Foundation brims with big ideas and epic betrayals [Apple TV+ review]

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Foundation review: Lee Pace lets it all hang out in his portrayal of Brother Day.
Lee Pace lets it all hang out in his portrayal of Brother Day this week.
Photo: Apple TV+

This week on Foundation, the Apple TV+ space opera walks a long and lonesome mile toward reconciliation and the end to chaos. But who will survive, and what will be left of them (to quote rather a different odyssey)?

Foundation makes the case for the simplest actions and ideas being the most complex and compelling in this week’s episode, titled “The Missing Piece.” It also gives TV a new worthy obsession object. There are spiritual betrayals aplenty for everyone, no matter what corner of the galaxy they occupy.

Foundation review: ‘The Missing Piece’

Brother Day (played by Lee Pace) is walking the Great Spiral. Demerzel (Laura Birn) warns him this pilgrimage will push him to the limits of his strength and health. He’s used to nanobots healing him internally, and a protective shield that stops kinetic energy from coming in contact with him, so he’ll be the most exposed he’s ever been. (All the imperial clones benefit from these protections. This is the kind of idea that used to animate old school sci-fi and I do miss its wonky like.)

He’s helped improbably on his journey by another pilgrim who teaches him that his worldview is unsupportable and too tightly wound before dying, leaving Day alone on the path once again. Can he make it to his own personal mecca anyway?

Meanwhile, Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey) finally manages to give Phara (Kubbra Sait) the slip aboard the planet-killing ghost ship Invictus. It seems the only way to control the great old ship is to literally hook your brain up to it and have a mental conversation with it. (You’ll probably recognize this, as Foundation author Isaac Asimov‘s creation was likely pilfered by comics writers when they created Cerebro for X-Men). Salvor might die in the process, but she’ll do anything to save her mother and the rest of the captives on Terminus.

Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell) is fed up with the ghost of Hari Seldon (Jared Harris). Hari wants Gaal to go to his home planet to start the second Foundation, knowing that the first one on Terminus is in trouble. She just wants to go home. Home home — to the water planet where Hari found her. The two have had ideological differences before, but the important thing is that Gaal is tired of feeling like someone other than herself is controlling her destiny.

Triple blessings

The sight of Lee Pace in his underwear wandering through the desert like Jesus is great television. Pace has a Shakespearian quality to him — and also a Shatnerian quality. The actor is unafraid of the ludicrous, boldly embracing the outsized. Day is a reserved figure for him for the most part. He has outbursts, but mostly he spends his time regally swanning around the corridors of power.

However, this week’s episode gave him the Lee Paciest showcase any of your finer Lee Paces could hope to deliver. Appearing to be on death’s door yet radiating immortality, staggering through the desert with red, peeling skin and dirty feet, a false messiah nearly killing himself to gain even more power. This is the kind of thing that simply has to be seen.

I can tell you that Lee Pace wanders around the desert in his underwear looking like one of the drawings from the movie The Prince of Egypt come to life, but that simply doesn’t do it justice. Lee Pace of Arabia, a real-life Disney prince with the soul of Iago from Othello, and because he’s a clone there’ll be hundreds of him; a stupendous creation, this character. Bravo.

But wait, there’s more!

Even still, there’s an argument to be made that the best part of the episode comes later. The whole time he’s been on this planet, Day has been cross with Demerzel, his android minder (and the closest thing to a queen the Empire clones ever have). She’s programmed to have this ancient faith, but she’s also programmed to never disobey the empire, so that puts her in a shaky spot.

Day notices her allegiance, in whatever an android calls a heart, is to the firebrand Zephyrs calling for the overthrow of the government. So when he sends her to kill Zephyr Halima (T’Nia Miller), the most openly defiant of the religious order, you can see her struggling mightily with the task, knowing only too well she’ll do it anyway.

She has the last laugh, though, mocking Day implicitly for his emptiness, the way his soul can never become one with anything — not the majestic, powerful consciousness of the universe, not another living person. He won’t give her the satisfaction of registering her insult. But something tells me they’ll venture back down this road again before all is said and done.

When sci-fi meets theology

Their conversation here stings. It’s also an interesting theological cul-de-sac because we know that this robot believes in God, and she makes Day pay for having no soul. But by the logic of religion, neither should she. It’s knotty, and I appreciate that in this den of viper gods, these guys can all make each other feel inferior.

This is the kind of thing people read Asimov for, that shaky tightrope between humanity and artificial intelligence. It’s good that Foundation made ample time for the most emotional display of the awful nature of being inhuman, which has only one dreadful advantage over the humans she so admires: She can’t die.

Her last interaction with Halima plays gorgeously and serves as more proof that Laura Birn is the secret heart of this show, the one tasked with the impossible things that science fiction demands we try to understand.

Watch Foundation on Apple TV+

New episodes of Foundation arrive 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.