Foundation Season 2 Will Be Wildly Different From Season 1: “We Felt Really Liberated”
The most epic science fiction series on TV has figured out to go bigger by going smaller.
Predicting the future isn’t what it used to be! As the ambitious Apple TV+ series Foundation returns for its second, massive season on July 14, fans of the show might notice one specific way this set of 10 episodes differs from the groundbreaking first season from 2021. Although Foundation's timescape and physical scope remains much larger than literally any filmed science fiction venture, ever, Season 2 has a much more intimate quality than its predecessor. And, this sense of specificity isn’t an accident. As cast members Jared Harris, Lou Llobel, and showrunner David S. Goyer tell Inverse, it’s all part of the plan.
“In Season 1, we had expositional burden. We had to explain psychohistory. Things didn’t really get going for like three episodes,” showrunner David S. Goyer tells Inverse. “In Season 2, we felt really liberated and I felt, frankly, we could have more fun, and we could dig deeper into character.”
Characters beyond Asimov
What viewers may find a little different about Foundation Season 2, is there are several genuinely romantic storylines and unexpected pairings of characters, all of which make up for something that the Asimov novels, arguably, lack. In a 1980 piece of criticism called “On the Foundations of Science Fiction,” noted SF historian James Gunn (no not that one) admitted that many of the characters throughout Foundation “may not be strongly differentiated — Salvor Hardin, Hober Mallow, and Limmar Ponyets maybe interchangeable...” But, in Foundation Season 2, unlike the books, nobody would confuse Salvor and Hober!
And one of the ways Foundation Season 2 accomplishes its character-based goals is by digging into how the calculus of psychohistory might be impacted by love. “We get to spend more time with our characters than Asimov did,” Goyer explains. “In Season 1 we were largely adapting three of the short stories. That’s probably less than a hundred pages of material spread out over 10 hours. In Season 2 we're adapting a little more, but it's certainly less than 200 pages spread out over 10 hours.”
For those unfamiliar with the unwieldy structure of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels; what Goyer is alluding to is the simple fact that the first two novels — Foundation (1951) and Foundation and Empire (1952) — weren’t initially written as proper novels, but instead, were compromised of previously published short stories and novellas, later stitched-up into novels by Asimov after the fact, a fairly common practice of the time. So, because Foundation spans centuries, and its various prose components were written years apart (sometimes decades!) it’s only natural that the TV adaptation has the ability to make disjointed characters and narratives more coherent.
It also means the series takes big liberties with the source material. The cloned Emperors Cleon (Emperors Bilton, Lee Pace, Terrence Mann) — the genetic dynasty that is one of the central conceits of the TV series — is absent in the Foundation novels. And yet, a non-cloned Emperor Cleon does come from Asimov’s prequel books, Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation, and in those pages, it’s very easy to imagine Lee Pace playing him.
“I’ve always said the show is a remix of the books,” Goyer says. “So yes, we’re drawing from the prequel books a little bit this season, too. Not just the second novel [Foundation and Empire].”
A foggy vision of the future
One character who gets much more fleshed-out, with a deeper backstory this season is the creator of psychohistory himself, Hari Seldon. Keeping with the overall character-centric theme of Season 2, Hari’s humanity and past are delved into just as much as his galaxy-changing theories. And, this time, there isn’t just one Hari but two. For Jared Harris, this meant playing two versions of the same man, with subtle, but important differences.
“We knew that was going to happen,” Jared Harris says, of the duplicate Hari Seldons in Season 2. “At the end of Season 1, there was a second version of Hari. So, this season is about these two characters on very different journeys.”
For Harris, this meant that Hari Seldon of Season 2 doesn’t have all the answers the way he did in Season 1. This time, he’s no longer the mastermind. Well, at least one of him isn’t. “He’s obviously more vulnerable this season,” Harris says. “What I was trying to get away from is the idea that if he knows anything, that just sucks all the dramatic possibility out of every single scene. This season allows him to be more human, because we don’t know what’s gonna happen next.”
Harris likens the paradox of playing Hari Seldon — a man who tried to predict the future — as similar to playing Sherlock Holmes. “He’s a lot like Sherlock Holmes. I talked to Robert [Downey Jr.] about this. One of the difficulties, or challenges, of playing Sherlock Holmes is that he’s already at the end of the movie.”
Back in 2013, Harris starred as Professor Moriarty opposite Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes in the film Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows. And he says that experience, and thinking about Sherlock Holmes did inform his approach to playing Hari Seldon. “We did talk about that in the early days. In discussing the character [of Hari Seldon] that there had to be a way of keeping him alive in the scenes. Otherwise, he’s just constantly waiting for people to catch up.”
Relationships across time
At the end of Foundation Season 1, the series made good on its promise of covering 1,000 years of future history. When we left Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell), she’d woken up from suspended animation, 138 years after she went under. Now with Season 2, we’re in a new present tense, and thanks to this analog version of time travel, both she and her biological daughter, Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey) are working side-by-side, as adults. “I think as ridiculous and shocking as it sounds to us, is exactly probably how it sounds to Gaal,” Lou Llobell tells Inverse. “But as soon as they meet, they kind of have to just get on with it, which is challenging in itself.”
In a sense, this strange sci-fi mother-daughter story is a microcosm of how the more intimate version of Foundation plays out this season. Gaal and Salvor are trying to figure out how to relate, but they’re also grappling with galaxy and future-history events that impact the fates of millions. “You get these bits where you see them working on their relationship,” Llobell says. “And that’s weird to see, but it’s all immersed in this greater, dramatic situation they’re trying to deal with.”