Foundation hurtles toward galactic war [Apple TV+ review]

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Foundation Apple TV+ review: Lee Pace and Laura Birn face a new challenge this week.
Lee Pace (right) and Laura Birn face a new challenge this week.
Photo: Apple TV+

This week on Foundation, Apple TV+’s space opera is on a collision course with destruction and death. And even if Salvor Hardin can stop the Anachreons, it might be too late to save Terminus.

The sci-fi series speeds toward its endgame this week, with all of its plot threads in free fall and war inevitable.

Foundation review: ‘Death and the Maiden’

In this week’s episode, titled “Death and the Maiden,” Brother Day (played by Lee Pace), ruler of the galaxy, is going on a little trip. He’s heard tell of a burgeoning ruler named Zephyr Halima (T’Nia Miller). She’s the newest head of a religious society at the farthest reaches of the galaxy.

Demerzel (Laura Birn) explains the concept of the group’s faith to him, having been programmed to believe in it, and she thinks her presence on the planet will be a hindrance to Day’s mission because she’s ideologically aligned with Halima’s. Day needs to be sure that Halima proves no threat to the Empire — and Halima is going to make sure she has the upper hand no matter what.

With Day out of their hair, Brother Dawn (Cassian Bilton) and Brother Dusk (Terrence Mann) are left to their own devices. Dusk wants to teach Dawn a thing or two as he ages, but Dawn’s not interested. He resent the older man’s attitude of condescension. And he’s more interested in Azura (Amy Tyger), the unusual girl who works in the gardens outside the palace. Dawn has an unusual afternoon; Dusk teaches him how to shoot game. And when Dawn has a more bountiful hunt, he throws away his catch so as not to seem more skilled than Dusk. Then he chooses a courtesan to spend the afternoon with because she has Azura’s haircut, and doesn’t sleep with her.

Death on Terminus

Phara (Kubbra Sait) has fully seized the outpost on Terminus. She has Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey) in bondage, hoping to use her as the key to the Vault, as she’s the only one who isn’t affected by its narcotic effects on people.

This gets complicated when a couple of kids sneak up on Phara, beat her up and rescue Salvor. She takes the kids, her dad (Clarke Peters) and her boyfriend Hugo (Daniel MacPherson) out to the Anachreon encampment to cause enough chaos to attempt a rescue of their own. In the middle of her operation, she has a strange flash, a memory of something she wasn’t around for, She sees Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) telling Raych Foss (Alfred Enoch) to kill him. Turns out Seldon’s death was all part of the plan. But what is that plan?

She doesn’t know what it means or why she’s been given this bizarre second sight, but she doesn’t have time to think about it. She gets pinned down by Anachreon troops. And then she must watch her father perish while trying to destroy their ships so they can’t leave the planet’s surface.

Join the Foundation

Foundation review: Leah Harvey, Daniel MacPherson and Clarke Peters in “Foundation,” now streaming on Apple TV+.
The departure of Clarke Peters (left) will leave a hole in this sci-fi show.
Photo: Apple TV+

I’ll miss actor Clarke Peters playing Salvor’s dad, Abbas. Peters you’ll know from The Wire, and a lot of Spike Lee movies, among many other highlights. He’s always entertaining, yes, but he also brings uncommon gravity to every role. In Foundation, he served as a very important weathered foil to Salvor, who is all muscle.

Leah Harvey’s performance is curious, very much the kind of no-nonsense leader the people on Terminus need. However, she seems to occasionally forget to show off her humanity while barking orders and running and shooting. Watching her interact with her dad brought her back down to the surface of the planet. And, though the show hardly wants for gravitas (Jared Harris! Lee Pace!), the Terminus stuff really got better when Peters was around.

A slow build

I found it shocking how much less interesting Brother Day’s visit to Zephyr’s planet seemed compared to the rest of the other business this week. Pace and Miller and Birn all do very fine work. But it’s just less interesting to watch the deliberately slower political chess moves with characters we don’t know as well when the ones we do know are in graver peril. It almost certainly will pay dividends later, but it was the weak link this week.

I even liked the stuff about brother Dawn and Azura. There’s a queasiness to the characters, and Foundation knows how odd it is to spend time with their ilk. Bilton plays Dawn for the most part as a purposeful blank. So it feels wild when he does things like casually ask a servant to potentially die because of a hunch. Or when he decides to open up to the girl on whom he has a crush.

Bilton’s performance finds the humanity under the stiff and regimented royal behavior, complicating the fact that this is an evil man who will grow up to order the deaths of millions like every clone before him. Good stuff that stands out even on a jam-packed episode like this.

Watch Foundation on Apple TV+

New episodes of Foundation arrive on Apple TV every Friday.

Rated: TV-14

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.