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Foundation - The Mathematician’s Ghost - Review

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Foundation is the kind of show that jumps around without a care in the world – one second you’re thrust 400 years into the past, the next, 19 years into the future after the bombing that killed millions. Focusing on Brother Dusk, this episode introduced us into the prospect that each of the Emperor’s clones has their own legacy – every one of the clones is different, he’s told, and although he doubts it – Brother Dusk’s legacy is still something that hangs heavy over his shoulders. Terrance Mann gives the character a weight of age and experience that the other clones don’t have – removed from the ambitious Brother Day or the young inexperienced nature of Brother Dawn. This is a wide, sprawling galaxy with several heavy concepts and slowing down to spend time with some of the characters who can feel a bit shortchanged – with Brother Day spending much of his time in the sun in the first two episodes, it’s now for Brother Dusk. His power is still feared, but he’s kinder now, less ruthless, sparing a servants’ life after a mistake. A real contrast from Brother Day’s revenge hanging in the previous episode – watching Mann and Pace go head-to-head anchors this show strongly.

Whilst Hari Seldon’s death may seem sudden to us, it’s not sudden to these characters. They’ve had years to contemplate it – we’ve had a week – and whilst some are more inclined to believe it than others, he’s no longer as prominent as he once was in the eyes of the Emperor. Brother Day’s insistence that the Clones, not the starbridge are the great dream of their progenitor is pure unfiltered arrogance – and Pace gives this role the depth that the character needs to be more than one-dimensional, helped by his experience – he’s the kind of character that would be right at home with Ronan the Accuser, if they weren't trying to backstab each other constantly in a bid for power.

This episode spent much of the time exploring what happens when a Brother Clone passes on, and the emotional character beats was what was severely lacking about the first two episodes (which the actors did their best to try and make up for the lack of attention placed upon their characters), went some way to be rectified. Olivia Purnell is also writing Y: The Last Man and has episodes of American Gods under her belt, no stranger to genre fiction and she brings a sense of credibility here that truly enraptures the sense of scale that wasn’t present in the first two episodes – an instant improvement under Goyer’s tenure – by honing in on these characters do we get a sense of the stars and the purpose within them – showing Brother Dusk watch a younger version of himself being born gave him a sense of renewed mortality – and Mann portrays that aging process masterfully.

Keeping the same actors at the heart of who these Clones are gave a sense of a familiarity in the decade-spanning series – although these characters are different, it’s a reminder that they’re still – essentially the same. Seeing the Clones that we know transform into aged up versions of themselves gave the make-up team a challenge to display the subtle differences that come with the natural aging process, and watching Brother Darkness age before our eyes was spectacular. He realises that something’s wrong about the new Brother Dawn before departing – watched on by his forebears, who know full well that they too, will one day suffer the same fate.

Then there’s another time jump as Cleon the 14th introduces himself. This show wastes no time in slowing down – but remarkably, this is still fast for the book – the first two episodes spanned the first two chapters of Isaac Asimov’s tale. We first meet Cleon the 14th waving away memories of the past – but a reminder is offered to forget the dead at his peril, and the shadow of Hari Seldon lies in the distance past – a man smart enough to predict that the Empire would one day reach Terminus, and colonise it – and that the Clones would be more than willing to flee into exile rather than stay to their fate.

There’s a sense of pre-determined destiny about the second half of this episode – lingering beyond just the clones - the colonists have thought that they were the first to arrive on the planet, after every move being laid down for them in advance - but the object that we were introduced to in the flashforward at the start of the pilot rears its head, striking a figure on the vast, quiet and empty landscape that feels entirely beautiful. On-by-one the colonists find themselves light-headed as they collapse to the floor around the object known as the Vault and do their best to retreat, eventually one-by-one passing out. Eventually, the settlers kept away from it – as myth passed to legend about what might be behind it. Rather than become feared, it became an every-day item in civilisation.

Watching the refuge built from the slow ship reminded me of a fast-forward at the beginning of games like Civilization 6 that have the same kind of scale there’s a hint of The Outer Worlds or the colony of Battlestar Galactica on New Caprica of their design – and that’s the kind of levels of ambition that Foundation is aiming for here. It’s so vast, so large of an ensemble – that few characters stay in the same place for long. Keeping track of everybody is going to be a very hard task.

We meet Leah Harvey’s Warden, Salvor Hardin – an ambitious dreamer who has her eyes on the Vault – where everyone has left it behind. She reminds me a lot from the get go of someone like Rey (and not just because she too, is investigating a ruined spaceship of enormous size) – who kept her eyes to the stars on Jakku, who’s instantly different cast aside from those around her and instantly drawn to the Vault. She realises that something’s wrong with the null field surrounding it – it’s expanding - after conducting a check. One by one we are introduced to these characters, who are the descendants of the group that travelled with Hari Seldon, continuing his legacy. There’s a divide between the younger and older generations – Salvor is accused of making those who believe sound like a cult, but little time is wasted – the null field is expanding, and it could one day entrap the whole town. For every large-scale threat – there’s also a smaller, more immediate one – that Foundation is smart enough to keep the danger immediate and on the here and now.

Like Seldon before her, Salvor is smart enough to realise that someday the galaxy will collapse – but unlike him is a sceptic of his plan. We are then introduced to Daniel MacPherson's Hugo, an adventurous, charismatic space trader, Salvor’s love interest – who shows her the planets he’s been to. Foundation is doing a good job at making this universe feel densely populated – expect these reviews to all be quite long as there’s quite a lot of stuff to keep up with! Unlike Hugo, Salvor can’t run away from her responsibilities – she can’t pick them, but they’re still hers. Both characters feel alive and real in this galaxy – and Foundation spends enough time with them early on to let us know that the first two episodes were just a prequel to what comes next. But then again, Foundation is just as inclined to galaxy-hop around so who knows where we could end up?

Salvor follows a boy into the ruins of the downed slow-ship at night – and encounters an alien that she’s able to scare away into the dark with a cautionary gunshot. It turns out the ship itself is Anacreon, the planet that was targeted as a revenge attack by the Empire – and three gunships are approaching them. Hugo reveals that he’s been off world since the bombings and is pushing 70 – having spent that time in cyrosleep – but what perhaps is more alarming is that the Empire cannot be signalled for aid – communications have been jammed. The pace of this episode jumps from zero to eleven before the end as we see what the colonisers can muster as some kind of defence – but already the gunships look like too large of a threat. Foundation certainly knows how to escalate the tension – and this feels very much like the calm before the storm. The town only has 40 hours to prepare for an invasion… and time is running out.

One last trip then, for Salvor – to the Vault. She runs into the boy once more – and follows him to the downed ship. She finds the alien – downed by an arrow wound. (can I just say how good the CGI effects are on this alien? One of the perks of an unlimited budget). She bends down to take the arrow out – and finds an enemy face pointed the bow and arrow at her. Enter the Anacreons – and enter a cliffhanger, that will keep us on the edge for a tantalising weekly wait.

I’m starting to buy into this vision that Foundation has set out for us. It’s very clunky and unlikely to win over anyone immediately. But The Mathematician’s Ghost gives us a further sense of hope that this show can eventually live up to its potential.

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