A band of scientists predict the end of the life as we know it, urging political leaders to take action to save all of humanity.
Nope, this isn’t the news, this is in a galaxy far, far away and it is the premise of new Apple TV prestige series Foundation.
Based a collection of novels by Isaac Asimov, Foundation chronicles a thousand-year saga and a struggle between religion, politics, and science. Psychohistorian and mathematician Dr. Hari Seldon has developed a model which predicts the end of civilisation. Hurt by the allegation, Dr. Hari Seldon and his young protégé Gaal are exiled by the Galactic Empire and have to battle to prove Seldon’s theories and put a stop to it.
There is no greater joy than seeing Lee Pace glide onto a screen and dominate the room. As Brother Day, the brutal leader of the Galactic Empire, that is exactly what makes Pace such a key player in Foundation. The forceful Day is unafraid to quell an uprising but as calculating as Brother Day is, there are also immediate questions about his humanity and whether, as a clone, he has a soul. This is explored in many iterations of this character at different points in the story, as well as the struggles of his counterparts Brother Dawn and Brother Dusk, played by Cassian Bilton and Terrance Mann respectively.
The show’s biggest merits are newcomers Lou Llobbell as Gaal Dornick, and Leah Harvey as Salvor Hardin, two outsiders who see the world very differently to the leaders and families around them. Llobbell’s Gaal is short in stature but has a huge mind and though it is clear that her intelligence often isolates her, she thinks like no one else and can be pivotal for saving the world. Leah Harvey’s Salvor is the other side of that coin. Salvor story starts much later than Gaal’s but again, she is a character who sees the world differently, from a deep well of empathy. These outliers, Gaal and Salvor, are crucial in saving humanity and, therefore, Llobell and Harvey, really become the soul of Foundation, and their compelling performances make Foundation a crucial watch.
Much like Asimov’s novels, Foundation is a very heady stuff. Adapted for the screen by Dawn of Justice’s David S. Goyer, and Josh Friedman, Foundation demands your full attention in order to get a grip on what’s going on.
Foundation is great but it’s biggest pitfall is clarity. Or lack of it. The show has to manoeuvre between different times and eras with psychohistories, mathematics, and more. Now, before anyone decides that piece of criticism means I am too thick to understand Foundation and I should keep to my simple shows, I am merely pointing out that there is a lot of Asimov’s work is so dense that it can be lost in translation. For example, between episodes one and two, there is a striking time-leap that moves characters into sudden new positions before we’ve had a chance to get used to them in the initial episode.
The basic enjoyment of the show does lie within the equations, psychology, maths, politics, and history as you are placed inside different war rooms as the big players move chess pieces in order to rule.
It is especially intriguing when you compare the Galactic Empire and Seldon’s work to our world. The idea of a man declaring that if the (white) men in charge don’t change their ways, the destruction of all life and humanity will be imminent feels scarily like our own world leaders who have been ignoring climate change scientists for years. The implications of the show have real life consequences and it is intriguing to live it whilst seeing it play on this large fantastical scale.
However, poor storytelling and writing can make Foundation feel, at times, inaccessible. The muddy opening of the show can cause immense whiplash and there is not much breathing room to wrap your head around the set-up, no matter how engaging the premise is. That being said, by the fourth episode, you’ll be fully immersed in this world. It is a grand visual spectacle that has impressive details in it including costume design for many characters and cultures.
The acting, especially from the aforementioned scrappy newcomers is so good alongside the epic visuals that, when paired together, create a fine wine that makes the big words and bigger theories more easily digestible. Sweeten it all with a perfect score by Bear McCreary (who, let’s face us, never gives us anything less than perfection,) and Foundation becomes a compelling a television show that will satisfy folks who have sorely missed grand, science fiction epics.
Let’s just say the opening episodes of Foundation have made a fantastic, if slightly uneven, foundation for your next favourite show.