Major spoilers follow for Foundation episodes 1 to 5. Watch them first before reading on.
There’s something pleasingly symbolic about Upon Awakening, Foundation episode 5’s title.
About this episode
– Episode 5 (of 10), ‘Upon Awakening’
– Written by Leigh Dana Jackson
– Directed by Alex Graves
Until now, Apple TV Plus’ sci-fi saga has been sleepwalking, with its sluggish plot and lack of action doing little to stir it to life.
Upon Awakening changes all of that. Rousing from its slumber, Foundation’s fifth episode is an absorbing entry that provides compelling mystery and some much-needed combat in equal measure.
Like previous entries in the series, Foundation episode 5 follows two storylines. For the first time in season 1, though, Trantor isn’t the focus of one of these narratives. It’s a welcome change: taking a break from the Galactic Empire’s politics-heavy story, Foundation pivots towards plots that are as important (if not more so) to its overarching tale while showing that the galaxy’s rulers aren’t as in control of the wider universe as they think they are.
Having spent two episodes floating in space in her stasis pod, it’s finally time to reunite with Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell). And boy, there’s a lot for her to catch up on.
Rather than pick up events immediately after episode 4’s final scene, where Gaal’s pod was recovered by a mysterious spaceship, though, Upon Awakening initially focuses on her backstory.
At first, it appears to be an unnecessary use of episode 5’s time. We’re already aware that Gaal is shunned by Synnax’s population due to her scientific studies, and that she left her home to become the prodigy of Hari Seldon (Jared Harris).
And yet learning more about Gaal’s past is genuinely interesting. We find out why she turned her back on her religion, how she came to Seldon’s attention and the disdain that Synnax’s population holds for her heretical beliefs. Like episodes 1 and 4, it presents an intriguing debate about the ongoing battle between religion and science (and their values) in our societies: one that, even though Foundation takes place in the far future, still doesn’t have an easy resolution.
These flashbacks also show how afflicted Gaal is as a character. She’s torn between her vocation and her family’s religious values but, like any well-written protagonist, she follows her instincts and sets herself on a potential path to greatness. Clearly, Seldon has big plans for Gaal, so it’s pleasing to gain more insight into one of Foundation’s prominent characters, even if it’s a couple of episodes late.
Her significance to Foundation’s wider plot is underlined when episode 5 returns to the present day. After she’s awakened from her cryosleep, Gaal searches for answers concerning the ship that she’s on, what happened to Hari and Raych Seldon (Alfred Enoch) and, most importantly, where she is in the cosmos.
As it turns out, Gaal is alone on the spaceship – a whole segment that plays out with horror genre sensibilities. There’s an eeriness to proceedings as she explores the vessel, with the lighting, atmosphere and tone of the sequence very Alien-like in style.
It isn’t long before answers present themselves. Using the ship’s AI assistant (one not too dissimilar from 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL), Gaal is astonished to learn that she’s been in stasis for 34 years. Video recordings also reveal that Hari died from his stab wounds, while Raych was executed for murdering his stepfather.
Given that we haven’t spent any time with Hari or Raych since episode 2’s shocking ending, both scenes are surprisingly emotional. Part of that is down to Llobell’s superb acting in both moments – her anguish clearly palpable – but Foundation has struggled to work as an emotionally moving show until this point. Let’s hope that it can build on the momentum generated by these scenes and provide equally emotive sequences in future episodes.
Events that transpire during Upon Awakening’s Terminus storyline are similarly moving.
Unbeknownst to Salvor Hardin (Leak Harvey) and the Foundation’s other leaders, the Anacreons wanted them to arrest and interrogate Phara (Kubbra Sait). Taken to Terminus City’s main tower, Phara ends up detonating a field disruptor that causes the settlement’s defenses to fail, allowing Anacreon’s invading forces to attack.
After three episodes of waiting, it’s about time, too, even if the battle itself is a little hit and miss. Some close-quarters combat, such as Salvor and Phara’s fight, come across as a bit amateurish, and the battle as a whole isn’t a giant spectacle by any means. Still, any form of conflict is a welcome addition at Foundation’s halfway stage.
Foundation spoiler-filled recaps
Terminus City’s small band of armed forces do their best to withstand the assault, but it’s all for nothing. Despite rescuing her mother Mari (Sasha Behar) from Phara’s clutches, Salvor and Mari are recaptured and made to watch as Terminus City is raised to the ground.
