TV Review: Foundation (2021) – S01E03 – The Mathematician’s Ghost

TL;DR – this episode sets the scene for what is to come. We learn about the cloning of Cleon emperors, the initial colonisation of Terminus by the Foundation, and the subsequent discovery of the Vault (a mysterious alien object that appears somewhat sentient…)

Review (warning: spoilers)

Please go to my TV reviews page to read reviews of previous episodes.

Episode three opens with a flashback of 400 years prior, when Cleon the First ruled the empire, and we see the android servant, Demerzel (Laura Birn) waltz in. She gives an update to the emperor that the programmers are progressing (referring to the project of cloning). Cleon, now in his twilight years, laments that he will not be around to see the completion of the Star Bridge. But Demerzel assures him that his continuity is assured and he will ride up the Star Bridge once construction is complete (referring to one of Cleon’s “clones”).

Fast forward 400 years and we see Demerzel speaking to Brother Darkness as they gaze out at the destroyed Star Bridge. He laments that the remaining debris of the Star Bridge could come crashing down on areas of the empire, but realises he doesn’t need to worry anymore because his time (as a Cleon) is coming to end. We see him get fitted with formal dress and is then sent off by the younger Cleon trinity into a pulsing laser furnace that turns him to ash. Thus, the cycle is shown of how Cleon succession continues in perpetuity. However, something is different this time round. Just before Brother Darkness enters the furnace, Brother Dawn (a newborn Cleon clone) starts crying. Brother Darkness turns and says something is wrong, something is different. But Demerzel reassures him that all is right and we see Brother Darkness get turned to ash.

Thus, this is the first hint that Hari Seldon’s predictions will come true. For we will see that Brother Dawn (i.e. Cleon the 14th, played by Cassian Bilton) is not quite like his predecessor clones. Seventeen years later, now a teenager, he is subtly different to the other Cleon clones (played by Lee Pace).

The scene then switches to Hari Seldon’s crew and their first steps on Terminus and the commencement of colonisation. There we see their first encounter with ‘the Vault’. A floating, mysterious black object that emanates a null field that causes anyone approaching it to fall unconscious. The only exception is Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey), Warden of Terminus, and the daughter of two of the original colonists. The mystery as to what the Vault is and contains is as mysterious as why Salvor is the only one that can approach it without being affected by the null field.

Fast forward again to now, and we watch Salvor perform her duties as warden, checking the shields around the colony and testing the Vault’s null field and discovering, to her concern, that the field is expanding. We are also introduced to Hugo Crast (Daniel MacPherson) who travels the galaxy as a trader and returns for brief periods to Terminus to see Salvor; the pair being in a relationship. After their latest reunion, Salvor wakes in the night with a strange feeling and goes out to scout the Vault. There she spies a small boy running near the Vault and into the now abandoned wreckage of the colonists’ original ship.

Chasing him down, she enters the ship and discovers a Bishop’s Claw (an alien beast, native to Terminus that is extremely deadly). She scares it away only to then notice Anacreon gunships have entered the atmosphere. Salvor and Hugo gather the council to discuss what should be done as attempts to hail the Anacreon gunships have failed. They attempt to get word to the Empire to send for backup, but the communications buoy is down.

With all signs pointing in the wrong direction (i.e. conflict), Salvor tries to muster what weapons they can for defence. Salvor’s mother, Mari (Sasha Behar), also reveals to her Hari Seldon’s prime radiant, the device that contains all of Seldon’s psychohistory explained as mathematical equations. Salvor attempts to interact with the prime radiant but fails.

The following evening, Salvor gets another premonition leading to her seeing the boy again and entering the shipwreck. There she finds the Bishop’s Claw again but this time it has an arrow stuck in it. She helps the beast by removing the arrow only to find herself surrounded by hostile Anacreons. Thus ends episode three.

After the climatic end to episode two, this episode was very much backstory; the building blocks laid down for what will come in future episodes. The fascination comes in learning about the Cleon cloning cycle, the subtle sense by Brother Darkness that the Empire is in peril, the mystery of the Vault that appears to be somehow sentient and warns Salvor, and the arrival of the Anacreons who have a significant bone to pick against the Empire because their planet was devastated by the Empire’s army after being accused of the terrorist attack on the Star Bridge.

A lot happens but nothing is revealed about Gaal Dornick’s (Lou Llobell) fate who we saw shoved into an escape pod and put in cryogenic stasis at the end of the previous episode. Instead, Gaal acts as narrator for this episode talking of how the living is surrounded by ghosts and those ghosts can both haunt and warn us of what is to come. Lots of questions are raised as to what will happen to the Foundation on Terminus as well as the fate of the Empire.

But the biggest questions I have are from episode two. Why was Hari Seldon murdered by his aide, Raych Foss, aboard the ship travelling to Terminus? And why did Raych send Gaal off in an escape pod?

So many questions, so few answers.

8 out of 10

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