HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
Alright, yes, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds ninth episode of season two “Subspace Rhapsody” is weird, but it’s not like Star Trek is a stranger to the weird. We’ve had characters engage in romances with candles and strange Westerns set against technicolor backdrops. We’ve had whatever you want to call “Threshold” and hostile takeovers in the holodeck as metaphors for trauma. We’ve even had a fair amount of music in the franchise, including an episode in which the Doctor from Voyager becomes an opera singer, but what we’ve never had or seen is an episode that is unrepentantly a musical. “Subspace Rhapsody” is just that, and love it or hate it, it represents how Strange New Worlds continues to push the envelope. Last season, we had the “The Elysian Kingdom,” and now we’re going full on Broadway.
The quick and dirty plot summary is that Spock attempts to use a naturally occurring space fold to expand the range and speed of subspace communication. Unfortunately, the signal keeps breaking down, and Pelia suggests that perhaps the answer is to set everything to music. Just go with the technobabble here, folks. Anyway, that’s what they do, and at first things seem to fizzle. Then, Spock suddenly breaks out in song, and the song spreads faster than the latest virus in a preschool. Even James Kirk, who is once again aboard the Enterprise despite the Farragut being his primary duty station, shows off some pipes.
The singing wouldn’t be terribly problematic except that everyone finds themselves compelled to reveal their deepest emotions with a chorus. This would be mildly inconvenient except that the phenomenon is spreading. The “improbablility field,” yes, we’ve taken a detour into the world of the Hitchiker’s Guide, has begun spreading throughout subspace. As a result, the Enterprise crew can’t just blow up the fold without causing all of subspace to go boom. However, no one informed the Klingons, who have been caught by the field and are traveling to find its source and destroy it for the crime of forcing them to sing something other than Klingon opera.
With nearly no time to spare, Uhura and Spock must come up with a solution, and they do. The answer, apparently, is to lean into the phenomenon, by creating enough musical spikes at a given resonance. Those spikes somehow work to collapse the fold, so essentially, a giant crew-wide song number saves the day with a little help from the Klingons’ musical stylings.
“Subspace Rhapsody” works just like a traditional musical. The plot itself is pretty thin, and the primary emotional developments and story beats take place in song. Chapel decides to take the internship with Korby and leaves Spock, singing about her future and dancing in the ship’s bar. Spock grieves not only his lost relationship but also his decision to embrace emotion over logic. Christina Chong demonstrates her chops as a vocalist as she sings about La’an Noonien-Singh’s decision to open up to Kirk about her feelings, if not for him exactly, but for the version of him she met in the past. Uhura finds a place for herself and a purpose via the grand finale, and Pike and Batel work through some of their issues in a rather charming duet.
Because the plot is less important than the song numbers, the episode actually has time to wrap up most of the emotional arcs in the series. Spock and Chapel apparently get a roughly two episode romance, and their breakup becomes the watershed moment that sets Ethan Peck’s Spock on the path to becoming Leonard Nimoy’s version of Spock. La’an finally opens up to Kirk not just about the events that brought her to meet the other version of himself but about her feelings. Unfortunately, Kirk cannot return her affection as he’s currently involved with someone we know to be Carol Marcus who is pregnant with their son, David. All of that gets sorted in this spectacle of an episode, which means the next episode “Hegemony” gets ample opportunity to take the season to darker places.
Choosing to do a musical episode was an incredible risk, and there are certainly elements of the episode that don’t work. Wrapping up the Spock/Chapel arc in two songs feels very rushed in all honesty. I similarly don’t quite understand why James Kirk can’t seem to stay on the Farragut. The Pike/Batel dynamic is one that has been woefully under-developed this season, and a song isn’t quite going to fix that issue. However, despite those issues, “Subspace Rhapsody” is ultimately fun and a reminder that it’s the connection between the characters that drives the franchise. The episode’s successful finale is, suitably enough, titled “We Are One,” and it’s about pulling together in service of the mission. I have said before, and I’ll say it again. Star Trek’s emphasis on community and collective action, pulling together to do better, is what sets the franchise apart. Connection in the Trek universe isn’t about perfection either; it’s literally necessary for survival. That’s a powerful message, and that “Subspace Rhapsody” concludes with a return to that sense of community is both a powerful reminder of the franchise’s underlying philosophy and a perfect set-up for the events of “Hegemony.” As such, I’m a fan.
Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the songs are catchy.
3.75 time crystals
Stray Thoughts From the Couch:
- Yep, you can hear Anson Mount’s (Captain Pike) Tennessee accent when he sings.
- Well, they managed to get Carol Marcus into Strange New Worlds, if only by reference.
- Rebeccas Romijn looks to be having the time of her life.
- I legitimately need Uhura’s earrings in my life.
- I love the retro title cards.