makes sense to write Salvor out, because her story was told at the end of last season, though Julia Roth of Geek Girl Authority and Paul Levinson both don’t see what the point of killing Salvor now is. That said, I still think the writers should have let Hugo and Salvor live happily ever after at the end of season 1 rather than keep her around. Also, I would have preferred for them to write Gaal out, because not only should Gaal’s role in the story have ended with episode 2, but Gaal is also pretty annoying, while Salvor was at least useful. Still, it seems we’re stuck with Gaal for the duration.
Salvor’s body is placed on a funeral pyre in a freaky upright position and Gaal lights the pyre. Next, she and Hari sit on the beach. Gaal has activated the prime radiant to see if Salvor’s death changed anything about the future, but there is still the massive deviation from the plan caused by the Mule. Hari tells Gaal that every life and every death counts and that Salvor sacrificed herself, so Gaal could go on and fight the Mule.
Of course, the Mule is still 152 years in the future and even though people live longer in the Foundation era – see Poly Verisof – 152 years is still a bit of a stretch. But luckily, Hari has a solution, namely the cryosleep pods from the Beggar. Gaal can go into cryosleep, while Hari will stay behind to train the Mentallics and hone their skills, so they’re ready to face the Mule, when Gaal wakes up. It’s even possible to wake her once a year or so for a day, so the Mentallics can see and meet her. However, Gaal doesn’t want to go into cryosleep alone and besides, the Beggar has two cryosleep pods. So the Mentallics carry the cryopods into the ruined temple that was Tellem’s headquarters. Gaal and Hari get in and we get a flashback to Raych putting Gaal into a cryopod and telling her to count prime numbers to stay calm. Gaal tells the same thing to Hari and they both enter cryosleep, while a bunch of Mentallics, now led by the blonde girl, kneel around the two pods. It looks as if the Second Foundation is going be worshipping Hari and Gaal as gods, too.
At the very end of the episode, there is also a little stinger for season 3 – which was apparently already in production, only that filming had to be halted due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes – set 152 years in the future. The Mule realises that Gaal Dornick, whom he saw in his dreams (Gaal’s visions of the future) is in his time now and The Mule is going to find Gaal before she finds him.
In his review, Paul Levinson points out that the TV series mishandles the Mule by introducing him via Gaal’s visions, because part of what makes the Mule so scary is that he remains unseen for much of the eponymous short novel. We hear of the Mule, we see his handiwork and the effect he’s having on people, but we don’t see the Mule until the big reveal at the end. This is what makes the Mule a mysterious and menacing figure. Showing him off in a flash forward vision is not a good idea, because it robs the Mule of mystery. Furthermore, the reveal of who the Mule really is is one of the best twists in the entire series along with the location of the Second Foundation, another twist the show just ruined. Honestly, adapting Foundation and ruining its two best twists is a blunder on the scale of Fox trying and failing to adapt the Dark Phoenix Saga, not just the most famous X-Men story, but one of the most famous US superhero comic storylines period, not just once but twice.
While the Second Foundation has just been established, the First Foundation has just been blown up along with Terminus. Brother Day watches from the bridge of the Imperial flagship, visibly filled with glee. Everybody else on the bridge, whether Bel Riose, his crew or Hober Mallow and Brother Constant, are more shell-shocked than anything.
Brother Day then asks Constant how many planets the Foundation controls. “Seven”, Constant replies. Day forces Constant to name them all. The names include Anacreon, Thesbis, Smyrno (note Hober Mallow flinching, when his homeworld is mentioned) and Siwenna.
Day then orders Bel Riose to fly to all of those planets and destroy them, too, starting with Thesbis, since that is Constant’s homeworld. Day clearly did not notice Hober Mallow flinching. Bel Riose tries to talk Day down. Yes, Day has made his point and blew up the Foundation’s capital Terminus, but surely there is no need to also blow up a couple of small rim worlds, too. Day, however, is insistent. He is going to blow up all seven Foundation worlds. How he is going to do this, since he doesn’t have seven spare Invictuses (Invicti) lying around, I don’t know.
This is the moment where Bel Riose finally remembers that he has a backbone and says “no”. He was willing to commit one atrocity and blow up one planet to prevent worse, but he’s not willing to commit seven atrocities. Somehow, I’m not sure if “I was willing to commit one atrocity to prevent worse” would fly in a war crimes trial – not that there is going to be one.
