Review: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 Episode 9 “Subspace Rhapsody”
So… that happened.
For the first time in its 890-episode history, Star Trek did a musical episode. If you didn’t know what to expect upon first learning Strange New Worlds would tackle this genre, you’re not alone. We were skeptical. Optimistic, but skeptical. But here’s the nice surprise: “Subspace Rhapsody” was generally quite an enjoyable affair, since we were going into it knowing it would be silly. It would have to be, right? What possible reason could there be for a starship crew to break out in song?
Well, there’s a scientific explanation. The episode begins with the Enterprise encountering a quantum fissure in space, and the crew thinks this discovery could be a quantum leap forward in trans-quadrant communications. But, Spock (Ethan Peck) and Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) are having a tough time getting signals through the fissure, so they resort to Lt. Pelia’s (Carol Kane) outlandish idea: send music through.
The fissure definitely reacts to a tune from the good old American Song Book, and it distorts the surrounding space, including the Enterprise, so that the crew now exists in a realm where music can break out at any moment. We first see this with a bewildered Spock, who breaks out into tune while discussing the effects of the fissure. Soon enough, the crew from around the ship are rhyming and dancing, culminating in a scene on the bridge where everyone, including Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) and visiting officer James T. Kirk (Paul Wesley), are musically arriving at the same conclusion: the universe has thrown them a curveball and now they are trapped in a space where singing is the norm.
“Honestly, I assumed it was something you all rehearsed, but… I sang, too.”
“So did I. And I do not sing.”– Kirk and M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) after the episode’s first musical number.
There are 10 songs in “Subspace Rhapsody,” and to our great surprise, Strange New Worlds uses each one to inform our understanding of various crew members and their relationships. Moreover, this is an ensemble episode the likes of which we really haven’t seen yet this season, so everyone in the main cast has a moment to shine, if not have a whole song to themselves.
The driving force behind this music, and a rule of the space the crew learns eventually, is that music breaks out whenever strong emotions are in play. So, we hear musical numbers from Uhura about her loneliness, her ill-fated family, and the importance of connection in her life; Nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush) about her being accepted into a prestigious fellowship and thus being okay leaving Spock behind (poor Spock!); Spock singing about how hurt he is by Chapel; Captain Pike and his girlfriend, Captain Batel (Melanie Scrofano), on the frustrations of their long-distance relationship; the normally stoic La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) about her ill-fated romance with Kirk; and Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) about keeping secrets, and then another song dueting with Kirk about how to be a good command officer.
One unexpected development from the La’an storyline in this episode is her telling Kirk about her experience with the alternate reality Kirk in “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.” This disclosure breaks rules set by the Department of Temporal Investigations, but the potency of La’an’s music-driven emotions make her decide to express her feelings to Kirk. Kirk takes the revelation good-naturedly and has a surprise of his own for La’an: he is in a “sometimes” relationship with a woman named Carol Marcus, and she is pregnant. This is a neat revelation for Star Trek fans, as those who have seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock know about Kirk’s later-in-life experience with Carol and his ill-fated grown son, David. We’re curious if Strange New Worlds continues filling in Kirk’s backstory.
The Enterprise crew being trapped in a music-filled fissure isn’t enough, as it appears the fissure’s influence is spreading through subspace, infecting many other Federation and non-Federation ships. The crew also realizes their bouts of singing are seemingly following a rule of musicals: when characters have so much pent-up emotion, they resort to song.
“Admiral April’s last message confirmed that the improbability field has now spread to 12 Federation ships. He let me know in surprisingly beautiful baritone that he wants us to stop this now.”– Una
The Klingons, who don’t take kindly to breaking out in song, send battlecruisers to destroy the fissure, and the Enterprise crew knows if the fissure is destroyed, anybody who has suffered its effects will also perish. Uhura and Spock seek to discover a way to break the improbability matrix, and they do so through studying the songs themselves. Uhura, with her careful eyes and ears, finds a connection in the raw data presented by the fissure. It’s a simple solution: the entire crew must sing.
Pike asserts Uhura, who is someone who can bind the Enterprise crew together thanks to her ability to connect people, should lead the ship in song to get the fissure’s “improbability level” high enough to close it. Music hitherto was being used to push people away from each other, but Uhura recognizes music is also great for bringing people together. It’s a clever message couched in dumb science, but again, if you go into this episode knowing it’s silly, things won’t seem so absurd. The episode doesn’t take itself too seriously, and neither should we.
In a grand finale number, with the Klingons just about ready to fire their weapons, the Enterprise crew rallies in song. and even gets the Klingons to join in. We’ll give one critique here: Klingons dancing in a way you might see at, say, a Tayler Swift concert, is really disconcerting and cringy – but at least the uncomfortable moment is acknowledged by the Enterprise bridge crew and played for laughs. Otherwise, the finale number is appropriately explosive, with members of the entire crew singing and dancing together to close the fissure. With the tear in space closed, all is well.
Taken together, the experiment “Subspace Rhapsody” poses to its audience works surprisingly well. Using each song to expand our understanding of our main characters, and in some cases move their respective plotlines forward, is a creatively smart way to balance storytelling and music. While only a few numbers present choreography worth writing home about, the songs themselves are varied and enjoyable to listen to; we have members of the American alternative rock band Letters to Cleo to thank for that. We’ll look forward to the songs from this episode showing up on streaming services, which is as good a compliment as any musical can expect.
On a thematic level, we appreciate how Strange New Worlds asserts a well-known understanding of music and emotions; that is, the two go hand in hand. Such is a fundamental aspect of the human condition that we all can relate to; who doesn’t appreciate it when an artist bears their soul through song? It’s like what Elton John once said: “Guess there are times when we all need to share a little pain…And it’s times like these when we all need to hear the radio/’Cause from the lips of some old singer/We can share the troubles we already know.” Such is the understanding “Subspace Rhapsody” has of the healing power of music, and this power allowed us to see a more honest side of our characters than we would have otherwise. For that reason, we consider this Star Trek musical a success, even if some people may scoff at the abnormality of the episode.
- Chapel is awaiting a message from Dr. Korby, who is likely the same Roger Korby as in TOS’ “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” M’Benga describes Korby as the “Louis Pasteur of archaeological medicine,” which is the same language Spock used to describe him in the aforementioned episode. We know Chapel eventually becomes Korby’s fiancé, so… will Strange New Worlds show us how that happens?
- The song Uhura sends through the fissure is, appropriately, “Anything Goes,” written by Cole Porter for the 1934 musical of the same name.
- Don’t skip this episode’s intro sequence, as it features a unique rendition of the SNW theme song.
- We confirmed with Paramount+ that these songs were performed by the actors themselves.
- The watch La’an holds while singing about Kirk is the watch the pair used to track down the reactor in “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.”
- On the map of the area surrounding the fissure, we see the Republic, the ship James Kirk served on as ensign.
- Check out DS9’s “Rivals” for another sci-fi story that involves unusual improbability.
- Writers Dana Horgan and Bill Wolkoff are sure to reference through character dialogue how silly the idea of a Star Trek musical is, and the noticeable reprisal of the TOS theme after the grand finale number helps us recall when TOS could sometimes get off the rails.
- Why do we get the feeling Batel is not long for this world? At the end of the episode, she’s off on a priority one mission, and we know the Gorn must figure into the season finale.
New episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds are made available to stream Thursdays on Paramount+.
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