We’ve all become sadly accustomed to fake-out deaths now. In the biggest movies and TV series, characters insulated by “plot armor” frequently appear to die, only to return again as if they’ve just shaken off a bit of a cold. It’s lazy, it’s infuriating, and it robs great stories of the most powerful of stakes.
In some ways, Foundation is no different. One of the best sci-fi series on Apple TV loves killing off characters, and there’s one guy in particular who just can’t stop dying. But wait? Doesn’t that mean the show is indulging in fake-out deaths and destroying its own stakes? Actually, no. Welcome to the world of Hari Seldon.
Jared Harris’ character – the psycho-historian responsible for predicting a darkness around humanity – died in the second-ever episode of Foundation. Raych killed Hari for the good of the plan. As of the Foundation season 2 finale – 18 installments later – he’s still alive, well, and caving in the head of a mind-powered villain. And you know what? It’s fantastic.
Quite simply, Hari Seldon isn’t like other people. His mastery of the Prime Radiant (which is such a complicated device that I couldn’t begin to explain it here) means that multiple versions of him can exist throughout time and space. Usually, they’re holograms or projections, but Foundation season 2 has taught us they can be flesh and blood too.
In order for Seldon’s carefully constructed plan for humanity to play out correctly, he needed a way to nudge people onto the right path and to help them navigate the various crises that could derail everything. He arranged for the Vault to be constructed from his own coffin, allowing him to emerge at pivotal moments and effectively present himself as a deity to the residents of the Foundation.
But what’s most fascinating is that no two versions of Seldon are identical. Over the course of one of the best TV series around right now, we’ve seen Seldon be an avuncular wise man, a furious puppet master, a ruthless tactician, and a bitter pawn in his own broader game. Seldons are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get, and some of them aren’t a pleasant surprise.
This provides an intriguing contrast to the Genetic Dynasty of Emperors, who are decanted as identical clones if they die. They are seen as embodiments of the Empire, whereas Seldon serves the plan above any of his individual bodies.
Harris, it must be said, has risen to this particular acting challenge with aplomb. In Foundation season 2 episode 6, we got something of an origin story for the Seldon we met at the beginning of the series, showing how his life partner was taken from him by the Empire. He reacted with cold vengeance, helping to shape him into a man who is unafraid of wading through the moral muck in order to serve what he believes to be the greater good.
Then, in Foundation season 2 episode 8, Salvor Hardin visited a version of Seldon existing within the Vault on Terminus. That Seldon eventually realized that he had been kept in the dark on parts of the plan by the original Seldon, feeling somewhat bitter about this and ultimately risking the integrity of the plan to bring the crucial Hober Mallow into play.
All of this is to say that Hari Seldon is a prime example of the ways in which death doesn’t have to be final. In a show that has at least one immortal android and countless clones in fancy robes, it’s fascinating that the idea of death and rebirth can be used to enrich and broaden a character over time.
We don’t know what the future holds for Hari Seldon when the Foundation season 3 release date comes around, but we bet he’ll die again. Like Kenny in South Park or Rory in Doctor Who, he has more lives than even the most determined of cats. But unlike them, it’s far from a joke or a narrative contrivance. For Seldon, death is just the beginning.
If you’re like us and can’t get enough of one of the best Apple TV shows, find out how to watch Foundation and then learn more about Queen Sareth before answering the question: is Demerzel from Earth? We’ve also explained why Foundation’s biggest Asimov change is for the best.
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