Follow TV Tropes


Series / Foundation (2021)
aka: Foundation

Go To
"The Empire will fall. Order will vanish. Interstellar wars will be endless. Ten thousand worlds reduced to radioactive cinders. Nothing we do can prevent this... But we CAN shorten the dark ages that follow."
Dr. Hari Seldon

Foundation is a ten-episode Science Fiction Mini Series serving as a Live-Action Adaptation of Isaac Asimov's book Foundation. The show was produced and released through Apple TV+, executive produced by David S. Goyer and David Ellison. Members of the production team include Josh Friedman, serving as scriptwriter, and Robyn Asimov, as executive producer.

Millennia in the future, all of humanity lives under the peace and shadow of the Galactic Empire. This peace is disturbed when a university mathematician named Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) begins publishing future predictions based on mathematical formulas that indicate the Galactic Empire is in a slow death spiral. The emperors of the Triple Throne, Brother Dawn (Cassian Bilton), Brother Day (Lee Pace), and Brother Dusk (Terrence Mann), clones of the original Emperor Cleon I at different stages of his life, must decide whether to heed Seldon's warnings or eliminate him. Stuck in the middle of this power struggle is Seldon's newest assistant, Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell), who may hold Seldon's fate - and the future of the Galaxy - in her hands.


The show premiered on September 24th, 2021. On October 7th, 2021 it was renewed for a second season.

Trailers: Teaser #1, Teaser #2, Full Trailer.

Foundation provides examples of:

  • Absent Aliens: No non-human sapient species have appeared or been referenced so far, although one theory regarding the Vault is that it was built by alien Precursors long ago.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade:
    • In the book, Gaal Dornick was simply a provincial mathematician joining the Seldon Project. In the show, she leaves her home world one step ahead of a lynch mob that considers science heretical, and has had to deal with isolation for her beliefs all her life.
    • In the books, Raych was a street kid who had never known his birth parents and was Happily Adopted by Hari Seldon and his wife Dors Venabili. Here, his father was a widowed heatsinker who suffered a severe injury at work; Raych fell in with Seldon after he caught him stealing textbooks to sell for medical treatment, and ended up neglecting him in favor of his new mathematical career, which drove his father to drink. Raych's lingering guilt over this, combined with his anger at Seldon for his part in it — not to mention the fact that Seldon never even remembers the details — ultimately drives him to murder him.
    • Advertisement:
    • In the source material, there is no greater justification for the "Barbarian Kingdoms" to break from the Empire other than local elites seizing the power when they spot the opportunity. In the series, their peoples are summarily held responsible for a terrorist attack and subjected to genocidal bombing and subsequent blockade.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The journey of the Foundation and its early days on Terminus get much more spotlight than in the books. Also, the different cultures existing within the Empire are presented in greater detail, most notably Anacreon and Synnax.
  • Adaptational Early Appearance: "Eto Demerzel", a.k.a. R. Daneel Olivaw
  • Alcubierre Drive: Imperial ships traverse the galaxy using a near-instantaneous version of the A-Drive, powered by an artificial black hole. Only the Empire has access to this jump drive technology, which gives them uncontested dominance of the galaxy. All of the "barbarian kingdoms" are limited to standard FTL or sub-FTL tech.
  • Alien Sky
    • Terminus has two moons.
    • Synnax has a ring system.
    • Zig-zagged with Trantor which has an imitation of its own sky on the inner surface of its outermost shell, covering the entire planet. Then, the Star Bridge crashes through that shell, creating a visible rift in the "sky" with pieces of it falling down.
  • Alternative Number System: Discussed that not every human civilization uses 10 as their base. Some use 12 or 27.
  • Apocalypse How:
    • Seldon predicts that a galaxy-wide Class 2 will occur in 500 years or less, with tens of thousands of planets either reduced to barbarism or destroyed outright.
    • The bombing of the Star Bridge in "The Emperor's Peace" causes a Class 0 (bordering on Class 1) on Trantor when the elevator falls the surface and cuts a swath 50 levels deep in the City Planet, killing one hundred million people.
