‘Constellation’ Episode 4 Recap Summary: Did Jo Accidentally Kill Magnus?

Putting the beauty and splendor of the celestial bodies aside, the bleak, dark, soundless vacuum of space can induce terror in the bravest hearts in more than one unconventional way—something that Swedish astronaut Johanna Jo Ericsson realizes after returning from a botched-up space mission in Apple TV+’s sci-fi thriller series Constellation. The premiere of the series set the mysterious premise through the first three episodes, where the concepts of multiple, alternate realities, time dilation, and an unreliable narrator seamlessly intertwine to weave a complex narrative involving major space exploration cover-ups. The entirety of this is also tinged with an effective dose of isolation horror, which elevates the series beyond confinement to any one genre. 


To briefly sum up everything that the previous episodes have established so far, an experimental device named ‘CAL’ that, in suitable conditions (of an extremely cold environment in the presence of microgravity), can seemingly capture a state when a particle can exist in two different states at the same time is tested on the ISS in the presence of a group of astronauts, including Jo. Although the test result turns out to be positive, things go haywire when a freak accident blows up part of the space station, resulting in the death of an astronaut named Paul. To conserve oxygen while repairing the station, Jo decides to send the rest of the astronauts back to Earth. To her utter disbelief, Jo finds out that the desiccated corpse of a Russian astronaut was the cause of the accident, and several instances of hallucinations start doing a number on her mind. 

As Jo is able to return to Earth, it almost seems like two different versions of her existed at the same point in time, as she fails to connect with her daughter Alice and husband Magnus on several occasions and remembers her personal life differently. On Earth, veteran astronauts and space scientists Henry Caldera (overseer of the CAL program) and Irena Lysenko seem to have experienced what Jo is going through, but the latter shuts down Jo’s report of the cause of the accident, which hints at major cover-ups. On the other hand, Henry’s identical twin, Bud Caldera (as if multiple realities were not confusing enough), also a former astronaut, has been afflicted with PTSD ever since returning as the sole survivor of Apollo 18, and after years of being disgraced, finally snaps as, in a drunken state, he throws a journalist off a cruise ship. Amidst all this, viewers continue to see alternate future timelines, where Jo is shown to have taken the CAL device and is on the run with Alice while evading authorities. In the fourth episode, the pervasive mystery gives way to a bit of family drama as Jo’s life plunges further into total disarray due to the fractured, or, shall we say, mistaken, identity she is forced to deal with. 


Spoilers Ahead

How Does Jo Cope With The Altered Reality?

As the episode begins, we are introduced to yet another alternate timeline as Magnus and Alice make their way through the frozen wilderness to a cabin, which the family used to visit on vacation. Notably, Jo is not present, and from their conversation, it seems that her absence is permanent. Alice questions her father about a possible course of action, to which Magnus replies that they might stay in Sweden or move to London to start a new life. As the father-daughter duo reach the cabin, Alice appears to be nervous before opening the door, and Magnus assures her that she will not find her mother inside. Now we know that, like Jo, Alice too was able to see glimpses of alternate futures or other versions of it, and it seems like in this timeline, Magnus knows about it as well. 


In the present timeline, Jo finds it increasingly difficult to reconnect with her family, as the one reality she has returned to after her space mission seems alien to her. On the flip side, this reality’s version of Jo had a strained relationship with her husband, as is revealed from the conversations. Magnus confronts Jo about her affair with her senior colleague, Frederic, and she is reasonably flabbergasted as this version of Jo had never cheated on her husband. Magnus confesses that after she left on her space mission, bitter at her for the supposed betrayal, he too tried to have an affair with someone. The confession makes Jo angry and confused at the same time, as she finds it tough to respond to a situation like this.

Later, Jo goes to her workplace—the headquarters of the European Space Agency—where she is welcomed as a national hero. The way she had managed to survive on her own while running out of time and oxygen, retrieve the CAL, and return safely to Earth—adulation like this is quite expected. However, far from the cheering crowd, Henry notices Jo, and it doesn’t take much effort to guess that he has a proper idea of what she is really going through. As Jo’s problems coping with this slightly unfamiliar reality persist, she goes to an ESA psych consultation, where she is advised to take a particular lithium-laced medication that is given to patients suffering from psychosis. Jo mildly protests, as such medication could turn out to be detrimental for her career, but takes it along with her just in case. 


What Is Up With The Caldera Brothers? What Is The Observer Effect?

Henry continues to face challenges in proving his CAL test results to be valid, as a lack of properly documented results is considered a failure. Stomping out Henry’s wish to take the CAL to other space agencies, NASA commander Michaela asks Henry to shut the entire program down, much to his chagrin. Eventually, Henry notices Jo as she heads back from consultation and brings her to his lab, where he has set CAL to operate once again. Jo notices the psychosis medication being mentioned in Henry’s board work and is a bit taken aback when Henry suddenly starts mentioning astronauts experiencing inexplicable, borderline supernatural occurrences, which led them to question their reality. Henry mentions the Left Hand of God, a phenomenon where astronauts and high-altitude aviators have observed something putting pressure on their craft from a particular direction after reaching a certain height. We know that Jo has seen, felt, and experienced eerie events while being stranded on the ISS, but she chooses not to reveal those to Henry. Their conversation is cut short as CAL starts running, and Jo is suddenly struck with a splitting headache.

