Warning: Spoilers for the Foundation Season 1 finale follow.
The first season of Apple TV+’s ambitious sci-fi adaptation “Foundation” came to a close on Friday with an eventful episode packed with reveals, setting the table for a propulsive second season (which has already been ordered by Apple). TheWrap caught up with star Lee Pace to talk about Empire’s journey this season and that cliffhanger ending.
When Pace was approached about an adaptation of author Isaac Asimov’s seminal sci-fi novel “Foundation,” he admitted he was “definitely doubtful.” But after reading showrunner David S. Goyer’s scripts, he became a believer. “I think it honors Isaac Asimov’s work to interpret it and three-dimensionalize it,” Pace said. “It’s not a book report.”
Pace plays one-third of the galaxy-ruling Empire, a trio of clones of Cleon the First, the first ruler of the galaxy. The 42-year-old Pace plays the de facto leader of the three, known as Brother Day, while Terrence Mann plays the elder Brother Dusk and Cassian Bilton is the youngest, Brother Dawn – all genetically the same person at different ages.
In “Foundation” Episode 9, Brother Day discovered that Azura – with whom Brother Dawn had struck a relationship – was actually part of an anti-Empire group aiming to take down the clone trio. Indeed, they had secretly augmented Brother Dawn’s DNA, so that he was not an exact clone of Cleon the First and thus was poised to break their long dynastic reign.
When TheWrap spoke with Pace about “Foundation” and specifically the finale, he wanted to make clear that his answers reflect only his interpretation of the show and his character and don’t speak to any definitive conclusion. “This is just my interpretation of the story,” Pace offered. “I think it’s fun for the audience to be able to have their own interpretation of these characters… I’m cautious of wanting to communicate to the audience that the way I interpret the character is the way that they should interpret the character.” That said, in speaking with Pace it’s clear he thought deeply about his character and where he fits into the larger “Foundation” story, so his interpretation certainly comes from a place of knowledge and thoughtful consideration.
In “Foundation” Episode 10, the Season 1 finale, Brother Day has Azura in custody, and he shows a shocking amount of vengeance when, with the flick of his wrist, he orders everyone she’s ever known to be killed. “I think about it like I have a garden, and there are woodchucks that are constantly trying to get into my vegetable garden,” Pace said about Brother Day’s headspace in the scene. “And I used to trap them and then take them out into the woods somewhere and then they would find their way back. And I shot one. That’s the end of that problem. And I think that’s how Day is looking at this girl and what she’s done to his legacy. It’s like he’s exterminating vermin.”
Pace acknowledged that what Day does is “particularly cruel” but that the actions speak for themselves. “He doesn’t see her as another human being,” he said, noting the disconnect between Day and those over which he purportedly rules.
To that end, Brother Day’s biggest episode of the series was Episode 8, “The Missing Piece,” in which Day walks the Spiral on The Maiden, and Pace noted that something “significant” happens to Day during that journey that sets him up for the finale’s big twists. “He doesn’t know that [the Spiral] will be the reckoning that it turns out to be for him,” Pace said. “Does he know he has to complete it? Yes. Does he know that he’ll end it gaining this real feeling of sentience and sovereignty, a real visceral understanding of his humanity, the fact that he is not a God, he is just a little soft-skin human being who’s carrying the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders? I think that’s what he learns at the end of that Spiral.”
As for what occurs to Day in the cave at the center of the Spiral, Pace’s interpretation of that scene is that the solitude and silence is Day’s vision. “I don’t think that he necessarily subscribes to their legends, that if you have a hallucination that follows certain parameters that you’ve reached enlightenment,” the actor said in reference to the holy nature of The Spiral. “I think his vision is what his vision is. It’s a very simple thing. It’s his own solitude, his nudity and his solitude in that place. It’s quiet, and it’s scary, and it’s lonely, and it leaves him changed.”
And yet, Day knows this vision won’t be enough. “They’ll never accept the truth of that vision. They’ll only accept the words that they want to hear. The reinforcement of their own beliefs. I think he thinks it’s bulls—, the idea of a vision. I think he’s like, ‘I didn’t get one. I made it to the center, but I didn’t get one.’ You could say it’s me broken, but maybe the cave is broken.”
When Day comes back to his brothers after walking the Spiral, he comes with a greater understanding that while the three of them are clones, they’re also individuals. “He looks at his brothers and especially his younger brother, who is now shown to be different in all of these ways, and is basically screaming at, ‘Me too.’ I feel the same way you feel. I know we are living that under this fantasy that we are all the same man, and I know better now. I can’t un-see what I have seen. I can’t forget. I can’t believe that I am Cleon. I have to now believe that I am this person after what I’ve experienced. I think it forever changes the culture inside the dynasty.”
