Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books aren’t Star Wars, or at least they’re not supposed to be. They’re not filled with burgeoning heroes, foreboding villains, laser swords, funky aliens, or even much action and adventure, really. They’re about math and science and a 1,000-year attempt to save and rebuild civilization after its collapse. That is why Foundation has so often been referred to as unfilmable, and apparently why Apple’s Foundation TV series has completely stopped trying.
There are a lot—a lot—of ways the TV series has differed from the books since it premiered, but I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt as showrunner David S. Goyer attempts to add the necessary amount of drama and coherence to keep modern audiences interested and invested in a story that was once dubbed the greatest science fiction series of all time. But this week’s episode on Apple TV+, “Death and the Maiden,” is a Star Destroyer too far.
Because that’s what Foundation has suddenly introduced, really. A giant warship so powerful it will let the Anachreons defeat everything the Galactic Empire can throw at it. It’s a sci-fi mega-weapon, just like the Death Star, Starkiller Base, or those dumb Star Destroyers with Death Star cannons attached from Rise of Skywalker. Foundation’s version is called the Invictus, which is literally the name of the Imperial Shuttle Han, Luke, and Leia used to sneak past the second Death Star into Endor in Return of the Jedi. There’s no Invictus in Asmiov’s books. There’s no mega-weapon of any sort, barely any space battles and, in fact, almost no action whatsoever, because that’s not the damn point. The thing threatening the galaxy isn’t an army of bad guys with guns, it’s social corruption and decay. The Foundation doesn’t conquer its foes with starships, it does so through politics and economics.
The idea of the Invictus is such a cheap sci-fi trope, and so antithetical to Foundation and everything it was trying to do and say that it’s astonishing to me that it was added. It either betrays such a lack of trust that audiences will stay interested in the show, or that the showrunners ever believed the books had the capacity to interest audiences on their own. There are many other wild deviations from the books in “Death and the Maiden,” but this one feels like the most egregious and the most insulting.
At least until next week.
Update 10/25/2021, 12:38 p.m. ET: While there’s no Invictus in Asmiov’s books, there is apparently a derelict Imperial battlecruiser with similar capabilities that was a standard ship for the Empire. It was never said to have blown up a planet.
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