    • In "Preparing to Live", Brother Day (Cleon XII) subjects Anacreon and Thespis to a ruthless Orbital Bombardment with neutron bombs in retribution for their supposed involvement in the Star Bridge attack. Though he speaks dismissively of survivors, from what we see it's clearly a Class 2 at the very least, as between 70% and 80% of both world's populations died between the original attack and the radiation.
  • Atomic Hate: The bombardment of Anacreon and Thespis, being nuclear in nature, wasn't just a one-and-done event. If Salvor's math is correct, over 70% of people on both worlds died of explosions, radiation poisoning, and cancer after all was said and done. The Anacreon raiders of Terminus were children when the Empire scorched their worlds.
  • Batman Gambit: Played with. Seldon's mathematics can accurately predict how large groups of people will react, but can't account for the actions of single individuals. So he can be fairly sure how the Empire and its vast bureaucracy will react to him and his movement, but can only make educated guesses on how Brother Day (Cleon XII) will personally react. Seldon correctly manipulates the big picture so his Foundation is exiled to Terminus, but is surprised when Brother Day (Cleon XII) does not have Seldon executed.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Invoked by Brother Day (Cleon XII); he tells Brother Dawn (Cleon XIII) that the Anacreon-Thespis negotiations aren't even the most important thing they'll do this week, while it will be the most important thing the delegates do in their entire lives. Played with, however, as he's saying that Dawn should not treat the negotiations as unimportant, as the trope usually implies.
  • Call-Forward: Gaal's opening narration mentions several names who will be important to the story. The final name that she mentions is The Mule.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: In "Barbarians at the Gate", Brother Day (Cleon XIII) chews out Brother Dusk (Cleon XII) for having done nothing in the 30-plus years since Seldon's exile to actually fix the problems he warned about, allowing things to proceed just as he warned they would.
  • Cargo Cult: The Foundation during Salvor's era starts to show signs of this, focusing more on waiting for Hari's theory to become reality than on taking individual action to make sure it does.
    Lewis: You have a connection with the Vault that could not possibly have been predicted. You are not baked into the model!
    Salvor: You're saying I'm not part of God's plan?
  • City Planet: Trantor, the capital of the Galactic Empire.
  • Colony Drop: A terrorist attack severs the tether of Trantor's space elevator from the orbiting space station, causing the cable to fall and, in Day's words, "wrap itself around the planet like a garrote". It leaves a scar 50 levels deep on the city-planet and kills 100 million people.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Essentially what happens to the "Dawn" clone of the Emperor. Every generation for hundreds of years until he's just as brutal as the last Emperor. Slightly Subverted, as Cleon XIII, the Brother Dawn when Seldon made his proclamations, is frustrated that, in the 30 years since Seldon's exile, things HAVE gotten worse, and now, as Brother Day, the reigning Emperor, he is trying to hold the Empire together.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: The Empire seems to be in transition to this, as the Emperors wear robes, technology is becoming more miniaturized and thus less visible, and the high society is focused more on arts and rituals than tech.
  • Cutting the Knot: How Gaal won the contest to meet and work with Hari. She applied a long-disused mathematical principle to a complex problem that Hari used to find his next protégé.
  • Dawn of an Era: The Foundation side of the story. Seldon's followers are exiled to Terminus where they establish a new colony that will over centuries restore the Galactic Empire.
  • Death World: Terminus. It's an inhospitable world with little water or food and many deadly predators.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: In the books, Seldon passed away peacefully in his office from old age. Here, he's stabbed to death by Raych in the second episode.
  • Dire Beast: Gaal encounters an enormous eight-eyed cat beast called a Bishop's Claw deep in a cave while drilling for geothermal power. The cat makes mince meat of the colonists. Thankfully it was all a simulation.
  • Disaster Dominoes: The attack on the Space Elevator in the first episode initially looks like a problem limited to space. Until the gravity of the planet begins pulling the elevator back to Trantor. The elevator line impacts the surface — then goes down fifty levels, leaving a canyon of destruction across the City Planet, killing 100 million Imperial citizens.
