Constellation S1E6 Recap: “Paul Is Dead” or Maybe Not

Paul in a spacesuit, in his pod, in Constellation S1E6, "Paul Is Dead"
Screenshot/Apple TV+

The following recap contains spoilers for Constellation S1E6, “Paul Is Dead” (written by Peter Harness and directed by Joseph Cedar)

Rumors of Paul’s death have been greatly exaggerated. At least, Constellation Episode 6 presents us with a world where Paul (William Catlett) lives while Jo (Noomi Rapace) dies on the ISS. But things are a bit more complicated than that from the jump.

Jo is talking to Alice (Rosie Coleman/Davina Coleman) on her iPad while Paul is working on the CAL device, just as we saw in Episode 1. But when the accident occurs, it’s worth noting that we briefly see two versions of Jo—one has lost hold of the iPad while the other has not—and they seem to see one another. Then, we’re back to one version of Jo, who falls into a window and goes splat.

Jo's bloody face smashed against broken glass
Screenshot/Apple TV+

Immediately, the CAL device is gone, and when Paul tells Audrey (Carole Weyers) to inform Henry Caldera (Jonathan Banks) that they’ve lost it, she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. That must be particularly weird for Paul, since Audrey was just working on the device with him, but trauma has occurred for all of them, so he doesn’t dwell on it.

In this version of events, it’s Paul who’s left on the ISS with Jo’s corpse (instead of Jo with Paul’s corpse). He has to fix the pod in order to get home and, like Jo, runs into trouble with the latches before finally getting them to release. But, in the meantime, he gets freaked out by the fact that he hears Jo’s corpse breathing and digitally records the sound.

Paul gets permission to leave the body in space, expressing worries about it possibly spewing blood due to changes in gravity through the re-entry process, but really it’s because he’s scared. And when he puts Jo’s body back into the ISS, we revisit the scene where Jo grabbed his severed arm and saw him, but this time it’s from Paul’s point of view.

Jo's corpse with a bandage on its face, hand clutched by Paul
Screenshot/Apple TV+

In the same way, once Paul is back on Earth, he puts a flower on Jo’s grave and sees her in a way that mirrors how she saw him in Episode 3. I noted that he has a piece of paper in his hand in this scene and inferred it’s the poem we heard him reading in “Somewhere in Space Hangs My Heart,” but we don’t get him reading the poem here.

Paul stands in uniform at a cemetery
Screenshot/Apple TV+

Indeed, as much as various scenes in Constellation S1E6 seem to connect to timelines we’ve seen previously, the show never gives us a bare repetition. It’s always the event from a different angle or with slightly different aspects elided. This works well in terms of making the series a compelling watch, but it also keeps the door cracked open to the thought that we’re seeing a manifold of realities where some are just really close to one another.

Regardless, we’ve seen at least three versions of reality at this point. In the first, Alice speaks Swedish and the CAL device exists. In the second, Alice does not speak Swedish, but the CAL device exists. And in the third, where Episode 6 spends most of its time, Alice speaks Swedish but the CAL device does not exist.

Paul sitting at a table with his crew, all in uniform
Screenshot/Apple TV+

This is the same world that Bud inhabits, where Apollo 18 was a disaster. We might also note that Paul calls his wife (Rebecca Scroggs) by the name Frida, and she corrects him to say that her name is Erica. This is the opposite of what happened in Episode 3, where Jo called her Erica and she said her name was Frida. Further, when Paul is being grilled about what happened on the ISS, Irena (Barbara Sukowa) is notably absent, so we might infer that this is the world where she died in space.

It’s tempting to think that there are only two versions of reality at play in Constellation: one where Jo died and Paul lived, Bud is a failure, Irena died in space, the CAL doesn’t exist, and Alice speaks Swedish; and another where Paul died and Jo lived, Henry Caldera is a success, Irena is alive, the CAL exists, and Alice does not speak Swedish. However, this would fail to note that at the beginning of S1E1 and S1E6, the CAL device exists and Alice speaks Swedish.

Perhaps this inaugural scene depicts an event that bifurcated reality, or maybe we should embrace the Many Worlds interpretation, but only two of them are relevant to this story. I’m not sure how much it matters. (High-altitude psychosis would seem to be a real thing, by the way.)

