Foundation: The Emperor's Peace   Books Included 
September 24, 2021 5:38 PM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Apple's loose adaptation / "remix" of Asimov's stories and novels. This episode: Gaal Dornick leaves her life at Synnax behind when the galaxy's greatest mathematician, Hari Seldon, invites her to Trantor.

Unless others posting here disagree, this thread is for talking about this episode and the whole schmear of Foundation stuff in print.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace (25 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In my estimation, there's just not enough of the core Foundation story to be more than a bare clothes-hanger on which they hang their story.

So far, it seems an interesting story.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:41 PM on September 24, 2021

Oh my goodness, I didn’t love the Foundation series when I read it (much prefer other Asimov and think psychohistory is a bit silly), but THIS made me cry I loved it so much. I am starved for beautifully shot, diverse Sci Fi stories on screen that aren’t 100% fight scenes or straight up horror. I loved the casting, the world building, the costuming and the set design. Even Lee Pace blowing someone up couldn’t get me down. Between this and His Dark Materials I am feeling very lucky to live in an era when prestige TV is bringing the richness of genre fiction to the screen.
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 5:52 PM on September 24, 2021 [15 favorites]

Unless your series is about the journey from childhood to sexual maturity, it's probably better NOT to start with a prologue in which pubescent child offers to let another child "touch my tit".

Look, the first episode is (mostly) very, very pretty. But I stopped halfway through. It was just so ploddng.

I finished it this morning, and it does pick up. But Jarred Harris as Hari Seldon invites unfavourable comparisons to his other famous role as a humble scientist trying to avert a catastrophe, and being thwarted by a government more interested in protecting their own power than in saving people's lives.
posted by davidwitteveen at 6:50 PM on September 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

I watched the first two episodes and thought they were a bit slow but gorgeous and well-acted and, like Isingthebodyelectric, I'm starved for good scifi. I will definitely watch the whole thing. The cliffhanger at the end of the second episode has got me hoping they're done with most of the exposition so we can move onto more action.

I read the first two Foundation books years ago and I remember them being pretty slow, too (slow enough that I didn't bother with the rest of the series, anyway) so in my mind the show sort of matches the tone. It's interesting - I remember certain aspects very vividly but would not have been able to identify them as Foundation set pieces - the situation on Trantor with the emperor living on the surface with beautiful gardens and everyone else underground, for one. And the space elevator falling, although I think this is a somewhat common trope I've also read elsewhere. Doesn't the first book cover pretty much only what was in the first episode?
posted by something something at 8:13 PM on September 24, 2021

Are you possibly thinking of the Mars trilogy, something something? A space elevator is destroyed in similar fashion in that series. But to my knowledge, this is the first time such an event has been rendered visually. My only problem with it was that the (far too thick) tower should have fallen at hypersonic speeds, whipped around the planet by both gravity and Trantor's own rotation. Still, utterly spectacular / dreadful, as is the Empire's response in the next episode.

Asimov was notorious for writing bloodless characters, so it's nice to have this adaption flesh them out. It's also really good to see so many minority and gender-swapped characters, when the source material had them almost entirely white and male, if I remember correctly.

It is slow, but the visuals are so gripping that I don't mind at all. And gosh, watching Lee Pace act is such a pleasure.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 9:55 PM on September 24, 2021 [5 favorites]

The first episode is essentially the first story in Foundation (the book). I thought it was really well done, and you can see how the writers are laying groundwork (dare I say foundation) for things that happen later in the series that was unforeshadowed due to the serialized nature of the writing of the first book.
posted by sleeping bear at 11:48 PM on September 24, 2021

I'm okay with it being slow (for now, anyway). Have to say I was a bit taken aback at one point because I did *not* know the lead actress is 26.

