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Constellation ending explained and episode 8 recap: what's going on!?

 Noomi Rapace in Constellation episode 8.
Noomi Rapace in Constellation episode 8.

After eight confusing but gripping episodes, Constellation has ended, with its eigth and final episode 'These Fragments I Have Shored Against My Ruin' released on Wednesday, March 27.

More on Constellation

Our review
How to watch
Episode 1 recap
Episode 2 recap
Episode 3 recap
Episode 4 recap
Episode 5 recap
Episode 6 recap
Episode 7 recap

This Apple TV Plus sci-fi mystery series has slowly built up a fascinating but head-scratching mystery, with family dramas, cosmonaut conspiracies and dual realities all leading to this, the final episode of season 1. The choice of a TS Eliot quote as the title just reflects how far into chaos this show has come.

And it ends here: in this Constellation episode 8 recap, we'll run you through what happened in this final piece of the story. We'll also explain the ending — as best we can — though lots of ambiguity is left. Here's to hoping that a Constellation season 2 wraps more questions up!

As in our previous Constellation recap, we're going to have to first make a distinction between the two realities of the story. Reality 1 is the one we follow from mid-way through episode 1: here Jo is alive while Paul is dead, Henry is the veteran of a successful Apollo 18 and Irene is alive. Reality 2, introduced in episode 6, has Paul alive and Jo dead, while the alcoholic Bud is the only survivor of the Apollo 18 failure and Irene died in re-entry from space.

If you think that's confusing, you ain't seen nothin' yet, so let's jump in.

Constellation episode 8 recap

Uncovering the Valya

A subdued Jo (Noomi Rapace) is taken to an institute staffed by nuns, under the supervision of Irene (Barbara Sukowa), all while she's seeing visions of the mysterious dead Valya cosmonaut. The nuns give her electroshock treatment while she unconscious.

Meanwhile, Bud (Jonathan Banks) — who, if you'll remember, has switched realities with Henry (also Jonathan Banks), wakes up in Sweden. He finds the CAL, as well as Alice's tape recorder; he removes the tape and puts in one of his own, from Apollo 18, which confirms to him that he's in the reality in which the mission was a success. Then he finds a fire axe and chops the CAL to pieces. Later, he shows this to Frederic but says that Jo was the one who chopped it up. He's also acting very different, which Frederic notices, noting that he should be more upset about the CAL's destruction.

In Cologne, reality 1's Alice (Rosie/Davina Coleman) explains to Magnus (James D'Arcy) what she learnt in Sweden (basically, the plot of the TV show). She tells her father that her real mother is dead, however Magnus thinks she's just in shock and insists that her mother is alive and in an institute somewhere.

Over in realty 2 Henry (who's now in Bud's place) is arrested for shooting Paul and killing Mr. Rogers. In a police interview he asks to take a polygraph to prove he didn't do the crimes, and also a DNA test which he believes will show that he's a slightly different person to Bud. Later, we see him take the test, and he also admits that he blames himself for Paul's death due to his inventing the CAL in the first place.

Jo finally wakes up in the institute, and she's locked in her room. She can hear screaming from elsewhere in the building. Later, she gets to talk to Irene, who thinks that Jo is schizophrenic, but also tells Jo that she's pregnant. Jo is confused by this and upset that she can't see Alice, and she also wants to know who the screaming's from — apparently it's from another guest who she'll never get to meet. At the end of the meeting Jo touches Irene, and briefly sees a vision of the Valya. She realises who Irene is, and starts to recite the distress call from the tape she heard, which upsets Irene who runs out.

James D'Arcy and Alice/Davina Coleman in Constellation episode 8
James D'Arcy and Alice/Davina Coleman in Constellation episode 8

A tape recorder between realities

Later, Jo gets a visit from fellow ISS member Ilya, who's taking over Irene's job due to her being ill. Jo wants to meet Henry as she's been reading his work, and thinks he knows something about what's going on, but Ilya just think she's another victim of 'Astronaut Burnout'. Ilya tells her she's just getting worse, but does slip her the keys to her room.

We see the two versions of Magnus have therapy at the same time. Magnus 2 talks about how he thought he saw Jo in Sweden, and how it made him miss her. Magnus 1 talks about how he's upset that Jo and Alice have secrets from him.

Irene calls Bud (thinking he's Henry) asking him to meet up. They go to a fancy restaurant and he tells her the tales of her own death and survival in different realities. This alarms her and he admits that he's not really Henry.

