‘Foundation’ Episode 3 Recap (Apple TV +): “The Mathematician’s Phantom”


How to embody a declining empire? Show us a emperor which is in terminal decline. Oh, not permanently, of course: the cloning process pioneered by the predecessor of the current emperors, Cleon I, ensures that there will always be a Cleon – hit that, Three Cleons – to rule the kingdom that spans the entire galaxy. But this episode of Foundation (“The Mathematician’s Phantom”) gives us a glimpse into what happens when one of these clones ages out of its warranty period, so to speak, and new blood rises to replace it.

Following an intro featuring the very first Cleon, who is about to die before her favorite project, the Starbridge, can be completed, we reunite with the familiar trio who exiled Hari Seldon and his followers to the distant planet Terminus. But it’s now 19 years after the Starbridge destruction we witnessed last week, and all three parts have aged.

As the aging version of Cleon’s Brother Dusk prepares for euthanasia – before he gains the moniker Brother Darkness – we see that the previous Brother Day, played by Lee Pace, has become a Brother Dusk, played (all like his even older self) by Terrance Mann. Brother Dawn, meanwhile, is now played by Pace, with a view to becoming the new Brother Day; a baby steps in as Brother Dawn, anointed by the dust of his disintegrated predecessor, Brother Darkness. (Their robotic assistant Demerzel is immortal.) A brief flashback to a point just two years after the destruction of the Starbridge shows a younger brother Dawn, played by Cassian Bilton, overseeing the erasure of Cleon’s original memorial mural, which will be restored by time Dusk dies in the future. Everything old is new again!


If this sounds like a confusing process, it really isn’t. Pace and Mann do a delightful job here, mimicking each other’s gestures, revealing them as the movements of men who are, basically, the same person. These Brothers go so far as to cause the final destruction of the Starbridge Orbital Platform, which is slowly collapsing on the planet since the bombs exploded many years ago. With that, the legacy of the original Cleon receives another fatal blow.


While the Cleon brothers are busy among themselves, the young Terminus settler Salvor Hardin takes care of working for the Foundation, in what constitutes the second half of the episode. Salvor has a job as a sort of warden or sentry, patrolling the perimeter of the colony against intrusive wildlife. She also spends time fucking her boyfriend – her much, much older boyfriend, if you count the time he spent in suspended animation during cryogenic sleep – a street vendor named Hugo (Daniel MacPherson). (I have to say that the show’s repeated use of sex scenes is a real breath of fresh air in a TV climate where a tweet about the harms of “unnecessary” sex scenes seems to go viral every day.)


Salvor protests to his parents, Abbas and Mari (Sasha Behar), that his unique ability to penetrate the “zero field” around the planet’s mysterious vault – which we learn predates the colony – does it. not make it special, just different. But it seems to have some sort of sixth sense, indicating both that the zero-field radius is expanding and that a mysterious person continues to run around the carcass of the colony’s former “sluggishness” after the cover-up. fire. As these events are immediately followed by the arrival of hostile Anacrean vessels into the space surrounding the planet, Salvor assumes they are connected. She might be right: she ends the episode by following the mysterious person into the old ship, shooting arrows from a wounded beast, and ending up at the tip of an arrow by a group of Anacrean intruders.

The real problem with the episode lies in its bifurcated structure. On the emperors’ side of the equation, we have a real dramatic interest: we have already met these characters, we have seen how they function, and therefore their advancement and / or their decline in a (more) advanced age resonates. Besides, the process of aging and replacement itself is quite a fascinating idea, its lack of any kind of roots in the original Isaac Asimov novels be damned. Put it together and it’s a scenario you’re not afraid to stick with.

Salvor Hardin’s segment, on the other hand, asks a little too much of the public. Salvor herself is sort of a figure, like a generic protagonist of the Star Wars universe: barren world, space age weapon, hidden powers, secret fate, all schmear. And so many mysteries surround its story that they blend into a kind of storytelling soup. We’re almost two decades away from the events of the first two episodes, we’re told, okay, great. Why did Raych murder his adoptive father Hari Seldon? What happened to the Foundation after Seldon’s death? How did they weather the storm that surely followed the death of their founder and leader? What happened to Raych, anyway? Why did he load our narrator and central character, Gaal Dornick, into some sort of escape pod filled with liquid? Where is Gaal now?

Obviously, the show’s decision to withhold those answers was deliberate, and I respect that. And we get some information about what happened after the Foundation’s slowdown brought down the planet on Terminus (lifting an impressive mass of earth and stones): they cannibalized the ship for spare parts in order to build their colony, they have established various procedures to safeguard their perimeter, contact the Empire, trade with other worlds, etc.

But so much remains unanswered that when we start to add New mysteries above the ancients – the expanding void field of the Vault, the mysterious figure that Salvor twice follows into the wreckage of the motorboat – we are basically building on sand. There is not enough firmness, and I hope you will forgive me for my use of the term, foundation on which to build either the character or his universe. But then again, we’re talking about a story that unfolds over several thousand years, not just a few decades. If the show plays its cards right, I’m sure Salvor and his adventures can turn into something interesting.


Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) written on television for Rolling stone, Vulture, The New York Times, and anywhere who will have it, really. He and his family live on Long Island.

To concern Foundation Episode 3 on Apple TV +

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