‘Constellation’ Premiere Recap Summary: Is Paul Dead?

Written by Peter Harness and directed by Michelle MacLaren, Apple TV+ added another intriguing series, Constellation, to their library of sci-fi thrillers. Constellation, a sci-fi thriller/psychological horror, revolves around an astronaut, Jo, who returns to Earth after a catastrophic accident in space that claimed her teammate’s life. Apple TV+ has just released the first three episodes of the series, which has set the mood for a grim storyline with intriguing turns and twists. Let’s see what happens in these initial episodes of the series to know what nightmares Jo has to go through in her quest to learn the hidden truth about space and Earth.

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Spoilers Ahead


How Did Paul Die?

Constellation Episode 1 opens in the deserted land of Vindelalven, in Northern Sweden, where Johanna, the protagonist of the story, comes to a shelter with her daughter, Alice. The two of them were frightened, and it seemed like they had been on the run from the authorities. The two of them finally felt at ease inside a house, where Alice found an old video of her mother when she was in a space station. Johanna was an astronaut, working for the International Space Station, jointly owned by NASA, Roscosmos, and ESA (European Space Agency), but a terrible disaster at the space station led her to come back to Earth.

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The scene shifted to five years ago, when Jo was working at the International Space Station with her fellow astronauts. They had been working on a space device named CAL, which was sent to research the existence of other life forms in space. It was Jo’s turn for the scheduled spacewalk, and just before that, she made a video call to her daughter, Alice, who was getting ready for school. In Cologne, Germany, Magnus, Jo’s husband, used to live with his daughter, Alice, who was enrolled in a school, supported by ESA. Magnus was employed as a teacher at the school, where along with Alice, the children of Jo’s fellow astronauts also studied.  While Jo was on the video call with her daughter, suddenly, an accident took place in the space station that startled everyone. The call was disconnected, and Jo found her fellow astronaut Paul Lancaster was badly injured. His hand had been wounded by a sharp object and it was bleeding profusely. A former astronaut and the chief scientist of Rocket Propulsion Systems,  Henry Caldera, contacted the ISS from NASA headquarters in Texas, while Roscosmos, the state space corporation from Russia, was also in communication with Jo. Caldera asked the astronauts to help Paul survive, but after repeated attempts at resuscitation, Paul succumbed to his injuries and lost his life. Paul’s death devastated Jo, but she was tasked with the responsibility of performing her spacewalk and checking if the secondary life support was working adequately to provide sufficient oxygen supply. However, when Jo went outside of the space station and checked the evacuation capsule, she discovered a dead body in an orange-colored space suit, which seemed to be from the USSR. She was startled by the sight of the dead body and almost drifted away from the cable she was attached to while her teammate Ilya came to her rescue and brought her back inside.

Jo was stunned and wanted to know more about the dead body she found, but Roscosmos was worried as there was insufficient oxygen supply to back all of them up in the space station. As per Roscosmos’ instruction, only one of them would be able to stay in the station to check the station and fix the issue while the rest of them would have to return to Earth via an evacuation capsule. Jo took the initiative to stay, and she ordered her teammates to return home. Jo was probably much more experienced and senior than the others, so she commanded them to return even though none of them wanted to leave her alone.

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On the other hand, Alice found her father a little worried. Magnus had received the news of Paul’s death and that Jo’s other teammates were coming back to Earth. It saddened him that Jo had decided to stay, but he still respected her decision. Magnus and Alice were summoned to the headquarters of Roscosmos, where they would be able to communicate with Jo. On their way to the headquarters, Magnus told Alice everything about her mom being stuck in space, and it upset her. However, when they arrived at Roscosmos headquarters, some technical glitches prevented Jo from communicating with her family. Distressed, Jo went outside of her chamber, hoping to check if everything was in order, but suddenly, she was taken aback by a horrifying experience as she hallucinated a corridor inside the space station. She found a closed door and heard a banging noise coming from the opposite side of the door. Alice’s necklace was seen hanging from the doorknob, which shook her to the core. As the scene shifted to the present timeline, we saw Jo lost in a snowstorm as she had been looking for her daughter, who was nowhere to be found. Jo heard her screams and rushed back to the house, where she finally found a closet with the same necklace hanging from the knob. She opened the closet and found her daughter trapped inside it. In this episode, we saw Jo in possession of the CAL device with her, and the authorities were likely after that device which she had stolen. 


Did Jo Make It Back To Earth?

Episode 2 of Constellation reminded me of a Love Death + Robots season 3 episode, named “The Very Pulse of a Machine” where two space travelers, one of whom was dead, were trying to survive on a treacherous planet. This episode is all about Jo’s constant efforts to survive on the space station, even though the life support failed to provide sufficient oxygen support. The ISS was almost running out of oxygen and life support, making the space scientists on Earth worried about Jo. Irene, the researcher from Roscosmos, and Caldera were in an argument regarding their past, which will be revealed in later episodes. However, more than Jo’s safe return, Caldera was worried about the CAL device. Caldera had been researching the possibility of life in space, so the CAL device held great significance to him. He had been trying to prove that a thing can exist in two ways in our world, which suggests the theory of the existence of multiple realities, but because of the lack of solid evidence in Henry’s research, he couldn’t make this information credible.

