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Constellation Review: Apple TV+'s Space Thriller Sets Audiences Adrift

The mystery builds to a compelling point, but a disorienting start will test your patience

Maggie Fremont
Noomi Rapace, Constellation

Noomi Rapace, Constellation

Apple TV+

"There's something about space that is wrong," one character will remark during Apple TV+'s new psychological thriller Constellation. And you know what? It might be a simplistic way of looking at things, but that character is right on the money. There is something wrong about space! Laugh all you want, friends, but something is really up with space these days! And I do mean that both specifically within this show and generally; space is crazy. "Something about space is wrong" is a sentiment that is both at the very foundation of Peter Harness' drama, and, admittedly, one that is in no way able to encapsulate everything this series is trying to do in its eight episodes (the first three which premiere together on Feb. 21). It must be said: Constellation is doing a lot — and not all of it works.

The series certainly kicks off as a space-gone-wrong story. After we're dropped in the middle of something very unsettling going on in a freezing cold, desolate cabin somewhere, we flash back five weeks prior, where this story really kicks off in another freezing cold, desolate location: space! The five-person team currently manning the International Space Station are going about their business when there's a mysterious collision and all hell breaks loose. Commander Paul Lancaster (William Catlett), who had been working on an important NASA experiment regarding a new state of matter at the very moment of the incident, suffers a fatal injury and dies. When Jo Ericsson (Noomi Rapace), a Swedish astronaut working for the European Space Agency, takes a space walk to assess the damage to the station, she discovers something impossible: The crash was caused by a corpse wearing what looks to be a Soviet Cosmonaut suit from the 1960s. Or was it? Things only get stranger for Jo when the other three astronauts are sent home on the one working ship and Jo volunteers to remain on the ISS alone with Paul's body — as if space couldn't get freakier — and attempt to fix the second ship in order to get back to Earth. 

When Jo finally makes it back, she is beyond relieved to be reunited with her young daughter, Alice (played by twins Rosie and Davina Coleman), and her husband, Magnus (James D'Arcy), but almost immediately, she begins experiencing the same strange things that were happening to her when she was solo in space: She sees and hears things that aren't there — or can't be there — people appear and disappear right in front of her eyes, and she forgets things she definitely should remember. The transition back to her life on Earth is more difficult than expected. What's worse, as Jo questions things or pushes back when she's told she is misremembering, the authority figures around her point to astronaut burnout, or, perhaps, space psychosis, but Jo knows the problem is much bigger than that, and she thinks it's somehow tied to the machine Paul was working on for his experiment. Things begin to unravel for Jo, to say the absolute least.




  • Jonathan Banks' performance is worth the watch alone
  • The action sequences are intense and gripping


  • It's too disorienting and mysterious for its own good
  • Jo's character arc is repetitive and there's not enough for Noomi Rapace to do
  • It gets to the most interesting parts of the story and mystery too late

Once Jo is Earthside in Episode 2, you can finally see the scope of what Constellation is attempting. It's a space action adventure at points. In fact, Constellation's action sequences, both in space and on the ground, are wildly intense, and yes, you will sweat. It's also an exploration of the mother-daughter bond, as Jo and Alice discover there are some major hiccups to their reunion. In a show with several great performances, the Coleman twins give standout ones (that's not a typo, take that for what you will!); Alice is easily the heart of the show, and the story needs that layer in order to work. Even when chaos is upon us — which happens a lot — the Colemans imbue Alice with such compelling pathos that it can ground even the nuttiest scenes. Let's just say, among other things, there's a whole bunch going on with a Fisher Price cassette player that is easier to buy into thanks to the Colemans.

At times, Constellation also dons the coat of a conspiracy thriller. The audience is left to wonder not just about the truth of what's going on with Jo and other astronauts like her, but about who knows that truth and how deep the effort is to cover it all up. It's this aspect of Constellation that, in theory, is the most interesting (I mean, did Neil Armstrong know what was up?!), and it's the element of the series that could set it apart from other space-gone-wrong stories, and yet it is the aspect where the show fails the most. 

So much of the problem here comes from Constellation's insistence on making the audience feel as unmoored and untethered from reality as its protagonist does. The first few episodes are disorienting to a fault. The impulse to put the audience in Jo's shoes, or astronaut boots, makes sense and certainly makes everything feel unsettling. By making us question Jo's reality — and the reality of a few other characters — at every turn, the show's perspective feels like an upgraded version of the unreliable narrator. There's no one, no visual, we can really trust. It's a cool trick — until it's not. We're set off kilter for far too long. There's no anchor to steady us at any point in the first half of the show, and if we can't believe anything we see, or trust what anyone is saying, how can we enjoy the, well, thrill of piecing together what's going on here? There are lots of clues from the get-go, but it takes too much work to put the story together. Although, I do appreciate that Constellation gives us not one but two moments when someone is literally explaining quantum physics — which plays a major role in the mystery — to a child; it's both a savage troll of the audience and the perfect way to explain some pretty heady science.

Rosie/Davina Coleman and Noomi Rapace, Constellation

Rosie/Davina Coleman and Noomi Rapace, Constellation

Apple TV+

There is good news though: The back half of the season has a different energy, once it's pretty clear what's happening (although when you learn what's happening, you might laugh — how can any of this be clear?), and it focuses more on how people are reacting to the issue at hand. There is less questioning and more doing. While this helps the viewing experience exponentially, it does very little for Jo's character. Rapace is a compelling actor and well cast here, but because Jo is so in the dark a lot of the time, her arc is repetitive and can feel one-note. She's terrified and scared a lot, and when you know Rapace can play so many different colors, it's a little disappointing.

You know who doesn't disappoint, though? Jonathan Banks. Banks comes on the scene in Episode 1 as Henry Caldera, the man running the quantum physics experiment Paul is working on. He's a NASA hero (a member of Apollo 18, if you were wondering if Constellation might play with an alternate history) and a real hardliner. He is obsessed with this tool on the ISS — called the Cold Atomic Laboratory, or CAL for short — even putting its safety over the safety of the actual astronauts on board the ISS. In the first episode, Henry is a pretty easy character to wrap your head around, so much so that you might wonder why someone like Banks would take on a pretty basic role like this. But when you get to Episode 2, and even more so later, and you meet Banks' other character, Bud Caldera (I will not ruin the relation here!), you don't wonder any longer. With Henry and Bud, Banks is given some meaty characters to play with, and he does so with aplomb. What Henry and Bud go through over the course of eight episodes is dramatic and serious, but man, does Banks look like he's having the best time. 

There's a lot to like in this series, and it sets up some really interesting places to go if there is a Season 2, but the time it takes to get to those interesting places might turn some people off. Constellation has the space horror down, and it has only scratched the surface as far as its deep bench of compelling characters goes. Once it opens up the greater conspiracy, once it gives a little more momentum to the mystery at hand, that's when Constellation will really take off. 

Premieres: The first three episodes premiere Wednesday, Feb. 21on Apple TV+, followed by a new episode each Wednesday
Who's in it: Noomi Rapace, Jonathan Banks, James D'Arcy, Davina and Rosie Coleman, William Catlett
Who's behind it: Peter Harness (creator)
For fans of: Mysteries featuring astronauts, stories that play with reality, quantum physics
How many episodes we watched: 8 of 8