Foundation review: A planet-killing ghost ship shakes up Apple TV+ sci-fi

A planet-killing ghost ship shakes up Foundation [Apple TV+ review]

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Foundation review: Mysteries and Martyrs
A planet-destroying death machine sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it?
Photo: Apple TV+

Apple TV+ space opera Foundation deals with every kind of ghost in this week’s exciting installment. Haunted ships with death wishes, old friends back from the dead, and new powers discovered in the darkest hour.

Brother Day makes a foolhardy decision to outwit a religious order, Salvor Hardin must cooperate with her captors to keep a rescue mission from becoming a suicide run, and Brother Dawn discovers the joys of sex.

Foundation review: ‘Mysteries and Martyrs’

In the episode, titled “Mysteries and Martyrs,” Phara (played by Kubbra Sait) has found the mythic ship Invictus. A fabled planet-killing spaceship, it terrorized the galaxy years ago but has been scuttled and missing for decades. (You might, if you were pillaging the Isaac Asimov source novels for inspiration to make a space movie in the 1970s, call the Invictus a “Death Star.”)

Phara and the Anacreons plan to board it and use it as a weapon against the Galactic Empire. The trouble is, the ship’s defense systems won’t respond to the commands of an Anacreon. However, it might listen to some of the Trantor-born citizens of Terminus they’ve kidnapped. So off to the ghost ship Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey) goes.

There is a catch of course. There’s a reason Invictus is called a ghost ship. It’s got a self-defense mechanism. Every few hours, it jumps somewhere randomly in space. So if they can’t gain control of the ship, it might send them into a black hole, or into the middle of a planet, or into the heart of the sun. Salvor and Phara are gonna have to put aside their differences to get to the control panel before the ship jumps again and possibly kills them both. Easier said than done.

The Brothers continue their adventures

Meanwhile, Brother Day (Lee Pace)’s trip to the farthest reach of the galaxy is proving a real headache. Prophetess Zephyr Halima (T’Nia Miller) has finally revealed her true purpose to him. She, like Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) before her, wants an end to imperial cloning, the system that produced Brother Day in the first place.

Fearing he’s losing Halima’s constituents, and that indeed he may lose the favor of more and more people, he decides to embark on a holy pilgrimage that the people of Halima’s religion undertake for spiritual guidance. It kills some, and maims, blinds and starves others. But he can’t half-ass his power grab. It’s all or nothing now.

Brother Dawn (Cassian Bilton) has taken his relationship with gardener Azura (Amy Tyger) to the next step. Not only do they finally have sex, but he shows her the secrets of the Galactic Empire. She gives him a gift to help him correct his color blindness but explains that if he were to show outward signs of having a deformity, they’ll kill him and replace him with a clone they have on standby. Azura suggests that they run away, and he’s tempted but also scared. Brother Dusk (Terrence Mann) is already watching him like a hawk, bored with Brother Day gone.

Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell) makes contact on her spaceship with a sort of electronic ghost of Hari Seldon. He placed a digitized copy of himself in the ship before he died, so for a few minutes at a time she can engage in conversations with his old self (dying of the stab wound that killed him). She has a limited amount of time to ask what his plan was before she runs out of oxygen.

To bring Empire to its knees

Foundation finally bringing actor Jared Harris back nearly made me stand up and cheer. The show’s been good since his departure in episode 2, but you just can’t introduce one of our best actors and then withhold him without me starting to tap my foot.

He’s back now, though, and in fine form as his holographic consciousness spars verbally with Lou Llobel’s Gaal. The opening volley of this show really gave the wrong impressions of her and Alfred Enoch’s performances, because they’ve been stellar ever since.

Llobel’s intense feelings of betrayal in the face of the beatific and calm Harris once again having outmaneuvered her is affecting. She can’t really argue with him, because he isn’t properly there to understand her judgment and anger. She knows it but can’t keep her feelings to herself. And she doesn’t know when she’ll be able to express them to another living human.

More great performances

Foundation repeatedly gets great when it mixes up the dynamics of its performers. Bilton and Tyger’s dueling strangeness and remoteness brings out warmth from them both that’s very deep below the surface. Harris and Llobel trying to find logic in chaos, her not wanting to admit that fate can be cruel and sometimes that’s the end of that, is maybe the most exciting the show’s been so far.

Harvey and Sait trying to kill each other but not being able to makes the already-tense scenes on Terminus (and now the Invictus) even more fun. Salvor’s allies are dwindling fast, which means it’s increasingly looking like it’s up to her to stop the Anacreon terror attacks, which is going to put her in an interesting spot. The child of exiled defectors saving the home of galactic tyranny. Wouldn’t that be something?

Watch Foundation on Apple TV+

New episodes of Foundation arrive on Fridays on Apple TV+.

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.