Another episode, another planet. Well, this time it’s a moon, but that barely matters to the Emperor, Brother Day, who arrives with Demerzel in order to convince a local religious group, the Luminists, to elect a spiritual leader for their faith who would support him politically. Interestingly enough, Demerzel claims faith in Luminism, a faith shrouded in myth about three goddesses who provide both water and sun, even though she is an android who works for the emperors.
This dynamic echoes the way Roman emperors would often have advisors who belonged to religions from all over the Roman empire, especially when an emperor might act in a way that contradicts their belief. It’s made clear the head of the Luminists could be beneficial or destructive to the Emperors, whoever she might be, but a rebellious zephyr (priest) attempts to resist the emperor’s candidate. Can you really play politics with a man who’s been on the throne for a thousand years?
Meanwhile, that man’s younger self, Brother Dawn continues to romance the young gardener, Azura, with whom he’s infatuated while dodging Brother Dusk’s attempts to buy his support. Dusk wants to do all the things he thinks a young emperor should enjoy: they go hunting and visit “the pleasure gardens.” Dawn proves to be a much more politically savvy emperor of the three since he manages to stay on Dusk’s good side, even though he’s a better shot, despite having no sense of hunting safety protocols. Dawn doesn’t think for a minute that any of the ladies in the garden aren’t spies. He’s gotten so paranoid, because unlike all the emperors before him, he’s colorblind. The only person Dawn entrusts with this information is Azura, a no-clearance gardener, which seems like a remarkably weak point in an otherwise secure defense.
Defense clearly didn’t work out so for the Foundation, but they can attack much more effectively. Two never-before-introduced preteens overpower the barbarians guarding Salvor and provide her with information that they overheard the guards say that they’re looking for a lost Imperial battleship nearby. Salvor reunites with her father, Abbas (played by The Wire’s Clarke Peters), and her boyfriend Hugo, an itinerant merchant, and the three set out on a plan to destroy the barbarians’ ships so that they can’t use Foundation resources to find a much bigger ship.
Is it a huge reveal that someone who’s played as many mentor figures as Clarke Peters doesn’t come back from the mission? Peters and Leah Harvey, who plays Salvor, work hard to pull off an emotional scene, but context fights them every step of the way. The barbarians that Salvor is shooting at go down like a whack-a-mole game and with the same ferocity. I didn’t count the number of soldiers Salvor shoots, but it’s in the double-digits and the only casualty on her side of the battle is Abbas, who ultimately lights the fuse on an explosive charge he can’t immediately escape.
The emotional weight of battle, let alone losing a loved one, gets lost in the pattern established this season where a new planet or culture is explored offworld, and then the narrative returns to a drawn-out squabble on Terminus. Sprinkling action sequences to lure the audience in for the more cerebral drama is a classic storytelling move, and it worked magic when I had to drive to a movie theater to see breathtaking special effects. But in Foundation, in a time when I can access enough Pink Floydian light shows to burn out my TV, I’m enduring fight scenes in order to get to the more interesting plot lines involving Gaal or the Emperors. That the action-packed Terminus line rests entirely on Salvor Hardin in a way largely betrays the promise of an epic conflict affecting the wider universe, which the rest of the show pushes.
But Salvor’s conflict will spill over starting next episode. In the middle of her espionage, she had a vision in which it is revealed to her that Hari and Raych planned for Raych to stab Hari in order to make a martyr out of Hari. The pod that Raych stuffed Gaal into was meant for him to escape. TAdditionally, the barbarians, now needing a ship, decide to take Hugo’s after they capture both him and Salvor. Phara loads up the ship with Hugo, Salvor, the Imperial troop commander who survived the wreck of his own ship, the mayor of Terminus, and some other hostages and they blast off to find a warship next episode.