Also the books -- while having a neat overall premise -- are honestly terrible, so it's nice to see the producers going off on their own.
posted by mookieproof at 1:26 AM on September 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

The one gripe I have with this series is the same I have with most genre fiction: It entirely fails to get the scale of deep time right. The Galactic Empire has existed for 14,000 years?* Okay, fine - that’s far longer than any human political institution has ever managed, but I’ll take it. Thing is, though, that this is far longer than our entire recorded history as a species. Archaeologists can tell us something about humanity 14,000 years ago, but historians sure as heck can’t. So, when Hari Seldon makes a winking, you’ll-get-this reference to the library of Alexandria - why? Why on Trantor would he do that? It would be far less bizarre for me to refer to the Epic of Gilgamesh or the invasions of the Sea Peoples in casual conversation.

*This confused me a little, but the show does say the Empire is 14,000 years old; the clone dynasty is relatively new, at just 400 years.
posted by Mr. Excellent at 7:57 AM on September 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

I also thought the space elevator fell too slowly, but we're seeing the part nearish to the base fall, I think, and this simulation shows the first part of the fall is slow.

The concept of a space elevator post-dates Foundation, so it was certianly not in the novel, but it was a neat way to TV-ize part of the decay of Trantor.

I liked this episode mostly, did not like the second episode much. Am worried it's going to focus on the main characters we have now for entirely too long, since most of them seem to be set up to be around for an artifically long time. Although I don't mind that in the case of the clone of the clone emperor -- might as well have 1 (3) character representing the empire as long as it's still around.
posted by joeyh at 8:00 AM on September 25, 2021

I read the books over the summer. and found them to be... pretty bad. The first one is probably the best. It's a collection agreeably pulpy short stories from the 40s so problematic elements are to be expected and don't stand out compared to similar stuff from the same time period, but when Asimov started adding characters who are women, I almost wish that he hadn't... It's creepy at worst and not great at best. Also nobody would ever accuse the Foundation books of having great plots, characters, world-building, dialogue, or writing. (He had some clever ideas. I think that's why people read him.)

The good news is that this gives the show a lot of freedom to make changes for the better, and I think it's mostly accomplishing that. Casting the story with little regard for the books' choice of race and gender was a great first step. It'll be interesting to see how they handle all the icky incelish/ableist stuff wrt The Mule.

I was surprised that the show has already revealed some things that were secret in the books until the very last ones (though I guess they were the kind of "secrets" that he just hadn't thought of early on... IMO they work better when they are included from the start.)

Anyway. I'll keep watching. I dig all the Homeworld-esque ship design, and it's neat to see the production design and pacing also having a sort of Homeworld feel. (Homeworld wikipedia entry if you aren't familiar)
posted by surlyben at 10:02 AM on September 25, 2021 [6 favorites]

I happily accuse the Foundation books (at least the original trilogy) of having great plots and completely serviceable writing (and, indeed, some clever ideas). Maybe it's largely because I first read them as a kid (although I reread them a few years ago and still enjoyed them). Yes, they're dated, and science fiction has come a long way since then, but I'm a little surprised at the universal dismissiveness in this thread so far. I understand that people are allowed to have differing opinions, though!
posted by dfan at 11:10 AM on September 25, 2021 [5 favorites]

I reread Foundation recently or at least after covid started. The core problem for me is that it read more like Asimov's summary of a book than as an actual book. Or, rather, that the stories read as summaries of stories or as the elevator-pitch for a story than like full stories themselves. Which isn't universal in Asimov; I haven't read it in a long while but I don't remember _The Gods Themselves_ being like that.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 11:33 AM on September 25, 2021 [4 favorites]

The novel was posted to Fanfare in sections, so the discussion in those might be interest alongside episodes. This episode was "The Psychohistorians" and a flashforward hint at "The Encyclopedists" .
posted by joeyh at 4:21 PM on September 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

I also thought the space elevator fell too slowly, but we're seeing the part nearish to the base fall, I think, and this simulation shows the first part of the fall is slow.

That simulation does cover 0.7 earth days. The simulation shows destruction near the base station is very quick, but it takes hours for the rest of it to come down out of orbit.

