Foundation Season 2 Transforms Into a Profoundly Emotional Character Epic
Perhaps the most shocking thing about Foundation in 2023 is how tender it’s become.
Calling the concept of Foundation “dense” is an understatement on par with “Proust novels are long.” In case you’ve forgotten, the story is set to span a full thousand years of future history, all taking place in a far-flung future galaxy that has forgotten all about its origins on Earth. But, leaving the “dense” concept to the side, there is a simplicity to Foundation’s science fiction rules: The story is about human beings.
With Foundation Season 2, the series has tripled down on its time-jumping scope but also figured out how to really make you invested: through romance. This may seem hard to believe, but one of the biggest triumphs of the ambitious sophomore season is just how often you’ll find yourself figuring out which couple you’re rooting for. And yes, somehow, that includes Jared Harris’ grumpy math-based clairvoyant, Hari Seldon.
In Foundation Season 2, the show’s titular organization has evolved enough to actively trying to recruit planets into its cult of science. Based in part on the opening sections of the novel Foundation and Empire, called “The Search for the Magicians,” we learn in the early episodes of Season 2, that the Foundation is selling the math of psychohistory as a kind of faith. Although Hari Seldon exists as a sentient AI construct, to the faithful of the Foundation, he’s a prophet. And the people who spread the word of Seldon are the clerics of the Church of the Galactic Spirit.
The clerics form some of the most tender character relationships in this season and, alongside the returning characters — Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell), Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey) as well as Lee Pace, Cassian Bilton, and Terrance Mann as the various clones of Emperor Cleon — help create the season’s profoundly memorable emotional hooks. Foundation Season 2 has played the impressive trick of transforming from a cerebral epic to a character-centric epic. The boring, played-out tropes of sci-fi revolution stories are subverted in favor of something gentler and more humanistic.
In contrast to Star Wars’ war between the good and tyrannical, Foundation has always been about a war of ideology. Compared to the equally ambitious Dune, Foundation has more time and patience. The Apple TV+ series has figured out how to linger on that material and make it even more interesting than any of the conventional action sequences. When the shrewd Queen Sarif (Ella-Rae Smith) speaks of an “uprising,” she’s not wielding a ray gun or a knife. She’s playing a longer game of political manipulation. Sometimes, in moments like this, Foundation is the series Andor could have been if it wasn’t so burdened by Star Wars canon.
This isn’t to say Foundation doesn’t have action or violence. There’s plenty of that, and in a few moments, you will think we’ve finally gotten that “Game of Thrones in space” show that people have been claiming has been coming for a decade. But, Foundation isn’t just about betrayals and power struggles. Ultimately, it’s a big science fiction story in which a very fanciful sci-fi concept — in which math could predict the future — does drive the entire plot.
Some other sci-fi tropes from the Asimov books crop up this season too. Talking about robot action isn’t much of a spoiler, but if you’ve taken even a cursory look at the novels, you’ll know that telepathy could become a thing in the future that Gaal has hinted at. Even back in Season 1, Gaal foreshadowed the greatest “villain” in the Foundation books, the mutant known as “the Mule.” (Yes, we get “The Mule” in Season 2, but probably not the way book fans will expect.)
What Foundation continues to get right, and what makes the show so compelling, is just how unpredictable it is. For a series that is focused on predicting the future, Foundation excels at surprising us, over and over again.
Foundation Season 2 airs new episodes on Apple TV+ on Fridays.
This article was originally published on