Constellation Review

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Constellation, the new sci-fi thriller for Apple TV+, practically demands our attention by leading with its most elaborate, nail-biting sequence. ESA astronaut Jo Ericsson (Noomi Rapace) weathers a mysterious catastrophe aboard the International Space Station, damaging the facility to the point where not everyone aboard can evacuate at once. Amid a plummeting oxygen supply, Jo stays behind to repair the other escape shuttle. Her only company — besides her Apple products, of course — is a corpse and a host of strange visions that suggest reality is not quite what it seems, like when she floats far enough into the station for the zero gravity to seemingly disappear, placing her in an earthly hallway in front of a closet with someone inside.

Given the situation, we wonder: Is everything in Jo’s head, an illusion stemming from both stress and dwindling oxygen? Or is she seeing reality as it is, somehow disturbed by the quantum experiment the astronauts were conducting at the time of the incident? To the credit of writer-creator Peter Harness (Doctor Who, Jonathan Strange, and Mr. Norrell), we aren’t left to wonder for very long. In between apparent flash-forward scenes of being on the run with her daughter Alice (Rosie and Davina Coleman) in tow, Jo escapes the ISS during the second episode, in the process providing near-definitive proof that something far stranger is afoot than simple hallucinations. But as the setting moves away from outer space, Constellation’s momentum flags, its thin story burning up in the repetitive atmosphere of its earthbound episodes.

For at least its initial handful of episodes, Constellation looks poised for suspense on the level of another Apple sci-fi show, Silo, and its standout third episode, in which the protagonist is also tasked with making dangerous, difficult repairs. Both series establish a character’s competence by letting us simply watch them at work, reveling in the complexities of painstaking processes: Jo tethers herself outside the ISS to search for debris, and she makes interior repairs at the mercy of the station’s limited solar power. Such attention to detail persists as Jo returns to Earth, defending her actions before a debriefing committee while recovering on crutches. In one scene, she drops a cup on the floor because she’s still accustomed to objects floating when she lets go.

All together, the show’s specificity shores up so much texture and credibility for its setting, even as things get weirder and it reveals the trappings of alternate history and conspiracy thrillers. This is a world where there was an Apollo 18 mission crewed by Henry Caldera (Jonathan Banks), who is now the designer behind the quantum experiment that sets Constellation into motion. Henry is cold and reserved, often expositing from behind large glasses, and the character feels quite distinct from Banks’s other role on the series: Henry’s counterpart Bud Caldera, an ornery burnout who speaks at conventions and prefers to lounge in his underwear.

Over time, Jo realizes that the world she returns to is not quite the one she recognizes, and the differences in her memory – as well as the differences between the Calderas – form the backbone of the lackluster remaining episodes. In terms of disorientation and confusion, Constellation is striking for its apparent mundanity; Jo does not find herself in some dystopia reminiscent of Back to the Future Part II so much as a reality that still feels broadly familiar, even though it isn’t. At first, any inconsistencies seem exclusively related to the space station, but even Jo’s home life feels off to her. The family car is a different color, and her relationship with her husband Magnus (James D’Arcy) is chilly, as though they’re still miles apart while standing right next to each other. She’s even surprised to learn that Alice only speaks English and not Swedish.

It’s easy to imagine Jo’s uncertainty and her peculiar visions sustaining the shorter runtime and increased capacity for ambiguity of a feature-length Constellation. But with eight hour-long episodes of TV to kill, this version of the story doesn’t have much use for ambiguity, reiterating and replaying events from alternate perspectives as if to hammer home the point for anyone who might be half-watching while scrolling on their phones. Constellation doesn’t style itself as one big guessing game, and though that’s initially refreshing, the series neglects to pace itself accordingly. Rather than a gradual process of audience discovery, it becomes a show of waiting around for the characters to get totally up to speed.

This is not, to be clear, a case of me figuring out a twist before I was supposed to: Constellation guides us to a broad conclusion quite early and then spends the rest of the season digging into wholly unnecessary specifics. And for all the show’s talk of quantum positioning and cute allusions to Schrödinger’s cat, its concept is not particularly difficult to grasp when every other piece of popular media now revolves around a multiverse. As the series takes a number of unnecessary detours on the way toward a muted cliffhanger, it becomes clear that what Constellation wants above all else is a second season, even though it plainly struggles to fill out its first.


With a strong, suspenseful start, Constellation revels in detail and process while resisting the urge to keep the audience fully in the dark. But the pacing soon stalls as the series reveals it has no place left to go before its prospective next season. We spend the latter episodes simply waiting for the characters to reach the same conclusions as the audience, as the episodes draw out the story well past the point where it has no more mystery to sustain itself.

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