Constellation Apple Series Explained: The Meaning of the Show's Cryptic Plot

By Klein Felt Posted:
Constellation, Noomi Rapace as Johanna “Jo” Ericsson Jonathan Banks as Henry Caldera and Bud Caldera

Fans have been scratching their heads as they try to find meaning in the cryptic plot of Apple TV+'s Constellation

The mind-bending psychological thriller has released its first three episodes on the streamer, introducing audiences to the plight of Joanna Ericsson, an astronaut who - following a mysterious accident aboard the International Space Station (ISS) - starts to see and hear things. 

The series stars the likes of Noomi Rapace and Jonathan Banks, as it brings a twisted Alice in Wonderland-esque space-faring tale to kick off Apple TV+'s 2024.

Recapping Constellation Episodes 1-3

Before one can start to understand the twists and turns of Constellation and what it all means, one must understand what has happened in the series thus far. 

In the hit Apple TV+ series' first three episodes, audiences were introduced to Joanna "Jo" Ericsson (played by Noomi Rapace). 

During Episodes 1-3, Jo is seen on two planes of action. One sees the character navigating a snowy fjord in Sweden somewhere, as she experiences terrifying hallucinations of two different versions of her daughter. 

The other follows Jo in her career as an astronaut, as she is on board the ISS when a devastating collision with the Space Station leaves one of her crew members dead and forces the space-faring team to evacuate back to Earth. 

The ISS Incident

Joanna Astronaut Constellation Apple TV+
Apple TV+

Jo and her fellow astronauts (of varying nationalities) are aboard the ISS researching what long-term exposure to space does with to the human body, as well as conducting experiments with what they call the PAL device. 

The CAL was developed by Jonathan Banks' scientist (and former astronaut in his own right) Henry Caldera, to hopefully discover a new state of matter. 

As soon as the ISS team initiates their CAL experiment the Space Station collides with something of unknown origins. This forces Jo to take a spacewalk to assess the damage, where the first of her reality-bending experiences seems to happen. 

As she floats outside the ISS, it becomes clear the team will have to leave as soon as possible as the Station's life support resources dwindle. However, approaching the breach in the truss of the Station, Jo discovers it is the mummified corpse of a Russian cosmonaut that seems to be the cause of the damage. 

Jo is the only one who sees the body with her suit's camera system down at the time of the discovery. She reenters the ISS and is forced to see her team off in one of the Station's evacuation capsules. 

Left Alone in Space

Joanna Constellation Apple TV+ Window
Apple TV+

With only enough oxygen left for one crew member and valuable repairs needed to be done before they go, Jo is left behind with the body of her dead crew member Paul. 

For the next few days, Jo begins repairs, transferring battery power to the second evacuation capsule and closing out anything she can on the ISS. However, this is when things start to get weird. 

Jo begins to have what looks to be vivid hallucinations of another reality. Seeing and hearing things aboard the station, losing track of time, and even - at times - believing she is back on Earth. 

Throughout this, audiences get brief glimpses of her back on the Swedish fjord, as she comes across two different versions of her daughter as well as the cabin they have settled in. 

After losing contact with Mission Control throughout her few days on the Station, Jo completes what she needs to do in the nick of time, including grabbing the CAL machine and its mysterious sample.

She enters the second evacuation capsule and goes to launch, but the capsule is stuck and the only solution requires someone to be aboard the ISS. Despite this, a shadowy figure can be seen fixing the problem for her, allowing the Swedish astronaut to launch from the station and reenter the Earth's atmosphere blind. 

Jo Makes It Home

Jonathan Banks Apple TV+ Constellation
Apple TV+

Back on Earth, Jo's hallucinations continue, and it is not just her. Audiences see her daughter Alice jumping in and out of reality, along with Jonathan Banks' Henry Caldera - who (from what it looks like) has a twin brother named Bud played by the same actor. 

Henry is obsessed with his CAL experiment. Looking at the data collected from its time in orbit, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist discovers what he calls an interference effect terminating from the device. While he can recreate this result for himself, for some reason he is unable to do so with others in attendance. 

Explaining what happened to her up on the ISS, Jo is met with blank stares by the international space community. They do not believe for a second that the nearly 30-year-old corpse of a Russian cosmonaut could have been the root of the ISS accident. 

Despite what she may think Jo eventually caves into this inquiring committee, admitting that - just like the theory they have come up with - it could have been a USSR orange garbage bag that caused the tear in the side of the Space Station. 

The third episode ends, as Jo finally gets to go home to Cologne, Germany. As she reenters the house she left all those months ago, things are a little different. She is confused by the placement of dishware and the color of the car out front. Jo's husband, Magnus, attributes all this to trauma-induced confusion from her experience in space, but something greater seems to be afoot.

All this happens while the series cuts back and forth between Henry and Bud. Both are also suffering from hallucinations as well, with the line between what is real and what is not blurring. 

Right before the series cuts to black at the end of Episode 3, the first acknowledgment that Jo and some of these characters may not be in the right reality is uttered. Back in the Swedish wilderness Jo and one version of Alice make their way across a frozen lake toward a weird derelict mimic of the cabin they had just come from.

As Jo's daughter Alice fearfully says, "I don't think I'm you're daughter," Jo turns to the young girl and says, "I think you are right, and you are not my daughter," leaving things on a cryptic and head-scratching note. 

What Is Happening in Apple's Constellation?

While - only three episodes in - it remains unclear exactly what is happening in Apple TV+'s Constellation, there have been some hints alluding to what is going on. 

What is most likely happening is there has been a split in reality somewhere along the line, creating a breach between two separate universes and the people in it.

As Joanna and her team work on the CAL experiment in space, it is the exact moment in which the device triggers that everything goes awry. This mysterious research project could be the key to learning what is going on with not only Jo but also other characters like Alice and Henry/Bud. 

At the time of the experiment, only Jo and (the now-deceased) Paul are present. And they seem to be the only two astronauts on board the ISS that are seen experiencing these reality-bending effects. 

Henry explains what could be happening incredibly well in Episode 3. Sitting alongside the young Alice on a swingset in Star City, Russia, Jonathan Banks' character explains to the girl the ins and outs of quantum physics. 

"The same thing can be in two states and two different times," Henry tells Alice. In quantum physics, "there is a world in which [the same] particle is black" and one "a world in which that particle is white."

He then called out a "point in liminal space between those worlds" where "the particle is black and white at the same time."

This could be a direct allusion to Jo's predicament. Perhaps aboard the ISS, in working closely with the CAL device, she reached that point between worlds, straddling the line between two separate realities. 

This would explain her seeing things or remembering events in different ways, as she is dealing with two different Jo conciousnesses at the same time. 

This 'two different worlds' theory would also lay out why Henry and Bud (who are presented as brothers) look identical, are both astronauts, and seem to be experiencing similar symptoms to Joanna. 

Maybe the Henry and Bud audiences are seeing are not brothers at all, but instead are alternate reality versions of the same character, brought into one world during their moon mission (that they were the only survivors of) in 1977. 

For now, fans will have to wait to find out, as Episode 4 of Constellation will continue this mind-melting story. 

Constellation is streaming now on Apple TV+. 

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- In This Article: Constellation
Release Date
February 21, 2024
James D'Arcy
Jonathan Banks
Noomi Rapace
- About The Author: Klein Felt
Klein Felt is a Senior Editor at The Direct. Joining the website back in 2020, he helped jumpstart video game content on The Direct. Klein plays a vital role as a part of the site's content team, demonstrating expertise in all things PlayStation, Marvel, and the greater entertainment industry.