Constellation TV Review

Led by the great Noomi Rapace and Jonathan Banks, this psychological sci-fi thriller gets as much right as it gets wrong.

PLOT: An astronaut who returns to Earth after a disaster in space only to discover that key pieces of her life seem to be missing. The action-packed space adventure is an exploration of the dark edges of human psychology, and one woman’s desperate quest to expose the truth about the hidden history of space travel and recover all that she has lost.

REVIEW: Man, the International Space Station is getting trashed lately. For years, films like Gravity and The Cloverfield Paradox as well as countless others have used the station as the setting for disaster, but this year alone has had more than one project featuring it. First, the horror film I.S.S. made the triumphant existence of a joint space station a thing of terror and now Constellation fills viewers with a sense of foreboding surrounding the orbiting satellite. The resulting series is a psychological thriller that combines elements of horror, science fiction, and paranoid drama into a concept that tries to set up the first season of a conspiracy-laden ongoing tale. The problem is that for everything this series gets right, it gets just a little bit wrong. Led by the always-great Noomi Rapace and Jonathan Banks, Constellation would be fantastic if it wasn’t a little boring. Not every science-fiction story has to be full of action or violence, but the pacing lags at times in this series as it builds an intriguing narrative that you wish would give you a little bit more.

Constellation review

Constellation opens with Jo Ericsson (Noomi Rapace) driving through the backwoods of Sweden with her daughter. Worried when a police car follows her too closely, Jo arrives at a seemingly abandoned cabin with no electricity. A bizarre painting and other odd moments make you question what is going on. If you watched the trailer for Constellation, you know this series centers on astronauts so the Earthbound opening is a bit confusing. The series then shifts to Jo aboard the I.S.S. where a routine experiment goes wrong and is followed by an amputation, an evacuation, and a desiccated corpse in space. While all of this is going on Jo’s daughter, Alice (Rosie Coleman), and husband, Magnus (James D’Arcy), await news of her fate. Scientist Henry Caldera (Jonathan Banks) realizes a scientific breakthrough has occurred and begs for them to prioritize bringing it back from the station and that is when things start to get weird. With a dreamlike and surreal shift between sequences, Constellation is oddly enthralling from the first episode.

The trouble begins when Jo returns to Earth and things are not quite what they seem to be. People are a little different, including her daughter. It soon becomes apparent that something is going on that could be insanity, a parallel universe, aliens, or any number of conspiracy theories. Over the eight-episode series, we follow as Jo investigates why her daughter does not seem like the Alice she remembers. Creatively, Constellation casts twin siblings Rosie Coleman and Davina Coleman as doppelganger daughters. Whether the actresses play individual versions or switch back and forth, the differences are slight enough that they add to the surreal nature of this series. At no point can you trust what you think watching this series and that kept me watching through the entire season. Rapace is fantastic even if this feels like a variation of a character she has played before in Prometheus, Lamb, What Happened To Monday, You Won’t Be Alone, and other films. Equally good is Jonathan Banks getting to play a character far different than Mike Ehrmentraut and showcasing his breadth of talent.

James D’Arcy, Barbara Sukowa, and William Catlett also add a lot to this story in supporting roles but the problem I continued to have watching this series is that as each episode unfolds, there are countless red herrings and misdirects dropped, many of which are not satisfactorily resolved. By the end of the season, I was caught off guard that so much was left open-ended. Constellation is a thinking person’s thriller that blends jump scares, character drama, and contemporary fads like liminal spaces to build a series that has high expectations and a strong cast but does not quite stick the landing. In many ways, Constellation is like an outer space-themed variation on the tones of Severence, Apple’s other substantial hit. The difference is that Constellation is split between focusing on the psychological and true supernatural elements with neither really getting enough attention.

Peter Harness, best known for writing the UK-based series McMafia, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and Doctor Who created Constellation and wrote the series alongside Sean Jablonski and Ragna Wei. Directing duties were shared between Joseph Cedar, Oliver Hirschbiegel, and Michelle MacLaren. McLaren is one of the best directors working today who has not made the jump to the big screen despite being in contention to helm Wonder Woman. With extensive experience directing series like The Deuce, Westworld. and Game of Thrones, McLaren helms the first two episodes with an eye for the visual eerieness that becomes the hallmark of Constellation. Everything about this series is designed to make the viewer question reality and the sanity of the characters, something that McLaren and her fellow directors build into every episode. The muted colors and intricate shifting of the settings are augmented by the intercut scenes courtesy of the series editors as well as the score from Ben Salisbury and Suvi-Eeva Aikas. Any faults that Constellation has are a result of the complex nature of this story not quite coming together cohesively despite looking pretty damn good.

Constellation review

With limited series setting a precedent for stories to get wrapped up in a dozen chapters or less, Constellation is firmly designed as the first season in an ongoing series. The final episode sets up far more than it resolves and leaves viewers with a jaw-dropping final scene that will have some waiting excitedly for news of season two while others are going to be left scratching their heads. AppleTV+ has been a surprisingly vocal outlet for science-fiction programming of the highest quality as compared to other streaming platforms and I am thankful that a unique tale like this has made it to wide audiences. If Peter Harness and his creative team can mine Noomi Rapace and Jonathan Banks for the level of acting they deliver this season with a stronger collection of episodes, season two will make Constellation a series to be reckoned with.

Constellation premieres on February 21st on AppleTV+.



About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.