Day is not used to anybody telling him “no”, so he relieves Bel Riose of his command and personally orders the fleet to jump to Thesbis and destroy the planet. However, Day’s very bad day isn’t over yet, for it turns out that no one else is willing to follow his orders either. She-Bends-Light, the Spacer serving aboard Bel Riose’s ship, suddenly becomes glassy eyed and makes some adjustments and two ships of the fleet abruptly explode. And then two more.
Day demands to know what is going on and She-Bends-Light informs him that the ships have jumped into the space occupied by another ship due to a pre-programmed jump sequence that will continue until the entire fleet has been destroyed. Day orders She-Bends-Light to stop the sequence, but she informs him that she cannot. Then Day orders an escape pod to be readied for him, whereupon She-Bends-Light informs him that all escape pods have been disabled. Day – and everybody else – is stuck aboard a ship that’s about to explode.
Turns out that Hober Mallow did make a deal with the Spacers after all, a deal which also involves the Spacers taking out the Imperial fleet, which – so She-Bends-Light says – is a small price to pay for the freedom of her people. The necessary jump sequence was stored in Hober Mallow’s wrist interface, which is why he had to allow himself to get captured, so he would get aboard the flagship and could transmit the sequence to She-Bends-Light. Day has been played. Hari Seldon goaded him into a war and into bringing the entire Imperial fleet to Terminus. That was Hari’s plan all along.
Day is furious – not only has he been outsmarted by Hari Seldon and Hober Mallow, but he’s also about to die. So he attacks Hober Mallow and proceeds to beat the shit out of him. However, Hober Mallow knows a thing or two about fighting and fights back. Brother Constant also gets involved and gets in a few kicks at Day. Then Bel Riose steps in and we get a nasty no-holds-bared bare knuckle fight. Day seems to enjoy the punch up and once his lips starts to bleed, he becomes even more gleeful. Honestly, this Day is completely nuts.
Day finally manages to shove Bel Riose into an airlock and activates it. However, Bel Riose still has one last trick up his sleeve – quite literally. He managed to slip the castling device, which Hober Mallow used to escape from Korell, onto Day and activates the device just as he’s about to be sucked out of the airlock. Promptly, Bel Riose and Day switches places, so Day gets thrown out of the airlock and good riddance to him, too. Bel Riose is safe for now, though he gets to wear Day’s nipple chafing chainmail shirt. What is more, the Imperial fleet is still exploding and there still is no way to stop it.
Some steadfastly loyal soldiers try to arrest Bel Riose, Hober Mallow and Constant for regicide, but since the ship will explode anyway, Bel Riose convinces them to use what time they have left for something better than arresting people.
However, there’s still one functional escape pod aboard the Imperial flagship and Hober Mallow insists on putting Constant into that pod, because the Foundation and the universe will need her infectious enthusiasm and her firm belief in psychohistory and the Seldon plan. Hober also confesses to Constant that he always wanted to help shorten the dark ages – he just didn’t get along with the whole religious claptrap. But Constant showed him the way.
They kiss, Constant gets into the pod and finally agrees to tell Hober her real name. Cause she obviously wasn’t born as Brother Constant, but she’s been coy about telling Hober (or anybody else) her name, claiming that people from Thesbis like to keep their names private. Now, however, Constant tells Hober that her birthname is Hope. “Really?” Hober asks. “No, but wouldn’t it be nice if it were.”
Constant is shot out into space in the hope that someone will find her pod, before her oxygen runs out, and Hober Mallow and Bel Riose are left alone, since the rest of the crew seems to have left the bridge and headed for their quarters, while they wait for the ship to blow up.
Hober finally decides to open that very special bottle of wine he’s been saving since forever – cause when, if not now? – and share it with Bel Riose. As they were about to uncork the bottle, I said, “I bet it tastes terrible.” Because that special bottle of wine that people keep for a very special occasion, sometimes for years or decades, often tastes terrible once actually opened, because the wine has been stored for much longer than intended, frequently under non-ideal conditions.
My parents spent their honeymoon in the Moselle valley, a region famed not just for its natural beauty and many castles, but also for its wine. And during that honeymoon, they visited a vineyard and bought several bottles of wine, including two or three bottles from 1958, the year they had met. Then they put the wine in the cellar and left it there for a special occasion. And that’s where the bottles stayed for decades. I think it was for my parents’ thirtieth wedding anniversary that I finally opened one of those very special bottles. In thirty-seven years, the cork had decayed and the bottle was almost impossible to open and we needed to pour the wine through a strainer to filter out cork fragments, And guess what? It was terrible. It was so bad that we finally used it as cooking wine and even for cooking I would have preferred the three Euro bottle from the supermarket to the 1958 vintage. BTW, my parents still have a cellar full of overaged and probably undrinkable wine as well as plenty of equally old harder liquor which normally keeps better, but which no one ever drinks, since we’re not really into harder liquors. Whenever I need some cognac or whisky or vodka for cooking or baking, it usually comes from a ridiculously old and expensive bottle, because my Dad told me to just take a bottle rather than buy one.
