Description: This episode was published days before the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and just weeks after U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan. It is the first part in Afghanistan: The Center of the World, our Peabody Award-winning series about Afghanistan, focused on the country and its people.
Afghanistan has, for centuries, been at the center of the world. Long before the U.S. invasion — before the U.S. was even a nation — countless civilizations intersected there, weaving together a colorful tapestry of foods, languages, ethnicities and visions of what Afghanistan was and could be. The story of Afghanistan is too often told from the perspective of outsiders who tried to invade it (and always failed) earning it the nickname “Graveyard of Empires.” In this episode, we’re shifting the perspective. We’ll journey through the centuries alongside Afghan mystical poets. We’ll turn the radio dial to hear songs of love and liberation. We’ll meet the queen who built the first primary school for girls in the country. And we’ll take a closer look at Afghanistan’s centuries-long experiment to create a unified nation.
Description: This episode was published days before the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and just weeks after U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan. It is the first part in Afghanistan: The Center of the World, our 2022 Peabody Award-winning series about Afghanistan, focused on the country and its people.
How did a small group of Islamic students go from local vigilantes to one of the most infamous and enigmatic forces in the world? The Taliban is a name that has haunted the American imagination since 2001. The scenes of the group’s brutality repeatedly played in the Western media, while true, perhaps obscure our ability to see the complex origins of the Taliban and how they impact the lives of Afghans. It’s a shadow that reaches across the vast ancient Afghan homeland, the reputation of the modern state, and throughout global politics. At the end of the US war in Afghanistan we go back to the end of the Soviet Occupation and the start of the Afghan civil war to look at the rise of the Taliban.
I just finished watching the first season of Apple’s Original TV series Foundation based on Isaac Asimov’s book series by the same name. I was especially interested in how Asimov deals with the inner workings of a highly advanced technology-based empire spanning the entire galaxy. This Empire must deal with all the peculiarities that make life so interesting and precarious on Earth, except it manages hundreds of thousands of planets that are spread light years apart from each other. It’s an Empire whose human descendants don’t remember where they came from, which of course is Earth.
Some unexpected things happen to Gaal on Trantor. People in the galaxy call this planet the machine planet. It is where spectacular special effects occur. Apple won a Golden Globe (or something like that) for the special effects in this first episode, called TheEmperor’s Peace.
Home of the Empire
Trantor is also the planet where the Empire is based. It looks like a machine from space because its needs a massive amount of infrastructure to run and rule an entire galaxy full of people who are constantly getting into conflicts and warring with each other. That’s an Empire’s job–right?–to run and rule the people of its realm fairly and justly and to keep the peace?
“No,” you say?
Well, you are right…most empires, including future highly technical ones, tend to do a pretty crappy job of ruling their territories and people. Disparities tend to develop between those with power and those who supply the power to run the empire. For instance, everyone in Trantor lives in the machine environment that goes 100 levels underground. The exception is the people living at the Imperial Palace. Here it is green and lush and luxurious. That’s one obvious inequity. There are many more and there are various rebellions against each one, all at a different stage of rebellion against the Empire.
This is what Hari is trying to warn the Empire about. There is a looming disaster coming that is going to crush everything. The Empire will fall and humanity, what is left of it, will plunge into 30,000 years of primitive darkness unless…
It’s the same problem the Lorax had with the Once-ler.
Empires often resort to use of excessive force to put down resistances. They don’t want to look weak! They also tend to think they know everything, and thus different points of view such as Hari’s are viewed as threatening and something to be exterminated. Rules and laws mainly serve as a pretexts for violence and use of deadly force to control the masses. And then wait until you see how this Empire deals with the rather awkward process of succession. Changing from one ruler to another ruler is always a rather fragile and weak time for empires. Researching Ruthless Rulers for my book, ancient Rome was a viper’s nest around issues of succession.