An imperial warship, sent by the Galactic Empire to find out why Terminus’ communications array had gone offline, ends up entering the fight to try and aid the city’s citizens. The Anacreon flak cannon set in episode 4, however, deals huge damage to its hull and it crashes to the surface below. The resulting CGI explosion is a sight to behold and, even though those on board are loyal to the Empire’s unlikeable rulers, it’s still hard to watch them perish.
That’s true of everyone who dies, seemingly including Daniel MacPherson’s Hugo, during Anacreon’s retaliatory attack. Upon Awakening isn’t messing about with how often it tugs on the heartstrings: it feels like it’s making up for lost time due to the lack of similar moments in other episodes.
If there’s one part of episode 5 that’s dissatisfying, it’s the constant jumps between storylines. Again. Compared to its predecessors, Upon Awakening is well paced until it reaches its midway point. Its first 23 minutes focus solely on Gaal’s story and, while that makes episode 5 easier to follow, it also helps with the episode’s overall flow.
Once Terminus’ plot is introduced, Upon Awakening regularly alternates between its two tales – and it’s annoying. From a plot structure perspective, Foundation’s episodes work better when they follow one storyline at a time. Episode 3 had a similar story structure to Upon Awakening, and its first half (centered solely on Trantor) was subsequently more cohesive.
While Foundation’s episodic structuring continues to be a sore point, the show has done a solid job at setting up its cliffhanger endings, and Upon Awakening is no different. Gaal learns that the ship is heading to Helicon, Hari’s home world, which isn’t an ideal destination as she believes that Helicon’s population thinks she was an accomplice in Hari’s death.
Moments later, though, she spots a holographic projection of the dying mathematician near to the ship’s AI interface. It’s unclear what all of this means, but hopefully we’ll find out next week. It was something of a long wait to find out what happened to Gaal after episode 2: fingers crossed that another lengthy pause isn’t on the cards.
Upon Awakening is Foundation’s best episode so far. We don’t get the big battle that we thought we would, but what we do receive is something far better than a 45-minute set piece.
In devoting plenty of screen time to Gaal, one of Foundation’s most important characters, episode 5 delivers richer character development than we’ve been used to. Its focus on a solitary individual’s journey sets it apart from what’s come before, proving that Foundation’s constant location jumps aren’t vital to its success.
Episode 5’s methodical unraveling of the mystery surrounding Hari, Raych and Gaal is a huge plus point, so we’re keen to see more of this form of storytelling moving forward. There are moments in Upon Awakening that leave a lump in the throat, too, which goes some way to rectifying problems that we’ve had with Foundation’s emotionally cold exterior.
“You can’t lose faith in the plan”, Raych says during an episode 5 flashback – and he’s right. Based on how good Foundation’s latest entry is, we can’t completely write this show off just yet.
- This is the first episode where we don’t visit Trantor, or spend time with Brother Dawn, Brother Day or Brother Dusk in any capacity.
- If this episode seems particularly horror-esque to you, be sure to thank writer Leigh Dana Jackson. The TV scribe also wrote screenplays for horror TV adaptations including Sleepy Hollow and Scream.
- Episode 5 marks the end of director Alex Graves’ run on Foundation. Overall, he did a pretty good job with episode 3, 4 and 5’s screenplays and we suspect he’ll be back for season 2!
- Commander Dorwin, who is in charge of the imperial warship that’s destroyed by the Anacreons, isn’t a army chieftain in Isaac Asimov’s book series. In the novels, he’s a Lord who is skilled in the art of negotiation and helped to agree treaties with neighbouring systems that grant them autonomy from the Galactic Empire.
- In Asimov’s books, Lord Dorwin is also extremely interested in the origins of humanity. As a result, Asimov named this character after legendary naturalist, geologist and biologist Charles Darwin.
- Asimov’s Foundation book series may have informed Star Wars in some way, but it appears that George Lucas’ iconic franchise has similarly influenced Foundation’s combat. In episode 5, we see numerous gunshots from Anacreon’s invading forces that miss their targets – a humorous nod to the terrible accuracy that Star Wars’ stormtroopers possess!
New episodes of Foundation debut exclusively on Apple TV Plus every Friday.