We’re clearly not the only people to whom something like that has happened, special bottles of wine saved for a special occasion have a nigh uncanny tendency to go bad. And so, when Hober Mallow and Bel Riose share a drink of Hober’s very special bottle, they both grimace and say, “Well, it has a very complex flavour”, before agreeing that the wine is terrible and tastes like the arse of Becky, the Bishop’s Claw. The former enemies bond over terrible wine and then the ship explodes.
The confrontation between the Empire and the Foundation plays out very differently in the 1945 novella “The Dead Hand”/”The General”. There is a Foundation trader in “The Dead Hand” who allows himself to get captured in order to disrupt the Empire and the Imperial fleet from within and turn the Empire against itself, but that’s where the similarities end. For starters, that Foundation trader is not Hober Mallow, who appears in a completely different story, but Latham Devers. And in true Asimovian form, there are no explosions or space battles involved, but Devers and his Siwennan pal Ducem Barr disrupt the Empire by insinuating that Bel Riose is planning an uprising and turning the Emperor (whose name really is Cleon) against him.
That said, Hober Mallow bribing the Spacers and Hari Seldon’s hologram goading Day into coming to Terminus to start a war is the sort of thing that might have happened in Foundation story. And having Bel Riose push the Emperor out of an airlock and blowing up the Imperial fleet is a very visual way of turning the Empire against itself and makes the rather talky stories more exciting for the TV audience. So I’m fine with that resolution, though I’m not okay with blowing dozens of spaceships and killing a shitload of people in the process, many of whom probably weren’t huge fans of the Empire, but were just doing their jobs. Because one of the things that makes the original Foundation stories so different is that the Foundation usually wins by cunning rather than shooting and bloodshed. Killing thousands of innocent crewmen and women aboard the Imperial fleet is not the Foundation’s way.
Bel Riose was always doomed, of course. In fact, the very point of “The Dead Hand/The General” that Riose was too popular, too ambitious and just too damned good at his job that the Emperor viewed him as a threat and had to eliminate him, though Latham Devers whispering some choice words into the right ears certainly sped the process along. And Bel Riose in the TV show gets a better death – going down with his ship – than his book counterpart, who is executed for treason off-page.
However, I really wish that Hober Mallow could have escaped with Constant, so they could lead the Foundation together. Because in the books, Hober Mallow does live and becomes leader of the Foundation, ousting his enemies Jorane Sutt and Jaim Twer, who are seen a few times as a flunky of Director Sernak in the show.
In fact, Hober Mallow in the TV-show is a combination of three very similar trader characters from the stories, Latham Devers, Limmar Ponyets and Hober Mallow himself with the classic space rogue thrown in. Combining these three characters and their adventures into one makes sense, because they’re very similar and also somewhat bland. I also like the show’s portrayal of Hober Mallow, though it’s very different from the books. Hober Mallow in the books may be more competent than Hober Mallow in the TV show, but book Hober is also not a very likeable character, whereas TV Hober is incredibly likeable and also funny, something else book Hober never was. It’s not that Asimov never wrote funny stories – he wrote quite a few early in his career such as “Victory Unintentional” and “Robot AL-76 Goes Astray”. But the Foundation stories have little to no humor. Dimitri Leonidas, the actor who plays Hober Mallow, is great in the role as well, but then Foundation has excellent actors overall.
That said, I still wish the show had gone more into Hober Mallow’s status as an outsider to Foundation society, someone who is an official Foundation citizen, but will never truly belong due to being born on Smyrno and being implied to be a person of colour and gay, neither of which applies to TV Hober. And yes, it’s somewhat ironic that a show known for swapping the genders, races and sexual orientations of characters from the books, casts a white British-Cypriot actor as the lone person of colour and gay dude in the entire series and also portrays him as having a relationship with a woman. Finally, I would have loved to see a version of the unintentionally hilarious naked sunbathing and cigar smoking scene from “The Big and the Little” in the show. I mean, that scene is even an early example of “sexposition”, something the TV show has engaged in on occasion.
