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Foundation: Why Emperor Dawn Tried To Commit Suicide

This article contains spoilers for Foundation episode 4. Content warning: Discusses attempted suicide.

Brother Dawn attempted to commit suicide in Foundation episode 4—what's going on, and what does this mean for the genetic dynasty of the Cleons? The Emperors were a faceless presence in Isaac Asimov's original Foundation short stories and novels, but in order to dramatize the story of the Empire's fall showrunner David Goyer has reinvented them for the Apple TV+ series. Cleon I established a "genetic dynasty," with a succession of clones taking the throne. There are three clones at any one time: Brother Dusk, the former Emperor who has stepped down; Brother Day, the Emperor at the height of his power; and Brother Dawn, the Emperor to come, undergoing training by his successors.

As actor Lee Pace explained, there's a sophisticated balance of ideas in play with the Cleons. "On one side of their mind, they believe they're the same person," he  explained. "They actually believe this, and they believe that person is the Emperor of the galaxy... And on the other side of that mind, are a series of individuals who, whether they like it or not, are individuals. They do have sentience, they are distinguished from one another." The interplay between continuity and individuality is a fascinating one, giving a real philosophical edge to the concept of cloning in Foundation.

Related: Foundation Episode 4 Ending Explained: Who Finds Gaal?

All of which makes Brother Dawn's attempt to commit suicide in Foundation episode 4 all the more striking. The voice-over appears to suggest the balance between continuity and individuality is askew in Brother Dawn; that he feels trapped beneath the weight of the Empire, and that the suicide attempt was the only way he could find to reject his destiny and truly become an individual. The other Cleons may be powerful, but there is a sense in which they are slave to duty, because their every decision will decide the future of the galaxy. When Brother Dawn tried to kill himself, it was fundamentally a rejection of this duty.

It's difficult to say what has caused the imbalance between individuality and continuity in Brother Dawn. At the moment of his birth, the previous Brother Dusk—dubbed "Brother Darkness" as he embraced his death at last—seemed to sense something was wrong. In the years since, Brother Dawn has grown more removed from his "siblings" than would normally be the case, as though there's a strange distance between them; something he is always aware of that means he just doesn't fit. He seems much more comfortable speaking with a gardener, with whom he swiftly becomes infatuated, than he does with Eto Demerzel, the robot who nurtures Cleons in Foundation.

Alternatively, it's possible the Cleons are fracturing under the strain given the disturbing predictions of Hari Seldon. Cleon I dreamed of an Empire that spanned the galaxy, but the current generation of Cleons face a far more difficult task than creating it—they must preserve it, an especially daunting mission given Hari Seldon's predictions. Brother Dawn is the first Cleon to grow up in the awareness that the Emperor could possibly fall, meaning the pressure he feels will be very different to any of his predecessors. No doubt more will be revealed as the story of Foundation continues.

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