    • The Dominos are STILL falling 30 years later during Salvor's era. Above Trantor, the Empire hasn't even begun to rebuild the Star Bridge. Meanwhile on the ground, the Sinkers, a Torches and Pitchforks group from the lower levels that were devastated by the Star Bridge's fall, regularly battles with Imperial forces.
  • The Emperor: The Emperor is in fact three Emperors— clones of the original Emperor Cleon I at different life stages.
  • The Empire: The Galactic Empire which governs every single human being in the galaxy. For now...
  • End of an Age: The Empire side of the story shows the decline of the Galactic Empire. During Hari Seldon's time, the Empire was already past its peak but it was not yet evident to most people. The decline becomes evident in episode 3 when we see that the Empire cannot repair the destroyed Star Bridge and it no longer is able to enforce its blockade of Anacreon and Thespis.
  • Everybody Hates Mathematics: Taken to new levels, as a field of mathematics is predicting the downfall of civilization on a Galactic scale, causing the Emperor to almost have the mathematicians executed. Also, some religions punish the crime of studying Mathematics with drowning.
  • Exotic Eye Designs: Thespins have purple irises, though the hue varies from person to person.
  • Faceless Goons: Imperial soldiers and security personnel are shown wearing black and gold armor with dark visors obscuring their faces.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The people of Anacreon have Middle-Eastern looks, speak a Semitic-sounding language, are a Proud Warrior Race, and an Anacreon is one of two terrorists in a major terrorist attack.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The show features two separate forms of FTL interstellar travel...
    • The Jump Drive allows ships to travel almost anywhere in the galaxy almost instantaneously. The Galactic Empire has a monopoly on it.
    • The "Slow Ships" use an undetermined FTL drive which is much slower, but can still cover 50,000 light-years in 878 days.
  • Forced to Watch: The heads of the delegations from Anacreon and Thespis are forced to watch, simultaneously, the execution of their own delegations and the holo-transmission of their home worlds being bombed at the hands of the Empire.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: The ultimate mission of the Foundation. To give future generations the ability to end the Galactic Dark Age just as it begins, and save the human race from extinguishing itself.
  • Gender Flip: Due to the Foundation Series having an almost all-male cast, Apple TV+ chose to expand the casting options for their Live-Action Adaptation by changing some of the characters. Gaal Dornick, Salvor Hardin, and Lars Avakim are cast as women instead of men. Demerzel's casting is a more interesting situation, as the original character is simply a humaniform robot that pretended to be a male human named Eto Demerzel, but had no actual gender, while its counterpart in the show presents as female.
  • Gravity Is Only a Theory: Gaal interprets Seldon's study of psychohistory as a theory. Seldon quickly moves her to understand that it's not a theory, and is proven right.
    Gaal: They're worried you can predict the future.
    Hari: They're worried people believe I can. And they don't like the future I predict.
  • The Great Flood: The reason why Gaal's homeworld of Synnax is a water world that abhors mathematicians and scientists. They predicted the rise of the planet's seas and were branded heretics by the world's church. Even after the seas rose and proved them right, the planet's rulers hate and oppress any learned people.
  • Heads I Win, Tails You Lose: Brother Day (Cleon XII) thinks his decision to exile Seldon and the Foundation to Terminus is this outcome. If Seldon is wrong, then he'll be no threat to the Empire. If Seldon is right, then the Emperors, either Cleon XII himself or a later Emperor, can use his research to stop the fall and claim credit if the Foundation saves the Galaxy.
  • The Heretic: The reason why Gaal was given such a cold farewell from her homeworld. Mathematicians and scientists are considered wicked in the eyes of her people.
    Hari: This isn't Synnax, Gaal. Curiosity isn't a crime here.
  • Holographic Terminal: During Seldon's trial, his testimony is broadcast to the Emperors and the public via a holographic witness stand.
  • I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!: How else would you get a boy to walk into a mental repulsion field put out by a supposedly haunted rock floating in the sky?
  • Immortality Begins at Twenty: Eto Demerzel. Justified, since she is a humanoid robot.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: The Anacreons' plan depended on the colonists and imperials to actively try to thwart the Anacreon incursion and thus walk into a trap. The captured Anacreon leader has a shield disruptor on her and is walked right into the building with the shield generator. The Imperial ship attacks straight into the path of a large cannon. Hardin is Properly Paranoid enough to know that they are being played but figures out the real scheme too late to stop it.
