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Foundation S1E3: “The Mathematician’s Ghost”

Salvor Hardin stands in a busy corridor, grim look on her face

The following contains spoilers through Foundation S1E3, “The Mathematician’s Ghost,” on Apple TV+, and also references the Foundation series novels.


Welcome, dear reader, as we continue to review the Apple TV+ series Foundation with Episode 3, “The Mathematician’s Ghost.” Last week, the season premiere left us hanging on a serious WTF cliffhanger moment where Raych Seldon appeared to have killed his adopted father, Hari Seldon, and jettisoned his girlfriend and only other potential psychohistorian, Gaal Dornick, off-ship in a life pod. After a grueling seven days of anticipation, pondering and theorizing and fretting over those events, Episode 3 is final here and they give us…absolutely no answers whatsoever.

So, that’s the way it’s going to be, eh?

While my initial reaction was to grumble and gripe, I do have to respect a series that doesn’t play straight-up fan service. Foundation Episode 3 was a breather episode, reminiscent of Loki Episode 3, “Lamentis,” where we just hung out with Loki and Sylvie and got to know them better. This was a world-building episode, giving us better insight into the workings of the Empire’s genetic dynasty, and laying the foundations (so to speak) for Salvor Hardin’s role in the saga. It would seem that they want to establish an understanding that there is an 80-episode plan for this series. There’s a lot to get to, but we’ve got time. Answers will (I hope) be forthcoming.

Foundation S1E3 - Cleon 11 looks upon the preserved body of Cleon I, their reflections lining up in the glass
Brother Dusk reflects on his legacy

Ascension

The opening scene of “The Mathematician’s Ghost” doesn’t even start out in the series’ nominal timeline. We jump back 400 years to visit Cleon I and Demerzel, implementing his dream for the future of the Empire. Cleon is “in the near-darkness of [his] life” and fretting over his legacy, with so much still undone. He wishes he could see the completion of the Star Bridge with his mind, his eyes. Demerzel reminds him that his continuity is assured, and one day they will ride up to the orbital platform together and look down on all that they had made.

We return to the present, moving forward to 19 years after the Star Bridge bombing. These are the final days of Brother Dusk (Cleon 11) as he prepares for his “Ascension.” As with his progenitor, he frets over their legacy. He wants to salvage something of the Star Bridge platform, but his brothers “gift” him with its destruction, albeit with a promise to build something greater. He questions their purposeful ignoring of the “barbarian” worlds. He urges his tailor to “let the girl have the stage,” valuing the new and the different, per Hari Seldon’s admonishment. Too little, too late though.

Throughout it all, we see that Demerzel is the true assurance of Cleon’s continuity. She was there at the beginning and she will be there at the end. As their surrogate mother, she sings to the clones from cradle to grave, her position assured in an Empire that hasn’t always shown benevolence to her kind. Then again, in the final scene of this aside, we see the 17-year old Brother Dawn (Cleon 14) ordering the mural that Cleon 11 painted in his room to be wiped, as he has “outgrown” it. Nothing is assured.

Foundation S1E3 - The landing party from the slow ship stands in a cold, hilly terrain, looking forward in surprise
The Foundation landing party discovers the Vault

Warden

After 20 minutes spent on Trantor with the Cleon clones, we move to Terminus to witness the Foundation’s discovery of the Vault, shortly after their arrival (approximately five years after the Star Bridge bombing). From there, we scroll through the next 30 years until we finally catch up with Salvor Hardin, Warden of Terminus, picking up where we left off with her in Episode 1.

A lot is made of Salvor’s “specialness” in this episode, to the extent that I’m starting to find it a bit troubling. If Gaal and Salvor ever do meet in person, they should hit it off like gangbusters. Both are outliers who grew up not fitting in with their community. Salvor even makes other people uncomfortable just by her presence. More worrisome though is how both seem to be evidencing psychic abilities. Salvor gets “feelings” about the Null Field change and perimeter breeches, in the same way that Gaal sensed the Star Bridge attack and Hari’s imminent death. And of course, she is apparently the only living creature on Terminus unaffected by the Null Field.

