Foundation episode 2 recap: a Star Wars-style story with Game of Thrones shocks

Lee Pace as Brother Day in Foundation episode 2 on Apple TV Plus
(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

Major spoilers follow for Foundation’s first two episodes. Watch them before reading on.

Foundation didn’t exactly burst out of the gate during its first episode on Apple TV Plus. The detailed nature of Issac Asimov’s seminal sci-fi novels meant that the show’s premiere had plenty of set up to get through before it could get going. Now that the groundwork has been laid, though, Foundation’s second episode – Preparing to Live – is the first true test for Apple’s latest large-scale production.

About this episode

- Episode 2 (of 10), 'Preparing to Live'

- Written by David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman

- Directed by Andrew Bernstein


It’s unusual for a TV series’ second episode to be burdened with such expectations. After all, a show’s premiere is normally enough for viewers to decide whether it’s worth sticking with. Foundation’s complex narrative and abundance of characters gave its first episode something of a free pass, though, even if we felt it was lacking in some areas. Now, it’s up to its next entry to deliver a rousing spectacle to make audiences sit up and take notice.

Thankfully, Preparing to Live does just that: producing a tighter, more thematically dense and surprising entry than its predecessor. The show still suffers from a couple of persistent issues, but it begins to make good use of Asimov’s material and takes Foundation’s story in an interesting direction.

Picking up events sometime after episode 1, Preparing to Live follows parallel storylines involving Hari Seldon (Jared Harris), Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell) and their followers, and the Empire’s de facto rulers.

The former are en route to Terminus, the barren planet that Brother Day (Lee Pace) exiled them to in the previous episode. Meanwhile, back on Trantor, Brother Day, Brother Dawn (Caleb Cooper) and Brother Dusk (Terence Mann) debate what should be done with Anacreon and Thespis’ delegations following the Star Bridge attack. A subplot involving Dusk, who is going through an existential crisis, also threatens to create further tension among the trio’s ranks.

What’s immediately apparent about episode 2 is the distinct lack of location hopping. Unlike episode 2, Preparing to Live takes place in just two settings: Trantor, and on the ship transporting Seldon’s group to Terminus. By reducing the number of locations, episode 2 becomes much easier to follow than the show’s premiere. You know where each group of characters is and what they’re doing, which makes things less chaotic from a storytelling perspective.

Jared Harris as Hari Seldon in Foundation episode 2 on Apple TV Plus

(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

Of the alternating storylines, Trantor’s is arguably the simpler to follow. Day and Dusk find themselves quarreling over the decision to exile Seldon, Dornick and their disciples, as well as whether they should retaliate over the Star Bridge attack.

The ensuing impasse results in Day (and Dawn but, as a child, he takes a backseat to proceedings) interrogating Anaceron and Thespis' envoys over their parts in the devastating assault. Meanwhile, Dusk busies himself with menial tasks away from the hubbub, and it’s during one such errand where Preparing to Live’s key theme emerges.

Working on the Mural of Souls, a seemingly endless piece of artwork depicting the history of the Empire’s current rulers, Dusk almost falls from his lofty perch to his death. Realizing that his body is starting to fail him – each of the Empire’s leaders are clones of its first emperor, Cleon I – Dusk spends the rest of episode 2 reflecting on, and questioning, his existence.

Dusk’s mini-story arc is the first time that Foundation thematically resonates with its audience. Initially unshaken in his belief that Anacreon and Thespis should be punished for their crimes, Dusk’s dice with death, as well as a trip to one of Trantor’s decimated subterranean levels in the wake of the Star Bridge’s collapse, make him more sympathetic to their cause. The jaunt leads to the startling revelation (for audiences, at least) that the Emperors’ advisor Eto Demerzel (Laura Birn) is also a robot: the first of three big surprises that episode 2 drops on viewers.

Ultimately, Dusk’s last-minute change of heart about what should be done with Anacreon and Thespis' delegates makes no difference to ensuing events (more on this later). But as viewers, we’re able to examine the fragility of life through Dusk’s eyes and how we might react, or be impacted by, similar events in our own futures. It’s taken one and a bit episodes for Foundation to begin exploring key themes from Asimov’s works, but it’s welcome all the same.

Terence Mann's Brother Dusk questions his existence in Foundation episode 2

(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

Episode 2’s other storyline examines human vulnerability in equal measure. Dornick’s heart-to-heart with supporting character Lowre (Kin Adis), who refuses to terminate her pregnancy despite the risks en route to Terminus, is one such example of this. The revelation concerning the parents of Raych Seldon (Alfred Enoch), Hari’s adopted son, is similarly emotive in its exploration of life and death. It’s a thematic examination that ties episode 2’s coexisting storylines together and shows that commonalities exist between Seldon and Day’s groups despite their differences.