Jo sneaks out of her room in the institute, and hearing the screaming, she goes to it. Looking through the latch she sees two old bearded men, who look crazy and are calling 'mama'. This shocks her and she returns to her room.

In both realities, Alice talks to Wendy, and in reality 2 we learn that Paul didn't die, he's just in hospital. In reality 1 Alice tells her father that she doesn't think her mother changed realities, and so Magnus agrees to let her visit her mother. Presumably, Alice was lying to see Jo. Magnus 1 also gives Alice a box of things found at the cabin, including the tape recorder. At the same time Alice 2, who's packing up her belongings as they're moving house, finds her own tape recorder.

The two Alices begin to talk once again. Alice 2 wants to speak to her mother, but of course she's not there. However later, Alice 2 comes to terms with the fact that Alice 1 gets to keep Jo as a mother, not her.

Live your best life

Henry gets the polygraph test back. He passed it, but he failed the DNA test, so the police think he's Bud. He gets arrested for killing Mr. Rogers and shooting Paul. In reality 1, Bud visits Mr Rogers and gives him some flowers, telling him to "live his best live". He has a mocking tone, though, likely given that the man is working as a Jack the Ripper tour guide.

Once again Irene visits Jo, and after being asks, admits that the man in the other room (only one man, despite what Jo saw) is the first ever man to go to space. The woman admits that going to space has a strange effect on people that makes them go mad, but by focusing on what's on Earth and what's important, one can stave off the madness.

Magnus and Alice visit Jo in the institute. Alice tells her mother that she figured out that Alice 2 had come to terms with the loss of her mother, and the mother and daughter agree to work together and pretend they're a family.  Jo also tells Magnus that she's ready to start taking her pills to fit in better.

Magnus asks what'll happen about the baby, and we don't find out what they say. Later, leaving the hospital, the husband and wife make amends, and plan to be a happy family. At the same time, Irene chats with Alice, and the girl figures out that Irene is Valya. Jo also queries which reality the future baby will be from.

Irene also emails everyone who's ever been to space, admitting that space travel has a strange effect on people and asking the recipients to anonymously report anything odd they've experienced.

In hospital in reality 2, Paul Lancaster finally wakes up after his gunshot wound. He stares at his arms in disbelief... which implies that this is actually Paul from reality 1, who lost his arm just before dying!

The final thing we see in the season is also in reality 2: it's Jo's dead body in space, which has some of its head missing. However it opens its eyes, and grabs an iPad floating past!

Noomi Rapace and James D'Arcy in Constellation episode 8
Noomi Rapace and James D'Arcy in Constellation episode 8

Constellation ending explained

Phew! Now that is out the way, we've gone through what will likely be your biggest questions about Constellation.

To answer these questions I've watched the entirety of the show twice, the second time with a fine-tooth comb (in order to write our recaps). So I'm almost certain on 90% of what's going on, and while I'm not a quantum scientist (or any kind of scientist for that matter), most of you probably aren't either!

Okay, so... what's going on?

Now that's a million-dollar quest. Here's the gist of it: in Constellation there are two realities, which in our recap we referred to as 'reality 1' and 'reality 2'. These two realities are quite similar but with some differences. They range from minor ones, like the color of a car or the layout of cupboards, to the outcome of major events. Apollo 18's crew died in one reality, and survived in another, for example.

Something about space makes it easy to swap with your double in the other reality. After the ISS incident, Jo from reality 1 and 2 swap places, which also happened with Bud and Henry Caldera prior to the events of Constellation. You don't have to be in space to swap, though, as Bud and Henry do even when on Earth. You don't even need to swap necessarily, as two Alices manage to exist in the same reality at the same time on multiple occasions. However, the majority of reported cases are linked to space travel or astronauts.

These two realities exist due to quantum physics, and the CAL machine was invented to sense this. Contrary to what you might believe, the CAL didn't cause the realities twist, and it wasn't to blame for the events. It wasn't even invented in reality 2, just reality 1.

People aren't the only thing that can cross realities. Radio waves do on multiple occasions, which is why the siblings in the marine observatory in reality 1 pick up transmissions from reality 2, and why both Alices can communicate with each other.

So Jo doesn't belong in her world?

No — at some point in the first few minutes of the first episode of Constellation, Jo from reality 1 goes to reality 2, and vice versa. Reality 1's Jo quickly perishes in reality 2, while reality 2's Jo is luckier in that she survives in reality 1.

Before going into space, reality 1's Jo and Magnus weren't happy, with Jo barely speaking to her husband, and she even had an affair with Frederic. In reality 2 they were much happier, making her death there even more tragic.