I think the appearance of slowness is actually an illusion- anything that big moving at an appreciable speed is moving fast.
posted by BungaDunga at 4:53 PM on September 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

I had a mixed reaction. I thought some of the changes introduced were brilliant. Others confirmed the NY Times's reaction that the show is overstuffed, though some of the seemingly extraneous additions proved more integral once more plot was unveiled.

There's an updating and revision going on to make a novel of ideas visual, and to update the white male centric characters. But there's also a movement in a lot of movies towards, you know, making elaborate backstories for simple characters--the Joker, Cruella deVille, stretching The Hobbit out to 3 movies. The flat characters and feel of an outline in the novel is part of the kind of story it's telling. It's like a Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Fleshing out of character relationships and letting the viewer feel what it would be like to live in this world is secondary to showing the arc of a decaying empire, an enlightened visionary who tries to soften the fall, and the role of chance and individuality. The novels had some economy of story-telling. (Long speeches aside!)

To start with, Gaal leaving home was too emotionally complicated to be the first thing to lure us in (well, besides the quick flash forwards to Salvor Hardin and voice-over name dropping of the Mule, etc.) She's leaving her home, and she's proud of winning this math contest, but her home planet is prejudiced against her knowledge. I couldn't remember or parse how her parents were responding, how much they were proud or how much they'd bought in to their culture and were letting her go with: "well, if that's what you really want..." It was meant to be bittersweet, but it'd been easier if the first emotional notes weren't so mixed. The music swells up, she sees the splendor of Trantor, but we've already been gasping at the visuals of her home planet, which she's used to.

Although that was a difficult introduction, Gaal being conflicted is central to the first episode, brings irony and tension to: Is Seldon right? That's what I mean by the being "overstuffed" sometimes paying off later.

I really liked the invention of the 3 clones as Emperors. The notes there are a little less complex than with Gaal. They're ruthless and don't have the imagination to defuse the terrorist threat (recalling the Salvor Hardin maxim: violence is the last refuge of the incompetent). We see outright villainy, vaporizing the poor paint restorer, but also some dedication to the job of Emperoring.

I loved the paintings: they reminded me of '50s sci fi covers! And having a paint restorer, as opposed to commissioning new artwork, was a subtle way to show how the empire was in decline.

Are we allowed to talk about the second episode yet? Seldon very rapidly became a caricature of out of touch liberal, bonding with the laundry staff, saying the right platitudes, yet not answering the question "are you happy?" showing he wasn't really bonding with those in less exalted positions. A similar narcissistic flaw leads to his confrontation with his adopted son.

While I didn't see that coming in the first episode, I'm interested in whether this'll be built on in how the Seldon plan goes off course. In the novels, the flaw was simply that The Mule was a superpowered mutant unpredicted by science. But Gaal's speech emphasizes that even math carries our assumptions with it (base 10 is cultural).

Given that setting, the Mule doesn't even have to be a mutant. Just someone unhappy who bonds with the unhappy masses, something Seldon proved unable to imagine. Of course mutant Mule adds to the sci fi amazement of the story.
posted by Schmucko at 6:35 PM on September 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

it's neat to see the production design and pacing also having a sort of Homeworld feel.

I'm actually working on Homeworld 3 right now! There's enough interest in the show at work that an asimov channel has popped up on our Slack, it'll be interesting to see what the artists make of it.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:08 AM on September 26, 2021 [17 favorites]

The arbitrary killing of the mural restorer seemed out of character and out of place, but was probably just thrown in to a) have a little action in a mostly slow hour of tv, and b) show that in spite of the many digressions from the source material, they've faithfully captured the blaster effect as described by Asimov.

I read the Foundation books (and the robots and other Asimov works) as a teen and I liked them well enough then but I don't think I'd enjoy them much now. Asimov was an ideas man, not so much on the details, or characters, plots… so all the changes and just filling in that the show is doing is an improvement, at least so far.