Critique About Series
I read criticism from one source that after the first episode, the Apple TV series veers far from Isaac Asimov original novels. Apple has Asimov’s daughter consulting on the script and in production. And as for veering from the storyline of the books, these critics simply don’t have anything else to criticize. Of course a TV series or movie is going to veer from the original written work, film is a completely different story telling device. A filmed telling of this vastly complex world is necessarily very different than a written telling of it… full stop.
Female Cast and Characters
I think Apple hits it out of the ball park with the female leads! They are impressive.
Lou Llobell plays Gaal Dornick. I couldn’t find much on Lou, but I sure want to see more of her. She is so feisty, intelligent, instinctive, and deeply intuitive–she far surpasses her male counter leads.
Leah Harvey plays Salvor Hardin, the Warden on Terminus. I didn’t find much on her either, but she knocks it out of the ball park and beyond in this role. She too is feisty, tough, intelligent, instinctive, curious, protective, and deeply intuitive. She also far surpasses her male leads…though I do admit, I have a serious crush on her lover, Hugo.
Laura Brin plays Demerzel. She is the last of her kind after the Robot Wars. She serves as Minister to Emperor Cleon. She is one powerful mix of Deanna Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation; 7 or 9 from Star Trek: Voyager; and Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones. She knows how to handle Cleon’s mercurial moods.
T’Nia Miller plays the religious leader Zephyr Halima who is from Mirrus Twelve. She is positioning herself to be the next Proxima; the head of a mother worshipping religion dedicated to the Three Goddesses–Maiden, Mother, and Crone. She is a stunning and mighty woman. I would follow her.
Kubbra Sait plays the Grand Huntress from Anacreon who has a big grudge against the Empire. She is badass, fast, cunning, and beautiful in a terrifying way.
Male Cast and Characters
The male cast members are great too. They include:
Jared Harris plays Hari Seldon, very convincingly. He is a professor, mathematician, and creator of psychohistory algorithmic science. Basically, your good old troubler maker for the Empire. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? You’re going to have to watch to find out.
Lee Pace plays Brother Day. I hated this character at first, then I begin to like him. Oh yeah, he played Elvenking in the Hobbit too
Cassian Bilton plays Brother Dawn. He is less well known, but his performance is right up there with the women, especially when he is wrestling with the more feminine parts of himself.
Terrence Mann plays Brother Dusk powerfully. I liked him best first, then began to hate him.
Alfred Enoch plays Raych Seldon, Hari’s adopted son. He is awesome and deeply complex character shrouded in mysteries.
There are plenty more amazing characters; after all, this empire needs to populate an entire galaxy with humans!
I was sad to read Josh Friedman left as a key writer earlier in the series. He has written and produced blockbusters such as Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, Terminator: Dark Fate, and Avatar: The Way of Water. Wiki says he left due to creative difference with the network over radical difference in vision. I wish I knew more about what these were. He says he was pressured to leave. Several cast and crew left with him. This is a shadow on what I otherwise think is a TV series that is well worth watching and has done a tremendous job in making the cast diverse and reflective of many different skin tones, ideologies, and everything else we humans use to divide ourselves from one another.
Music Feature Archetypal Animation
Music: Foundation: Season 1 (Apple TV+ Original Series Soundtrack) by Bear McCreary  Foundation Main Title 1:27
Continuing with the theme of empires, there is a movie worth watching called Waiting for Barbarians (2019). It is based on a novel by the same name written by J. M. Coetzee and published in 1980. This story takes a piercing view into the bureaucratic nature of empires, particularly the warring aspect of them.
The movie begins in a lowly desert outpost on the frontiers of an unnamed Empire, but I can hazard a few guesses. It is run by a Magistrate (played by Mark Rylance) who is humble, curious about ancient artifacts, and does a very good job of maintaining the peace. Mostly he leaves the native people alone, listens, and looks for ancient treasures as he tries to understand what might have existed there before.
Then, Colonel Joll (played by Johnny Depp) arrives wearing his sunglasses!
The sunglasses tell you everything you need to know about him. By the end of the movie, you realize he’s the barbarian.