Overall though, the main impression we are left with is of her sense of duty to the Foundation, even though she does not consider herself to be a member. She is not a believer in the prophecies of Hari Seldon, but it is her job to “protect these people.” As her father says, she is better suited to the job of Warden than he was. That duty to her parents and the community keeps her bound here and prevents her from running off with Hugo, her Thespian boyfriend.

Foundation S1E3 - Hugo and Salvor stand in front of a telescope looking towards the sky
Salvor shares her discovery with Hugo

Crisis

Following one of her intuitions, Salvor discovers a kid out after curfew. She gives chase past the Vault and into the scuttled slow ship carcass. Her pursuit leads her to Maple, the Bishop’s Claw that has been poking around the perimeter fence the last few weeks. After firing a warning shot, the animal flees through the ceiling, drawing Salvor’s attention to a strange glint in the night sky.

The glint turns out to be an Anacreon ship headed their way. Not just one, but three ships—armed corvettes. They are trying to evade detection and they’ve disabled the communications buoy back to the Empire. There can be little doubt of their ill intent, given that the Foundation is technically an Imperial outpost. The Encyclopedists have been preparing for some distant fall of civilization, but the real crisis is here and now, and they are ill prepared. The ships will arrive in just two days.

The next night, Salvor reenacts her discovery and pursuit of the “mystery boy” (per the credits), almost scene-for-scene. Once again, she comes across the Bishop’s Claw, but this time the beast is wounded. There is an arrow protruding from Maple’s side. After removing it and allowing her to get away, Salvor finds herself surrounded by Anacreons and we end with her asking them, “What are you doing here?”

Foundation S1E3 - An Anacreon hunter draws a bow on Salvor's back, Salvor blurry in the foreground
The Anacreons are already on Terminus

Hunting Party

To do a little theorizing on this week’s minor cliffhanger ending, it looks like this is an Anacreon hunting party. Recall that the Anacreon ambassador gave Brother Day a gift of a bow made of “the same wood used to carve the bow of Anacreon’s greatest hunter.” Hunting is apparently a big deal in their culture. Notice that the members of their group are all armed with bows, not guns.

Perhaps Anacreon has been coming to Terminus regularly to hunt Bishop’s Claw, either for sport or for ceremony. At least prior to the Imperial edict that forbade them access. Maybe this is their first test of the fading Imperial reach since the bombardment of their home world some 35 years ago.

The mystery boy could be some sort of projected hologram, intended to draw the beasts into a trap within the derelict ship. This may also explain why Maple has been testing the fence along the settlement perimeter. The hunting party may have been on the planet for weeks, working to drive their prey towards the trap.

A fierce looking Bishop's Claw stands in the beam of a flashlight
Here there be dragons

Quick Takes

A couple of quick takes on the rest of the episode:

  • Gaal was name-dropped only once in this episode, and Hari’s funeral is also referenced. While I have faith that they will go back and fill in the large gaping holes in our understanding of what happened aboard the Deliverance, we can surmise that Hari was indeed dead and Gaal remains missing (at least to the Foundation) 30+ years later.
  • The brothers’ gift unknowingly plays out the very scene Cleon I spoke of in the flashback, but looking out on destruction instead of the wonders they had built. Demerzel remembers and is moved to tears.
  • With the line “What in Seldon’s name is that?” we see the beginnings of Seldon becoming a religious figure.
  • I was so happy to see that these aren’t Prometheus-styled scientists, being smart enough to not split up and choosing instead to go together to check out the unknown object waiting for them on Terminus. And then it turns out that going together was a bad idea. Sigh.
  • That disintegration chamber that Brother Darkness steps into sounds like it’s on its last leg.
  • The most cringe-worthy moment of this episode was when Demerzel anoints the baby Brother Dawn with the ashes of Brother Darkness. And why was it blue?
  • We are three-for-three with Bishop’s Claw references in each episode. Now we finally get to see one clearly, and it turns out they’re dragons. Well, Apple TV+ does have hopes that this show will become the new Game of Thrones after all.
  • Yes, the letters in “Cleon” can be rearranged to spell “clone.” No, that was not Isaac Asimov’s original intent. Cleon was already named in the novels, and the genetic dynasty concept was newly invented solely for the television series. Just a coincidence.
  • Per the credits, there is one science advisor and two math advisors contributing to the series. That said, the debate over water clocks versus sun dials was a little silly and painful to watch. It’s unclear just what kind of disaster the Foundation imagines they are preparing the galaxy for, but apparently it includes the complete eradication of all technology and a return to the Stone Age.
  • As Brother Dusk walks through the hall of past Emperors, he calls out their pedestal plaques: “the dreamer” (Cleon 1), “the scholar” (Cleon 2), and “the alchemist” (presumably Cleon 10, as it is right before his). His pedestal labels him as “Cleon 11 The Painter.” Which explains his painting a mural over the crib for the new Brother Dawn.
  • Salvor’s mother gets a psychic nosebleed when she tests to find the boundary of the Null Field. A totally unnecessary and cringey trope.