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In the meantime, we saw Jo had been carrying her deceased friend, Paul, but it seemed like she had been hallucinating some voices that were either coming from Paul or the CAL device. However, when all the space researchers and space station operators were on the verge of giving up, Jo finally managed to revive the oxygen supply and established a connection with the Roscosmos. Finally, Jo’s spacecraft crash-landed on a deserted land and she was able to see daylight. She was more than glad to find her daughter, as well as her husband, Magnus, whom she had been missing all along. She had given up hope of her survival, but it was only her love for Alice that boosted her energy and brought her back home. Caldera couldn’t wait anymore and took the device he was after. But it seemed like the element in the device had some sort of effect on Jo’s mind making her hallucinate things. Both Jo and Alice kept getting lost during their conversation with each other and found themselves in different places. Back in the present timeline, we also saw a similar thing taking place. Jo was bewildered as she found Alice in several locations at a time. Confused and distressed, Jo couldn’t bring herself to understand it and asked Alice to take a rest. 


What Happened To Jo And Alice? 

In episode 3 of Constellation, things went pretty dark as we saw Jo constantly hallucinating and forgetting things, probably caused by her psychological changes due to her long stay in space. She claimed that she had seen a mummified dead body inside the capsule of the space station, and she stood by her claims. So, a meeting was set up by Irene to debrief Jo, as both NASA and Roscosmos wanted to find out what caused the explosion at the space station. In the debriefing, Jo was questioned if she had really seen the dead body, and as Jo claimed that she had, Irene tried to prove the point that Jo was not mentally stable and an unreliable witness to this disaster. Meanwhile, the psychological effect was not only seen in Jo but also in her daughter, Alice, who thought Paul’s daughter, Wendy, didn’t like her anymore. She hallucinated Wendy discarding her toy, which Alice had once given her. Magnus, as well as other fellow astronauts who were with Jo at the station, were also confused about whether to trust her or advise her to check on her mental health. Clearly, Jo was forgetting things, as she couldn’t even remember the color of her car.

When Jo had a conversation with her teammates, she realized that she might have been too harsh on herself, and by claiming that she had seen a dead body, she was making herself more unreliable in the eyes of other scientists. So, she decided to withdraw her claim and said in the debriefing that she might have been mistaken. However, deep in her heart, she knew what she saw.

Caldera had been working on the CAL device, which had been showing some unusual radiation, that suggested that it had been able to find a form of life existing in two variations.  But every time Caldera tried to take a picture of it, it didn’t become visible in the photographs. Both Caldera and Jo were struggling to make their fellow scientists believe in what they had observed, so Caldera identified with Jo’s concerns. 

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Meanwhile, in a different timeline or probably in an alternate reality, someone named Bud Caldera, who was also a former space scientist who had previously worked on the moon landing with Armstrong, had been in an argument with Ian Rogers, who kept on discrediting his theories and humiliated him in public, calling him a liar. At the end of the third episode, we saw Bud probably having a vision of him throwing Rogers off a cruise ship out of anger. We don’t know yet if this really took place or if it was all in Bud’s head. On the other hand, we saw Henry Caldera had a special relationship with Irene, who was diagnosed with lymphoma. She came to meet him to spend a romantic night together and told him that she was dying as her condition was terminal.

Back in the present timeline, we saw Jo being unable to trust anyone or anything, as she now believed the little girl she had been seeing wasn’t her daughter, Alice. There is a high chance that as an effect of the CAL device, Alice existed in two different forms, one of whom understood her mother’s Swedish language and the other one who couldn’t. In the end, as Jo confronted her daughter with her concerns, Alice also told her that she didn’t believe that Jo was her mother. Both faced each other in utter disbelief and shock while we saw several vehicles from the authorities approaching the place, probably to capture Jo and get a hold of the precious device.

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All three episodes of Constellation created a huge amount of confusion while also making the point that this series is about to delve deeper into the psychological aspects of a space traveler and the constantly changing nature of the human mind. Perhaps the ultimate horror of the show will be Jo struggling to cope with her psychological turmoil, which was caused by her lengthy stay in space. Perhaps it was not merely Jo’s hallucinations, but there was some darker truth hidden behind her journey in space and the following unfortunate events that happened at the space station. Let’s see if Jo will be able to uncover the truth, which has been covered up for a long time. 


Poulami Nanda
Poulami Nanda
Poulami Nanda hails from a medical background, yet her journey is to cross the boundaries of medicine and survive in the cinematic world. The surrealistic beauty of cinema and art has attracted her from a very young age. She loves to write poems, songs, and stories, but her dream is to write films someday. She has also worked as a painter, but nothing attracts her more than cinema. Through her writings, she wants to explore the world of cinema more and more and take her readers on the same ride.

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