TV Review: Foundation (2021) – S01E04 – Barbarians at the Gate

TL;DR – Hari Seldon predicted that the Empire’s downfall would start on the edge of the galaxy. Right where it just so happens the Foundation has been exiled to and operating on the planet Terminus. When Anacreon forces (enemies of the Empire) land on Terminus, we see them set up the dominoes for the first to fall.

Review (warning: spoilers)

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

In episode four, we see Cleon the 14th (Cassian Bilton) aka Brother Dawn staring behind a thin curtain in his bedroom on the top floor of the palace, down to the gardens below. Gaal Dornick’s (Lou Llobell) voice narrates a story of a man who goes to see psychohistorian Hari Seldon asking Hari to tell him his fate. We then watch as Brother Dawn steps out onto the window ledge. The drop from the top floor of the palace to the ground below would surely mean death. As Brother Dawn willingly falls off the ledge, Gaal continues her story saying that Hari told the man that his predictive model only showed the future of the masses and that the fate and actions of one individual would always be a mystery.

The big splat that you would expect from Brother Dawn’s suicide does not occur. All Cleon emperors have protective shields that repel kinetic energy built around their bodies which prevent harm, so instead of a bloody mess we see Cleon floating inches above the ground, the technological nanites preventing his death. We also see a young female gardener, Azure Odili (Amy Tyger), witness the event and drop the pot plant she is carrying. She runs away, and you know she was not meant to see Cleon’s attempt at suicide.

The minute cracks in the Empire we saw in episode three begin to get larger in this episode. We learn that a leader of one of the planets under Empire control has died, and there is potential for the successor to look to break away from the Empire. This leads to an interesting dinner conversation between Brother Dawn, Brother Day (Lee Pace), and Brother Darkness (Terrence Mann). The Cleon clones are all meant to work in unison; actions are synchronised without thought. They are, after all, meant to be perfect copies of the first Cleon emperor. But what we see is Brother Dawn stand slightly after Day and Darkness stand, we see Dawn pick up his wine glass with his left hand while Day and Darkness pick it up with their right etc. These little differences show the cracks within.

We then jump to Terminus where we last saw Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey) being held at gun (and bow & arrow) point by Anacreon invaders. The Anacreons suffered terrible losses when their home planet was attacked by the Empire who believed the Anacreons were one of the groups responsible for bombing the Star Bridge. Salvor manages to subdue the Anacreon leader, Grand Huntress Phara Keaen (Kubbra Sait) by taking her to the Vault. Phara wants access to the Foundation tower and thinks Salvor is taking her to that location only to be confronted by the floating Vault and its null field which renders her unconscious.

Salvor then takes on her role as Warden of Terminus and taking the reigns to lead the Foundation group and marshal their defences. She attempts to interrogate Phara to understand why the Anacreons want to access the Foundation tower with little success. Meanwhile, Phara’s forces start to surround the Foundation’s town (the only thing preventing the army from swarming them is a protective fence of Imperial make).

The episode jumps between these two threads.

In one space, we see Brother Dawn commence interactions with Azura. Though suspicious initially, he begins to see that she has no ill intent toward him and gives him leaves of a medicinal plant that will help with pains he experiences from breathing in certain blossoms in the garden. Meanwhile, Brother Day breaks protocol and decides to go off world to take control of the succession of the planet that potentially may break away from the Empire. He has a confrontation with Brother Dusk who still stubbornly believes that with Hari Seldon dead, the prophecies and the Foundation have died with him, but Brother Day is not so sure. There’s a marvelous scene where Brother Day seeks an update from the Imperial mathematicians to prove without a doubt that Hari was a charlatan. Turns out three decades has the Imperial mathematicians none the wiser and in full denial (they believe Hari and psychohistory to be false but they can’t prove it). This leads to the head Imperial statistician having a heart attack under Brother Day’s rebuke.

In the other space, we see Salvor trying to maintain order with her people while Anacreons continue to mass. At one point, she enters a vision where she is in the Imperial Library on Trantor and confronts a boy with a blade. The vision quickly disappears and she is back on Terminus, not understanding what the vision means. She believes the image of the boy is actually the Vault trying to communicate to her but she can’t piece the puzzle together.

With Hugo Crast (Daniel MacPherson) supporting her, they survey the perimeter and watch as Anacreon soldiers assemble a laser cannon. It doesn’t make sense, however, because the cannon will not be able to penetrate the fence, so what are they planning to do with it?

The closing scene of episode four finally returns us to Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell) in cryogenic sleep in an escape pod floating through space. And on the edge of the screen we see a spaceship enter. What will Gaal’s fate be? The ship clearly is going to pick her up, but what will she awaken to? We won’t know until the next episode.

I enjoyed this episode primarily because of Brother Dawn. He is clearly going to be different to the other Cleon emperors even though all the clones are meant to be identical. The reason for his attempted suicide is unclear and leaves questions as to what he is thinking. His initial interactions with Azure the gardener indicates a budding attraction. While Brother Day and Brother Dusk debate about Hari Seldon’s predictions and seeking to maintain control and order over the Empire, they appear to ignore (or are in denial) of the differences Brother Dawn is exhibiting.

The events on Terminus are slow building. The biggest revelation being that Salvor has an otherworldly ability to discern when someone is lying and sense who they are and what has happened to them in the past. Her interrogation scene of Phara was intriguing as she displayed the ability to predict the result of flipping a coin repeatedly with 100% accuracy. This act unnerves Phara and leads her to reveal more about herself than she intended.

Yet another engrossing episode requiring the viewer has patience.

8.5 out of 10

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