'Constellation' review: In space, no one can hear you do you


'I should be able to see what collided with the ISS in a bit ... whoa – is that George Clooney? Talk about your multiversal intersections.' Photos: Handout

Taking the "con" out of the ongoing Apple TV+ sci-fi drama Constellation's title, we could extrapolate it to "conspiracy", with a little "confusion" for good measure. At times, we might be tempted to just leave things at "con".

None of that last bit can be laid at the feet of the cast, certainly not lead Noomi Rapace, who can always be counted on for a committed, earnest turn in any role.

As International Space Station (ISS) crew member Johanna "Jo" Ericsson, she is the audience's anchor in what proves to be constantly shifting territory.

While some psychological thrillers (like Joker) leave you in doubt as to the veracity of events as seen through the main character's eyes, Constellation soon has you wondering if anyone in this show is really who ... or what ... or where they seem.

Created by Peter Harness (McMafia) from an idea by Sean Jablonski (Law & Order: Organized Crime), it begins with a quantum physics experiment on the ISS ordered by former astronaut turned scientist Henry Caldera (an alternatingly sinister and driven Jonathan Banks).

Once it's activated, the Cold Atomic Library (CAL) possibly causes a catastrophic collision that leaves everyone on board fighting to survive.

Henry just wanted to make the world a better place, so he decided to take a look at himself and then make a change.Henry just wanted to make the world a better place, so he decided to take a look at himself and then make a change.

The bulk of that fight is left to Jo, who in true Gravity-esque fashion performs some sensational zero-gee heroics to stay on mission – and alive (plus, she has to spend some truly unnerving "down time" strapped into a confined space next to the corpse of a colleague, brrr).

It's what happens later that makes her wonder just what happened. And as we witness it, we realise that it's not just the characters but even the very world they are in that appears to be playing tricks on our perception.

Why does her daughter Alice (Davina and Rosie Coleman) "smell" different? Was her home life with hubby Magnus (James D'Arcy) happy or fractured before she left for the ISS? What's really in those vitamin capsules that the command centre is making her take?

This reality-distorting effect soon begins to ripple outward from just Jo, slowly (and here's the thing, perhaps a little too unhurriedly) involving other characters and in sometimes startling ways.

The initial pair of episodes is fairly gripping, with its survival thriller aspects mysteriously intercut with a bewildered Jo encountering her daughter in different settings and states.

But Constellation does take maddeningly deliberate steps getting to each "big reveal" that knocks our understanding of its universe(s) off kilter.

It's also more than a little frustrating to see a hero like Jo being treated with such casual disregard and even outright scepticism by her superiors, but this could be explained by the time its central mystery unravels.

(Later, some of the things Jo does turn out to be gobsmackingly convenient, given the level of surveillance on her, and reek of less-than-fastidious ways to advance the plot.)

'Just what every paranoid thriller needs, a creeped-out kid pointing like she's creeped out by something.''Just what every paranoid thriller needs, a creeped-out kid pointing like she's creeped out by something.'

So with just a couple of episodes before its eight-episode run concludes (and no confirmation on whether it's one-and-done or if it will go to a second year), Constellation has been riveting in parts and meandering or annoying in others.

Not conclusively a "con" yet, but just like in space, all it takes is the tiniest misfire...

New episodes of Constellation arrive on Apple TV+ every Wednesday.

6.5 10

Summary:

To the moon (but which moon?)

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