A big shadow of war has loomed over the entirety of Foundation since the moment Hari Seldon first walked up to the Cleons in the first episode. We know, based on Hari’s math, that the Empire loses regardless of what the Foundation does, slowly collapsing from within — and this week’s episode shows some ways in which that can happen — but the more the story touches on that inevitable conflict, the less likely the Empire’s defeat actually looks. Not only because they are still a vastly superior military force, and not just because every force that could help the Foundation and hurt the Empire is too afraid to do anything, but because Hari Seldon was not counting on Lee Pace’s Cleon XVII. Unlike every other Cleon we’ve seen on the show, who has lived their life in endless luxury and without much regard for the Foundation or Seldon’s warning over a century prior, this Cleon has studied the psychohistorian’s work, listened to his warnings, and actively made choices to prevent the end of the Empire that Hari predicted all those years earlier.
When Poly and Constant are brought before the Cleons, Poly puts on a show and tries his darndest to sell peace, to make an alliance between the Empire and Foundation. Cleon doesn’t buy it because he knows Hober Mallow was sent to make a deal with the Spacers that power the Empire’s ships (not really an act of peace), much to Poly’s surprise.
Where Poly sells peace, Hari Seldon is preparing for war, and in a move that shocks everyone, the psychohistorian himself appears in front of the Cleons, returned from the dead. Turns out he hid some sliver of his consciousness in Constant when she entered the Vault and possessed her body to talk to the Cleons. (At this point, that Vault is indistinguishable from magic. What can’t it do?) Over a century later, the two men meet once again on Trantor to talk about a threat to Empire. This time however, Seldon is more calm and calculative, and rather than plead with the Emperor, he gives him a warning — the Foundation is not toothless, and their call for peace is not for fear of losing but because they know they will win.
Except, this is not the same Day that Seldon met when he was properly alive the first time. Whether it is due to genuine growth or due to the genetic sabotage we learned about last season, this Day is much different. He tells Seldon he read his work when he was young, specifically the part where Seldon told the other Cleons that the Genetic Dynasty weakened the Empire. This is why he decided to end the dynasty through marriage. Seldon’s predictions are out of date, and Cleon has won. To celebrate — or brag — he orders Bel Riose to invade Terminus, which Dusk reminds Poly is still technically an Imperial outpost, and seize all their technology. To rub salt in the wound, he tells Poly not to blindly trust someone who would send an old man to talk on his behalf, and then possess the body of a girl. Sadly, he does have a point. As this season has repeatedly shown, the Empire sucks, but Hari Seldon himself isn’t exactly perfect.
The thing is, while Day may think he cracked the code to remain invincible, we know he is everything but. For one, there was that whole naked assassination attempt, which Day now wonders if the Foundation was capable of ordering. Then there’s the matter of Bel Riose, who briefly captures Hober Mallow after the Spacers betray him and hand him over to Riose. Luckily, Mallow escapes with the help of Becky the alien monster. Riose has no love for the Empire, and his husband Glawen just outright suggests they take the fleet, kill Cleon, and take over the Empire. Though Riose talks him down by recalling the lawlessness that would replace Cleon, the thought may linger with the general.
There is also Queen Sareth, who confronts both Cleon and Demerzel and is now convinced that they orchestrated her family’s death. After an absurd examination of her royal ovaries in front of a whole bunch of people, she meets with Dawn in an underground tunnel to plot a quiet revolution, a bloodless coup. She is going to marry Day, but she won’t carry her child, so she asks Dawn instead. Luckily, their DNA is practically the same, so no one would notice, except for her, because she recognizes that Dawn is nothing like Day because his eyes are kinder. Cleon may think his plan to end the genetic dynasty is the secret weapon that makes him invulnerable, but that decision may very well be his downfall.
And if that wasn’t enough, we need to talk about Demerzel. Compared to her character in the book, Demerzel is one the biggest and most fascinating adaptation choices in Foundation. The show is slowly introducing the aspects of the character from the book in ways even those familiar with the source material may be surprised by. This week, she seems concerned about his son/sex partner/boss Day’s incoming marriage, which makes sense. As she later tells Sareth, her prime directive is to serve and protect the Empire (as in the Cleons), but if Day’s actions are ending or harming the Cleons as an idea, what is she to do?
Sareth is concerned because Demerzel’s programming does not count her as someone worth protecting, but the one who should be worried is Day. We also, finally, after much teasing, hear Demerzel talk about robots being bound by Three Laws, a nod to Isaac Asimov’s best-known work other than Foundation. This is a rather exciting piece of fan service, but judging by the adaptation choices so far, this revelation will probably have much bigger and more dramatic implications, with Demerzel’s past (she says she’s been around even before Cleon I) slowly unraveling.
Meanwhile, across the galaxy, Gaal and Salvor’s predicament grows more interesting and weird. Mentallics don’t just alter people’s minds, but can apparently Force-pull like Jedi now. Foundation has taken from space opera before, but this is feeling a little bit too fantastical for the rest of the show. Though Salvor is freaking out about Hari leaving them, and about how obvious it is the Mentallics are hiding something from them, Gaal seems unaffected. She completely drank their Kool-Aid or is at least too blind to the cost of this army of powerful psychics. Still, it seems to be working, as she gives a passionate speech about the Empire and the Mule that the psychics respond to. Salvor isn’t buying their newfound loyal army, however, telling her mother about the dangers of considering oneself a savior, and setting out to find out what they’re hiding — which she does when she finds Hari’s dead body right before Tellem knocks her out with her mind. The Foundation is under threat, both on Tranto, and on Ignis. I guess their only chance is Hober Mallow scamming his way to saving everyone.
The Prime Radiant
• Sareth continues to be the queen of sass, publicly mocking Demerzel for her sexual relationship with Day.
• The Spacers Home Swarm is one of the most impressive visuals in the show, which is saying something because Foundation looks spectacular.
• One of the powers the Mentallics have is hearing the screams their food makes as it is cooked, which feels like a deal-breaker.