Which, of course, leads into Day’s conflicted feelings over what to do with Dawn after it’s revealed that Dawn has been “altered.” Earlier in the episode, Day refers to Dawn as his son. “I think he believes Dawn is his son,” Pace said. “I think he believes it. I think his son was looking at him and saying, ‘How many times I wanted to call you father, and I couldn’t call you father because we had this funny code that we spoke in.’ Constantly trying to mimic one another and refusing to acknowledge each other’s individuality and ability to make choice. So I think that’s what he can’t un-see after the Spiral.”
One of the most unsettling moments of the episode is when Dawn, Day, Dusk and Eto are gathered in the Throne Room trying to decide what to do about Dawn. Dusk, of course, believes Dawn should be executed and replaced immediately, while Day takes a surprising stance – let Dawn live. He even goes so far as to indirectly quote Harry Seldon when he says “a soul incapable of change is a soul doomed to damnation.”
The question then becomes, is Day advocating to let Dawn live because he truly wants Dawn to live a unique life, because he wants to see this experiment unfold with an “impure” Cleon clone, or for some other reason? “I think it’s more delicate than that,” Pace answered. “I think it’s, ‘This is OK.’ Let’s not fight. Let’s not kill our son. We’ll never recover if we kill our son. We can either kill him, or we can see him as the same as we are. The same as I am. The same as you are, Dusk. Even though we’ve got this funny code of talking.”
“This is the truth that I’ve learned by confronting death,” Pace continued as he ran through Day’s thought process. “The truth that I have learned is that we are actually individuals. And he is an individual who has been suffering under this code. And he doesn’t need to suffer anymore if we just admit the truth. That we’re not all the same person. We don’t have to keep mimicking one another. We can live in a different way.”
They can live a different way, but in Dawn’s case he doesn’t get that chance. As Day and Dusk are having a screaming match, Eto snaps Dawn’s neck. Was the violence motivated by revenge for Day forcing Eto to murder Halima, or was she simply following her protocol to protect Empire at all costs? It’s this question in particular that sparked Pace’s caveat that his answers are merely his own interpretation of the events and not a definitive take on the proceedings, but in his mind, the mere debate over why Eto did what she did is the point.
“I think that it’s fun to think that she’s done it out of revenge,” Pace said. “It’s also fun to think that she’s a robot incapable of revenge. I think the question is what’s interesting. The investigation is what I hope people debate. So any way I think about it, we talked about all of those different options, and tried to load the moment with all of them, even if they conflict one another. That’s life in a way. That’s this weird riddle that happens inside the womb. It’s many things. So the audience can play with it as they want.”
One shocking moment begets another in the finale, as in Day’s final moments in the episode he’s informed that the sabotage of Cleon’s DNA goes beyond just Brother Dawn – Cleon the First has now been irrevocably compromised, and it’s entirely possible that both Brother Day and Brother Dusk are “adulterated.”
“I think it’s the morbid irony of the situation he finds himself in,” Pace said of what was going through Day’s mind. “He knows that. He knew it. He was sitting there on their throne trying to defend his son’s life, and he failed. And his son, this boy that he raised, he held as a baby and raised to adulthood, raised to take on his legacy and rule after him. This individual that he smells, that he touched, that he fed, he sat at dinner with every single meal, and has now been able to see as an individual, as he wants to be seen as an individual. There’s some genetic proof that that was the case. But he didn’t need it. He didn’t want it. It was already clear to him, and then his son dies to somehow protect this fantasy. So there’s this cruel, morbid irony that they were genetically different. As if that somehow makes it any different. That makes it real.”
As Day begins to destroy the enclosure keeping the body of Cleon the First, a smirk comes across his face, and Pace noted at that point it’s like “a sick joke” to Brother Day. The illusion that they were identical, when deep down Day knew he was an individual. And yet it’s too late for Dawn.
When discussing the experience of watching “Foundation” from afar, because Empire’s storyline is so isolated from the other storylines in the Outer Reach, it became immediately clear Pace is an actor who did not simply read his lines, shoot his scenes and bolt. He’s a fan of the show, and noted the beautiful contrast between Empire’s storyline and that of Salvor Hardin and Gaal.
And while “Foundation” Season 2 has already been greenlit, Pace was forbidden from saying anything about the second season – including when it might start filming. But he did acknowledge that he’s excited to return, although in response to a question about Goyer’s eight-season plan for the series, Pace noted that they barely even got Season 1 in the can so he’s happy to focus on one season at a time. “We have to eat the elephant one bite at a time,” Pace replied. “Season One through COVID and everything else, there were moments where I was like, ‘Are we ever going to be able to finish filming once we started filming?’ If the second season is anything like first season, it’s a huge show. To get it all filmed is… it’s huge. So let’s try again.”
The entire first season of “Foundation” is currently streaming on Apple TV+.