Bud gives Paul an angry look
Screenshot/Apple TV+

Paul tracks down Bud and demands answers, which makes Bud angry. This is a man who’s struggled for decades to accept that what happened isn’t what he remembers happening, and I have to wonder if Bud, Paul, and Jo are all suffering from the same condition of being mismatched to the reality they’re in. That would make sense, but there remains the big wrinkle of Henry. We haven’t seen anything equivalent for Paul or Jo.

Bud’s anger towards Henry at the end of Episode 5 does feel more motivated, however, as he says to Paul that neither of them can go back (presumably he means to the other reality). He remembers saving the day on Apollo 18 but found himself in a world where his crewmates died instead. Does he feel like Henry stole his metaphysical position?

What we’ve seen with Paul and Jo does not seem to involve a swapping of reality between differing living versions of themselves, unless we just haven’t seen that part of things yet. Maybe there’s another Jo, another Paul, and a Henry who died in space. That would feel coherent. But if that’s not the case, I’m not sure how things line up. I suppose we’ll have to wait for more information.

It seems like Bud shoots Paul at the end of Constellation S1E6, but we only see him pointing a gun at where Paul is (offscreen) and then hear the gunshot. We don’t see the aftermath or otherwise know about his condition coming out of the episode. So, that’s a question, but I’m also wondering how this fits into the timeline of events for Bud. Previously, we saw him talking to the media about the crisis on the ISS in proximity to his cruise ship appearance with Ian Rogers (Shaun Dingwall). Since Paul finds him at his apartment, I would think that this is occurring after that cruise, but Bud tells Paul to take his pills. We saw Bud tossing his pills off of the ship, so nothing quite lines up.

I keep circling back to the idea that we’re seeing a multiplicity of worlds, and some of them are close enough to one another that the story can flow between them.

Alice looks distraught
Screenshot/Apple TV+

Alice does not react well to her mamma’s death. Of course, no one does, but her anger and denial leave Magnus (James D’Arcy) at a loss about what to do. She wrecks her stuffed rabbit and her friendship with Wendy (Sadie Sweet). She’s mad at Paul for leaving her mother in space. She hides in a cabinet. And she believes that Jo is somehow, somewhere still alive, and that she’ll see her again.

Of course, within the confines of Constellation, that’s true, and one of the biggest questions is how Alice can see (and hear) across realities. Magnus decides to have a memorial for Jo in their home, which leads this Alice to see the other Alice in a mirrored version of what we saw in Episode 4. And, after Magnus takes Alice to the cabin (in a way that seems to line up with the opening of Episode 4), she sees Jo arriving by car while her father is asleep.

Alice at Jo's memorial
Screenshot/Apple TV+

The painting on the wall of the cabin in “Paul Is Dead” is Hugo Simberg’s The Poor Devil by the Fire ; The Devil by the Pot, which is the same painting we saw at the end of Episode 4. I wrote something up this past week about the Hugo Simberg paintings in Constellation, and I’m not sure how to factor in the conversation that Magnus and Alice have about them here in S1E6.

That’s because, though they are looking at a singular painting, they refer to it as plural (i.e., Alice says she likes them). Alice says it’s a changeling. Are there paintings in the real world that alternate between one depiction and another? I don’t think so, unless we’re talking about some kind of digital “painting” and I don’t think this is that. Rather, I think Alice is noting that she sometimes sees The Poor Devil, sometimes The Wounded Angel, and sometimes the version that’s in between, and she just accepts that. Whether Magnus does, too, or just follows his daughter’s pronouns is an open question.

The culminating action of this season seems sure to happen at the cabin, which you could view as a liminal space between civilization and the wilderness, and the changeling painting is surely representative of that.

Let’s note then that Episode 3 left us with Jo and Alice out in the snow in search of the other Alice, with police apparently closing in on the area. Episode 5 left us with Alice alone in the snow, calling out, “Mamma!” And Episode 6 leaves us with Alice looking out the cabin window at a car that Jo gets out of (which presumably contains another Alice).

I’m thinking that this Alice thus goes outside, but Jo isn’t there, so she starts walking through the snow yelling for her. When she doesn’t find her, she returns to the cabin to find it empty and cold (as we saw at the end of Episode 1), so she hides in the cupboard, where Jo finds her and takes her back to the other cabin for a warm bath before she disappears.

Which doesn’t resolve anything! But I have to guess we’ll get more action around the cabin next week.

See you then.

Written by Caemeron Crain

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

Caesar non est supra grammaticos

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