‘Constellation’ Episode 1 Recap & Ending Explained: What Is A CAL Device?

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Constellation is a new psychological space thriller series on AppleTV+ with a premise exciting enough to look forward to a perfect delivery. The plot is centered around an astronaut named Jo Ericsson, who returns from a space expedition following some unnatural accident, only to find certain strange changes in her usual life. With the first three episodes of the show released, Constellation promises to be quite a thrilling affair, hopefully combining both the genres of psychological thriller and space fiction in equal measure.

Spoiler Alert


What causes the accident in space?

The story in Constellation begins with a brief introduction to the Ericssons, a family of Swedish individuals settled in Cologne, Germany. About five weeks earlier from the present day, young Alice and her father, Magnus, are seen on a video call, which has been facilitated by the European Space Agency (ESA), where the girl receives her education, and the man works as a teacher. The reason for the need for ESA’s authorization is because the video call was made to Jo Ericsson, an astronaut currently living on the International Space Station (ISS), some 286 miles above Earth. Constellation does not make up a fictional premise in this regard, as the ISS mentioned and shown is the same one in reality, jointly owned and run by NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Jo has been in a regular practice of video calling with her daughter while being away on the space mission, and this particular day is slightly more tense, for she is about to go out on a scheduled spacewalk.

While Jo is still on the call, another astronaut at the ISS, Paul Lancaster, is working on a device named the CAL, which is an important part of this expedition because it is being used to search for new life forms. This description, given by Jo, is not very adequate at all, but the fact that the CAL is an integral object of the show’s plot is easily established. However, Paul’s actions, and those of everyone else on the station, are interrupted by a sudden blaring of the alarms and an almost immediate jolt, as if something crashed against the ISS. The accident has an immense effect, as its impact leads to Paul getting pinned to a wall with a sharp knife stuck in his left arm, causing heavy blood loss. Fire began to spread in some parts of the station as well, and the remaining astronauts had to put it out to ensure their own safety. The ground operators, meaning the leaders of the various space agencies involved in the operation, order the astronauts to stop the mission immediately and evacuate in order to ensure their safety. But this is not an easy task, for one of the two evacuation capsules has been damaged by the impact of the accident.

As a result of this emergency, Jo has to go out on her scheduled spacewalk, but her intention now is to check on the Soyuz evacuation capsule and try to repair it. Jo and her colleague, Ilya, are given the responsibility of going out of the station and checking on the status of the two Soyuz capsules, and the two eventually separate because of their current orders. Jo makes her way toward the damaged capsule and comes across the site of the accident, where something seemingly crashed against the station, leaving deep openings on the station’s metal surface. Importantly, Jo’s live feed camera falters at this time, meaning that none of the agency workers on Earth can watch what she is seeing, and this is where things start to become strange. Seeing an orange material stuck in the crash site, Jo tries to find out what it is, knowing that any debris would be helpful in determining the reason for the accident. However, the orange object turns out to be the entire dead body of a female cosmonaut wearing an outfit from the USSR era, which is a simply bizarre matter. Unfortunately for Jo, the body flies away into open space, for she cannot grasp it in time, and Ilya does not get to see the corpse either. However, although the live feed cameras do not capture the body, Jo’s report on the matter does seem to make the Roscosmos head, Irene Lysenko, quite worried and perplexed.


What does Jo experience while alone on the ISS?

As Jo examines the damage report on the Soyuz capsule, she finds it to be terribly affected, and all the space station heads have determined that the best plan would be to divide the group on the ISS. By this time, Paul had died due to extreme blood loss and heart failure, despite all the best efforts by his colleagues to save him. Only four astronauts remain—Jo, Ilya, Audrey, and Yazmina—and it is decided that the remaining operational capsule will be used to take three of them back to Earth, while the last one will stay back and repair the Soyuz 1 capsule to then use it to return. Jo decides to be the one staying back, and thus, she has to spend a significant amount of time alone in space. 

With the supplies and mechanisms on the ISS also heavily damaged after the accident, there is only about nineteen hours’ worth of oxygen left for Jo, within which time she will have to repair the Soyuz 1 capsule, stock it with supplies and necessary items that need to be brought back to Earth, and then evacuate. In order to ration the supplies, mainly the electricity at the ISS, it is decided that Jo will have to spend forty-five minutes in total darkness with no communications, while the next forty-five minutes will have all the facilities running. This method of having alternate phases of power and darkness would go on every 45 minutes, which would be enough for Jo to stay alive and well. During the first cycle, as the power is cut, Jo first realizes the extent of her loneliness, far away from her home and the entire planet.

Perhaps to keep herself away from the depressing thoughts that are bound to follow such a realization, Jo picks up her iPad and fiddles with it, starting with making an illustration of the dead cosmonaut she had seen earlier during her spacewalk. The protagonist then moves on to looking at photographs of Alice from when she was younger and is evidently moved by love and a longing to see her soon. However, in the midst of all this, time seems to pass very quickly, even astonishing Jo, for it does not feel like forty-five minutes at all. She had set a manual timer on a watch right after power was cut, and she now looks on with bewilderment as the time seems to run down extremely fast, and soon the power is back on again. This surely suggests that some time anomaly had begun, possibly resulting from the unexplained accident, and this seems to be pertinent to the whole premise of the show as well.

But something even stranger happens sometime later when the power is cut once again as part of the conservation plan. As Jo is busy packing objects for her evacuation, she hears a loud banging against the metal and leaves her chamber to investigate the matter. As she wades closer to the source of the noise, it grows louder, almost as if someone is heavily banging against a metal door, and strangely enough, the location is close enough to the CAL device seen earlier, which is still seemingly operational. Matters take a supernatural, or psychological, turn now, for the first time in Constellation, as Jo suddenly finds herself able to stand on her feet, as if she is in a place with gravity. The whole scenario changes as she stands in a corridor with a number of doors on the side and one at the extreme end. This last door is where the loud banging noise is coming from, and as Jo approaches it, she can breathe normally as well, as she has already gotten rid of her oxygen mask. But right as she is about to open the door, the power on the ISS comes back, and the whole place is lit up. Jo suddenly realizes that she was at the station all this while, and the door at the end was probably an exit hatchet, which would have caused tremendous problems for her.


What is Jo’s predicament at the present time?

Along with matters in space and from the past, Constellation episode 1 also presents scenes from the present, in which Jo is seemingly on the run from her husband and the authorities along with her daughter. Interestingly, she is also seen in possession of the CAL device, which she had earlier stated she did not know when she was asked to bring it back to Earth. This probably suggests that Jo had known the true capabilities of the CAL device all along, and she had secretly brought it back to Earth without informing the authorities.

On the other side, she seems to be extremely frightened of losing Alice, to the extent of hallucinating that her daughter was calling out for help, even though she is asleep inside a house they take shelter at. In the last few minutes of the episode, Jo decides to reach out to the loud calls, and she runs into the dark, snowy fields, only to come across a similar house in the middle of nowhere. Entering the place, she sees a dead cat on the floor, and a certain painting on the wall has significantly changed, as if she is now on some other plane of reality. 

The loud bangs are back once again, and as Jo investigates further, she sees them coming from a wardrobe, which was exactly what she had seen during her experience on the abandoned ISS as well. As she opens the door, Jo finds Alice sitting inside, and the latter is relieved to see her mother, desperately asking where she was for all this while. The ending seems to suggest that the Alice inside the wardrobe and the one in the perceived reality are two very different individuals. Constellation episode 1, surely raises a series of questions, starting from the exact purpose and findings of the CAL device to the reasons behind Jo losing certain sections of her time. It would be interesting to see where the show goes from here on.


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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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