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Home > ‘Constellation’ (2024): Season 1 Review

‘Constellation’ (2024): Season 1 Review

Apple TV’s “Constellation” is an astronomical mind-bender for audiences. Noomi Rapace on the International Space Station in "Constellation."

An Eye-Opening Space Story That Takes Hold

The first season of Constellation diligently frustrates its audience—and its cliffhanger is even more aggravating. A mind-bender of a show, the Apple TV+ series is like Inception but in space. Modern viewers can guess what’s going on at the beginning of Season 1, but the show still grasps them in a headlock and doesn’t let go. It reinvents a fear of space travel. 

The psychological space thriller follows European Space Agency’s Johanna “Jo” Ericsson (Noomi Rapace), an astronaut working on the International Space Station about to return home. After a mysterious gadget causes an onboard system failure, Jo experiences several odd occurrences above Earth and back on the ground. Upon returning home, Jo uncovers inexplicable details about her life that she can’t remember, involving her husband, Magnus (James D’Arcy), and their daughter, Alice (Davina Coleman and Rosie Coleman) 

Similar to a space launch, Constellation has several episodes with slow moments that quickly skyrocket and force the audience to catch up. Writer/creator Peter Harness knew that viewers were smart enough to decipher the truth between the lines; everyone has watched space movies, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Interstellar. So, what will stop them from assuming that they already know the truth about Jo’s situation? 

In order for any psychological story to captivate its viewers, it should trick them but also keep them on a short leash—in other words, the show should play with the audience’s perception while making them think they’ve already figured everything out. Constellation uses this technique to fast-track its audience to the finale. The galactical show’s only drawbacks are a few slower dialogue moments that could have been shortened to get to the point.  

A Challenging Script 

In reality, space travel is a job with some risks. But in cinema, it’s the perfect plot device to play with different dimensions, time, alternate universes, and, of course, aliens. The unknown is always used as the ultimate fear factor, and Constellation plays on this in every episode. Why doesn’t Jo remember something that her husband found her guilty of before she went up to the ISS? Does she have a good relationship with her daughter, Alice? Did Jo suffer from some kind of trauma that the audience didn’t see? The first episode introduces viewers to Jo while she’s on the ISS, FaceTiming Alice. So, no one knows who Jo was before she left Earth. 

The confusion that Jo and Alice feel between each other after Jo returns to earth raises several questions: Are they really mother and daughter? Did both of them go through an odd space-time continuum problem on that FaceTime call? Was there a time jump of some sort? Is somebody an alien? 

The questions keep unraveling and eventually get answered by the audience. Thanks to Rapace’s knack for deep performances, viewers are gripped by her constant urgency. As a mother and an astronaut, she has a lot at stake: her family, her career, and herself. Upon returning home, Rapace’s Jo skillfully stresses out her audience. And the Coleman sisters’ Alice injects much-needed innocence into the show. The audience is horrified, heartbroken, and confused with her while on this ride. 

Rapace and the Colemans share several moments together, and their scenes are naturally captivating. The first moment when they truly lock viewers in is when Jo lands back on Earth. Why is this mother-daughter duo acting the way they are?

Apple TV’s “Constellation” is an astronomical mind-bender for audiences. Noomi Rapace plays an astronaut in the Apple TV+ series "Constellation."
Image credit: Apple TV+.

Shouldn’t their reunion be emotional and grateful since space travel is a life risk? Rapace and the Colemans knew how to create a complicated journey for their viewers. 

Jonathan Banks’ character, Caldera, is complex from the start. It’s not clear if viewers are looking at one person. In the beginning, Caldera seems like a cold NASA worker, only caring about his experimental ISS creation above the astronauts’ lives. However, there is clearly more to his character. The only way audiences can see that is whenever he walks by a mirror. Sometimes, it’s exhausting and boring to follow Caldera’s initial aggressive demeanor because it’s almost monotonous, but that feeling quickly changes during the final episodes of Season 1. Could he be the main villain of this story? 

A Cinematographic Emphasis on Earth

Despite an alleged payment investigation the production endured in Finnish Lapland, Constellation’s cinematography impresses its viewers with stunning backdrops of Earth. Yes, the space shots are solid, but everyone knows they’re green-screened. But the wide landscapes of Germany and Finnish Lapland are eerily stunning.  

The series aimed for a creepy undertone, which calls for foggy areas and aggressive weather changes, like a blinding blizzard. Without the wide land shots, Constellation may not have been as visually strong as it is. 

These landscape shots aren’t randomly thrown into the show, though. Instead, they are sprinkled throughout each episode. Going from a bitter snowstorm to a dark, chilly cabin creates the necessary imagery for audiences to feel the suspense rising while Jo repeatedly tries to locate Alice. The mysterious moment plays out at different times during Season 1, and it finally unfolds in the second-to-last episode. Believe it or not, it isn’t the satisfying ending; it’s only the predecessor to the finale. 

This choice of film editing was key to Constellation’s storytelling tactic. The production wanted the audience to remember what they watched in Episode 1, like setting up a trail of breadcrumbs for viewers; the trail abruptly stops, and then it eventually overflowed with answers. However, the last two seconds of the season finale raise even more questions. 

A Clever Psychological Trick

Overall, Constellation cleverly teases its viewers using hints in each episode, and they’re only noticeable if the audience is paying attention. This series can’t be enjoyed without full undivided attention. 

Nevertheless, there are a few slow moments of dialogue. For example, one scene (during Episode 7) between Jo and Alice at the cabin drags on too long. It’s vital to investigate the details of their discovery and their relationship to the audience, but that was already done; the actors didn’t need a dragged-out scene for their characters to establish what they’ve found. It would have been better if that scene had been shortened to focus on other aspects, such as Magnus’s frantic search for Alice. Moreover, there could have been a slight expansion of Caldera’s appearance and significance in this scene. His apparent villainy here needs an explanation. Is he really the sole antagonist in this whole show, or is he only a part of the bigger picture? 

What Constellation achieves in its season finale is prime television—tricking its audience into thinking they’ve found a resolution until they’re slapped in the face with a huge cliffhanger. And the strongest part of this was how subtle it is. Only one character and one slight movement are necessary to hook viewers back into the ISS for (hopefully) another ride. 

As fans anxiously await the possible announcement for season 2, Constellation is currently streaming on Apple TV+. 

Apple TV’s “Constellation” is an astronomical mind-bender for audiences. Characters Jo and daughter Alice in “Constellation.”
Image credit: Apple TV+.

Constellation (2024) Official Apple TV+ Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Elke Simmons' writing portfolio includes contributions to The Laredo Morning Times, Walt Disney World Eyes and Ears, Extinction Rebellion (XR) News/Blog, and Dead Talk News.