1708612607 Review of Constellation Episodes 1 3 A well crafted thriller that perhaps

Review of “Constellation” Episodes 1-3: A well-crafted thriller that perhaps reveals its cards too early

It's not every week that we get a new big-budget sci-fi show from Apple. That alone is worth celebrating after watching the three-episode premiere of “Constellation.” Luckily, Peter Harness's new series (BBC's The War of the Worlds) has been a pretty entertaining ride so far.

From the start, it's abundantly clear that Apple and the production companies have put a lot of money into this game. The first two episodes, which feel more like a logical introduction to the first week, shine thanks to Michelle MacLaren's (“Games of Thrones”) sharp direction and her talent for mixing well-staged spectacle with believable intimate moments. The third film, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (“Downfall”), seems rather mundane for story reasons, but that's the point, as the plot begins to unfold in a fascinating way, if perhaps too quickly.

“Constellation” is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exciting sci-fi shows and movies coming to streaming in 2024. The second season of Halo has been an entertaining journey so far, and Star Wars: The Acolyte promises to delve deep into the dark side of the Force. But first, don't miss the Adam Sandler-directed trippy space film called Spaceman on Netflix next month.

Spoilers for episodes 1, 2 and 3 of the first season of “Constellation”.

Jo on board the ISS and prepares for departure. (Image credit: Apple TV+)

It's hard not to fall prey to “Constellation's” strengths right from the start, as the script quickly takes us to the startling incident aboard the International Space Station, which may or may not have occurred due to a cutting-edge experiment going perhaps too wrong not . Only later will viewers realize that the series may no longer contain enough puzzles to fill eight episodes.

Former NASA astronaut and Nobel Prize winner Henry Caldera (Jonathan Banks) conducts an experiment from Earth that aims to find and create a new state of matter that can only exist in weightlessness. Things go wrong as soon as Commander Paul Lancaster (William Catlett) turns on the machine and seemingly reaches its destination. It's tempting to assume that the experiment is responsible for the ISS suddenly spiraling out of control and depressurizing, but we soon learn that a mysterious object has hit the station.

Jo Ericsson (Noomi Rapace), tasked with studying how life in space affects people's mental states and behavior, ironically suffers a nervous breakdown and hallucinations (or does she?) shortly after the station is damaged. We know this from the start, because the script decides to jump back and forth between the present and the future, where she appears to be on the run from the authorities in the middle of Sweden, along with her daughter and the results of the experiment.

Magnus and Alice reunite with Jo. (Image credit: Apple TV+)

The first two episodes make it very clear that something is wrong after Jo returns to Earth, which is already spoiled from the start of the premiere. You'd think this would take the tension out of what's happening in space, but that's not the case. It's still fascinating to see Jo battle multiple technological and mechanical setbacks to return to Earth after the rest of the surviving ISS crew departs in one of the two available capsules.

The first 100 minutes or so of the show feel like a pretty compelling riff on “Gravity” and “The Martian,” with Jo desperately going through the motions and protocols needed to make her return right while everyone on Earth fights the Clock run to help her. However, her more unique voice comes from the fact that she begins early on to see and hear things that are difficult to explain. We see plenty of this in the scenes set in the future, but soon the ISS begins to feel “haunted,” starting with a dead USSR-era cosmonaut who could be the object that crashed into the station .

Rapace is no stranger to wild sci-fi rides and perilous space travel, having been by far the most compelling element of the divisive Alien prequel Prometheus (2012). Apple's series gives her a lot more room to flex her acting muscles, and the much longer runtime isn't the only reason. “Constellation” feels like a show of two halves (so far), even after Jo returns to Earth, with family drama at the center of a web of paranoia and possible conspiracies.

There's a lot of talk about science, and it's amazing to see one of these “Prestige” series take the time to pay attention to smaller details and the rigid processes involved in space operations. Above all, “Constellation” hits the right tone as a paranoid thriller that makes you question reality by regularly changing the audience’s perspective.

Even beyond the non-linear narrative, one can see that the writers are playing with the audience, making it challenging but enjoyable for the viewer to keep up.

Henry Caldera has its own secrets. (Image credit: Apple TV+)

It's logical to focus on Jo's experiences in the first few episodes, then open up the scope in the third episode when Jonathan Banks slowly takes over the main plot and delivers a double act with a lot of potential for the future. The series doesn't seem particularly concerned with “hiding” the mechanics of what's actually going on, which would be fine if more than one objective had been put on the table. Mind you, we're only three episodes in, but with episode three being as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face and a plot that seems to have played its best cards early, we're wondering if the whole thing still has legs.

A possible secret weapon is the aforementioned family drama. This already suggests that Jo and her husband Magnus (James D'Arcy) were having major marital problems before she left Earth, and that her daughter Alice (Rosie Coleman) was as confused as she was by the reality-altering effects of the accident.

There is also the issue of bureaucracy and hidden interests (Russian, American, etc.) surrounding the experiment and the resulting ISS accident. This could bring much-needed twists and action to what otherwise looks like an earthbound psychological thriller and drama that's equal parts effective and self-limited.

There's no doubt that “Constellation” is a well-made and often disturbing series, although the cast and presentation alone could take this series over the edge. Still, there needs to be more spice in the coming weeks to remain relevant in the mainstream conversation and in our minds.