Foundation season 2 picks up right where season 1 left off: some 130 years after the main climax of the season finale.
This is the ambitious scope of Foundation, the Apple TV Plus show adapted from the Isaac Asimov series of the same name covering centuries of in-universe history, spanning years and planets, complete with lives ruined and bloodshed. In season 2, Hari Seldon’s (Jared Harris) followers are still popping up around the universe (and with better numbers than ever, much to Empire’s consternation), but the show has jumped far ahead of where it once was. After all, psychohistory looks at the long arc of the universe, and Foundation must heed the call. The result is a space opera on a logarithmic scale, and Asimov by way of a sci-fi blockbuster on TV — at least for some chapters.
As Foundation builds the show’s world, it weaves together plotlines across the galaxy, jumping from the disciples of the Foundation settlements at the end of known space to the ever-shifting murals in Empire’s halls. All of the stories within the show take on their own flavors, hit their own pitfalls, and (sometimes) exist in their own bubbles. It can make it hard to take on the show as a whole; even as these threads inform each other, there’s a distinct difference in how they feel, and how well they work.
To that end, it’s worth breaking out the strengths and nuances of each of season 2’s plotlines. With Gaal (Lou Llobell) and Salvor (Leah Harvey) now together on Synnax, the modern (or “modern”) Foundation pulls in new Terminus players, now in its religious phase. Looming ahead of them is the second crisis — war with Empire — and a colony of Mentalics with psionic abilities that could threaten the course of psychohistory. There’s a lot of universe to cover, and Foundation breaks up its plotlines fairly cleanly.
Gaal and Salvor
The two most important people in the Galaxy are a time-displaced mother-daughter duo that took 100-plus years to find each other while the galaxy moved on without them. Foundation’s first big job is getting them on the same page, as they’ve never interacted with each other before meeting in the season 1 cliffhanger.
It’s a good way to ease viewers back into the world of Foundation, although a bit frustrating since it’s tied up in season 1’s least-developed plotline: Gaal feeling so betrayed by the digital ghost of Hari Seldon over the death of Raych (Alfred Enoch) and Seldon’s meddling with what he sold to her as the immutable math of psychohistory that she blows up the second half of Seldon’s plan for a second Foundation, hidden from the first. This is arguably the most melodramatic of Foundation’s plots — though the Cleons definitely give it a run for its money, as we’ll see — and is mostly saved by a fun dynamic that emerges when the version of Hari Gaal ran away from is revealed to be inside the Prime Radiant that Salvor has brought with her on her cryo-stasis journey to the future.
And this Seldon? He’s been conscious for the whole time, and he’s pissed.
Unfortunately, Foundation can’t really make a meal of any of this, because these characters — the three Prime Movers of its massive plot — are isolated from everyone but each other in these early episodes. In their plotline, the tension between the idea-rich sci-fi of Asimov’s works and the bombastic space opera the show would rather be is most evident. Early in season 2, Gaal and Salvor provide the audience with a glimpse of where the show’s going, and while it’s not any sharper, it does, at the very least, look freaking cool. —Joshua Rivera
The new Foundation
One of the more compelling ideas that season 1 of Foundation grazed but never dug into was in the blurry nature of faith and science when applied to humanity on such a grand scale. It’s the paradox of the show’s premise: If psychohistory is a mathematical model that can help mankind survive for centuries, what does that mean for self-determination? And for the countless people who are not scientists capable of grasping psychohistory’s pretty visualizations and proving its science — they’re just going to have to place their trust in it, and Hari Seldon. How is that any different from faith in a god?
In the century-plus since the Foundation began on Terminus, Foundation sets up shop by toying with these questions, showing the Foundation — now a small collection of worlds at the edge of Imperial space — led by a small group of shadow puppeteers guiding the masses by propagating psychohistory as a faith among a populace that doesn’t know about their origins.
The result is an ouroboros of faith and science, where an intentional blurring of lines has created a society where a civilization is speedrunning through its development unaware that there are hands pushing them along. The juiciest part of this plotline lies in what the motivations behind those hands are.
Psychohistory has been shown to be somewhat gameable by its creator, so who’s to say that the same can’t be true of its current stewards? Are they motivated by self-interest, or the dream of Hari’s plan? And does psychohistory account for this?
It’s a branch of Foundation’s story that flies dangerously close to a fruitless chicken-or-egg thought experiment, and the most dependent on the other two plotlines intersecting with it in a meaningful way. Because there is one thing that everyone is clear on right now: This version of the Foundation is about to go to war. —JR
The Cleon Empire
Although this Brother Dawn (Cassian Bilton), Day (Lee Pace), and Dusk (Terrence Mann) look the same as their season 1 counterparts, they are anything but. This Dawn is much more assured, Dusk much more distracted, and they are both tasked with taking on a much more brash Day. For this trio, the genetic corruption of Cleon I is no longer a mystery, and Day — far more interested in his individuality than his past self — responds the only way he knows how: to find an empress and carry on the genetic line the old-fashioned way.
This is the fun of Foundation’s brand of science fiction, and why the Empire stands out as consistently the strongest plotline in the show throughout both seasons. With the same actors looping through new eras and challenges, everything feels recognizable but new, baking in natural layers to the story as the clones grapple with the legacy they embody. It’s perfectly calibrated sci-fi opaqueness (non-derogatory). The world of Empire is so grand and so alien, but outfitted with such human foibles, the exact promise of an Asimov adaptation like this.
Pace’s Day stands out, a Cleon who sees the Empire as almost more of a burden than a birthright. Through him, Foundation focuses its themes of power waxing and waning while the world changes around you. Like so many others, he is fighting for survival and legitimacy in whatever way he can. Unlike so many others, he’s doing that by ending a long line of clone emperors, and having sex with his robot majordomo Demerzel (Laura Birn).
It leaves Pace’s Empire trio in a tight spot, but a deeply human one. Only psychohistory can account for how their lives and choices will shape Foundation to come. But with such a stellar scope of the show, it’s nice to have something earthly for scale. —Zosha Millman