If Dusk’s existential crisis has you feeling sorry for him, Preparing to Live’s harrowing ending soon puts a stop to that. Sure, he doesn’t make the final decision to enact revenge on Anacreon and Thespis but, in simply being associated to Day, he’s just as accountable for the events that follow.

Unable to determine who is responsible for the Star Bridge attack, Day punishes Anacreon and Thespis equally. Callously, Day makes the planets’ main envoys watch as he hangs the rest of their delegations. That’s not all, though – Day also sends a legion of Empire warships to Anacreon and Thespis who, on his signal, brutally bombard both worlds with immeasurable numbers of missiles. It’s a highly emotive moment (millions of innocent Anacreons and Thespins are likely killed in the attack, after all) that’s eerily reminiscent of Alderaan’s destruction in Star Wars: A New Hope. It also feels as ghastly as comparably distressing incidents in Game of Thrones – another pop culture touchstone that Foundation is tonally similar to.

Preparing to Live’s other storyline delivers its own unexpected moment, too. In its final scene, Dornick (and audiences by extension) are left stunned as we see Raych murdering Hari. But, for some reason, the gravity of the situation feels a bit hollow. That’s likely down to the fact that two episodes isn’t enough time to invest in Hari as a character – if his shocking death didn’t arrive until episode 7 or 8, it would be far more impactful. It prevents Hari and Gaal's father-daughter style relationship from progressing, too, which has been one of Foundation's bright spots thus far.

As it is, Hari's death is a hugely surprising turn of events, but one that lacks the emotional depth that a main character’s death would usually have.

Our verdict

Gaal Dornick lying over Hari Seldon's dead body in Foundation episode 2

(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

Preparing to Live is a superior episode compared to the series opener. With major character introductions and plot setup out of the way, there’s more time to focus on the show’s key themes, character development, traumatic events and cliffhanger ending that will leave viewers wanting more.

However, Foundation continues to struggle in the story pacing department. It still feels frantic at times and audiences would benefit from knowing the timespan between each episode. Some individuals briefly allude to how much time has passed, but they’re blink-and-you-miss-it moments. A clearer understanding of timescales for each story strand wouldn’t go amiss.

Plot pacing aside, though, Foundation episode 2 feels more cohesive than the show’s premiere. The series’ creative team are beginning to find a balance between honoring Asimov’s source material and making a TV show that diverges from the novels in exciting ways. If it maintains this equilibrium between the lore in Foundation’s books and updating its plot for present day, Apple’s new flagship show will be worth sticking with.

Foundational facts

Hari Seldon as seen in Foundation episode 1 on Apple TV Plus

(Image credit: Apple TV/Twitter)
  • Unlike episode 2's ending, Hari isn't killed by Raych in Isaac Asimov's book series. Instead, the mathematical genius dies of natural causes. Later on in the novels, he reappears in hologram form to provide guidance to the Foundation's settlers.
  • Another change that the show makes from the books relates to Gaal and Raych. While the pair begin a romantic relationship in the TV series, this doesn't occur in the novels. Gaal is a male in the source material, while Raych goes on to marry a female security officer who ends up saving Hari's life.
  • Foundation episode 2 also introduces us to characters who don't appear in the books. Kim Adis' Lowre, Clarke Peters' Abbas, Johanna O'Brien's Shivaughn and Florence Ordesh's Briwan are all new additions for Foundation's TV adaptation.
  • Original characters aren't the only new inclusion in the show. Thespis is an entirely original world created for the TV series. Anacreon, meanwhile, already existed in Asimov's novels.
  • If you think that Trantor and its emperors have a futuristic Roman feel to them, you wouldn't be too far wide of the mark. According to Asimov, Foundation was inspired by Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, so there are clear influences in Trantor's and the emperors' aesthetic and designs.
  • Speaking of designs, New York-based costume designers Kurt Swanson and Bart Mueller (otherwise known as Kurt & Bart) produced the many outfits seen in season 1. Foundation marks the duo's return to TV after a decade away, too, following their work on US comedy-drama series How to Make it in America.
  • Andrew Bernstein, Foundation episode 2's director, has a long history of working in the TV medium. Bernstein has helmed entries in The Umbrella Academy, The Nevers and Fear The Walking Dead among others – a far cry from episode 1's director Rupert Sanders, who was making his TV directorial debut.

New episodes of Foundation debut exclusively on Apple TV Plus every Friday.

Senior Entertainment Reporter

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