Foundation Season 1 Episode 3: The Mathematician’s Ghost Review

A delicious expansion.

What They Say:
Brother Dusk reflects on his legacy as he prepares for ascension. The Foundation arrives on Terminus and finds a mysterious object.

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While I cut my teeth on science fiction like the novels this show is based on, I’ve spent the vast majority of the last thirty years with anime. And one of the things I almost always quietly complain about is the slavish faithfulness to the source material. Particularly when it’s so structured and could really become something better with tweaks, smoothing, and updates. But the fandom there is intent on these kinds of 1:1 adaptations for the most part and I’ve long come to grips with it. Which is why I’m generally a lot more interested when Western properties are adapted across media. Again, pre-anime, I was/am huge into comics, so seeing how they’ve been adapted into film and TV has been fascinating. It took decades to get it right but they got there and while there are always changes you cringe at, you often find new life breathed into other characters and stories in a new way.

This is where I am with Foundation. I absolutely love the novels but I am beyond thrilled with the changes and expansion while still adhering to the themes and big picture. But it’s also why I understand the frustration many have, if not outright anger, with the changes. Particularly with the second episode, though it does appear I was on the right track as the murder of Hari Seldon has now made him into a man of myth once more. The back half of this episode focuses pretty much entirely on Terminus, moving us forward first to when the ship landed there with the colonists, showing how they started out and made their discovery of what they called the Vault. The uncertainty of its origin is dealt with lightly, something from Cleon perhaps, alien in origin maybe, or just something else, but little more than a curiosity against their larger mission. I really liked seeing, if all too brief for my worldbuilding tastes, they started the colony and brought down the slow ship to strip for materials for the colony itself.

A lot of the focus is on Salvor Hardin as she’s an “outlier” here, different from everyone else in ways that are hard to put a finger on but keep her at a distance. Which is why she took to being the warden so easily, working the protective field and keeping an eye out for the creatures that could cause problems. But she’s also now discovered two key problems that may be interconnected. The first, done through a little careful examination, has revealed that the null field is growing and could consume the two in the near future. That’s enough cause for concern right there, but even more immediate is the arrival of three Anacreaon ships in orbit that are taking the slow and steady approach to come down to the surface. This doesn’t create a panic but a whole lot of concern, especially as they discover that their single satellite connection to the Empire no longer works and that these ships really don’t care that the Empire has deemed Terminus off-limits. The Encyclopedists have had close to what I suspect is three decades to build and operate without real fear, but things are changing and even though exiled, the protection of the Empire is now gone.

What adds something interesting to all of this is that Terminus does have outside contact, though one suspects they were not supposed to. A trader named Huge (Daniel MacPherson, Strike Back) visits there from time to time and regals Salvor with tales of other worlds and provides for some trade. Hugo is likely a seed, a precursor to the Traders to follow, but seems to be an original character here. He provides someone for Salvor to confide in as she struggles with her parents, especially her mother who even tries to prove that Salvor may truly by special by getting her to touch the Prime Radiant. Salvor is indeed special – her ability to walk in the null field and to “hear” the Vault as she does proves that – but it’s not the special that her gifted parents had hoped for and it brings its own tension to things. Especially now that there’s a threat and what little Salvor has done won’t be anywhere near enough. And as she realizes more of what she could have done to protect her people. A people that she still considers herself not a part of, thinking herself not a member of the Foundation itself.

As much as I enjoy Salvor’s story, and I believe this period of Terminus is what plays out for the rest of the season, I really thrilled to the worldbuilding that goes on within Trantor. This one, for better or worse, jumps around a bit. Initially, it takes us back four hundred years to the past before the Star Bridge incident and takes us to the original Cleon as he watches it being built alongside Demerzel. It’s through this that we see how the genetic dynasty was started, his fears for it, and his really deep concern for Demerzel because of how humanity has treated her kind, and his fear for her future. It’s an intriguing sequence overall to show how much of this started and the way that it was done with somewhat best intent but was one of the bigger steps to the eventual fall of the empire. Demerzel’s a little harder to read, whether she’s truly believing in this as the best idea or just going with what the Emperor is saying, but she is all in either way.

From there, it moves us to the future again, fourteen years after the Star Bridge incident as we see the struggles going on there and the concerns that Brother Dusk has over the state of things. The uncertainty of their path forward, what to do with the Star Bridge, and the way they’ve seemingly decided to just pretend Hari Seldon never happened. But it’s when it moves forward another nineteen years that my investment went up more, showing us the final days of Brother Dusk and how the dynasty works. Dawn is now played by Lee Pace and Day by Terrence Mann, pulling double duty with a more haggard look thanks to a touch of makeup. The end of Dusk’s time is a fascinating ritual, one that Demerzel has massaged a bit, I think, in seeing how the past clones have treated themselves, and there’s both a kind of majesty and decay about it as Dusk becomes Darkness for a few minutes before the cycle starts anew. It’s all perhaps a bit more maudlin than some may care for, with Dusk’s view of things being the focal point, but it’s incredibly effective at creating the right atmosphere for it and to give it such weight that’s almost Shakespearian.

In Summary:
Foundation is delivering an amazing experience for me. The concepts and ideas from the books are being fully used here, taking what Asimov put together for the magazine run in the 40s and then built upon with the novels afterward, including the works in the 80s and ideas from the trilogy written by other authors, including my favorite with David Brin. I’ll defend the original novels as must-read works, but I’ll always draw caveats to understand the time they came from. Here, the TV series is really doing some great work in filling in the vast gaps and giving us richer characters to enjoy. Salvor’s story was teased at the start but it really begins here as does the actual Foundation itself proper. This episode works a lot of really great material without moving back and forth between storylines as much as the first two did and that makes for an even more enjoyable presentation. I could spend hours just watching how the Empire works at this point based on these three episodes and could completely get into a lot more about the start of the colony. I simply can’t get enough.

Grade: A-

Streamed By: Apple TV+