Monday, October 25, 2021

Foundation - The Emperor's Peace

Originally written as short stories for Astounding Magazine more than 70 years ago, Isaac Asimov's idea of examining something akin to the fall of the Roman Empire on a galactic scale would result in a series of stories and novels, some written decades apart, spanning thousands of years, where the fate of humanity weighed in the balance. Using the concept of predictive models taken to the nth degree, Asimov offered the mathematics of psychohistory which was capable of predicting the future of large populations, even if those populations don't like what those predictions might be.

The first episode of Apple TV's Foundation introduces to the father of psychohistory, Professor Hari Seldon (Jared Harris). Starting with the events of Seldon's trial from the original Foundation stories means the series skips over the later published prequel novels (which include some of the series' best material). Seldon, however, isn't our main character. That honor goes to a young mathematical genius from a far off world in the empire where science is heresy. Brought to the galactic homeworld by Seldon to help with psychohistory, and by the emperor to denounce it, Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell) finds herself in the middle of a maelstrom charged with treason after only just arriving on Trantor.

"The Emperor's Peace" is a solid opening to the series, allowing the viewer to see the Galactic Empire, and psychohistory, through the eyes of a young woman presented with both for the first time. Seldon is seen both as prophet and madman, but Gaal only finds a scientist doing everything he can to save humanity from the fallout of the certain fate his models predict. The episode also features sequences set 35 years after Seldon's trial, on the world of Terminus, setting a foundation per-se of events which will begin after the scientist's death on a world on the edge of the empire where the hope of humanity's future resides.

Of course the main character of the story is psychohistory itself. Complex mathematical equations which only two characters in the galaxy can understand aren't exactly cinematic. The CGI visual representation that we are teased with a couple of times glosses over just how it actually works. Speaking of effects, first episode shows off a lavish budget and production design, combined with a large amount of CGI and somewhat goofy Star Trek-style alien costume designs, although the world of Terminus (where it looks like the tale is headed) is far more spartan making me wonder how much of the effects budget might have been used up in the first episode.

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