Foundation Season 1 Episode 4: Barbarians at the Gate Review

“You can’t play chess with an opponent willing to set the board on fire.”..

What They Say:

Salvor faces off with an enemy of the Empire. Brothers Day and Dusk are at odds, while Brother Dawn wrestles with his truth.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)With news of a second season renewal today, and the folks behind it talking about how they’ll be able to move forward with the story of Hober Mallow and more in it, there’s a whole lot to look forward to when that arrives as it was a section of the books that I enjoyed. But that also reaffirms, which was a given looking at the episode titles, that the first season is going to be focused heavily on the first crisis while giving us a lot of intriguing material to make clear why the Empire itself was falling. And for those wanting things to really “get busy” and “do something,” well, this episode is going to help with that craving. But, once again, I found myself enraptured with the episode and what unfolds, frustrated that I have to wait a week for more.

The two-track style is still employed well here, but there are various events happening within those that keeps it from being just one thing. Unlike the last couple of episodes, they’re more woven together throughout the episode as opposed to a long block of Empire and then most of the rest about Terminus. The Empire side is decidedly interesting as we see events playing out as it’s becoming clear that Seldon’s prophecies are starting to take shape. An insurrection on Trantor is taking hold on one of the levels that stems from the Star Bridge fall thirty-five years ago. An ambassador from the outer rim has revealed that a religious leader of note has died and there’s a challenge to the expected successor, and the implication of them winning would cast doubt on the humanity of Empire in an intriguing way as it touches on clones and souls. And events are taking shape around Terminus as communications have been lost, which closes out a large chunk of the outer rim with the buoy there silence. This is made even more complicated by the past events when Brother Dusk, then as Day, brought ruin to these barbarian kingdoms.

This has intriguing ramifications as we see how Empire handles it. Dusk is attempting to just go about as usual, fulfilling duties and ensuring the presence of the Empire where it needs to be applied. Brother Dawn is coping with his first real curiosity about the opposite sex it seems, or at least a woman who works in the Imperial Gardens just below his room. He goes full creepy in creating a spycam robotic dragonfly but that’s likely to set up something far more revealing later. But the real change here is that Brother Day has realized that much of what Seldon predicted is coming true, even if Dusk brushes it off. But that just reinforces his belief that Dusk is responsible for it by not taking action, not challenging things as Seldon implied would happen, and essentially causing this. There’s a real rift here as Day talks about his time as Dawn and how intimidated he was by his brothers and never really gave his own opinion. While I won’t say he’s unhinged now, he is reactionary instead of calm and that’s a warning for those that have to manage this.

Salvor’s story is one that’s definitely interesting if confusing at times about what she actually is. It’s a significant departure in a lot of ways from the Hardin we knew from the book, but as the narration says, this is the period from which people across the galaxy began to know who Salvor is and their story. We simply got to see some of the preamble and the reality rather than the myth of what’s to come. With the Anacreon’s having already made their way down and captured her while claiming to look for a navigational module from the slow ship, the reality is that they want to get to the strange device that didn’t register on their ships. It’s a complicated path that follows with Salvor essentially spending most of her time with the ostensible leader of the group, Phara. Phara thinks she has the upper hand but the migraine-inducing device ends up knocking her out and allowing Salvor to take control of the narrative, bringing her back to the camp and interrogating her. What this really does is to give us a look at the strange gifts that she has in reading people and situations, which ties into her being able to navigate the Vault itself as we’ve seen. The academics, mostly with Pirenne, continue to try and dismiss Salvor but she’s read the situation right and just has that innate ability.

But it keeps coming back to her self-doubt. While she’s not a believer in Seldon or psychohistory, she knows she’s different and she’s seeing things – which includes a moment where she saw herself in the library on Trantor with a young boy that was holding a knife. She’s clearly got a connection to whatever Seldon has left in the vault as she’s seeing into his past and a young Raych that hints to why the murder on the slow ship went down. But it’s a bit convoluted in approach and mixed in with so many other things going on. But I do like seeing how Salvor continues to establish more with the locals that she was right along the way, that she should have followed her instincts, and that she has to do so now as things are at their worst yet. She knows this has all the hallmarks of a crisis, but that self-doubt is there because The Plan is always about larger numbers of people, not individuals like her.

In Summary:

The slow burn of this series is what’s going to do it in for a lot of folks I suspect, but let’s be frank. The novels were not exactly fast-paced works themselves, either in the serialized magazine material or the later lengthier novels that were heavily about dialogue and moving toward the big moments. But this is a different medium and you have to adapt things differently, so I understand the frustration and I’ve shared it myself at times as there are moments where it could have amped things up a bit more. But with each episode, I come back to what I’ve said with almost every episode in that I’m enraptured by it. I love the pacing, the tone, the style of it, and the various storylines that are moving along here. This one gives us a growing number of fractures with the three that make up Empire and I’m intrigued to see how more of events play out on Terminus. Each episode leaves me wanting more.

Grade: B+

Streamed By: Apple TV+