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What the Hell Is Going On in Apple TV+'s 'Constellation'?

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 6, 2024 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 6, 2024 |


The first two episodes of Apple TV+’s Constellation were intense and thrilling, as they tracked astronaut Jo Ericsson’s (Noomi Rapace) efforts to return to Earth after a mysterious accident destroyed her ship and led to the death of one of the other astronauts. The early episodes were adrenaline-pumping and felt similar to episodes of the often heart-pounding space-exploration series For All Mankind.

And then the rest of the episodes happened.

It’s hard to explain what is happening on Constellation now because the series doesn’t want us to know exactly what’s going on. Jo is seeing things. Or experiencing hallucinations. Or is seeing into other dimensions? Or she is losing her mind. When she left, her car was blue. Now it is red. When she left, she and her husband (James D’Arcy) had separated, but now she’s in love with him and unaware that she was having an affair with another man.

Likewise, a former astronaut and now a Nobel-prize-winning scientist, Henry Caldera (Jonathan Banks), who conducted an experiment on Jo’s ship, is having similar experiences after he stopped taking the same anti-psychotic medication that Jo has been prescribed. He’s talking to himself. Or he’s taking to another version of himself named Bud. He seems to exist in several timelines, all of which are blurring. In one of those timelines, Henry throws a man off a ship for writing a book that accuses Henry of lying about the facts. Henry was not lying. The facts he cited were in another timeline, and they’re all intersecting in his mind and on the screen.

Jo also has a young daughter, Alice, who seems to exist in different universes simultaneously, one in which her mother is alive and another in which she is dead. Alice and Jo can also hear voices in the recorded static of past space missions.

A lot is happening, and it’s not really a mystery because we know it involves some scientific mumbo-jumbo about quantum entanglement. I’m not sure it even matters, and it’s also impossible to tease out the different timelines or dimensions to figure out which is reality because Constellation makes no attempt to separate the different realities from one another.

The series comes from Peter Harness (McMafia) based on an idea from Sean Jablonski (Law & Order: Organized Crime), and with all due respect, it feels like a science-fiction series from people perhaps more experienced in writing about crime. There is an interesting idea here, but it’s unclear if anyone knows what they’re doing. It often feels like confusion masquerading as profundity, like a high-school essay that uses a lot of thesaurus words to disguise the fact that they have no idea what they’re talking about.

It’s nonsense, but it’s well-acted and well-shot nonsense. Thanks to the first couple of episodes, we also invest in the characters enough to want to see if they can navigate the nonsense, even if we know there will never be a satisfying explanation. The science is designed to be so needlessly complicated that we accept what’s happening on screen and hope the characters can complete their journey before the nefarious and mostly faceless powers-that-be prevent them from uncovering the secrets of space travel. But after five episodes (of eight), my patience is wearing thin, and I’m beginning to wish I existed in the timeline where I never started watching the series.