As much as Foundation has continued to spin plot with admirable skill in its second season, it has been at its best when it stops to let the characters shine through. And that’s why this week’s episode goes right up among the most satisfying installments one of the best TV series on Apple TV Plus has produced in its second season.
There’s much less location-hopping this week, but this still wants to be one of the best sci-fi series around. So that means we get conversation about quantum devices and mind control, as well as a flashback in which the show makes a valiant attempt to de-age Jared Harris by the medium of hair alone. It’s quite something.
Let’s dive right in then, for an episode in the Foundation season 2 release schedule which mainly focuses on Hari Seldon (Harris), Gael (Lou Llobell), and Salvor (Leah Harvey) as they learn to live with Tellem Bond (Rachel House) and the Mentalics.
Salvor gets a lot more to do this week, grappling with how her visions have intensified now that she’s surrounded by Mentalics. She also gets a lesson in “unvoicing” – conversing without audible words – from a child, who explains his own brutal backstory. Tellem explains that almost all of the Mentalics have similarly tragic stories, stating that “we’re treated as gods among men or wolves among sheep”.
Seldon thinks Tellem and the Mentalics are the Second Foundation, but Tellem is dismissive of psychohistory and of Gael’s precognitive abilities. She can’t accept Seldon’s notion that the future is immovable. Tellem teaches Gael about some of her mental trickery, but also admits that she isn’t well and wants someone to lead Ignis and the Mentalics after she’s gone. She offers to train Gael in her abilities, as long as Seldon is not involved.
While Gael spends a lot of time with Tellem, we get to see the usually quite antagonistic Seldon and Salvor bonding over some quaint fishing. Seldon tells Salvor that the version of him in the Vault on Terminus only knows part of the Plan and he can check in on him via the Prime Radiant which, due to its quantum state, exists outside of spacetime and therefore can be in two places at once.
Of course, that makes perfect sense and isn’t at all confusing. Gosh, this show really makes us feel stupid at times.
Gael breaks up the quantum chat to explain Tellem’s proposal. This sends Seldon into a rage, claiming Tellem has manipulated Gael’s mind. He urges Salvor to protect Gael and the Prime Radiant from the Mentalics.
This week, there’s a real joy in simply watching these characters interact, whatever is happening in the background of the story. Most importantly, Gael and Salvor are continuing to develop a mother-daughter bond, despite all of the timey-wimey reasons their relationship is more than a little unconventional. They don’t really make a greeting card for a daughter who’s older than her mom.
The flashbacks we’ve Seldon seen
In the final part of the episode, Gael and Salvor watch as Seldon appears to fly away in the Beggar. But we see that this is an illusion created by Tellem, who has Seldon chained up amid a rising torrent of seawater. She tells him she will destroy the Prime Radiant and reveals her deep mistrust of any non-Mentalics, like Seldon. “I control what Gael and Salvor know,” she says chillingly before leaving him to die.
We then get an extended flashback sequence in which we see Seldon meeting his life partner Yanna (Nimrat Kaur) at university on his home planet of Helicon. They bond romantically and she falls pregnant while they’re working together on the first iteration of the Prime Radiant. Unfortunately, their work around psychohistory and the fall of the Empire has raised eyebrows on Trantor.
Imperial official Dr Tadj (Fiona O’Shaugnessy) informs Seldon that he has been summoned to Trantor and he’s angrily against it. Tadj kidnaps Yanna at gunpoint in the night and tells Seldon the next day that he must hand over the Prime Radiant to see her again. However, due to a necklace Yanna gave Seldon, he has been able to sense that she is already dead.
Seldon drives Dr Tadj to a secluded, desert area. She admits that Yanna is dead, but claims she never intended to kill her. Seldon, however, has herded a large group of creatures known as moonshrikes to run towards them. He pushes Dr Tadj into their path, killing her, and we then see him settling into his workplace on Trantor – complete with a very welcome Reece Shearsmith cameo – where we met him way back in season one. The episode ends with Seldon drowning as visions of Yanna fill his mind.
Yup, Hari Seldon is dead again. Not since Rory in Doctor Who have we seen a character killed off so frequently.
But this flashback deserved the time it was given, as it really illustrated how Seldon’s ruthlessness was born. There’s no way he stays dead for good, but we now know why he’s the way he is – and how far he’s willing to go.
Poly Verisof (Kulvinder Ghir) and Brother Constant (Isabella Laughland) arrive on Trantor for their peace negotiations. They’re given temporary visas, then head out for a night on the town – after which they’re immediately imprisoned. Uh oh!
Things aren’t much better for Hober Mallow (Dimitri Leonidas), who arrives at the coordinates Seldon set only to find himself on a massive spaceship where he’s accused of having “defiled the Swarm” of Spacers – modified humans capable of operating jumpships.
And finally, Brother Day (Lee Pace) formally announces his impending marriage to Queen Sareth (Ella-Rae Smith) and declares that he’s ending the Genetic Dynasty. He’s taken off-guard when Sareth opts to address the people of Trantor, saying the Empire serves them and “your needs are our obligations”. Day didn’t seem to take kindly to this promise of benevolence.
This is definitely one of the strongest episodes Foundation has ever produced, deepening Tellem, Salvor, and Gael as characters while providing something of an origin story for the occasionally cold, heartless Hari Seldon. Jared Harris and Rachel House, in particular, have had a hell of a week.
For more of the best Apple TV shows, find out why we think For All Mankind is the natural successor to Star Trek and then look ahead to the For All Mankind season 4 release date. You can also find out when the Invasion season 2 release date is due to arrive.
Elsewhere, learn why Raych killed Hari in Foundation and look back to last week with our Foundation season 2 episode 5 recap. You almost certainly love sci-fi, but Patrick Stewart doesn’t care about sci-fi at all, despite Star Trek. Sorry.
Great performances and a focus on character over plot give us a terrific episode of Foundation. In among so much jargon, the show thrives when humanity comes to the fore.