However at the end of Constellation, Jo decides to be a better version of herself than the one native to her reality.

And what's up with Paul?

As with Jo, Paul swaps places with himself just before the accident. Paul 1 goes to reality 2 and survives the accident, while Paul 2 goes to reality 1 and loses his arm, and then his life, in space.

Paul is confused about the changes in realities and spars with... just about everybody, really! He eventually visits someone he thinks he can confide in, Henry, only to discover that in this universe there is no Henry, only Bud. Bud promptly shoots Paul.

Paul survives, but it's implied that when he wakes up, the other version of Paul is in his body. That is to say, the native Paul has returned to reality 2.

And there are only two realities?

Yes, don't worry, this isn't going down some Marvel-esque multiverse route. The scientific idea behind Constellation is a quantum superposition: that basically means that two distinct possibilities of reality both exist at the same time, until one is measured.

It's linked to the famous Schrödinger's cat thought experiment: if there's a cat in a box, and you can't see whether it's alive or dead, then we can consider it both at the same time. Only when we observe it do we give it a definite answer.

In Constellation, reality is like the cat: it's both 'reality 1' and 'reality 2' at the same time, until something happens to define which is correct.

In case you're still confused (I wouldn't blame you), here's the article on Wikipedia's Simple English site for Schrödinger's cat and here's a (fairly) easy to understand article from Caltech on Quantum Superposition.

What happened on Apollo 18, to Bud and Henry?

Apollo 18 took place years prior to the events of Constellation. 

In reality 1, Bud Caldera got onto Apollo 18. It was a success, and while there was a close call on re-entry, Bud managed to fix it and save the day. However shortly after repairing this malfunction, Bud switched realities with Henry, who was allowed to live in this (comparatively) happy existence off the back of Bud's work. Afterwards, he wins a Nobel prize, goes to work for the ESA and invents the CAL to continue looking at quantum physics.

In reality 2, Henry was on the Apollo 18 crew. On re-entry it almost went very wrong, and Henry's crew all died. That's when he blacked out... and switched places with Bud. Bud was left to pick up the pieces as the only survivor of this failure, despite doing everything right in his reality. Afterwards he becomes an alcoholic who's estranged from his family, and writes a book about his Apollo 18 venture. He has to make money by 'debating' pseudoscientists in conferences.

Rosie / Davina Coleman in Constellation episode 6
Rosie / Davina Coleman in Constellation episode 6

Who is the Valya? And what caused the ISS accident?

Both Jo and Alice witness the Valya, a skeletal woman in an orange Russian cosmonaut outfit.

The Valya is, in fact, Irene. In reality 2 she died when young, when her capsule caught fire upon re-entry, however in reality 1 she survived this fiery descent. Her body floating in space crashes into the ISS in reality 2, causing the accident in the first place.

While some characters can jump between realities (by accident and on purpose, at different times), Irene has the same effect as Paul: people sometimes see her dead version when they touch her.

Who was the crazy man in the institute?

In Constellation's final episode, we both see and hear an old bearded man in the astronaut burnout asylum. We're told that he was the first man in space, and he's obviously very crazy. Jo also sees two versions of him, though Irene insists that there's only one man there. But who is he?

In real life, the first man in space was Yuri Gagarin, a Russian cosmonaut who completed an orbit of Earth in 1961. Seven years later he passed away in a plane crash, at the young age of 34, so it seems that in Constellation's world, this was actually a cover-up and he was whisked away due to astronaut burnout!

How is Jo brought back from the dead at the end?

Yeah, that one was really confusing. Nothing in the show so far explains why people who are totally dead — and, I must stress, are missing half their face — could come back to life.

In fact, this is hinted at in several previous episodes. In reality 1 Jo has mysterious help from the ISS as she's in the escape pod, and the same happens in reverse to Paul in episode 6.

This is just a mystery to set up Constellation season 2.

On that topic, is there a Constellation season 2?

At the time of writing, no second season of Constellation has been confirmed. That doesn't mean one isn't on its way, though, as Apple tends to announce follow-up seasons some time after the previous one has aired.

A second season would clear up lots of lingering questions, that you are probably still asking even after this ending explainer. Plus, the story hasn't wrapped up: Bud and Henry are only mid-way through their rivalry, Jo is in the wrong reality, and Paul's presumably on the edge of a massive realization. Plus, Irene has only just started exploring the possibility of all of the weirdness in space.

Constellation season 2 will probably hinge on one thing though: whether the first season was popular enough to justify a follow-up.