Based on the classic sci-fi series by Isaac Asimov, Apple TV’s FOUNDATION is a lush series about the fall of a galactic empire and a small group of scientists who preserve knowledge in the hopes of shortening the resulting dark ages. Season 2 picks up where the first season left off, and while I enjoyed it more than I did the first season, I’m still not sure if it knows what it is.
FOUNDATION was always difficult to adapt to the screen because it’s primarily a story about ideas, and the story itself leaps ahead in time, which would require an almost entirely new cast every season or even every few episodes. Apple TV’s effort was pretty game, injecting plenty of interesting ideas and a beautifully imagined galactic empire. Where it went off for me was it seemed to contradict its source material.
In Asimov’s series, a psycho-historian named Harry Seldon models vast populations and predicts the empire will fall and resulting 10,000 years of barbarism and misery. He puts together a group of scientists to store all knowledge needed to restart the empire and places them on a remote planet at the edge of the imperium. When the empire does start to fall, the tiny defenseless colony will face a series of crises, and as they solve each, the now deceased Seldon returns via hologram to say the crisis was predicted and they likely solved it as predicted. Individual action does not matter–psycho-history is about large populations where individual action is almost meaningless to the outcome. The only time Seldon is wrong is when an outlier appears, a single individual capable of changing history: the Mule.
The problem with the show is that it seems to be filled with outliers, characters who have some type of psychic powers and who definitively seem to change history. Meanwhile, Seldon himself is now several versions of AI, and in contradiction of their own trust in psycho-history, at least one starts meddling with the others. Okay, so what, I guess, but it makes me wonder what the show is really about, and also wonder whether they should have tied it to Asimov’s stories at all. The overall narrative appears to be similarly muddled, a story of subplots and less of a main plot.
Overall, though, I found it worth watching as refreshing sci-fi. It’s great to look at it, there are some interesting ideas, and it’s fun, especially this second season with its faster pace and tighter focus. I’ll be curious to see where things go if there’s a third season.