Catching up with Foundation S2 as the Second Crisis unfolds

Enlarge / Lee Pace as the latest incarnation of Brother Day, one of a trio of ruling Cleons in Apple TV’s Foundation.

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We’re now two episodes into the second season of Foundation, Apple TV’s epic sci-fi series adapted—or remixed, per showrunner David Goyer—from the seminal series of stories by Isaac Asimov, and it’s shaping up to be even better than its first. Goyer took great pains in S1 to carefully set up his expansive fictional world, and the scope has only broadened in the second season.

Goyer describes the new season as more emotional and romantic, with a bit more humor—or at least moments of levity—and faster paced now that the main characters and their key relationships have been well established. “Now it’s a bit like jazz,” he said. “We can riff on our creation and start to move the chess pieces around and create alliances or unusual pairings that didn’t exist last season. Audiences have a certain expectation of how things are going to unfold, and part of the fun is subverting those expectations.” The narrative is also more linear, with fewer time jumps forward and back—just the occasional traditional flashback.

(Major spoilers for S1 below. Some minor spoilers for S2 but no major reveals.)

As previously reported, Asimov’s fundamental narrative arc remains intact, with the series taking place across multiple planets over 1,000 years and featuring a huge cast of characters. Mathematician Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) developed a controversial theory of “psychohistory,” and his calculations predict the fall of the Empire, ushering in a Dark Ages that will last 30,000 years, after which a second Empire will emerge. The collapse of the Empire is inevitable, but Seldon has a plan to reduce the Dark Ages to a mere 1,000 years through the establishment of a Foundation to preserve all human knowledge so that civilization need not rebuild itself entirely from scratch. He is aided in this endeavor by his adoptive son and right-hand man, Raych Foss (Alfred Enoch), and his math prodigy protegé, Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell).

The biggest change from the books is the replacement of the Empire’s ruling committee with a trio of Eternal Emperor clones called the Cleons—a genetic dynasty. Brother Day (Lee Pace) is the primary ruler, with Brother Dusk (Terrence Mann) serving in an advisory/legacy role. Meanwhile, Brother Dawn (played as a child by Cooper Carter and as a teenager by Cassian Bilton) is being groomed to take over as the new Brother Day. Technically, they are all perfect incarnations of the same man, at different ages, and this is both the source of their strength as a team and of their conflicts. Their guardian is an android, Eto Demerzel (Laura Birn), one of the last surviving androids from the ancient Robot Wars, who is programmed to protect the dynasty at all costs.

Reviews of the first season ranged from generally positive to mixed, which isn’t surprising considering the unwieldy source material and how much exposition and world-building was required. There were inevitably diehard fans of the books who objected to the creative liberties Goyer implemented. Nonetheless, it was an Ars favorite.

“This series respects Asimov’s sweeping visionary ideas without lapsing into slavish reverence and over-pontification,” I wrote in my 2021 review of the first season. “That said, how much you like Goyer’s vision might depend on how much of a stickler you are about remaining faithful to the source material.” Ars Senior Technology Editor Lee Hutchinson loved the series, too, declaring Foundation to be “a fascinating tale that was told well, with a cast I enjoyed watching, and with a visual language that really connected with something in my head.”

That first season ended with a major time jump of 138 years, as Gaal Dornick woke up in a cryopod on her former home planet of Synnax, now deserted, only to meet Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey), the former leader of Terminus who turned out to be Gaal’s daughter. In the interim, the Foundation has flourished, growing from about 5,000 people to more than 50,000 and expanding their numbers to various outposts in the Outer Reach. There have also been several different generations of Cleons.

As the second season begins, tensions are rising as the current Cleons’ iron rule on Trantor begins to unravel, with war imminent between Empire and the Foundation. That war is the Second Crisis, along with an enemy seeking to destroy Empire from within. The Foundation, meanwhile, has adopted the propaganda tactics of religion to recruit new acolytes to the cause. And we’ll also meet a colony of “Mentalics” with psionic abilities, only hinted at in the first season.

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