To lead off episode nine, Gaal Dornick observes that, “History isn’t fact, it’s narrative” as part of an opening narration which is the last she’s heard from until the next episode, and the subject of debate among actual historians. One could, for example, obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in History (using American jargon), though the point of Foundation should have been, if anything, how to get to the most subjective part of history, science or no. As Salvor Hardin opens this episode, she considers her dad’s axiom, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetant,” lifted straight from Asimov’s book, and perhaps a little too late as the Invictus space jumps back to Terminus, thanks to self-sacrificing heroism from the mayor, taking all the Anacreonese and Thespins with it.
Everyone is temporarily knocked unconscious by the space jump except Salvor, who spacewalks back to Hugo’s ship, the Beggar, from the Invictus to try and radio the Foundation. After she can’t get anybody on the radio, Salvor realizes that the Null Field has expanded and knocked out the Foundation. During the chaos, Salvor makes it back to the planet, Phara escapes the Invictus, and the Thespins come chasing after. The whole affair involves one of those baffling scenarios where Phara, inside a spaceship, shoots another party inside the spaceship, but we only see a wide shot of the spaceship’s exterior complete with the bang that can’t be heard in a place where the sound wouldn’t travel. It’s a well-worn execution move, but set in possibly the only place where it doesn’t make sense. It’s paired with the ultimately too impractical image that results from the inevitable showdown where Salvor, after trying to convince everyone to make nice, kills Phara with Phara’s own arrow. Turns out, the Anacreonese don’t really want to fight after all, but they’re threatened by the Thespins, and everyone’s about to rumble in front of the Vault when Hari Seldon steps out to welcome the Thespins and Anacreonese specifically to Terminus.
So is Phara, with a backstory fueled by rage against the Empire for firebombing her hometown, “incompetant” for her scheme? One could certainly suppose so, though for an “incompentant” she came remarkably close to success. Meanwhile back in the Emperors’ storyline, Dawn is ready to escape with Azura when Brother Dusk shows Dawn a mural he has painted that contains three red birds and three blue birds, all against a green background. It appears as though the red birds are invisible to colorblind Dawn, who then realizes that Dusk painted six birds instead of three, and knows about his colorblindness. Dawn makes it all the way to Azura’s apartment before armed men arrive to kill him, and replace him with a clone who comes not from the Imperial ranks, but from a group of terrorists. Just as the terrorists are about to kill Dawn, Dusk shows up with a SWAT unit and arrests everybody.
The unexpected palace romance/switcheroo plotline qualifies as “incompetant” when it’s considered that they probably could have just talked Dawn into leaving voluntarily. The clone they had set to replace him had DNA closer to Day and Dusk than Dawn did, but they seemed awfully sure that he wouldn’t make the same decisions the other brothers would have. And what if Dusk had just reasoned with the clone to join the winning team, after all wouldn’t that be like convincing himself? Still, it’s pretty harsh to label the violent “incompetant,” when, in each case, they’re only seconds away from success, and furthermore, when Hari’s plan accounts for violence. Remember, the Thespins only showed up because Salvor and Hugo fought their way to a position where they could call for help, and Hari wanted them to be there.
I’m not really sure how I reconcile Gaal’s theory of narrative here, except to point that everyone has committed to a narrative steeped in violence – from Dusk to Salvor to the Anacreonese – and that the winners get to decide “competence” or “incompetence.” Phara would certainly argue that the Empire has a long history of violence. Perhaps episode ten will zoom out in scope and hopefully get Gaal back on the path starting the Second Foundation.