A trilogy first published in the 1950s, Isaac Asimov’s sprawling narrative spans millennia, follows tyrannical galactic dynasties, imagines opaque and cult-like religions, depicts advanced technology akin to magic, predicts the use of algorithms to foresee the the future, and examines the immutable truth of human nature. The AppleTV+ adaptation shares all of these defining characteristics.
David Goyer’s series should be evaluated on its own merits, and by the standard of its own intent. Outside of aesthetic considerations (e.g. sumptuous mosaics created by shifting nanopigments, vibrant aesthetics unique to individual planetary cultures, spacetime-warping ships that would qualify as Kardeshev Type 4 technology), the series’ first two episodes focus on themes that are both poignant and agonizingly familiar.
Mathematical savant Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell) is from a family of algae farmers on a small, remote planet in the Galactic Empire. A stunning, endless ocean covers her home world—encircled by massive planetary rings visible in its clear blue sky. Yet amidst this stark beauty, the people impose a strict religious doctrine. Inquisitions purged all forms of science and mathematics. In direct violation of her society’s laws, Gaal, an autodidact, teaches herself the most esoteric theoretical frameworks by candle under the dark of night. She enters a mathematics contest initiated by Hari Seldon (Jared Harris), a Professor of Probability Theory at a university on the galactic capital planet, Trantor. Despite the competition’s vast talent pool, Gaal’s solution proves singularly correct. She leaves her parents and her provincial homeworld knowing that her life will never be the same.
Bright-eyed yet savvy, Gaal provides the audience with a complex surrogate as the story plunges us into the complex politics of Trantor. Upon her arrival, she and Seldon are almost immediately arrested, charged with High Treason and Conspiracy to Destabilize the Emperium. Seldon’s unimaginably complex predictive model known as Psychohistory has caught the attention of the Imperial Triad, a trinity of clones “decanted” at different stages in life—each cloned from Emperor Cleon I. Brother Day (Lee Pace), the clone in his middle-aged prime, recognizes the threat Seldon’s doctrine presents to their four century-long dynasty and gives Trantor’s citizens the entertainment of a public trial. He wants them to see their oracle and would-be savior exposed as a charlatan.
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Image courtesy AppleTV+