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Foundation Showrunner David S. Goyer on Landing the Season 2 Finale and What Made It Work

Season 3 is already written and will "get even wilder"

Scott Huver
Jared Harris and Lou Llobell, Foundation

Jared Harris and Lou Llobell, Foundation

Apple TV+

Foundation, the pioneering science fiction author Isaac Asimov's legendarily epic series of novels and short stories written over the course of five decades and chronicling the various rises and falls of galactic superpowers throughout several centuries, was a singular achievement in genre storytelling, and the Apple+ television adaptation of the collective work — long considered unadaptable by Hollywood — as helmed by writer-producer David S. Goyer (Dark City, The Dark Knight trilogy) is itself breaking new ground in longform storytelling with massive scope.

Following a debut season that rendered the interplanetary landscape, laid down the history and rules, and introduced key players that will either endure or leave a lasting effect on the millennium-long tale, Foundation's second season wowed fans and critics alike by ratcheting up every element of its long game, from ever more compelling, endearing, and relatable characters to a richer, juicier mythology to dramatic stakes with immediate and long-term repercussions that resonated on both cosmic and deeply personal levels.

Following the Season 2 finale, Goyer joined TV Guide to explore the payoffs of the big swings taken — in an already huge-swinging high concept storyline — that revealed to viewers that surprises lurk around every corner, no character is safe from an unexpected fate, and that every season — including the already-written, if not-yet-greenlit, third installment — offers the promise of a massive reset by hurtling decades, perhaps centuries, into the future.

TV Guide: This is such a creatively challenging project, taking the essences of Isaac Asimov's literary Foundation series but "remixing" it  a phrase you used the last time we spoke  into something fresh and new. Tell me a little bit about the vision for the entire second season, the elements that you wanted to take from Asimov's works this time around, remixing them, and how you envisioned getting from start to finish.

David Goyer: Well, first of all, as we embarked on Season 2, I felt like I had a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, because there was so much exposition that we had to get through, particularly the first three episodes of Season 1 in terms of the table setting, the Galactic Empire, the Foundation, jump ships, psychohistory, how the Genetics Dynasty worked, and we didn't have to do any of that for Season 2. So that was really exciting for me, because I felt like we could hit the ground running.

The other thing that's exciting about the structure that we came up with is, the show is this odd hybrid between a serialized show and an anthology, meaning that as we go to each season, many times — not always, but many times — the plan is there's this big reset and so we get to introduce a whole bunch of new characters. Or in the case of the clones, we get to meet whole new iterations of them, and that's really invigorating for us as showrunners because it means we can pick up the story in an entirely different way.

I've always loved the characters of Bel Riose and Hober, so I was really excited to get to them in Season 2. I was always intrigued with the idea that Asimov came up with the Church of Scientism, of the Foundation, selling technology via religion, and I thought that was something that we could expand upon. I think a lot of our jobs, particularly in Season 2, is expanding things that Asimov hinted at or glossed over in his early short stories. And then I think what's generally the case with a lot of our show is, a lot of our characters are composite characters, so Gaal is really Gaal Dornick and kind of a fusion with a character named Wanda Seldon, who was Hari Seldon's granddaughter. Hober Mallow is sort of a fusion between Hober Mallow and another character called Lathan Devers. 

I was excited to introduce more black humor, excited to, in the case of Lee Pace's naked fight scene, very early on, shock the audience and say, "Hey, you thought we were this dry academic show?" And yes, we're a very heady show, but I wanted to show early on that it was a big tent and that we could do things that, at least coming from Season 1, one wouldn't expect in Foundation, and my hope... It seems like the fans and the critics really embraced Season 2, and Lord knows the audience has really broadened and Apple's very happy, but my hope coming out of Season 2 is that fans will say, "Wow — expect the unexpected. Anything could happen in this show, anyone could die, anyone could live." 

I mean, we're just going to take big swings and we're going to go wild places and sometimes we're going to subvert expectations.

Or even, if you look at Episode 10 of this season, shows like Game of Thrones have this habit of [saying], "Well, Episode 9, the penultimate episode, is the really big episode, and then Episode 10 is the falling action." And there's no question our Episode 9 was really big, but then if you think about the events that happened in Episode 10 — in some ways, in terms of what is happening to our lead characters, even bigger dramatic events happen in Episode 10, and that subverts the expectation of how these shows unroll. And that's something we're very cognizant of, is thinking about the rhythms that we've fallen into as an audience and saying, "How can we do something different?" 

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You mentioned the reaction from the audience and from the critics, and if you set the table in Season 1, you set the hook in Season 2. A lot of that is because of what you just referenced: You took some big swings. Tell me about what felt risky or seemed like a big swing when you thought of it at the beginning, but really played out as well as or better than you even expected?

Goyer: I would say that the reaction to Season 2 is better than I had hoped for. I was hoping that we would build our audience, I was hoping that people would embrace the show even more, but [the praise seems] universal, and that's wild. It's nice to see that a lot of our instincts seem to have paid off. 

It's also important to remember: I know some people are upset that we killed certain characters, and some people might be wondering even at the end of Season 2, "Well, why did they do X? It's not readily apparent." I'm comfortable with that. One of the things that we're doing with the show is trusting the audience of playing the long game. People are debating why Dr. Seldon gave Demerzel the Prime Radiant — they should be debating that. We're going to answer that question, but they should be debating that. That is curious. 

People are wondering how much agency Demerzel has with our reveals about the programming. They should be wondering that. We haven't answered certain questions — they should be wondering that. People are wondering about how much the Vault can do and how Hari could have built that, and I think that's a valid question to ask. Maybe another thing to ponder is whether or not Hari had help at some point and who helped him and why, and so, we try in each season to answer a lot of the questions that have built up over the course of the season but leave some big things hanging.