Best lines of the episode:

  • “You’re becoming sentimental, verging on maudlin.”
  • “I may someday know death.” “Yes, but I doubt you’ll feel it arrive too soon.”
  • “The world is beginning to see me from a distance.”
  • “I’ve never heard that song before. Or have I?”
  • “Oh no, sweet brother. You are enough. It’s just that…you always leave me.”
  • “The dream lives on in you.” “Because you kept it alive in you.”
  • “It’s pretty.” “It’s dangerous.” “What do you think’s inside it?” “We don’t know.” “Then how do you know it’s dangerous?”
  • “No, do not make us sound like a cult. Some of us in our generation, some of us know what real religious fervor looks like.”
  • “No pants for the next 25 hours.”
  • “If you were part of the plan, it would make it a lot easier for me to believe in all of this.”
  • “I told you different is not the same as special.”
  • “The scenery is so beautiful this time of year. Vast wastelands of frozen loon sh*t.”
A statue of Hari Seldon stands in front of a large Foundation building
Is that a 3-D printed statue?

In the News

Here I try to point you to a few of the more interesting and informative news items over the last week (or so) related to Foundation:

  • Syfy Wire has a little article about the soundtrack to Foundation, which was released digitally on September 24 along with the premiere. It was written by award-winning composer Bear McCreary, who also wrote the soundtrack to Battlestar Galactica.
  • Collider has a surprisingly thoughtful interview with Lee Pace (Brother Day) about the show and the source material novels.
  • Den of Geek interviews David S. Goyer on the changes that had to be made to modernize the Foundation series, and the things that did not need to change because they were amazingly relevant to today’s world.

One other thing of note. We found out last week that there is going to be an official companion podcast which will feature an interview segment with show runner David S. Goyer every episode, and potential additional guests as the show progresses. In this first installment, there was a lot of interesting supplemental information:

  • In mid-to-late season, telling lies to spare hurt caused by truth will be a theme they explore.
  • Hari knows he has to become a religious figure; in Goyer’s words, he’s a cult leader.
  • There is a definite hint that Eto Demerzel is not the only robot left in existence, and also that she will become more important later in the series.
  • We learn that Empire maintains control through a monopoly on jump drive technology. How this came to be will be explained in later seasons.
  • Jump ships generate a black hole around them.
  • The slow ship is named Deliverance.
  • Most intriguing of all, the Vault doesn’t hold what book readers think it holds.

That’s all for this week. Please let us know your thoughts and feelings about this week’s episode, and any theories you have on what’s to come, in the comments below. Remember that 25YL will provide continuing coverage of Foundation throughout Season 1 and beyond.


All images courtesy of Apple TV+

Written by Brien Allen

Brien Allen is the last of the original crazy people who responded to this nutjob on Facebook wanting to start an online blog prior to Twin Peaks S3. Some of his other favorite shows have been Vr.5, Buffy, Lost, Stargate: Universe, The OA, and Counterpart. He's an OG BBSer, Trekkie, Blue Blaze Irregular, and former semi-professional improviser. He is also a staunch defender of putting two spaces after a period, but has been told to shut up and color.

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