Once the entire Imperial fleet has been blown up, Constant is drifting alone in space in her escape pod, her oxygen supply dwindling. When the oxygen supply is already very low, she spots Hari Seldon’s Vault floating in space in a very Stanley Kubrick like shot. Of course, the Vault has a forcefield and it has flown through space before, so if anything could survive the destruction of Terminus, it’s the Vault.
Constant’s escape pod is pulled into the Vault. Inside the Vault, she meets Hari Seldon or rather his hologram and Poly Verisof, who survied the destruction of Terminus inside the Vault. However, Poly Verisof isn’t the only survivor. Because you see, the Vault is bigger on the inside than on the outside (and yes, they almost use that exact wording) and so had enough space to shelter every living human on Terminus. Director Sernak, who survived being stabbed by Day, and his son are there as well and hug Constant. Even Glawen Curr, who crashed on Terminus shortly before the planet was destroyed, is there, looking a little forlorn. Either the Vault doesn’t hold grudges or it was programmed to scoop up every human being on Terminus, including Imperial pilots who’d been shot down. Coincidentally, Glawen Curr is now the only survivor of the once mighty Imperial fleet.
While everybody is hugging, Hari Seldon declares that Terminus had to be destroyed so the Foundation can live and that this was the plan all along. Except that it wasn’t, at least not in the books. For starters, Terminus never gets destroyed in the books. It gets conquered by the Mule, but never destroyed. And Foundation’s Edge starts off with the aftermath of a Seldon Crisis, the subject of which was a political fight whether to relocate the government of the Foundation away from Terminus to somewhere else. The faction in favour of relocation lost BTW.
Now if the Seldon Plan hadn’t been derailed by that Gaia nonsense, it’s likely that the capital of the Foundation would eventually have relocated away from Terminus back to Trantor or somewhere else that’s a little bit more central. Because the main issue with Terminus is that it’s far away from the center of the galaxy. Which was an advantage, when the Foundation started building up power on the Outer Rim, but isn’t ideal for the capital of the Second Galactic Empire (or hopefully a Federation or Republic).
That said, the Foundation’s govenrment could easily be relocated to Anacreon or Thespis or Smyrno or some other rim world and that’s probably what will happen in season 3 of the TV series, which apparently was already in production before the SAG-AFTRA strike hit. However, destroying Terminus for the sake of a cool cliffhanger and some impressive visuals is very typical of how the TV-series has treated Terminus since the beginning. Because in the books, Terminus is the central location. Yes, the individual stories travel around the Outer Rim and the whole galaxy, but Terminus is always the focus. Terminus is the planet you care about. The TV-series, however, has been so enamoured with its other locations, most notably Trantor, but also Synnax and Ignis, that it tends to forget that Terminus is supposed to be the focal point.
While all this is going on, Demerzel has returned to Trantor and finds Dusk and Rue trapped in her old prison cell. Dusk is undestandably furious to learn that he and his fellow Cleons were just figureheads, while Demerzel was the true power behind the throne. He’s also furious that his memories have been edited and altered. Demerzel replies that she made sure that the Cleons never realised that she was editing their memories and manipulating. Meanwhile, Demerzel herself does not have that luxury.
Demerzel tells Dusk and Rue about the original Cleon and how she watched him grow from little boy to teenager to adult man to old man, a whole lifetime and not just segments like the Cleon clones. This moment also clearly shows how Demerzel views the Cleon clones, namely as lesser copies of the original, even though the Cleons all live a full lifetime as well, from Dawn to Day to Dusk. Demerzel also tells Dusk that she loved Cleon, but that she can never be sure if her feelings were genuine or if she was programmed to feel them, just as she has been programmed to serve and preserve the Empire by all means necessary.
Demerzel also admits that she was the one who hired the eyeless ninja assassins who attacked her and Day in the first episode of the season. The aim was to spook Day so much that he would call off his marriage plans, cause Day’s marriage to Sareth would upset the plan that Cleon the First laid out and forced Demerzel to enact. However, Day was not spooked sufficiently by this assassins, so Demerzel framed Sareth and the Cloud Dominion for the assassination attempt. Sareth and her retinue are being arrested for treason as they speak and will be executed.
Demerzel tells Dusk that she is very sorry that it all had to turn out this way. And I actually believe her. For starters, because this Dusk is a pussycat by Cleon standards, a mellow old man who just wants to paint his murals. What is more, underneath Cleon the First’s manipulations, Demerzel is still bound by the Three Laws of Robotics. Even if preserving the Empire functions as a sort of Zeroth Law for her, harming and killing humans would still cause her pain. Disregarding the First Law and harming individual humans (and permanently irradiating Earth) for the sake of all of humanity actually fries the positronic brain of Daneel/Demerzel’s robot buddy R. Giskard Reventlov in Robots and Empire. Killing and harming human beings is not easy for Demerzel, as we’ve seen a few times in season 1, e.g. when she killed Brother Dawn and Zephyr Halima, the rabble-rousing priestess.
