Major spoilers for the first two episodes of Foundation follow. Check them out before reading any further.
Foundation didn’t pan out at all during its first episode on Apple TV Plus. The detailed nature of Issac Asimov’s seminal science-fiction novels meant that the show had a lot of set-up to complete before it even began to premiere. Now that the foundation has been laid, however, Foundation’s second episode — Preparing to Live — is the first true test for Apple’s latest mass production.
It is unusual for another episode of a TV series to be burdened with such expectations. After all, the premiere of a show is usually enough for the audience to decide whether it’s worth staying. Foundation’s complex narrative and abundance of characters gave its first episode a free pass, though, even though we felt it was lacking in some areas. Now, it is up to its next entry to deliver a spirited spectacle to wow the audience and grab the attention.
Thankfully, Preparing to Live does just that: creating a tighter, more thematically dense, and surprising entry than its predecessor. The show still suffers from some persistent issues, but it starts to make good use of Asimov’s material and takes the Foundation’s story in an interesting direction.
- Check out our review of Foundation Episode 1
- Or read about everything you need to know about the TV adaptation of the Foundation
- Apple TV Plus is having a moment – and Netflix should be worried
Picking up the events sometime after Episode 1, Preparing to Live follows parallel stories involving Hari Seldon (Jared Harris), Gal Dornick (Lou Lobel) and their followers and de facto rulers of the Empire.
The former are on their way to Terminus, the barren planet exiled by Brother Day (Lee Pace) in the previous episode. Meanwhile, back at Trantor, Brother Day, Brother Dawn (Caleb Cooper) and Brother Dusk (Terence Mann) debate what should be done with Anacrane and Thespis’ delegations after the Star Bridge attack. A subplot involving Dusk, who is going through an existential crisis, also threatens to create further tension between the trio’s ranks.
What becomes immediately apparent about Episode 2 is the apparent lack of location hopping. Unlike Episode 2, the preparation for Live takes place in only two settings: Trenter, and taking Selden’s group to the terminus on the ship. By reducing the number of locations, episode 2 becomes a lot easier to follow than the show’s premiere. You know where each group of characters are and what they’re doing, which makes things less chaotic from a storytelling standpoint.
Of the alternate stories, Trantor is arguably the easiest to follow. Day and Dusk find themselves at odds over the decision to exile Seldon, Dornick and their disciples, as well as whether they should retaliate to the Star Bridge attack.
The ensuing stalemate results in Day (and Don but, as a child, he takes a backseat to the proceedings) questioning the envoys of Anaceron and Thespis on their part in the devastating attack. Meanwhile, Dusk keeps himself busy with menial tasks away from the hubbub, and it is during an assignment where the main theme of preparing for Live emerges.
Working on the Mural of Souls, a seemingly endless piece of artwork depicting the history of the Empire’s current rulers, Dusk nearly falls from his lofty perch to his death. Realizing that his body is starting to fail him – every leader of the Empire is clones of its first emperor, Klein I – Dusk reflects on the rest of Episode 2, and questions his existence.
Dusk’s mini-story arc is the first time Foundation resonates thematically with its audience. Initially steadfast in their belief that Anacreon and Thespis should be punished for their crimes, Dusk’s dice with death, as well as a trip to one of Trantor’s subterranean levels in the wake of the fall of the Star Bridge, led him to more sympathetic to their cause. The jaunt leads to the shocking revelation (for viewers, at least) that the Emperor’s advisor Eto Demerzel (Laura Byrne) is also a robot: the first of the three big surprises episode 2 falls upon the audience.
In the end, what should be done to the representatives of Anacreon and Thespis doesn’t matter to the events leading up to Dusk’s final change of heart (more on this later). But as spectators, we are able to examine the fragility of life through Dusk’s eyes and how we may react to, or be affected by, similar events in our own future. It took another little episode for Foundation to begin exploring the major themes from Asimov’s works, but it’s all welcome.
The other story in Episode 2 examines human vulnerability in equal measure. Dornick’s heart-to-heart with supporting character Louvre (Kin Addis), who refuses to terminate her pregnancy despite the risks en route to Terminus, is one such example. The revelation, relating to the parents of Hari’s adopted son Rech Seldon (Alfred Enoch), is similarly emotional in its exploration of life and death. It is a thematic examination that ties together the coexistence stories of Episode 2 and shows that despite their differences, similarities exist between Seldon and Day’s groups.
If you feel sorry for Dusk because of Dusk’s existential crisis, preparations for Liv’s tragic ending soon put an end to that. Sure, he doesn’t make the final decision to seek revenge on Anacryon and Thespis, but, being only connected to Dee, he is equally accountable for the events to come.
Unable to determine who is responsible for the Star Bridge attack, de punishes Anacreon and Thespis equally. Brutally, Day watches the main envoys of the planets as he hangs up the rest of his delegation. Not only that, though – De also sends a detachment of Empire warships to Anacreon and Thespis, who, at his signal, ruthlessly bombard both worlds with an unfathomable number of missiles. It’s a very emotional moment (after all, the attack may have killed millions of innocent anacrans and thespins) that reminiscent of the destruction of Alderaan in Star Wars: A New Hope. It also sounds terrifying as the comparatively disturbing events in Game of Thrones — another pop culture touchstone that the Foundation is very similar to today.
The preparation for Liv’s other storylines also provides an unexpected moment of its own. In his final scene, Dornick (and by extension the audience) is stunned as we see Rech murder Hari. But, for some reason, the gravity of the situation seems a bit hollow. It’s probably down to the fact that two episodes isn’t enough time to invest in Hari as a character – if his shocking death doesn’t come until episode 7 or 8, it’s going to be far more impressive. It also keeps Hari and Gaal’s father-daughter style relationship from progressing further, which has been one of the foundation’s bright spots so far.
Anyway, Hari’s death is an extremely surprising turn of events, but lacks the kind of emotional depth that usually accompanies the death of a main character.
Preparation for Live is a better episode than the series opener. With major character introductions and plot setups out of the way, the show has more time to focus on major themes, character development, traumatic events, and cliffhanger endings that leave audiences wanting more.
However, the Foundation is struggling in the story pacing department. It still feels frenetic at times and viewers would benefit from knowing the time between each episode. Some individuals briefly state how much time has passed, but they miss it in the blink of an eye. A clear understanding of the timeline for each story strand won’t go wrong.
Keeping plot aside, however, Foundation Episode 2 feels more cohesive than the show’s premiere. The series’ creative team begins to find a balance between respecting Asimov’s source material and creating a TV show that detracts from the novels in exciting ways. If it maintains this balance between the lore in the Foundation’s books and updates its plot for the present day, Apple’s new flagship show will be worth living with.
- Unlike at the end of Episode 2, Hari is not murdered by Reach in Isaac Asimov’s book series. Instead, mathematical genius dies of natural causes. Later in the novels, he reappears in hologram form to provide guidance to the Foundation’s residents.
- Another change that the show makes from the books deals with Gal and Rech. While the pair begin a romantic relationship in the TV series, this does not happen in the novels. In the source material Gaal is a man, while Rech marries a female security officer who saves Hari’s life.
- Foundation Episode 2 also introduces us to characters that don’t appear in the books. Kim Addis ‘Lower, Clark Peters’ Abbas, Johanna O’Brien’s Shivoghan and Florence Ordesh’s Brivan are all new additions to the TV adaptation of the Foundation.
- The original characters aren’t the only new addition to the show. Thespis is a completely original world created for the TV series. Anacreon, meanwhile, was already present in Asimov’s novels.
- If you thought Trantor and his emperors had a futuristic Roman feel, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. According to Asimov, the foundation was inspired by Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, so there are clear influences in the aesthetic and design of Trentor and the Emperors.
- Speaking of designs, New York-based costume designers Kurt Swanson and Bart Mueller (better known as Kurt & Bart) created many of the outfits seen in Season 1. The Foundation marked the two’s return to TV a decade later, as well as their work together. US comedy-drama series How to Make It in America.
- Foundation Episode 2 director Andrew Bernstein has a long history of working in the TV medium. Bernstein has helmed entries in The Umbrella Academy, The Nevers and Fear the Walking Dead among others — a far cry from Episode 1 director Rupert Sanders, who…