Constellation S1E5 Recap: Put on the Ghost Tapes

“Five Miles Out, the Sound Is Clearest”

Jo looks concerned
Screenshot/Apple TV+

The following recap contains spoilers for Constellation S1E5, “Five Miles Out, the Sound Is Clearest” (written by Peter Harness and directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel)

Episode 5 of Constellation picks up with Magnus (James D’Arcy) unconscious on the floor and Jo (Noomi Rapace) checking to see if he’s alright. He isn’t, really, but he also isn’t dead. His call to Frederic (Julian Looman) unfortunately goes through, and while no one talks to him, Frederic makes it clear that he’s going to come back to the house.

So, Jo calls an ambulance for Magnus and then leaves the house with Alice (Davina Coleman/Rosie Coleman). I have to admit that I found it a little surprising that Alice went with Jo so easily, given that these two have already been feeling like something was off between them in previous episodes, and there was some indication that Alice was hiding in the cabinet because she was afraid of Jo.

Nevertheless, it looks like Magnus hitting his head has led us back to the Cabin Scenes in the premiere of Constellation. By the end of Episode 5, that circle seems to be pretty well closed, but more on that later (including how maybe it isn’t).

Magnus looks to the side, with a wound on his temple
Screenshot/Apple TV+

Jo swings by the ESA and steals the CAL device before heading towards Denmark. More precisely, she’s heading to the Skegarrak Marine Observatory because of the tapes they sent her. On the way, she calls Ilya (Henry David) to talk about the lithium pills, and I think it’s worth noting that she reiterates her belief to him that everyone on the ground could hear her on October 15 but just left her to die. She said the same thing to Magnus in Episode 4, and it does make sense that she would think this, though Ilya’s insistence that he was there and they could not hear her might be enough to change her mind.

Ilya on the phone
Screenshot/Apple TV+

Ilya gets his vitamins tested to confirm that he was given vitamins and then tries to check out medical records that he is told no longer exist. Irena (Barbara Sukowa) confronts him and tells him that Jo assaulted her husband, took off with their daughter, and is now considered to be missing, but Ilya lies and says he hasn’t been in touch with Jo.

Frederic wants Jo to come back and get help from Irena, who he says knows about these things. This makes me wonder about how much Frederic knows, but also about how much Irena knows. There are strong indications at this point that she died in space in 1967 and was the dead cosmonaut who hit the ISS, though she’s also alive and walking around talking to people.

Irena standing in a library in Constellation S1E5
Screenshot/Apple TV+

Further, Alice tells Jo that she’s afraid of the Valya, and that seems to be Irena (based on Alice’s drawing and on her recognizing the voice on the tape from 1967). I don’t know what the name Valya is doing in all of this at this point (the name means something like “strong and healthy”—maybe it has something to do with Valya algebra?), but it’s clear that Irena is central to the mystery Constellation is presenting us with.

A hand holding a drawing of a dead person in space wearing orange
Screenshot/Apple TV+

At Skagerrak, Jo and Alice meet Laurenz (Kurt Dreyer) and Wallie (Birthe Neumann), who have a collection of “ghost tapes” of various things that have happened in space over the years, including Apollo 18. Jo has her suspicions of them, bolstered by an article she read that called them not only cranks but criminals. But of course the powers that be would say that about them even if what they’re saying is true because it contradicts the official narrative. Jo has some experience with that.

Wallie says that in order to hear the tapes, they have to take a boat five miles out into the ocean, in the line that gives S1E5 its title, “Five Miles Out, the Sound Is Clearest.” She says that you have to go to a liminal space to be able to decode what’s between the static, but the tapes she plays five miles out still sound like noise.

Wallie stands by a tape recorder with blinds behind her
Screenshot/Apple TV+

According to Wallie, you have to learn how to listen, but Alice freaks out during all of this. Is that because she’s scared of this strange old woman and what she’s saying, or does Alice perhaps hear things better than we do?

One of the tapes is of Paul Lancaster (William Catlett). Wallie implies that she and Laurenz heard Paul returning to Earth, but then Jo came back instead. This would track with Alice seeing Paul at Jo’s memorial in her vision in Episode 4, and I’m pretty sure at this point that our Jo has replaced a Jo who died in space instead of Paul.

At some point, the one reality bled into the other, or they were weirdly stitched together. I’m not claiming to have a precise line on how (or when) this occurred at the moment, but it’s clear that our Jo is in the wrong reality, and the only way I can make sense of Alice’s experiences is if she’s getting glimpses of what her reality should be—one where her mother died and Paul came back instead.

