Strange New Worlds Subspace Rhapsody via Paramount Plus

‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ Musical Episode Is Sure To Be a Classic, If a Divisive One

Three Klingon dance breaks out of five.

Over its short yet substantial two-season run, Paramount+’s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has found a comfortable niche among modern Star Trek properties for its willingness to engage with the silly, the sappy, and all manner of classic Trek hijinks— a much welcome throwback to the classic, campy Trek fans know and love. But Strange New Worlds’ most recent episode has gone where no other Star Trek has been willing to go before: a musical episode. Across the dozen shows in the Trek universe, not a single entry has attempted the iconic television milestone that is the musical episode, but with this week’s “Subspace Rhapsody”, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds breaks that mold. Though it may still retain a few of Strange New Worlds’ now-familiar shortcomings in terms of romance, “Subspace Rhapsody” is an ambitious and artfully crafted musical episode whose impressive production value and crop of vocal talent make for a sure-to-be Trek classic.

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In the wake of Doctor M’Benga’s harrowing wartime revelation in last week’s “Under the Cloak of War,” “Subspace Rhapsody” picks up with Spock, Uhura, and Pelia investigating and experimenting on a mysterious subspace fold that the Enterprise has stumbled upon. Though their initial attempts don’t yield anything useful, the musically-inclined Uhura suggests sending through a musical message as a way to interact with the fold via harmonics, like she did back in season one with “Children of the Comet.” Spock and Uhura send a rousing rendition of “Anything Goes” through to the subspace fold, which triggers a massive shockwave to resonate through the Enterprise—a shockwave that, of course, compels the entire crew to break into song and dance.

In terms of tone and story beats, Strange New Worlds was without question the best Trek show to attempt a musical episode: the ridiculous animated antics of the recent Lower Decks crossover and other previous body-swap hijinks mean that a sudden jump to a full-on musical episode (while still unexpected) feels very much par for the course. Narratively, though, “Subspace Rhapsody” stays very conservative in its ambitions. In comparison to a landmark musical episode like Buffy’s “Once More With Feeling,” where we got massive series-altering revelations delivered via song, Strange New Worlds uses the new musical format as more of an emotional check-in than an agent for delivering shocking twists.

In this respect, “Subsapce Rhapsody” is frustratingly tame—mostly treading familiar territory of the character-specific stories we’ve been spinning our wheels in for the entirety of season two. Spock wants Chapel; Chapel wants to pursue medicine on Vulcan. Pike has a rocky, dishonest relationship with his long-distance paramour Captain Batel. La’an is still pining over the memory of alternate timeline Kirk, Una is still learning to let her all-business walls down. We’re dangerously close to these stories feeling stale, but “Subspace Rhapsody” finds a way to inject them with some much-needed vivacity by following a classical musical theatre adage: “When you’re too emotional to talk, you sing.”

And there certainly are plenty of emotional, heartfelt ballads that feel ripped straight out of a Rodgers and Hammerstein songbook: “Subspace Rhapsody” features 10 original songs from Kay Hanley and Tom Polce, as well as an a cappella-infused variation on the Strange New Worlds title theme. Without question, the strongest element of “Subspace Rhapsody” is the songwriting—Polce and Hanley have found the perfect happy medium between classic Broadway sensibilities and Star Trek techno-jargon, with a healthy dose of that signature Strange New Worlds corniness thrown in for good measure.

Thankfully, there are no ear-bleed-inducing numbers here. Though some voices are certainly stronger than others, Strange New Worlds’ main cast does a formidable job of holding their vocal own. Still, it’s Celia Rose Gooding and Christina Chong who end up this week’s MVPS: both women have musical experience outside of the series, and it pays off in a big way here. Though the narrative machinations behind La’An’s ballad “How Would That Feel” are a little reductive (more hand-wringing over Kirk), it’s a very moving number about the all-too-familiar struggle of wanting to open up but being terrified of letting others in. We don’t necessarily leave the episode feeling that La’an has found a new approach to communicating, but it’s a hard-earned moment for the character that’s complimented beautifully by Chong’s formidable vocals.

The other standout performer is Gooding’s Uhura, who seems like the no-brainer focal character for a musical episode. Though “Subsapce Rhapsody” (strangely) sidelines Uhura for the most part in favor of Kirk/La’an, Spock, and Una, Uhura still gets her moment in the spotlight with “Keep Us Connected.” If “How Would That Feel” is the classic musical “I want” song, “Keep Us Connected” is the epic eleventh-hour showstopper as we watch Uhura sing through her feelings about having to forge through life alone and losing the people she loves. Again, this isn’t new territory in terms of character (Uhura has spent all season struggling with Hemmer’s death), but Gooding’s crystal-clear tone and emotive vocal performance make this a gratifying crescendo for the character.

Though she may not have the same vocal chops as Uhura and La’An, another surprising standout is Jess Bush’s Christine Chapel, who severs her ties to Spock via a sassy, jazz-inspired number called “I’m Ready.” In terms of pure ear worms, it’s “I’m Ready” (or maybe Uhura’s “Keep us Connected”) that you’ll leave tapping your toes to once the credits roll. Seeing Chapel let loose and celebrate her independence and offbeat spirit is a delightful surprise after she’s spent so much of this season hand-wringing over a pseudo-relationship with Spock. Speaking of, credit should be given to Ethan Peck—though Spock’s solo number “I’m the X” isn’t particularly memorable, Peck has without question the strongest voice of the male cast.

Despite its relatively tame writing (at least, from a narrative perspective), there’s no doubt that “Subspace Rhapsody” will go down as a hotly contested entry in the Trek canon—and while not all of the creative choices work, Strange New Worlds’ willingness to take a big, ambitious swing like this is absolutely worth celebrating. With thoughtfully composed songs, classic Braodway-style choreography, and a gung-ho cast who give 110% in making the episode one to remember, Strange New Worlds‘ “Subspace Rhapsody” is a joyful break from tradition, even if the dialogue and lyrics leave something to be desired.

(featured image: Paramount Plus)


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Author
Lauren Coates
Lauren Coates (she/her)is a freelance film/tv critic and entertainment journalist, who has been working in digital media since 2019. Besides writing at The Mary Sue, her other bylines include Nerdist, Paste, RogerEbert, and The Playlist. In addition to all things sci-fi and horror, she has particular interest in queer and female-led stories. When she's not writing, she's exploring Chicago, binge-watching Star Trek, or planning her next trip to the Disney parks. You can follow her on twitter @laurenjcoates