The second season of the AppleTV+ series is more epic than the first yet still struggles to earn an emotional investment.
Plot: More than a century after the season one finale, tension mounts throughout the galaxy in “Foundation” season two. As the Cleons unravel, a vengeful queen plots to destroy Empire from within. Hari, Gaal, and Salvor discover a colony of Mentalics with psionic abilities that threaten to alter psychohistory itself. The Foundation has entered its religious phase, promulgating the Church of Seldon throughout the Outer Reach and inciting the Second Crisis: war with Empire. The monumental adaptation of “Foundation” chronicles the stories of four crucial individuals transcending space and time as they overcome deadly crises, shifting loyalties and complicated relationships that will ultimately determine the fate of humanity.
Review: Isaac Asimov’s iconic Foundation novels are not Game of Thrones. Foundation has long been considered unfilmable, an intelligent blend of science fiction and philosophical drama. The first season adaptation, created by David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman, bridged the gap from the written page to the screen by adding a heaping dose of sex and violence to offset the dialogue-heavy exercises in math and politics. The resulting series boasted solid production values and top-notch special effects while missing out on a level of energy from the narrative to make it worth investing in for multiple seasons. Thankfully, the second season of Foundation ups the ante on the story’s emotional resonance while maintaining the action, sex, and violence from the first run. The result is a solid sophomore season that will keep fans happy but may not be enough to win over new ones.
Picking up 138 years after the primary time period of the first season, the new season of Foundation opens with Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell) learning that Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey) is her daughter, and the duo works to free themselves from their exile. At the same time, the radiant of Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) is put through trials by an alien intelligence testing his resolve. The bulk of the season featuring these characters feels like a side quest rather than the season’s main arc and feels like a secondary plot in the overall narrative of Foundation. As great as Jared Harris is, Goyer and Friedman’s take on Hari Seldon is far different than the character from Asimov’s novels. Seldon, a major character throughout the entire series, exists mainly in the form of recordings and memories in the books. On-screen, that would not work and has been changed in a way that gives Seldon a legitimate reason to appear on screen but still is bogged down by countless monologues weighed down by unwieldy technobabble.
What works the best this season is the enhanced palace intrigue centered on Empire, played again by Lee Pace as Brother Day, Terrence Mann as Brother Dusk, and Cassian Bilton as Brother Dawn. Pace, who played multiple iterations of Brother Day in the first season here, portrays Cleon XVII, five generations past his role as Cleon XII. While Pace played one hell of a villain in the first season, this sophomore run opens immediately with an action-packed sequence that sets the pace and tone for all of the Trantor-set moments this season. Echoing Game of Thrones’ early seasons and the diabolical games between the warring families, we are given an assassination attempt, a prospective marriage that would combine the Empire with a powerful dominion as an ally, and multiple secret alliances that forge the best part of this season’s arc. While Terrence Mann once again plays Brother Dusk as the elder and wiser leader, Cassian Bilton’s Brother Dawn becomes more significant as the youthful heir. Pace, a stellar actor in everything he does, chews the scenery wonderfully through this entire season and commands the screen in every scene he appears.
The shift between the Trantor scenes and those in the galaxy’s far reaches showcases the vast disconnect between the two elements of this series. Like Succession and Yellowstone, we love to watch those in power implode, and seeing how the Empire begins to show cracks after twelve thousand years in power is deliciously entertaining. But, unlike Star Wars and other similar science fiction series, the rebellious faction we are meant to root for in Foundation is not nearly as rousing as it should be. I continually enjoyed the shared screen time between Jared Harris, Lou Llobell, and Leah Harvey, but their plotlines feel like they drag to fill the ten-episode season order. Conversely, Laura Birn is the best of the cast this season as the android Eto Demerzel becomes more prominent than before this year. This season’s additions to the cast, including Ella-Rae Smith, Ben Daniels, and Isabella Laughland, accentuate the ensemble.
Director Alex Graves, who helmed three episodes of the first season, returns to maintain the visual tone and style this year. The direction is solid throughout, but the writing does show some improvement thanks to the addition of Jane Espenson (Game of Thrones) and Liz Phang (Yellowjackets, The Haunting of Hill House). Working alongside David S. Goyer, who co-wrote five episodes this season, Espenson and Phang have credits on eight of the ten chapters. Both writers bring a stronger voice to the complex narrative of Asimov’s books which includes updating characters and plots, further taking Foundation away from the source material while staying true to the overall plot of the novels. Overall, this season of Foundation is stronger than the first but still piles so much into these ten episodes that each chapter feels twice as long as its hour-long running time. The finale works as a satisfying conclusion should Apple elect not to continue this series for a third season, but it also keeps the door open with yet another massive time jump.
Foundation continues to feel like a series that wants to be epic yet cannot quite grasp how to do it. Lee Pace’s performance alone makes the second season of this series worth checking out, but I am again left feeling somewhat hollow after watching the season finale. Foundation takes inspiration from a book series that has been beloved alongside Dune, The Lord of the Rings, and countless other works of genre literature, but there is just not enough here to earn my viewership outside of a reviewer capacity. I feel like I should love Foundation, and giving it a bad review is hard. There is nothing inherently wrong with the series; it just doesn’t come close to being as good as it should be.
Season 2 of Foundation premieres on July 14th on AppleTV+.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/foundation-season-2-tv-review/