I do wonder how far they're hoping to take this, the books go some places as they go on (especially when Asimov comes back 40 years later to tie things up in a bow) and they seem to be sprinkling hints that they're at least aware of them.
posted by rodlymight at 8:46 AM on September 26, 2021

I've added a separate post for discussion of episode 2.
posted by Major Clanger at 9:20 AM on September 26, 2021

I don't think much of this show as actual human narrative -- the characters are written pretty woodenly, though a few of the actors do bring some verve to their mechanical lines.

But it's pretty interesting as a cultural artifact, particularly read as a bookend to the other major Apple SF show, "For All Mankind." That's a story about the beginning of American empire post-WWII, and this is pretty explicitly a story about its ending, ie the present.

What's odd is how Foundation the novel was written right about at the start of "For All Mankind", a deeply American story written at the start of American empire about the end of empire. So it will be interesting to see how this show weaves in the realities of how the inherent evils of empire bring about its own decline. At the moment it's all just "the natives will get restless when the empire is stagnant", but there are hints at the true causes in climate destruction, colonialism, subjugation, racism, and wealth expropriation. "For All Mankind" suggests that these are all superable with a sufficiently dynamic Reaganesque spectacle of space exploration; it will be interesting to see whether Foundation sticks with that Apple-ish image of empire, or goes in more realistic directions.
posted by chortly at 9:30 AM on September 26, 2021

It's been so long since I read the Foundation books that I remember very little (Hari Seldon, psychohistory, Mule, that's about it), and I have no desire to reread it, so comparisons to the original are wasted on me. I thought the first was gorgeous, I loved the characters, and the slowness didn't bother me a bit.

As to the imperial timeline, I always had the impression that the Empire in Dune had been around for thousands and thousands of years as well.
posted by lhauser at 12:48 PM on September 26, 2021 [2 favorites]

But Jarred Harris as Hari Seldon invites unfavourable comparisons to his other famous role as a humble scientist trying to avert a catastrophe, and being thwarted by a government more interested in protecting their own power than in saving people's lives.

I didn't watch the later seasons of Mad Med, it sounds like that show took a wild turn!
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:00 PM on September 26, 2021 [12 favorites]

Like others, I read _some_ part of Foundation as a teenager, and it's killing me because I legitimately haven't been able to figure out which books I read. I mean, this episode I knew pretty much 1:1 in general plot, but I swear the book rapidly went off into a nicely serial format - here's a chapter about a farming community facing a Seldon Crisis, here's how they overcame the Crisis, here's Hari Seldon's Animatronic Puppet telling them they done did good and he predicted it all along. Reading the Wiki articles, I guess I got as far as The Mule?

So I'm kind of curious how they're going to develop this - I could easily see them spending a few episodes setting up the foundation, but they'll define all new meanings of plodding if they try and make the Psychohistorians last for a whole season.
posted by Kyol at 5:45 PM on September 26, 2021

The first episode of the official podcast is surprisingly insightful, especially for what Foundation means to David S. Goyer.
posted by andrewdoull at 5:18 AM on September 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

I finally got around to this.

I read all the Foundation novels back in the day because that was the done thing for my kind of childhood reading.

My main complaint is that Jared Harris is far too charismatic for Seldon. My recollections were that he was a kook and had a following because his ideas were captivating, but he personally wasn't. That, and... he had help from (looking up the name) Demerzel the First Minister? R. Daneel Olivaw?

Loving Lee Pace's charisma, though.

The visuals are definitely not what I had in my minds eye, but it works for 2021.

14,000 years in the future... David Lynch's 'Dune' did better for that far in the future (and Villeneuve's maybe drew upon Lynch and improved on it, subtly). But 14k (heh, not quite 40k) is a tough nut to crack without some handwaving on sufficiency/ apathy/ dark-age.

I'm ambivalent about this, but the nostalgia hook will keep me watching for now.
posted by porpoise at 8:54 PM on December 1, 2021

a sort of Homeworld feel
The music too. I thought they were playing Agnus Dei when the beanstalk came down, the opening notes were so similar.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:11 PM on December 26, 2021

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