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Constellation

Constellation season 1

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Paul Asay

TV Series Review

Jo Ericsson worked for years to grab her place on the International Space Station. The dedication it takes to get to space is, literally, astronomical. You must be in top physical condition, exhibit unusual mental acuity and be ready to tackle almost any sort of emergency.

For most astronauts, making trip to space—and looking at Earth from 250 miles above it—is the culmination of a childhood dream, a bold wish made real through decades of labor.

But be careful what you wish for.

Situational Gravity

The troubles began when something apparently hit the ISS, tearing through the space station’s innards and frying much of its life support systems.

Was the disaster somehow related to a mysterious NASA experiment that had just begun when the collision took place? An experiment to find a new form of matter that can only exist in zero gravity?

Perhaps.

But the only thing Jo knows is that when she went to investigate the damage, she found the corpse of an ancient cosmonaut embedded in the wreckage—a corpse that had apparently torn a gash through the station’s flimsy outer hull.

The upshot, though, was tragically simple: Another man was killed outright in the disaster. The other four barely made it home alive. Indeed, the fact that Jo survived—given that she had to repair an outrageously damaged space pod alone—is something of a miracle.

But while Jo survived, her life now is … different. She’s hallucinating (or is she?). She plays the piano now, even though she has no recollection of ever learning the instrument. Jo’s daughter, Alice, admits that her mother has changed since she’s been back. The close connection they used to enjoy is gone now.

And sometimes, Alice goes, too. Literally. Jo will tuck her into bed and then hear her screaming outside in a snowstorm. One minute, she’ll be in the bath. The next she’ll be gone—only to be standing right beside her.

People tell Jo that her job is hazardous. Sure, the physical hazards are obvious, but few talk about the mental issues. How sometimes astronauts come back and see things that aren’t there. How sometimes, they go mad.

Jo doesn’t feel mad. But she must piece together what happened up there on the ISS—and what’s happening to her now. Not just for her sake, but for her daughter’s.

A Star to Frighten Me

From Foundation to For All Mankind to Hello Tomorrow!, Apple TV+ has curated an impressive, weird array of science-fiction shows. And Constellation might be the weirdest—and darkest—yet.

While space travel might be the catalyst for Constellation, the show’s terrors are rooted closer to home, and its mysteries can feel more metaphysical. Is Jo going crazy? Or is she simply slipping through alternate realities—and scaring her daughter to death while she does so? Or might be something even weirder going on?

The show can be pretty bothersome—though more from its reality-twisting premise than for its significant-but-sporadic content issues. We can see some pretty grotesque images in this TV-MA show. We can hear some strong language. But what will haunt adult viewers more will be Alice’s terrified eyes and gentle questions.

“Mommy?” she asks of Jo during a snowy car ride in the show’s first 10 minutes. “What happened to Daddy?” And we hear a hint of accusation underneath. What did you do to Daddy? Alice seems to ask.

The answers unfold, episode by episode. And they come slowly—just like Constellation’s problematic issues. But when both come, they come in a shocking rush.

Episode Reviews

Feb. 21, 2024—S1, E1: “The Wounded Angel”

In the present, Jo drives through the snowy Swedish wilderness—her daughter, Alice, in the back seat. Soon, the pair arrives at a snow-covered cabin. Alice asks for a bedtime story—but one that Jo recorded for Alice earlier, that Alice watches on her computer tablet. As Alice watches the story, Jo turns her attention to the cries she hears outside—cries that sound like they’re coming from Alice.

Five weeks earlier, Jo and the rest of the International Space Station crew are rocked by a mysterious collision outside the ship. As Jo and crewmate Ilya conduct space walks to locate the damage, the other members of the crew take stock of their dire situation: The life support systems aboard the ISS have been grievously damaged, and only one of the two escape capsules is working. That means that three of the four surviving ISS crew members will get to go home. The other must stay behind and try to fix the capsule before hope runs out.

The ISS had five crew members before the collision: The fifth, Paul Lancaster, had just activated a mysterious NASA experiment when the catastrophe took place. His arm is skewered by flying debris, then crushed by equipment. Blood spews everywhere and floats in the zero-gravity conditions like red ping-pong balls. Soon, it becomes clear that the crew will need to amputate Paul’s arm to save his life: The operation takes place off screen, but we see the severed appendage still pinned to the equipment. Later, despite their best efforts, Paul dies.

Paul’s daughter, Wendy, tells Alice back home that she had “bad dreams” the night before her father died. A painting in the snowy cabin is a print of Hugo Simberg’s famous work “The Wounded Angel,” which depicts two black-clad boys carrying an angel—a bandage covering its eyes—on a litter. Later, Jo sees the painting again, but this time the central figure has been replaced with a skeletal devil who appears to be cooking something.

A corpse in an old Soviet Union cosmonaut suit floats through space. Jo and a co-worker are forced to try to extinguish an out-of-control blaze aboard the station. A scientist on earth seems to value a NASA experiment above the lives of the ISS crew. We hear the f-word twice and the s-word four times.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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