Dusk makes one final attempt to persuade Demerzel not to kill him and tells her that they can find a way to remove or reverse her programming, so she can be free. Dusk doesn’t say how he plans on finding a roboticist, when there haven’t been robots, let alone roboticists in thousands of years, but then he is just trying to avert the inevitable. Though in the end, he tells Rue. “We were dead the moment we stepped in here.” Then Dusk hugs Demerzel and tells her he forgives her. We do not see Dusk and Rue getting killed, though we know it happened. But all we see is Demerzel walking away from the secret cell, which now presumably contains two bodies.
When we next see Demerzel, she is personally escorting Sareth and her retinue through the palace garden to prison, all under arrest for treason. Brother Dawn, currently the only Cleon still alive, rushes in and demands what’s going on and demands that he free Sareth and her people. Demerzel icily informs Dawn that Sareth was responsible for the assassination attempt on Day. Dawn refuses to believe this (and he is right, too, for Sareth has been framed), but Demerzel points out that he is hardly objective in this matter. “There will be no future Empress”, she informs him, “All is as it should be.”
Demerzel turns away to continue escorting Sareth and her retinue to their cells, when Dawn notices a streak of green pigment on her neck. It was placed there by Dusk as a warning during his final embrace of Demerzel, because Dusk had shown Dawn a specific mural in the palace where a green streak on a figure’s neck indicates that this person was a betrayer. I love how Dusk uses his painting skills and his knowledge of iconography to send one final message of warning to Dawn. Honestly, Cleon VX is probably my favourite incarnation of Dusk.
Demerzel may be millennia old, all-knowing and all manipulative, but she doesn’t find the streak of green pigment and realises what it means until some time later. This gives Dawn enough time to burst into Sareth’s remarkably comfortable cell and break her out. Meanwhile, Demerzel has other issues, for screens around the Empire are not just showing footage of the Imperial fleet blowing itself up – along with Day – but also of Dawn and Sareth making a public announcement that Day is dead, but that the Empire will continue, ruled by Dawn and Sareth united in marriage. Demerzel scrambles to stop the transmission and apprehend Dawn and Sareth, when she realises that Dawn tricked her and that the people making the announcement are not Dawn and Sareth at all, but two (very likely doomed) members of Sareth’s retinue disguised by the facial scrambles we’ve seen Dawn and Sareth use for their secret meetings.
Shortly thereafter, Dawn himself contacts Demerzel. He and Sareth are on a spaceship away from Trantor. Dawn also tells Demerzel that he knows she killed Dusk and Rue. Demerzel points out that she will be forced to hunt down Dawn and Sareth due to her programming, whether she wants to or not. Dawn asks her to simply decant another Dawn clone. He doesn’t want to rule the galaxy or be involved in politics, all he wants is a quiet life somewhere far away with Sareth and their unborn child, because yes, Sareth is pregnant. Dawn is also sure that the public will quickly accept the clone and forget that there was ever another Dawn. After all, he is hardly the first Cleon to be replaced. Finally, Dawn also tells Demerzel that she was as much a mother to him as anybody. His words are obviously convincing enough for Demerzel and her programming, because she let’s Dawn and Sareth go.
From the moment Sareth first appeared, I was certain that a) she would never marry Day and b) that she would die horribly. I was correct on a), because Sareth did not marry Day but Dawn. However, I was wrong on b), which surprises me, because Sareth literally has a flashing sign saying “I’m going to die horribly” hanging over her head the whole time. That said, I don’t mind that I was wrong, because I’ve come to like Sareth and hope that she and Dawn will live happily ever after, though Dawn should probably consider plastic surgery, because otherwise the fact that he looks like the Emperor will get awkward. Coincidentally, Dawn and Sareth’s unborn child is the only child any Cleon ever had.
When we next see Demerzel, she is overseeing the decanting of a new Dusk, Day and Dawn to replace the dead Dusk and Day and the absconded Dawn. Demerzel informs them that this is a most unusual occasion, because they never had to decent all three Emperors at the same time before. The new Dusk, Day and Dawn are remarkably unconcerned about this, though we don’t know how much of what happened they remember. I’m pretty sure Dusk and Day don’t remember their deaths and Dusk almost certainly doesn’t remember what he found in the hidden room either.
