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Foundation: How Many Seldon Crises Are There (And When Are They?)

Contains spoilers for "Foundation" Season 2

"Foundation" Season 2 is at its halfway point, and throughout the spaghetti of narrative threads, one thing is clear: there's another crisis brewing — a Seldon crisis, to be precise. These are singular events that take place at specific moments in time throughout Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. They're distinct from a typical "crisis" because they represent an inevitable "turning point" moment. These are unavoidable events that come as part of the mathematically predicted future of the Foundation as it grows on the edge of the collapsing Galactic Empire.

A Seldon crisis occurs when the Foundation faces a unique set of circumstances where the only option is to succeed or fail. No diplomatic maneuvering or kicking the can down the road can help them escape. They have just one inevitable course of action, and they must overcome or fall.

Seldon crises are rare in the Foundation novels — and even rarer on the show so far. Season 1 centered on a single crisis when the Foundation initially came up against some of its war-mongering neighbors. Based on Hari Seldon's (Jared Harris) psychohistoric calculations, the Foundation had a very high probability of overcoming this earlier event. However, as time waters down the accuracy of the math, the predictions of the imminent Seldon become less precise.

Now, in Season 2, we've jumped forward more than a century into the future, and the unfolding Seldon crisis is a much bigger deal. It centers around geo-political relations between the growing Foundation and the still strong, though collapsing Empire that gave it life. These are the two Seldon crises we've seen on the show so far — but if you look at the books, they're actually a combination of multiple "turning point" events.

Seldon's crises take place more often in the books

The "Foundation" series has focused on a crisis per season so far. In contrast, in the books, these dramatic events pop up a bit more often. For context, by the time war with the Empire is on the table in the second book, "Foundation and Empire," it is the fourth — not the second — major challenge the Foundation faces.

The first two Seldon crises bookend the career of Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey in Apple TV+'s series). In the books, Salvor is male, and he is the masterful Mayor of Terminus, the capital world of the Foundation. The two crises that take place during his life are roughly 30 years apart. They focus on Salvor's initial rise to prominence and his later use of the Foundation's nuclear power to extend the colony's control over its overly-ambitious neighbors. Again, on the show, these two crises are rolled into one single event.

The third crisis in the books takes place when the Trader, Hober Mallow (who is a central character in Season 2 played by Dimitri Leonidas), helps the Foundation defeat even more hostile neighbors through the use of trade embargoes. After that, the fourth crisis occurs when the collapsing Empire, threatened by its upstart colony, wages war on the Foundation itself. As was the case with the first two inevitable emergencies, the show seems to be rolling the third and fourth crises into a single event — and in this case, it makes sense. Mallow's commercial escapades aren't overly dramatic, especially for a cinematic adaptation, and bundling the character into the melodrama of an interstellar war is more fun.

Hari Seldon's presence at each crisis in the books

A Seldon crisis takes place whether the people of the Foundation are ready for it or not. However, in Isaac Asimov's books, Hari Seldon provides a little encouragement for his beleaguered colony as they go through these seminal events via pre-recorded messages from himself. These appear in the Time Vault at specific points in time (Seldon's psychohistory is able to determine these to the minute).

In "Foundation and Empire," one psychologist summarizes these events by saying, "The Time Vault is what Hari Seldon placed here at the beginning to help us over the rough spots. For every crisis, Seldon has prepared a personal simulacrum to help — and explain." The character goes on to detail that either just before or after each crisis, Seldon's recorded image appears in the Vault (it's a building with an internal chamber in the books), and the hologram gives the recorded message.

The first two instances of this are well documented in the books. By the third and fourth crises, though (that is, the current combined crisis we're dealing with in Season 2), Seldon's messages have become forgotten, and his recordings go unnoticed. Obviously, in Apple TV+'s series, that isn't the case. Seldon has remained very involved in the story, has a newly cloned body, and is operating with multiple consciousnesses in both his refreshed physical form and within the Vault on Terminus.

Seldon crises aren't over yet

It's unlikely that we'll stop with two Seldon crises on Apple TV+'s "Foundation." Isaac Asimov included at least one more distinctly recorded crisis in the books that will have the biggest impact on the entire story (even bigger than a potential war with the Empire).

We won't know how the show decides to unfold that crisis for a while still, but we do know that the whole thing is planned out. Showrunner David S. Goyer told The Verge that, while the series has only been greenlit for two seasons so far, the outline of the story is for 80 full-length episodes stretching across eight different seasons.

If Goyer really does have the entire story mapped out, chances are he knows precisely how many Seldon crises the adapted narrative still has in store and when they're going to happen. For now, though, it's one challenge at a time. Hari, Gaal, Salvor, Mallow, and the rest of Terminus' scrappy colonists are currently in the showdown of their lives with a collapsing but still fierce Galactic Empire. They need to pass that test in front of them before they can move on to other crises.

The good news is that when Hari Seldon's pre-recordings do show up at a later part of the books, he informs his audience that "I have few fears as yet of a breakdown in the Plan. For the first three centuries the percentage probability of nondeviation is nine-four point two." To put it another way, the Foundation has a really good shot at surviving the Empire's hostility and living to fight another day. Here's hoping the predicted odds really do play out in their favor. After all, there is that suspicious Mule character lurking on the edge of the story now ...