Sometime in the far future, a scientist discovers the inevitable collapse of a galactic human empire and devises a way to reduce a subsequent 30,000-year dark age into just a millennium of horror and despair. But to do it, he must commit to some despicable things. To make matters more difficult, his predictive program cannot account for individual actions in its calculations, which introduces X-factors into his plan. Of course, that’s only a secondary concern for Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobel), the intern left to deal with his scheme following his death.
That’s the basic premise of AppleTV+’s Foundation, which returns this Friday for another year of mind-bending, time-traveling, human-exploring science fiction. But the basics of Foundation, based on the novel series by Isaac Asimov, only scratches the surface of what the program does on a weekly basis. Shifting between very human stories – like that of Gaal and Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey), the child she never knew about when she went into cryogenic sleep 150 years before they meet, and the grand design of Dr. Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) – offers the rare sort of prestige series that contains both an ongoing plot and the opportunity to tell short stories.
(Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images)
When Rotten Tomatoes caught up with Foundation executive producer David S. Goyer, he said being able to shift into both modes of storytelling was also part of the design.
“I always pitched the show is a bit of a hybrid,” he explained. “Each season’s going to be a contained story, and in that way, it’s an anthology.” Taking its cues from Asmiov’s novels and short stories, each tale more or less contains the expected crises Hari’s accounted for in his psychohistory program. But unlike the novels, Gaal, Salvor, and a few other characters carry on via various science fiction means (cryosleep, cloning, etc.) into the distant future even as new characters, like Brother Constant (Isabella Laughland), and Hober Mallow (Dimitri Leonidas), are introduced.
“We probably can’t pull off that trick every season, but yeah, part of the fun, I think, baked into the concept is this inherent refresh,” he said.
Another baked-in aspect is the way episodes can become more laser-focused on one topic, like Cleon XI’s (Terrence Mann) last day in season 1 or, as Goyer teased, a few episodes in the upcoming season. “Everyone was very nervous when we did that initially because we broke the format so much, but then they loved it and they said, ‘Oh, can we do more of that in season 2?'” he said. Referring to the episodes as “short films,” he added they are “well-placed [at] strategic points along the journey.”
(Photo by Apple TV+)
“I like that sometimes the show is very fast-paced, but other times, I like that we just really slowed down and kind of zoom in on this little microcosmic story and do a little beautiful tone poem,” he continued.
Of course, the show cannot sustain itself on tone poems, big ideas, and the macrocosm of Harry’s psychohistoric predictions, hence the continued presence of Gaal and Salvor, two women who bring the galactic scope back down into the human element – even if they face coping with the ultimate familial estrangement. Through various complications, the two do not meet until roughly 150 years after Salvor was conceived and removed from Gaal’s womb to delay gestation until their colony ship made planetfall.
“Most of us are familiar with family dysfunction, and most of us have parents that we wish we had a closer relationship with,” Goyer said. “And so — pun intended — the whole foundation of Salvor’s journey at the end of the first season was, ‘I’m going to journey across the galaxy and I’m going to meet my birth mother, and I’m going to feel accepted, and I’m going to feel that I’ve come home.’ And she reaches Gaal, and not only is Gaal completely unaware of her, wasn’t out there looking for her, but Gaal’s not sure she even particularly likes her or feels comfortable around her.”
That sets up the emotional core of their journey for season 2. Will they be able to make up for lost time (adjusted for cryosleep time dilation) and find an accord?
(Photo by Apple TV+)
“As big as the show is, I love that we can explore inter-familial relationships like that and just, ‘How are these two going to form a bond and figure things out?'” Goyer said.
While Salvor and Gaal explore how families develop (or not) across interstellar distances and impossible skips in time, another big idea to be explored is the notion of prescience, or what Asimov termed “Mentalics.” One character viewers are already familiar with has the ability, and some to be introduced will possess it as well. To Goyer, the power to accurately prognosticate the future was “wish-fulfillment” on the part of Asmiov and his generation of science fiction writers, many of whom explored the idea in their writing and in their own lives.
“So many of these guys, from Asimov to Robert Heinlein to L. Ron Hubbard early on, were trying to train themselves to have ESP and psychic abilities,” Goyer said. “That definitely became the craze for a good 20 years amongst all these science fiction writers; the mind was the new frontier.”
And after a preoccupation with alternate realities and multiverses in 21st Century sci-fi media, a return to exploring the powers of the mind lends itself to “interesting” storytelling possibilities. “There’s a lot of things about our minds that we still to this day don’t understand,” Goyer said. “We don’t understand the seat of consciousness, we don’t understand where the self exists, we don’t even fully understand why we dream. Déjà vu, all sorts of things.”
(Photo by Apple TV+)
He was unsure if Foundation‘s approach is a bellwether for a transition back to the sci-fi of a half-century ago, but noted the deep ocean, deep space, and “a lot about ourselves” remains unexplored in the genre and its derivations in film and television.
One thing he was sure of, though, is the amazing explosion of superhero films and television in the last 20 years, which he helped usher in with work on films like Blade and Batman Begins. “In my wildest dreams, as a kid growing up, going to the comic book store, I never imagined we’d be seeing some of these characters brought to the screen,” he said. “I never thought there would be a Werewolf by Night one-shot, or it’d be a Moon Night series or a Black Adam movie or something like that.”
Although he admitted “there might be too many of them out there right now” released in quick succession, he is confident that the superhero has “become a new, accepted genre in the same way that horror and science fiction and rom-coms are.”
“I just don’t think they’re going away,” he added.
(Photo by Apple TV+)
And as for the future of Foundation, which he previously said was envisioned as an 80-episode series? “It is going to depend on the reception of season two,” he said. “I know that’s AppleTV+’s hope, and I have enough story to tell should the audience be there.”
If those subsequent seasons do occur, it means, inevitably, audiences will be confronted by The Mule, a figure directly related to one of the key crises the Foundation must resolve. “I think the Mule’s so effective in Asimov’s work and [there is] a reason why he didn’t put the Mule at the beginning,” Goyer explained, adding, “You need to earn the Mule.”
Nevertheless, he teased “a little taste of what’s to come” may appear somewhere in season 2 as Gaal comes to grips with her abilities and her daughter, Empire faces a new shock to its status quo, and the Foundation faces the possibility of a second Foundation somewhere in the galaxy.
Foundation returns July 14 on AppleTV+.