Laurenz talking stridently
Screenshot/Apple TV+

As they leave Skagerrak, Wallie insists that Jo take the ghost tapes. During the car ride after, Alice attempts to help Jo talk through things, which leads her to playing the cassette tape from 1967. And, lo and behold, it turns out proximity to the CAL device makes the recording clear as day. So they get to hear Irena burning and claiming that the world is the wrong way around.

That’s the same tape Jo was listening to in the car at the beginning of Episode 1, so there’s a strong temptation to connect the one sequence of events to the other, but there are also differences. In the opening scene of Episode 1, Jo sees a police vehicle that worries her, and that isn’t repeated in Episode 5. Neither is Alice’s question—“What’s happened to daddy?”—which wouldn’t fit terribly well with what we see in S1E5 where she’s talked to Magnus and told him they were going to the cabin. Also, there’s no indication in Episode 1 that they drove over the lake to get to the cabin, though we don’t precisely see them NOT doing that.

Jo sitting at a table listening to tapes in Constellation S1E5
Screenshot/Apple TV+

Still, you could mash these versions of events together, and I’m less than positive that their differences are going to be significant. As they arrive to the cabin in S1E5, Jo hears another Alice calling out for her from somewhere, and the end of the episode resonates with the end of Episode 3. There, though, Alice seemed more upset with Jo, demanding to know what she’d done with her mother. As Episode 5 comes to a close, she’s more compassionate in informing Jo that she doesn’t speak Swedish and doesn’t call her mamma.

It’s true that if these scenes are in the same reality, the events of Episode 3 would happen after those in Episode 5, but I find myself thinking that we’re instead seeing two different, but similar, realities. S1E5 ends with Alice trucking through the snow yelling, “Mamma!” and we could see that leading Jo out into the cold in search of her in the same way as we saw in Episode 1, but things don’t quite line up.

Alice, wearing a winter hat in the cold, yelling out
Screenshot/Apple TV+

This remains one of the biggest questions in Constellation: how many realities are we seeing, and how do the versions of people in different realities relate to one another?

Thankfully, “Five Miles Out, the Sound Is Clearest” gives us more to work with through the scenes involving Henry and Bud (Jonathan Banks). I’m still not entirely sure if these two inhabit the same world, but I increasingly think that they do not. A noteworthy wrinkle in this is that Jo remembers Henry as the sole survivor of Apollo 18, who went on to become an alcoholic and a failure—nothing like the man he is now. But it’s really the scenes where Henry and Bud interact that, oddly, make me think they’re in different realities.

Henry steams up a mirror and writes “LEAVE ME ALONE” on it, which Bud sees written backwards on the mirror in his room. And, indeed, mirrors seem to play a role in the two communicating, as they speak to one another through a bathroom mirror later in the episode. Bud tells Henry he’s coming for him (and made him piss his pants), though I’m not entirely sure why, or how this relates to Bud calling his daughters about Thanksgiving. And is he still under investigation for murder? Episode 5 doesn’t pick up that thread at all.

Henry looking into a mirror where he sees Bud
Screenshot/Apple TV+

It’s possible that we’re seeing a third version of the character played by Jonathan Banks in the bathroom scene, but Henry chastises him for not taking his pills, and we know that Bud threw his pills into the ocean. Either way, the man in the mirror is mad at Henry, while Henry seems to be trying to figure out their shared problem and fears the CAL device made it worse.

Also worth noting here is that Henry asks Bud if there is an astronaut called Jo Ericsson, but he has had numerous interactions with Jo over the course of Constellation to this point. This is the biggest thing that makes me think the two inhabit different realities—he’s asking his double if there is a Jo in his.

Irena mentions quantum entanglement to Henry in this episode, and it’s clear that Constellation is playing with that concept. I don’t know if taking lithium helps to block such entanglement (in the show, I mean; this is obviously all nonsense science in real life, where entanglement applies to electrons and not, you know, people), or if astronauts like Jo are being given it for another reason. But I remain curious about what it implies for the ESA to be giving it to some individuals covertly. Who knows what when it comes to lithium doing something, and what do they want it to be doing?

Regardless, Constellation just keeps getting better. I love that it has me revisiting previous episodes as I think through things, and I love that I have a topic I didn’t find a way to work into this recap or the last one (the paintings!). I may have to write a separate article about that.

I’ll be back with a breakdown of next week’s episode, and you can also listen to me talking about the show on The TV Obsessive Podcast with Ryan Kirksey each week on Fridays.

See you next time.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

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