  • King Bob the Nth: Officially, the Brothers Dusk, Day, and Dawn at the start of the series are Emperors Cleon XI, XII, and XIII, though they're rarely ever referred to as such. In "The Mathematician's Ghost", this cycles with Brother Dusk being renamed into Brother Darkness and promptly euthanized, the other two Brothers moving up a rank, and a new Brother Dawn, Cleon XIV, being born.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: The fate of the imperial artist, once Brother Day (Cleon XII) discovers that he has a copy of Seldon's predictions in his quarters.
  • Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Roughly a 3. The series uses real-world engineering concepts like the City Planet, Space Elevator, and Alcubierre Drive and uses them fairly realistically to make a plausible backdrop for Foundation's galactic scope and political intrigue.
  • Neutron Bomb: The orbital bombardment of Anacreon and Thespis was carried out with these. Afterwards it is correctly pointed out that the radiation poisoning this type of bombs cause killed a significant amount of the survivors of the original bombardment.
  • N.G.O. Superpower: The Church of Luminism, one of the major religions of the Empire. Its reach is great enough that a power struggle over its next Proxima (leader) and future doctrine warrants a visit from Brother Day (Cleon XIII) in person.
  • One Judge to Rule Them All: The Empire is ruled by a triumvirate of Brother Dawn, Brother Day and Brother Dusk, clones of Cleon I. However, it is clear that Brother Day is the one with real decision-making power. Dawn is a child and his role is to observe and learn. Dusk has a fair bit of power as the elder statesman, but his role is to advise Day in private and he will not oppose him publicly.
  • Orbital Bombardment: Anacreon and Thespis are subjected to brutal orbital bombardment at the hands of Imperial fleets hundreds of ships strong, as retaliation for their suspected role in the terrorist attack which cost the lives of a hundred million Trantorians.
  • Our Founder:
    • A statue of Cleon I dominates the Trantorian skyline near the Star Bridge. It's destroyed in the Bridge's collapse.
    • A (much smaller) statue of Seldon is erected in the middle of the Terminus settlement.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: The standard attire of Eto Demerzel.
  • Powered by a Black Hole: Imperial ships have a large negative space in their hulls, which generate a black hole to power their Alcubierre Drives.
  • Public Execution: Happens not just to the Thespis and Anacreon delegates through a public hanging, but to their whole planets via bombardment as well. All of Trantor gets to watch as whole worlds are devastated as retaliation for the destruction of the Star Bridge.
  • Reassignment Backfire: Hari and Gaal's fate is not death, but exile to Terminus without access to jumpdrives. A backwater rock at the edge of the Galaxy, beyond even the barbarian kingdoms that the Empire does not control. Turns out Hari was hoping that this would be their fate the whole time, since it would allow them to work without interruption.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Eto Demerzel is a robot who was already the majordomo to Cleon I, 400 years before the story begins.
  • Robot War: One is mentioned by Seldon as having taken place centuries ago. Cleon I alludes to this as well in a flashback, noting that androids like Demerzel haven't been treated very well, historically.
  • Rule of Symbolism: When the Space Elevator falls, there is a prominent shot of it crushing a statue of Brother Day.
  • The Scapegoat: The only evidence of Thespis and Anacreon being involved in the suicide bombing is the timing of the attack and recordings of the suicide bombers singing songs and reciting prayers from those worlds. It could be a Frame-Up, and the two planets seem to hate each other too much to ever cooperate. However, the Empire needs to find and punish the culprit. Thespis and Anacreon are officially blamed for the attack and subjected to a merciless Orbital Bombardment.
  • Scare Dare: How the children of the Foundation interact with the Vault. It emits a field that repels any living thing - humans, animals, and insects - forcing them to pass out. The kids make bets that they can get closer and plant small flags in the dirt than their friends can.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Terminus is explicitly stated to be 50,000 light years from Trantor, and Gaal estimates the journey on a "slow ship" without a jump drive will take 878 days. That would mean that the "slow ship" would be traveling from Trantor to Terminus, not at the sublight speeds depicted in Episode 2, but at over twenty thousand times the speed of light. Even if time dilation is a factor and the "slow ship" is moving at a substantial fraction of the speed of light, reducing the travel time from the passengers' perspective, from the perspective of the Empire, it would still take over fifty thousand years to travel 50,000 light years.