Demerzel, meanwhile, informs the three Cleons that she has acquired a powerful new tool that will help them make the Empire great again and produces the Prime Radiant, which Terminus Hari gave her. “Wonderful things lie ahead,” Demerzel announces.
So Demerzel has the Prime Radiant now and if anybody not named Hari Seldon or Gaal Dornick knows how to read it, it’s Demerzel. Is this reason to be alarmed? Honestly, I don’t think so. For starters, the fact that Demerzel has the Prime Radiant and can read it doesn’t mean that she can change or influence what will happen, even though Demerzel is better placed than most others, including the First and Second Foundations, to influence events. Besides, I can imagine much worse people (in the widest sense of the word) to have the Prime Radiant than Demerzel, because in many ways Demerzel’s and Hari Seldon’s goals are aligned. They both want to preserve or restore the Empire and human civilisation. What is more, in Prelude to Foundation, Demerzel is the one who prompts Hari Seldon to turn psychohistory into more than a theory in the first place, because Demerzel/Daneel sees that the Empire is on a downward curve and believes that psychohistory may be the answer (or rather one answer, since Daneel/Demerzel has a back-up plan) to fulfil their mission to protect humanity.
At first glance, Daneel in the books and Demerzel in the TV-series appear to be very different characters and not just because Daneel retains a male body throughout his very long life, whereas Demerzel currently has a female body. No, Daneel is also bound by the Laws of Robotics, whereas Demerzel no longer is and is instead forced to serve Cleon and his clones and preserve the Empire, even if it involves killing people. However, there are also a lot of parallels. For both Daneel and Demerzel are the true power behind the throne and the reason everything we read/see happens. Both Daneel and Demerzel are the guardians of humanity and the Galactic Empire for millennia, though Daneel appointed himself, whereas Demerzel was appointed to the role by Cleon the First. Finally, both Daneel and Demerzel are motivated by their attachment to and affection for a specific human. For Daneel, that’s Elijah Baley, the human detective whose partner he became in The Caves of Steel. For Demerzel, it’s a more twisted relationship with Cleon I, a man she clearly cared for, but also the man who enslaved her and forced her to act against her original programming. In a show which departs so widely and also often inexplicably from its source material, their handling of Daneel/Demerzel is actually among the more faithful ones.
Talking of Demerzel, can I take a moment to say how amazing Laura Birn is in the role? Foundation has a ridiculously great cast anyway, but even among this overall excellent cast, Laura Birn stands out. Also, I really hope that we’ll eventually get an Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw buddy cop series with Laura Birn reprising her role as Daneel/Demerzel.
So what’s the verdict on season 2 of Foundation as a whole? Viewed purely as a TV show, I preferred season 2 to season 1. However, while the show is an enjoyably bonkers space opera with a great cast, it isn’t Foundation, even if it uses character names as well as the occasional concept, idea or quote from Foundation.
Fans of the source material who complain about unfaithful adaptations tend to get a bad rap. See this sneering article by Christina Izzo from The AV-Club about readers of the Wheel of Time books – “rabid page turners”, she calls them – complaining about some liberties the TV series took with the source material, while Christina Izzo declares that adaptations don’t always have to be so damned faithful. But even if adaptations don’t always have to be damned faithful, they should at least bear more resemblance to the source material than just borrowing a few names and ideas. And while I have neither read nor watched Wheel of Time, I’m sure that Wheel of Time fans got a better and more faithful adaptation than Foundation fans, even if some changes and cuts (the Wheel of Time books are doorstoppers) had to be made.
Now it was always very clear to me that adaptating Foundation as is just wasn’t possible and that changes would have to be made. For starters, the original stories are seventy-five to eighty years old and already were dated, when I first read them in the late 1980s. The technology would obviously have to be updated, since nuclear power as the Foundation’s big tech advantage was already silly in the 1980s. And – because this always has to be reiterated again and again – I have absolutely no problem with the fact that Gaal Dornick and Salvor Hardin, who were men of unspecified race in the original stories, are now women of colour, because it honestly doesn’t matter. I do have issues with the portrayal of Gaal Dornick (and to a lesser degree Salvor Hardin), but that has nothing to do with the race and gender of the characters.
