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Foundation - Upon Awakening - Review

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The Alex Graves directed episode of Foundation, Upon Awakening, plunged us into the thick of things with the battle for Terminus heating up. The desperate defenders have the upper hand, capturing Pharra. But Pharra has always been in control of the situation form day one – able to exploit the weak minded, and after warning them that they should have listened to their warden – brings the protective shield wall around Terminus crashing down – giving her army free reign over the town, forcing the panicked residents into a retreat from which there is no escape from.

Hope, however – might have arrived in the form of the Empire – a spaceship entering the upper atmosphere showed just how much of an anomaly Terminus was – there’s no protective guard, no protective anything – Salvor is the only one who has an idea about what’s going on, and she’s fighting a losing battle. The Terminus orbital defence cannon has been taken over, and in one swift blow, hope is lost – and the ship that was meant to bring aid comes crashing down, in a spectacular orgy of CGI-fuelled destruction that benefits from virtually unlimited budget – this looks better visually than most of the modern-day sci-fi blockbusters on the big screen. One of the main things why this storyline is working so well for me is that I actually care about these characters and believe in the stakes on Terminus that the show has gone some way to set up – one of the problems in the attack that cost the lives of millions of people a few episodes ago was that I never bought the fact that millions of people died, and therefore – ever since, I haven’t really cared about the big-picture politics all that much, which is why I’m incredibly thankful that Trantor is largely absent here. When even Lee Pace can’t save what’s largely a bore-fest that drags Foundation down when it should be enhancing it, you know something’s wrong. Hopefully as we get closer to the collapse of the Empire – which we will reach – things will pick up a little bit.

But for now, thanks in no small part due to the performances of both Leah Harvey and Lou Llobell, Foundation has realised its biggest strength in anchoring it around both Salvor and Gaal Dornick – who haven’t even met yet, if they ever will, and for once it’s managed to get its pacing right – appearing incredibly focused as opposed to presenting itself as a sheer mess.

Much of the first half of the episode was devoted to Gaal – as we learnt her past on a ruined world that was faced with the ever-rising waters and the looming threat of climate change – with its residents so caught up in believing in its faith that they refused to listen to any kind of science. Whilst these scenes didn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know about Gaal and they should have arguably been included in the pilot as opposed to a flashback in the fifth episode, they worked as a way to show how Gaal got to “meet” Hari Seldon for the first time after solving a theory – and how he gave her the invitation to come to Trantor, which her people view as the “Machine World”, and her own father would rather see her die than go there – such is the religious hatred of machines. I’m reminded a lot of His Dark Materials here and the clash between religion and science that dominates that series – although it’s only one small part of Foundation, which seems intent on tackling *so much*, it’s good to see the show exploring it.

Gaal is one of the smartest minds on the show and the present-day storyline, 35 years after she was placed in the pod by Raych, are much more illuminating. It did do that thing of spending a chunk of the episode of info-dump through video-recording which isn’t the most exciting thing in the world (and one of the main reasons why Loki’s pilot didn’t work, either, at least for me), but Gaal’s reaction to learning Raych’s fate was heartbreaking. Lou Llobell conveys every essence of emotion possible – pouring her heart and soul into the characters’ performance, her reactions feel genuine. Much of the heavy lifting of episodes one and two was done by Llobell and Alfred Enoch where their characters felt otherwise completely flat, and now it’s paying off once Gaal is finally afforded more agency.

Raych talking to the security camera moments before his death all but confirmed that everything that he has done was part of a plan – and part of Hari Seldon’s plan too? Did Hari realise that Terminus was under potential threat in the present and had Gaal stayed there she would have suffered whatever fate is about to befall its residents? There’s so many unanswered questions and the fact that Gaal has now come across what is presumably a hologram of Hari moments before his death might lead to a few answers. It does succeed in making us wish Jared Harris was more involved in the show too, killing Hari Seldon off early on may have been important to the narrative – but it robs us of one of its best talents before we even got to know him.

And now, after a brilliant feat of mapmaking to trick the computer into telling her where she needs to be going – Gaal is headed, not to Terminus, in an empty ship of one – but to Hari Seldon’s homeworld – the last place in the universe where she needs to be going – to a planet where they think she played a part in her murder, despite Raych’s denial of Gaal’s involvement. Although his death happened 35 years ago, the fate of Hari Seldon impacts everything in the here and now.

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