Foundation doubles down on deception [Apple TV+ review]

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Foundation review: The sci-fi show seethes with big reveals and epic betrayals.
The sci-fi show seethes with big reveals and epic betrayals.
Photo: Apple TV+

Apple TV+’s ambitious space opera is getting ready for its final reveal. Foundation‘s epic first season flew by in the blink of an eye, all breathless action and rug pulls. Can all that excitement work its magic and attract a hungry audience for its richly deserved second season?

The sci-fi series based on Isaac Asimov’s fiction had a lot of groundwork to do this season, and somehow found time for several shows’ worth of action and world-building. As the first season winds down, plenty of unanswered questions remain. However, the writers have done a more than adequate job getting viewers excited about what’s to come.

Foundation review: ‘The First Crisis’

In this week’s episode, called “The First Crisis,” Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey) takes full control of planet-killing ghost ship Invictus after a long struggle with Phara (Kubbra Sait) and her Anachreon soldiers. Now, she’s back near Terminus — but her communication systems are down. So she has no way to know if anyone can hear her calls for help righting the ship’s course before it jumps again.

Brother Dawn (Cassian Bilton) is buying into Azura’s (Amy Tyger) fantasies of fleeing the city and then gets the signal he’d been waiting for to pull the trigger. Brother Dusk (Terrence Mann) calls him in to look at the mural that adorns the great hall of the empire — the one that dictates the great feats of the Imperial clones.

Dusk tells him he’s painted a scene from their hunt and that he’s proud of him, but it’s a trick. He’s painted a secret message that he can only see when he puts on the color-blindness-curing software Azura gave him. Then some palace guards come to collect him and he knows Dusk means to kill him. He’s got to run.

Reversals and reveals

With just one episode left of Foundation’s first season, it’s time for some serious reversals and reveals. Luckily, the show saved some great ones for this penultimate rodeo. The Vault‘s radius expands so heavily that it renders everyone on Terminus unconscious.

Salvor arrives and starts frantically searching for her mother, who collapsed at the foot of the Vault holding the puzzle cube that Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) gifted to the people of Terminus when he died. It turns out it’s like a remote control for the mysterious artifact. The Vault opens up and reveals a stunning beam of light.

And who walks out? Why, Hari Seldon, that’s who! Salvor finally puts an end to Phara’s reign of terror (that’s a big “hell yeah in the group chat” from me — it was time). And now it looks like the warring civilizations at the end of all of space might band together to exact real change. With the Invictus on their side, they’ll make a much more commanding presence when making demands of the Empire.

Running with Logan’s Run

George Lucas wasn’t the only person cribbing from Asimov in the ’60s and ’70s. A host of imitators and fans rose up, including William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, who collaborated on the book Logan’s Run, which was made into a pretty silly movie in 1976.

That flick, and Lucas’ debut film THX 1138, are both about people who try desperately to flee societies built on conformity. There’s a scene in this episode of Foundation that dramatizes the likely source of inspiration for both of them where Brother Dawn flees the city and tries to find Azura’s apartment in the dirty, busy, fun part of town where the lower classes dwell. It’s beautifully directed stuff. Director Roxann Dawson (who also directed last week’s episode of Foundation) makes a banquet out of the young prince seeing real life for the first time.

That makes it all the more heartbreaking when it turns out that Azura is two-timing Dawn with a guy they’ve carved up to look like him. Azura was playing him, getting him to let his guard down, so they could install her boyfriend in his place and exact change from within the empire.

Of course it doesn’t work. In a scene of stunning violence that made me remember both Game of Thrones and Kurt Wimmer’s cult film Equilibrium, Dusk has his guards raid the apartment and kill Azura’s whole crew. Pretty slick stuff!

Plots and consequences

Actor Cassian Bilton really gets a hell of a showcase this week, playing both Dawn and his doppelgänger. The double is a preening and self-confident little eel, and Bilton clearly relishes the few seconds he gets to mock his creation. But the best stuff is seeing the depths of sadness he falls into. He looks and sounds just so genuinely lost.

Dawn’s journey from callous and unfeeling monarch-in-waiting to crying victim has been very engrossing. And to see it come to a head with Bilton as the center of attention — with a malicious assist from Terrence Mann, in fine form as pitiless Dusk — serves as a great close to the episode.

The only questions are, what will Dusk do to him? And will Day be able to stop him? It’s very rewarding to suddenly see what consequences look like for this breed of royalty.

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.