    • Obviously the "slow ship" is using a FTL drive, but compared to the near instantaneous jump drive this would be classed as slow.
  • Slogans: "Respect and enjoy the peace" for the Empire.
  • Soiled City on a Hill: Trantor's future according to Hari. And very nearly happens early after the space elevator is destroyed by two terrorist bombers.
  • Space Elevator: Trantor has one called the Star Bridge, which is presumably how the City Planet manages the immense cargo and passenger loads required to be the capital of the Galactic Empire. Also one of many technical ideas that did not exist when Asimov wrote Foundation, but incorporated by the showrunners. Deconstructed near the end of the pilot: when it's destroyed by suicide bombers, the elevator falls to the surface and cuts a swathe of destruction along the planet's equator, killing a hundred million people.
  • Spare a Messenger: Brother Day (Cleon XII) orders a bombardment of both Anacreon and Thespis and executes most of the delegations, but the actual emissaries are spared to report their failure.
  • Standard Human Spaceship: Zigzagged depending on the technology level. Imperial ships avert this trope, having vertically-arranged hulls built around the Alcubierre Drives in their core. The Foundation's Colony Ship in the second episode plays it straight, being a less-advanced vessel with many hard edges and grey in color.
  • The Straight and Arrow Path: The Grand Huntress of Anacreon wields a bow, although she also has a contemporary sidearm.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Seldon's predictions show his own death as a likely outcome of his actions, but he continues hoping that his sacrifice will help save human civilization. He is rather surprised that he survives his arrest and trial.
  • The Three Faces of Adam: The triumvirate of Emperor Cleon clones who rule over the Empire: Brother Dawn, a young boy who is mentored by the others, Brother Day, the mature Emperor who makes most of the decisions, and Brother Dusk, an old man who advises but defers to Brother Day.
  • Time Skip: The centuries-long nature of the story requires many skips to the future.
    • Episode 2 skips to a few months after Seldon's trial, as the Foundation makes its way to Terminus.
    • Episode 3 skips first 13 years to Cleon XI's death and then 19 more years.
  • Trojan Horse: Anacreon and Thespis both present gifts to the Emperors as the negotiations over the border dispute begin. The Thespis delegation's gift is a veiled bribe/promise of increased tribute, in hopes of swaying the Emperors to their side. It doesn't work, with both sides dismissed after the space elevator is destroyed.
  • Unwinnable Training Simulation: The Bishop's Claw simulation for the Foundation colonists is this. Defending themselves from the Claw causes an explosion from the mining gases. Doing nothing means they are killed by the Claw.
  • Uterine Replicator: The Foundation's colony ship uses one for any members that get pregnant, like Gaal, though the machine only keeps the zygotes protected from radiation while on the journey to Terminus. The plan is to remove the zygotes and reimplant them after making planetfall when it's safe to carry them to birth.
  • Vengeance Feels Empty: Discussed and defied. During the Anacreonian raid on the Foundation, Grand Huntress Phara says she thought getting her revenge would feel empty, but it actually feels pretty great.
  • Verbal Tic: Gaal counts prime numbers as a way to deal with her anxiety.
  • We Will Have Euthanasia in the Future: The ruling dynasty of clones of the Empire. Once every few decades, a new Brother Dawn is created, which is when the old Brother Dusk is proclaimed Brother Darkness and is immediately euthanized.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: When Brother Day (Cleon XII) and Demerzel fail to find the mastermind behind the Star Bridge bombings, Brother Dusk (Cleon XI) tries the more diplomatic route of interrogating the Anacreon and Thespis delegates over dinner. Even after sympathizing with both sides and showing real compassion, he makes it clear that there's nothing that will stop their deaths. Both delegations are hung from Trantor's ruins and both worlds are heavily bombarded. The emissaries themselves are spared to clarify the situation to the survivors.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: