Major spoilers for Foundation episodes 1 through 4 follow. Check them out first before reading.
It’s a matter of time, Foundation. After four episodes of politics, sluggish plot pacing and character introductions, the Apple TV Plus sci-fi series is preparing to move into an action potential.
The Barbarians At The Gate, Episode 4’s Official Title, Doesn’t Take Any Meaningful Action, But What Is It does do serves as a harbinger of the battles to come. Yes, the foundation has taken one more Episode to get to the point, but it’s a relief that we may finally see something in the way of action in Episode 5.
While this makes us wait another week for the long-pending fight sequence (hopefully, anyway), Foundation Episode 4 isn’t made up entirely of filler material.
Barbaric at the Gate is an entry defined by the power struggle between the Old Guard and the New Blood, adding some intriguing dimensions to the dynamics between the various characters. And the show is better for it.
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Once Episode 4’s confusing opening segment is out of the way, it becomes clear that divisions between the three rulers of the Galactic Empire are beginning to grow.
Brother Dawn (Cassion Bilton) questions the protocols that Brother Day (Lee Pace) and Dusk (Terrence Mann), as well as the clones before them, have been running for centuries. The three religions also debate science and whether free will has a place in any construction. And, while the conversation reaches a satisfactory conclusion, an underlying tension remains.
It is this tension of their normally tight relationship that, after three more short episodes, we finally get some story pay off in Episode 4.
We see Dey lose his cool when the Empire’s most experienced statisticians inform him that after 35 years of research, Hari Seldon’s predictions are not entirely false. Later, we see Day and Dusk have a suspenseful standoff as they argue about who should make an important visit to the female-led conclave—a verbal battle that Days wins. Paes is surprisingly dangerous in both scenarios, bringing a level of terror and tyranny that has until now been somewhat absent from the dominant ruler of the Empire.
Like the statistician view, the emotionally charged critique of Day’s Evening is a throwback to the events of the earlier episode. In this case, it’s the Empire’s cold decision to avenge Thespis and Anacrane’s alleged Starbridge attack in Episode 2. It’s a perfect example of how traumatic events can affect someone later in life, also with Day (now the larger version of Dawn we saw in episodes 1 and 2) still doing what he did as a child. Saw is clearly impressed by him.
The payoff of the plot isn’t just reserved for the Trantor story of the Foundation. At Terminus, we witness the impact of the Empire’s genocidal attack on Anacreon.
After being ambushed at the end of Episode 3, Salver Hardin (Leah Harvey) monitors Anacreon’s invading forces. In order to convince its leader Phara (Kubbra Sait) that she will cooperate, Salver uses Walt’s disorienting force field to take Pharaah as his prisoner. Back at Terminus City, Salver and Hugo interrogate Fara to find out why the Anacreon battleship is circling Terminus.
It is here that Salver determines that Phara was a child during the retaliatory bombardment of his home world and the kingdom of Thespis. With Anacrian now an uninhabited planet, Fara’s scouting party was sent to Terminus to steal a spacecraft navigation module that would allow them to discover a new world to call home.
Foundation had not followed any of its early episode plot threads up to this point. Watch it now on Trantor And Terminus, then, is a welcome and necessary change in its narrative direction. The Foundation could not continue without accepting future stories, and returning to the plot points it had previously laid out. Thankfully, it’s starting to deliver on that front: Here’s hoping similar payoffs are implemented in subsequent episodes.
As gratifying as those story-focused returns, Foundation still suffers from a push and pull between performing too much or too little.
The barbarians in the opening five minutes of the Gate are a perfect example of how the Foundation struggles to provide the necessary context to its story. The introduction of a predominantly women-centered council, which is due to meet after the death of former leader Proxima Opel, is too swift and confusing to follow. Brother Day is heading towards the conclave by the end of Episode 4, so this group is clearly an important part of the Foundation’s immediate future. Unless viewers rewatch the beginning of Episode 4 to understand the importance of the conclave, however, the Foundation doesn’t do a good job of establishing them as part of their world.
In contrast, its terminus is a bit heavy with story exposition. Salver practically walks us through Pharaoh’s entire history, including the revelation that she is Anacrane’s grand-hunter. Salver and Terminus’ other major players are a bit too easy to work with and, by extension, don’t allow the audience to uncover the mystery themselves. Is there a disparity between the Foundation need tell us what it is needed Let us work for ourselves. The sooner it strikes a balance between the two, the better.
Hopefully, Episode 5 will provide an opportunity for the Foundation to take stock of those issues and resolve those issues. That is, until its next entry focuses primarily on the Terminus fight that is teased in the final moments of Episode 4. It would be a shame if Foundation makes us wait another week, especially given the feeling that its terminus story for the last two episodes is building up to this very moment. And, honestly, we could do without so much talk and politics for an entry.
If Foundation Episode 5 needs to take the occasional break from its first major fight—so that its viewers don’t suffer from war burnout—it would do well to update us on who’s saving Lou Lobel’s Gal Dornick. . The final scene of episode 4 shows Cheek’s stasis pod, possibly floating in space at the moment, recovered by an unknown ship. Is it Rech Seldon (Alfred Enoch) or someone else? With any luck, we’ll find out in Episode 5.
The barbarians at the gate feel something like a crossroads for the Foundation. It carries more tension than some of its predecessors, making good on some of the plot threads it set out early on. And It is ready for some much needed action.
But it is still lacking in important areas. Episode two moments apart, this is an emotionally chilling show. Combine this with its variance in complex plot moments and exposition, and Foundation still feels like it needs a elder moment or shocking turn to get your audience to sit and take notice. Think of the big death in Game of Thrones season 1 episode 9, or Westworld’s seventh episode — trompe l’oeil — and you get the idea.
If he makes it to his next episode (we’ll also take episode 6 at this point), the Foundation will turn its fortunes around. There’s enough here to make this a pretty good show: It’s full of suggestive themes, moral dilemmas, and morally questionable characters. But it needs a big surprise or memorable event to bring it into the realm of TV. The Foundation hasn’t found its own yet, and it’ll be holding it until it does.
- The Barbarians at the Gate marks the screenwriting debut of Lauren Bello. Bello previously appeared on The Forest, Krypton and AXL with showrunner David S. Goyer’s assistant, so this is the first time she has written a script for a TV show.
- Kubbra Sait also makes her debut in an English language production in Foundation Episode 4. The Indian actress and TV host till this time had appeared only in Indian and Hindu films and TV series.
- If Pravesh Rana’s Rowan sounds familiar, you’ve probably seen a Netflix series called The Serpent. Rana has a minor role in the crime drama series, but he played a key role in that show’s finale.
- All of Anacreon’s main characters – Fara, Rowan and Nikhil Parmar’s Freestone – are all new creations for the Foundation’s TV adaptation. Neither of them appears in Isaac Asimov’s original works.
- Alicia Gerrard, who plays Yate Fulham in Foundation, appears in her first regular TV role since the UK TV series Ripper Street. The mystery drama ended in 2014 and since then, Gerard has only starred in small films or landed a few TV roles.
- Gerards Yate has a bigger role in the Foundation’s TV show than his book counterpart. In Asimov’s novels, Yate Fulham is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Encyclopedia Committee. However, she doesn’t have a huge amount of money to do in the source material, so it appears that her role in the TV adaptation has been expanded.
- The Foundation Backstage marks the reunion of crew members who have collaborated on other productions. Cinematographer Tico Polakakis, for example, has reunited with production designer Rory Cheyne after the two worked together on Season 1 of American Gods, as well as Lock and Key.
New episodes of Foundation begin every Friday exclusively on Apple TV Plus.
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