The Vault is finally open, and Hari Seldon is here. Or so it seems. Hari, or rather a digital simulation of Hari, has revealed himself to lay some exposition on the Foundation, as well as the invaders from Anacreon and Thespis. He’s helped by a Greek chorus of characters, who ask him questions like “what are you” and “how are you doing this,” which he answers while getting the Anacreonese and Thespians to set aside their differences and share the warship in their fight against the Empire. They agree surprisingly quickly. Perhaps solving centuries-old hatred in one sentence is a focus for the next season.

The Foundation ties up loose ends by burying Phara, sending people to fix the spaceship, and staging a solar flare to make it seem as though Foundation’s sun exploded, killing all three planets, so the Empire won’t see them acting independently. Salvor asks Hari why she’s seen visions of him, and Hari is completely stumped. Hari does not deliver visions because why would he? He’s a simulation of a mathematician. Instead, Salvor’s mother explains that Salvor is not her biological daughter. Salvor was a donated embryo from the colony ship and therefore had different genetic parents: Raych and Gaal. Salvor, channeling Fox Mulder, says, “It all makes so much sense now,” and realizes she gets her visions from her parents because the parents pass on psychic visions now. She then ditches a surprisingly okay with it, Hugo, to take his old spaceship and travel to lightyears away, Synnax. And the Foundation had just elected her mayor, too!

The Emperors also have a little housecleaning. Azura is punished with life imprisonment, but all her friends and family are executed. There’s a rather chilling scene in which Brother Day, through pure monologue, informs Azura that they’ve killed roughly 1600 people in order to wipe her memory off the planet. Brother Day decides they can innovate and spare Brother Dawn, at which point Brother Dusk hits the ceiling, and during their argument, Demerzel snaps Dawn’s neck in order to protect the other brothers. Then, through dialogue only, we’re informed that the genetic source had been tampered with so long ago that even Day and Dusk are not exact clones. In a final, awesome image of this arc, Demerzal tears off her synthetic robot skin in grief and rage.

Playing its strength of visuals, this episode has featured a lot of smashing establishing shots of architecture on Trantor and, in the end, returns to endless ocean horizons on Synnax. The grace with which Gaal cuts through the water to rescue Salvor’s crashed spaceship is visually arresting. Once opened, Salvor Hardin introduces herself and shows Gaal the prime radiant that Hari had given to her in the pilot, which had been left with the Foundation.

Everything revolves around Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey) opening the Vault… which comes as a surprise to Hari, who doesn’t know who she is or why she has visions of him. Photo courtesy of AppleTV.

No film or stage adaptation is going to be an exact replica of the source material (TGON had a pretty good article about this back in January), and nor should it, but the small changes do add up. For example, the thing Hari emerged from is called the Vault, and in this version, his coffin recycled bits of space debris to build a computer simulation out of his corpse after it was jettisoned from the spaceship and built the Vault for him to hide out in. However, book fans know that it’s called the Vault because it contained recordings of Hari in a sealed room, which makes far more sense, even if the pod building Hari’s ghost is more interesting. So why call it the Vault at this point? The name only anchors an otherwise independent concept to an older work of fiction that fans were already coming to watch.

Salvor Hardin and Gaal Dornick are other examples of this kind of name-dropping, too. A show about individuals who genetically pass on psychic powers has little to do with the Roman Empire or the relationship between history and mathematics unless labeled with characters’ names from the existing franchise. As a result, these plotlines relied on Salvor’s, but sometimes Gaal’s, intuition to make conflict easier to solve rather than more interesting. Ironically, the most Roman-inspired plotlines had the least amount of characters named from the source material: the Emperors’.  

So, the frustrating thing about this show is not that it isn’t the novels verbatim, but that it’s not even really a close resemblance to the novels because there’s a thematic gulf, too. A sweeping story about a galactic empire’s social change reduced its scope down enough for two episodes’ worth of Gaal Dornick (who also got a flashback episode) arguing with a digital representation of a decades-dead man. That it’s punctuated by cut-and-paste sci-fi action on the part of Salvor Hardin and the Brothers’ court intrigues does less to bring variety to the story and more to water it down since, in starkest contrast, the story now hinges on two families instead of a movement of individuals. In the end, all three storylines needed quick cleanups via dialogue in the season finale. As a result, the series leaned heavily into costumes, effects, and luscious sets – and to be fair, they excelled at those.

There’s definitely room for improvement, but there’s also a vast well of Foundation novels to return to, and it’s already been greenlit for season two.