CONSTELLATION Review: Beyond Space and Time

Noomi Rapace, Jonathan Banks, and James D'Arcy star in a psychological sci-fi thriller, created and written by Peter Harness, debuting globally on Apple TV+.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
CONSTELLATION Review: Beyond Space and Time

Talk about an unreliable narrator!

The first three episodes are now streaming on Apple TV+. New episodes will debut every Wednesday through April 27. I've seen all eight episodes.

Since starring in Ridley Scott's Prometheus (2012), Noomi Rapace has returned to science-fiction in the post-apocalyptic action movies What Happened to Monday (2017) and Black Crab (2022), but nothing quite like Constellation, which is probably best described as a psychological thriller that crosses genres into science fiction.

(You'll note that I'm leaving out the big-budget Bright (2017), which was more an action-fantasy than anything else.)

Born in Sweden, Rapace has also proven to be uncommonly effective in horror dramas like Lamb (2021) and You Won't Be Alone (2022), all of which serves her well in Constellation, which trips over into horror elements as well. It starts as an immediately gripping thriller set largely in space, though, as Jo (Rapace) must survive a disaster on board the International Space Station (I.S.S.) and figure out how to get home to her husband Magnus (James D'Arcy) and young daughter Alice, played by sisters Rosie Coleman and Davina Coleman.

As Jo is engaged in a fight for survival in space, back on Earth the craggy Caldera (Jonathan Banks, from Breaking Bad) barks about his precious experiment on board the I.S.S., which he claims is monumentally important to mankind, more so than anything else, for reasons that are not immediately apparent.

Created and written by Peter Harness, the series reflects his experience as a writer and producer on The War of the Worlds, Wallander and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, whose combined DNA bleeds throughout Constellation, mixing with additional strands of mystery and imagination to produce a potent brew that goes down easy.

Frankly, I found it challenging to keep up with all the elements in play. Narratively speaking, the series follows the perspective of more than one unreliable narrator, so often I had no idea what was true and what was not, and what, exactly, was going on.

Yet, as expertly directed by Breaking Bad vet Michelle MacLaren (the first two episodes), Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall, The Experiment), who helmed the next three episodes, and Joseph Cedar (Footnote, Our Boys), who directs the final three episodes, the series gradually reveals its secrets in time and space.

Harness creates characters who are fully fleshed-out over the course of the series; there's also a lot of meat on those bones, so the actors have plenty to sink their teeth into, and they make the most of it, yet without over-dramatizing events. The natural human reaction to many things that happen is sheer anger and mounting frustration, so the actors' ability to rein in their emotions and deliver carefully-modulated performances is truly impressive.

Gripping and surprising, Constellation may test viewers' patience at times, but it feels good to be rewarded with dramatic depth. All eight episodes were made available in advance for critical review, and I'm grateful for that, since each episode made me more curious about how things would develop and how writer Peter Harness and the actors and directors would solve the puzzles that keep arising.

A good episodic narrative series makes you want to keep watching to see what happens. Constellation made me want to watch each episode, and then watch it again to see why it happens.

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Apple TV+James D'ArcyJonathan BanksNoomi RapacePeter Harness

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