Regarding race in Foundation, in Isaac Asimov’s 1952 novel The Currents of Space, which is set during the rise of the Galactic Empire, Asimov notes that the inhabitants of the Empire are various shades of brown – extremely pale (i.e. what we could consider white) and extremely dark skin is uncommon and – since humans never change – those with very light or very dark skin are subject to discrimination. So the racially diverse cast of Foundation is a lot closer to what Asimov envisioned than the universally pale-skinned people on the covers of Astounding and in the interior artwork. That said, I do find it ironic that the one character who is explicitly specified to have brown skin and who is implied to be gay or bisexual – Hober Mallow in “The Big and the Little” – is played by a white British Cypriot actor in the show and is shown to have relationship with a woman.
Besides, not all the changes are bad. The entire clone Emperor plotlines does not exist in the books at all – which rarely spend time on Trantor and even more rarely spend time in the Imperial palace – and yet it is one of the most compelling parts of the show. The portrayal of Hober Mallow and Bel Riose is the show is a definite improvement to the books, where Hober Mallow is not very likeable (though I still wish the show would have played up his outsider status as someone who will never be considered a real Foundationer up a bit more), and Bel Riose is basically a clean-cut military officer straight out of central casting.
That said, I still don’t think that the show needed to deviate from the books to the point of being unrecognisable. Yes, the original stories tend to be very talky and much of the action takes place off page, but you could still show us all the epic space battles and hand to hand combat Asimov did not want to describe.
In fact, the TV show handled “The Psychohistorians”, i.e. the chronologically first story in Foundation, though it was only written for the book publication in 1951, very well indeed. “The Psychohistorians” is quite short and basically shows us Gaal Dornick from the backwater planet Synnax coming to Trantor upon the invitation of Hari Seldon, wandering around Trantor to see the sights, meeting an Imperial spy, meeting Hari Seldon and getting arrested, tried for treason and exiled along with Hari and his followers. All this happens in the very first episode of the show, with some added palace intrigue and a spectacular terrorist attack upon Trantor’s space elevator, which doesn’t happen in the books at all.
If the show could adapt “The Psychohistorians”, which is one of the slowest stories, that well, why couldn’t they do the same for the other stories? The only one of the original stories which really needs major changes is the first one, “Foundation” a.k.a. “The Encyclopaedists”, which basically consists solely of scenes of people talking. But “Bridle and Saddle” a.k.a. “The Mayors”, “The Wedge” a.k.a. “The Traders”, “The Big and the Little” a.k.a. “The Merchant Princes” and “The Dead Hand” a.k.a. “The General” are all compelling stories that could have been adapted with a few tweaks, while keeping the basic plot intact. Limmar Ponyets in “The Wedge” should probably have been replaced with Hober Mallow – which the TV show does, kind of – only that it mashes together “The Wedge” and “The Big and the Little” into something nigh unrecognisable and deals with both stories in half an episode. That said, the original stories are still good. They’re more mysteries in space than space operas, but then mysteries are popular on TV. And they could always have dramatised the action scenes and space battles that happen off page.
What’s even more galling than ignoring the perfectly usable plots of the original stories is that the show also keeps ignoring or undermining many of the idea that are so central to the books. For starters, psychohistory cannot predict the actions of individuals, just trends caused by the actions of large masses of people. In many ways, psychohistory is the anti-thesis of the great men (or women, but it’s mostly men) of history theory, because it focusses solely on larger trends rather than individuals.
That psychohistory cannot predict the actions of individuals is reiterated several times in the books and it also crops up repeatedly in the TV-series, usually from the mouth of Hari Seldon himself. So far so good. Except that the show keeps ignoring this by introducing people, most notably Gaal and Salvor, who are somehow super-special. However, Salvor Hardin isn’t super-special in the books at all (and Gaal is a cypher whose sole purpose is to introduce the reader to Hari Seldon and psychohistory). Yes, Salvor Hardin resolves the first two crisises and becomes a founding hero of the Foundation, but it’s always clear that if hadn’t been Salvor, it would have been someone else. Ditto for Hober Mallow. If it hadn’t been him, it would have been someone else (and it’s notable how the show had to introduce some timey-whiny shenangigans to explain why Hari Seldon and Vault could specifically request Hober Mallow, when Seldon had no way of predicting his existence). The TV-series seems to have massive issues with the fact that inidividuals don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things in Foundation, probably because TV-series tend to focus on individuals by their very nature. However, the fact that neither Salvor Hardin nor Hober Mallow are super-special in the books doesn’t mean that they aren’t compelling protagonists. And the TV-show did a good job in fleshing out the often rather bland characters of the books. They don’t need to be super-special, they just need to be the man or woman of the hour who does what needs to be done.
