The expensive, expansive show overcome opening night jitters in season one to become one of the more watchable and exciting things on Apple TV+, thanks in no small part to a game cast, tense set pieces, fleet drama and exquisite effects.
Foundation recap: ‘In Seldon’s Shadow’
Season 2, episode 1: Hari Seldon (played by Jared Harris) is in some kind of horrible isolation. Is he back in the pod from which he emerged after the death of his body last season? Or has he been kidnapped? He’s disheveled and ranting, punishing himself for his actions.
Back on Gaal Dornick’s (Lou Llobell) home planet Synnax, she’s rudely awakened in her own little pod when Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey), the rebel from the planet Terminus, comes to deliver some heavy news. Salvor is Gaal’s daughter. Gaal is floored, not least because Salvor if anything looks older than Gaal. However, Gaal did in fact give up an embryo that was carried to term and voila … Salvor. They have a lot of catching up to do.
In more exciting news, Brother Day (Lee Pace) — one of the emperors of the known universe, along with the elder Brother Dusk (Terrence Mann) and younger Brother Dawn (Cassian Bilton) — is enjoying some alone time with his robot servant Demerzel (Laura Birn). Right when things are getting good, though, he’s intruded upon by a fleet of assassins.
They temporarily dispense with Demerzel, so Brother Day must fight them all…naked. That’s right. On the one hand, this is exactly how you open a season of television. But my complaint is only that it should have been the first thing in this week’s episode, period. Director Alex Graves always proved himself as a reliable workhorse in network TV, but this is the best I’ve seen him produce on a purely visual, visceral level.
Fantastic visuals, and a line for TV history
The entire Foundation season two opener looks impossibly pretty. But the fight is moody, exciting and erotic; it’s nearly as good as its model — the sauna fight in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises. Lee Pace handles himself beautifully with the fight choreography, working with the careful angles to hide his manhood from the camera without appearing to. Bravo. His utterance after post-fight surgery: “Someone get me a damn blasted robe so my manhood isn’t flapping around!” is a line delivery for the ages.
As if things couldn’t get any better, here comes Holt McCallany (Mindhunter)! He’s playing the new warden of the territory containing Seldon’s coffin/box on Synnax. It’s emitting light, and everyone thinks it means that Seldon’s going to emerge again and tell them it’s time to go to war with Brother Day’s empire. Of course, the problem is that Gaal has Hari in a little puzzle box a la Hellraiser.
So, who’s on Terminus? Are there two copies of Hari Seldon? All they know is Hari knows a second crisis is coming. And if they don’t deal with it, it will lead to centuries of conflict. He’s currently in conversation with a projection of his unconscious, represented by a relative named Yanna (Nimrat Kaur), who tells him he needs to repair something in his damaged mind before he can escape from his prison.
This is the water we come from
Could any of this have to do with attempts on the lives of the empire? Or of Day’s impending marriage to Queen Sareth of Cloud Dominion (Ella-Rae Smith)? One thing’s for sure, Gaal and Salvor can’t sit out the conflict another moment. There’s a crashed ship under their improvised house, but they have to get it started again.
In an act of suicidal daring, they get it up from the depths just as Day, Dawn and Dusk welcome the queen and her entourage to their palace. She embarrasses Day in front of the court, which hurts but intrigues him. However, he can’t follow through because Demerzel has bad news. They’ve discovered the coup plot from last season that saw Anachreon pirates trying to steal the ghost ship Invictus — the one that kept jumping in space to avoid detection. Since then, everything’s been quiet in the outer reaches of the galaxy, but what if that is a feint? What indeed?
Man, Foundation got very good last season, but this return installment is just breathtaking. From shot design to performance to pacing, it’s a relentlessly pretty, terribly exciting space opera with all the personality it needs. Welcome back, Foundation.
Watch Foundation on Apple TV+
New episodes of Foundation season two arrive Fridays on Apple TV+.
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 author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper and But God Made Him A Poet: Watching John Ford in the 21st Century, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.