Frankly, I'm trying to make the kind of show that I would like to watch, and I love sticking into a big, giant epic, I love being surprised, I love the kind of show that I can watch more than once, where I could go back and pick up nuances that I might've missed.

So I'm trying to make the kind of show that my wife and I love and like to get lost in. And particularly in science fiction, I felt that no one had really taken this kind of epic big swing before, and there was an opening in the market for that. And so what I'm hoping with Season 2 is people go, "Oh wow, I see what they're doing now. The possibilities are limitless."

And I will say this: we're still waiting on a Season 3 pickup. We've written Season 3 — because we have to write these seasons sometimes years in advance — and as wild as Season 2 has gotten, in many ways it's only prelude for Season 3. Season 3 will get even wilder.

Ben Daniels, Foundation

Ben Daniels, Foundation

Apple TV+

Because of the epic time span, we know that no character is truly safe in this story, and in this season you developed so many characters that really resonated with the audience. I'm curious about that process for you, about "killing your darlings," especially when some of these actors breathe so much wonderful extra life into the characters that you've conceived. Tell me about those hard decisions of, like, "We've got to let this character go even though we know the audience loves them, and we love them!"

Goyer: Look, it was really hard for me to kill Salvor, but I thought it was right for the story. Bel Riose and Hober Mallow are two of my favorite Asimov characters of all time, and I think Ben Daniels and Dimitri Leonidas just did spectacular jobs. And there was a part of me and my fellow writers that thought, "Oh, could we figure out a way to save one of them?" And I'm sure we could have, but it just felt like their journey had come to an end.

And I know that we've done a couple of fake-outs, the fact that we've destroyed the planet but saved the citizens of Terminus, and I just felt like we can't do that too many times and some of these deaths have to stick, and shockingly, we killed off six major characters in Episode 10, and I think if we had saved Hober or Bel at the last moment, it would've felt cheap.

You can't save everyone, but the inverse of that is everyone assumed Glawen is dead, and Glawen survived, which I think is a lovely dramatic flip around that people weren't expecting. I don't believe in characters having "plot armor," but even the characters we love… that's another reason why I think it was important to tell the audience that a character like Salvor could die, everyone assumed because she was dying in the future, that at least until we got to that fight with The Mule, she was safe, and I think it's important to let the audience know that that's not necessarily the case, but her sacrifice did two things, it brought Hari and Gaal closer together, and it taught Hari and Gaal, and it taught the audience, that the future isn't immutable, that even with the advent of a character like The Mule, humanity writ large has a chance.

I think one of the most effective elements of Season 2 is the use of the Genetic Dynasty, which I know is an original creation of yours that you were able to insert into this franchise that you've loved for a really long time, and it's really worked. I'm curious about that, that sensation for you to know, "Okay, I took a swing here to add this new layer to Asimov's story and it's just worked terrifically." What's that felt like for you?

Goyer: Look, it's enormously gratifying, because I didn't know how people would respond, I didn't know how diehard book readers would respond because it's such a huge departure from the books, but it has led to all of these incredibly juicy stories, and a lot of people assume after Episode 9 that the Genetic Dynasty would be over and done with at the end of the season, which is not the case: There's still quite a bit of story to tell, but we turn the screws quite a bit and that tension will continue on to next season. It's gratifying. Most of our instincts seem to have paid off, and you never know how the audience is going to receive what you put out into the world, and you can't hang your identity on how that's received, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't gratifying that a lot of these gut instincts have paid off.

You've got Season 3 written. How far ahead have you conceived this entire series, even if it's just gaming it out in your brain? Do you know the whole scope of what you'd like to do if you're able to?

Goyer: We have the broad strokes of [Season] 4 all mapped out. We know where all the major characters wind up at the end of [Season] 4. It doesn't mean we might not shimmy along the way. We have some very broad strokes for how some of the subsequent seasons would map out. I don't know how many seasons I'm going to get and I don't want to leave the audience hanging, so we're building a satisfying offramp that can be achieved at the end [Season] 4 and another one at the end of [Season] 6, and the ultimate one at the end of [Season] 8.

I kind of know what the last episode is and what the ultimate fate of some of our ongoing characters will be, and it's just a question of whether or not that happens at the end of Four or whether or not that happens at the end of something like a Season Six or a Season Eight, but I certainly know what the last 15 minutes of the show are, and I doubt that's going to change much, and we've planted seeds for those even from the first episode.

There's a pretty strong indication with that last moment in the finale that the next season may belong in large part to The Mule, which is a character fans of the books have been anxiously waiting for and you've gotten to as quickly as you can. Is that safe to say that Season 3 is going to be The Mule's big season?

Goyer: Yeah, that's safe to say. Season 3 is definitely the season of The Mule, and it's very exciting. It was exciting to me when I met that character through Asimov because he kind of T-boned all of psychohistory, and it's exciting to me a character like that will be entering the fray into Season 3. 

And the other thing that's neat about that is when you have a character like that, one that poses an existential threat, both to the Foundations and to whatever remains of the Empire, then you create the opportunity for some really unusual alliances. So I think audiences can expect some characters that might have been considered enemies or antagonists of one another to team up when The Mule is around, and that provides for some really interesting pairings and some really juicy themes. 

I will say, in the interregnum between Season 2 and a hopeful Season 3, if people want to check my website, davidsgoyer.com, I've been posting show notes and behind the scenes photos, and I reluctantly joined Instagram a couple of weeks ago and I just got a trove of stuff from the last four years that I've been trickling out, and when we hopefully get the nod for Season 3, people can absolutely be expecting some updates on both my website and on Instagram.

Seasons 1 and 2 of Foundation are now streaming on Apple TV+.