On the other hand, Bud wakes up on the cruise from a hangover and quickly remembers what transpired last night (the murder of the journo). Bud tries to play it cool by visiting the journalist’s cabin and pretending to apologize to him, but as the FBI appears to investigate the situation, he is on top of the list of suspects given how erratically he had behaved previously. Strangely, when the authorities check the surveillance footage of the cruise and almost seem to find evidence of Bud’s crime, the footage start getting distorted on their own. 

At his office in ESA, Henry continues to approach some of his space expert acquaintances about his findings—that he has essentially discovered evidence of multiple universes existing through the results of tests run by CAL on the ISS. Once again, due to the documented data being missing, Henry’s claims are refuted. Henry emphasizes that only he is able to perceive the data for some unknown reason and alludes to the observer effect to justify his reasoning. In physics, the observer effect is the phenomenon where perceiving something essentially alters it from its previous form. The best example in layman’s terms would be Schrödinger’s cat; until the box containing the radioactive element and cat is opened and observed, the fate of the cat remains unknown. The act of observing solidifies the hypthetical of it either being alive or dead. Similarly, Henry argues that the data results are perceivable only to him, while the rest of the world finds them absent. Needless to say, his argument doesn’t stand strong against the cold, hard-data-based approach.

Did Jo Accidentally Kill Magnus?

At her home, Jo continues to struggle with accepting the possibility that she has become an intruder in her own life. Alice remains detached from her and occasionally hides in a closet, and the imagery of a necklace hanging from the closet door mirrors the vision she saw on the ISS. Despite never playing piano, Jo finds one in her home, and, beginning to fiddle around the notes uneasily, she suddenly rushes into a symphony and gets shocked out of her wits. To add to her misery, Jo finds out the psychosis medication given to her is similar to the multivitamins she was given to recover after returning from space. Jo confirms her suspicions by testing both the medications in the ESA lab, and to her horror, she realizes that, occasionally, she is switching across two different realities, as despite getting confronted by the cleaners while sneaking inside the lab, Jo remains unseen by them. Jo also learns that the same kind of medication was given previously to various astronauts, almost all of whom reported unusual experiences or sightings after returning from space—Henry Caldera being one of them. 


Days later, as Jo goes to Alice’s school to share her experience of being an astronaut with her daughter’s classmates, she realizes that Magnus was having an affair with Alice’s class teacher. Infuriated, she calls him out right there and then, and the family storms out of the school soon after. A perplexed Jo almost crashes her car while driving after getting distracted, resulting in Magnus asking for Frederic’s help to sort out the situation. Frederic advises on rehabilitation and, upon questioning, confesses to Magnus about his affair with Jo. This leads to another bout of husband-wife bickering between the two, and Magnus leaves after getting insulted by both of them.

As Magnus goes to take care of Alice, Jo stumbles across a sealed envelope addressed to her, sent from the Marine Observatory in Denmark. Inside the envelope, the nameless sender(s) have sent a message stating that they know about Jo’s secret, and even though TsUP and other space agencies had maintained their stance about not having received Jo’s message while she was stuck on the ISS, it was received even by the observatory as well. Aside from the message, Jo finds two tapes, one of which contains Jo’s recording, and the other one is a covered-up case containing the audio recording of a Russian scientist who died in an accident in space on November 23, 1967. It should be noted that this was probably the same person whose desiccated corpse Jo had discovered to be the cause of the accident on the ISS, and a year after the astronaut’s death, the Apollo 8 mission was launched, of which Bud Caldera turned out to be the only surviving member. Although, to be fair, the timeline of Apollo 8 we mentioned is of a real-world occurrence, which might differ from the show’s narrative, the possibility of matching is high. Anyway, the revelations make Jo even more suspicious about everyone and everything surrounding her. The deliberate attempts to shut her down, question her sanity, and make her appear as a lunatic have thus far dumbfounded her, but at least now she is certain that what she knows is true. Someone didn’t want her to return to Earth after the ISS accident and was working to cover up evidence of her survival. 


Just when Jo plays the recordings for the first time, Alice wakes up and starts searching for her mother. The modern architecture of the inner hallway evokes isolation horror vibes, similar to the blizzard sequences and ISS sequences shown in the previous episodes. Alice sees a vision of Jo’s funeral, which creeps her out immensely, and as Magnus rushes to tend to her, he mistakenly once again blames Jo for scaring her. As Alice returns to her room, Jo and Magnus’ quarrel reaches the worst phase, with Magnus considering adhering to Frederic’s advice of taking Jo to rehab, while Jo blames her husband for being in cahoots with the conspirators who wanted to let her die on the ISS. A fed-up Magnus starts calling Frederic, which infuriates Jo even further, and as she tries to snatch the phone away from him, she accidentally causes Magnus to fall and hit his head in a concerning way. It is not revealed by the end of the episode whether Magnus survived the fall, but Jo’s horrified facial expression coupled with the unresponsive condition of Magnus kind of confirms that his injury might be fatal. As the episode ends, the scene cuts to the cabin in the wilderness, where our focus is drawn to a painting. It is Hugo Simberg’s 1897 painting, Devil by the Pot,  and as the focus zooms in on the demonic entity in the portrait, the allusion to the current situation turns out to be more confusing, to say the least. Jo has been thrust into a version of her life that is worse than she had remembered it to be, and so far she has become a victim of the circumstances, and identifying her as the unwittingly appearing demonic guest will be wrong in this context. But on the other hand, her world, her workspace, and her family are trying to demonize her on a constant basis; from this aspect, the comparison lands properly. The mystery of Constellation is getting more complex and thought-provoking with each passing episode, and hopefully the remaining half of the series will follow through on the intrigue meticulously crafted by the first four episodes. 

Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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