Apple TV+ has released the first two episodes of its much-anticipated new series Foundation, starring Jared Harris and Lee Pace, on September 24. Produced for Apple by Skydance Television, the 10-episode series is a feast for the eyes, a stunning adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s epic saga. But for those who have not read the books, it may take a while to get into.
Dr. Hari Seldon (played by Jared Harris) is predicting the fall the Galactic Empire, ruled over by the Cleons—three clones of an original emperor named Cleon, each of a different age, training their younger selves to be the next ruler. Seldon is a mathematician who has developed the science of “psychohistory” which, he claims, can predict the future of large populations through the use of maths. Seldon’s calculations foresee an upcoming Dark Age that would last 30,000 years, but he has a plan that could shorten this to a thousand years. Unhappy about this prediction of their Empire’s imminent fall, the Cleons, headed by Brother Day (played by Lee Pace) decide to exile the professor and his prodigy Gaal Dornick (played by Lou Llobell) to the far reaches of the empire, a border planet called Terminus, where they will create an archive of human knowledge, the “Encyclopaedia Galactica”, to guide future generations to form a new society.
Created by David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman, Foundation is an ambitious series that has dared to adapt the deemed unfilmable epic. The first two episodes offer a promising start to the series, which its showrunner Goyer is hoping will be running for 8 seasons.
The series stays true to the essence of Asimov’s work, but changes have been made to reflect contemporary themes and issues. Two key characters, Gaal Dornick and Salvor Hardin, who were men in Asimov’s story, are now women, played respectively by Lou Llobell and Leah Harvey. Goyer also introduced to the narrative the cloned emperors, Brother Dawn (Cooper Carter in the first two episodes), Brother Day (Lee Pace), and Brother Dusk (Terrence Mann), all “decanted” from the same man, the original emperor, who have now ruled over the Galaxy for centuries.
This idea of cloned emperors, a ruler who has essentially found a way to become eternal, is particularly interesting. The Cleons are depicted as ruthless emperors—killing the empire’s mural artist without remorse or a moment’s thought, and yet, remaining undecided as what to do with Dr. Hari Seldon — all the while advocating for peace. It soon becomes evident that “peace” is here just another word for “order.” The Cleons are though ambivalent characters, and I am curious to see how the series will develop their characters.
Foundation is a visually stunning series. From cinematography, art direction, costume design to special effects and visual effects, enhanced by immersive sound effects and Bear McCreary’s score, the “unfilmable” world created by Asimov looks spectacular onscreen. Image and sound pull you into this other Galactic world where nothing really feels that unfamiliar. Foundation has influenced so many science-fiction films and series that one feels accustomed to the look of the world being presented.
A lot of what the series presents is left for the viewers to decipher, throwing them into Asimov’s world with only the narrative voice of Llobell’s Gaal to guide them. From its very first episode, Foundation proves to be a series that will take its time to unravel the story’s many layers. For a viewer who has not read the series, for example, it takes a while to understand the society Gaal comes from, and the significance of the stones that were taken out of her cheeks. By the second episode, the series appears to be establishing certain elements from the saga, like the placing of pieces on a chessboard, the significance of which will only be revealed much later in future episodes. It is the beginning of what promises to be a great sci-fi series.
Episodes of the first season of Foundation is being released weekly on Apple TV+.