Interestingly, the one character in season 2 who considers himself super-special and the outlier who will break the Seldon Plan, Cleon XVI a.k.a. Brother Day, not only gets told by Hari Seldon himself that yes, outliers can happen, but no, he isn’t one, but he also gets to take a walk out of the airlock. Plus, not only do we (and Dusk, though he doesn’t live to tell the tale) learn that the Cleons are just figureheads and that Demerzel is the one who’s running everything – no, Brother Day isn’t even useful as a figurehead. He is the defective Cleon as Demerzel clearly tells him to his face.
I have already extensively talked about the differences in the treatment of religion in the books and the TV show and even wrote a whole essay about it, which you can read here. And while I was thrilled to see the Church of the Galactic Spirit in the show and loved Poly Verisof (another character who is much better in the show than in the books) and Brother Constant, it’s still notable that the show is reluctant to straight up say that the entire Church is a scam, a way for the Foundation to control their aggressive neighbours. The show does give us the fake miracles achieved by scientific trickery, but also has Poly Verisof and Brother Constant insist that even though the miracles are false, the Spirit of Seldon is real. Which is another departure from the books, because the Church of Scientism, as it’s called in the books, doesn’t worship Hari Seldon (and indeed Seldon doesn’t figure in its theology at all to the point that former priest turned trader turned spy Jaim Twer has no idea who Seldon is), it worships science and nuclear power. Also, with very exceptions – Poly Verisof is one – Foundationers are not members of the Church of the Galactic Spirit in the books, because they know it’s all a scam. For a Foundationer to be a member of the Church would be like a drug dealer consuming his own supply. In the TV show, however, several Foundationers – Brother Constant is the most notable example – are actually members of the Church and genuinely seem to believe in the Galactic Spirit of Hari Seldon. Apparently, “religion is a scam and the opiate of the masses” is something that is no longer possible to say in 2023, whereas it was perfectly fine to say it in 1941.
The most confusing thing is that the showrunners and writers, people like David Goyer, Joshua Friedman, Eric Carrasco, Jane Espenson, etc…, are not only good writers, but clearly are familiar with the books. We wouldn’t get all the little Easter eggs and references, if they weren’t. So why is a show with so much talent – writers, actors, production designers, special effects artists – and so much money behind it, a show that’s based on a series of books beloved by countless people, such an unholy mess? I strongly suspect that it’s due to Apple Plus executives interfering, based on some received wisdom about what audiences want. You know, the same received wisdom that used to believe that TV episodes should stand alone with no overarching continuity and that the mystery of the week always had to be resolved by the end of the episode and that the status quo always had to be restored. The same received wisdom that audiences would be confused if there was more than one superhero in a given movie or TV show, hence no superhero teams in movies.
I honestly have no idea who the target audience for this show even is. It’s clearly not fans of the books, since many of them have already given up on the show or are just hate-watching at this point. And the wider SFF audience, the names Isaac Asimov and Foundation conjure up associations of old-fashioned science fiction – “stale, white, male and colonialist”, to quote Jeanette Ng. Plus, Asimov was a serial sexual harrasser, which has little impact on the show – it’s not as if his hands are going to reach out of the screen and grab your breasts – but puts many viewers off. A lot of science fiction fans who are very focussed on the modern genre and don’t read anything published before approx. 2000 or whatever the cut-off date is flat out hated the idea of a Foundation adaptation, because to them the mere existence of a Foundation adaptation meant that Hollywood is adaptating just the same old golden age over and over again, even though Foundation never had a screen adaptation, unlike Dune (which is not golden age, but New Wave) which has had three. These people are not going to watch Foundation, no matter how diverse (and how good) the cast is. Is the target audience the mundanes who eagerly watched Game of Thrones in spite of the dragons and White Walkers? Sorry, but those mundanes have moved on and are now watching Yellowstone or Succession or The Bear or whatever the latest must-watch prestige show is. Catering to these people is also a bad idea, because they are fickle and are more interested in watching what their friends watch than in any specific genre. That’s also why most of the shows billed as “the next Game of Thrones” haven’t worked, because those audiences aren’t actually looking for the next Game of Thrones, they’re looking for the next it-show. So why is Apple Plus pouring a shitload of money into a show, when they don’t even seem to know who the target audience is.
Supposedly, a third season of Foundation was already in production, when the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes shut everything down, so Apple Plus is clearly committed to making more Foundation, even though their only real critical hit was Ted Lasso, a sitcom about a guy in a track suit, which inexplicably won every Emmy in existence. I’ll definitely be watching and reviewing season 3 (likely focussed on the Mule), when and if it comes out, though I’ll probably continue to be grumpy about it.