Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, S2.9: “Subspace Rhapsody” opens a very different hailing frequency…


This week’s episode of Strange New Worlds (SNW) is bound to be divisive. Not everyone likes musicals, and we’ve never seen one attempted in this franchise before.  “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” did a musical episode in its 6th season (“Once More With Feeling”) that became wildly popular with fans, but “Buffy…” is also a universe where vampires, demons and other supernatural manifestations are commonplace.  A musical would hardly upset the status quo in that universe.

“On the good ship, Enterprise, it’s a nice trip to a…”

However, for the past 57 years, Star Trek has cultivated a fictional universe within strict sci-fi parameters. Yes, it has fantasy elements, like transporters and warp drive, but it’s all couched in a carefully-constructed reality of its own. Whether or not a musical will work within Star Trek is a risky experiment, and “Subspace Rhapsody” should be celebrated for its audacity, at the very least. 

It would also seem from the previews that the actors had a really good time cutting loose—footloose—with this format-breaking episode.

“Subspace Rhapsody”

Written by Dana Horgan, Bill Wolkoff, with songs by Kay Henley, Tom Polce, and directed by Dermot Downs, the episode opens with a log entry from communications officer, Ensign Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding). Uhura reports that the Enterprise has located a large, natural subspace rift at the edge of the Alpha Quadrant. If it could be harnessed for communications, this rift would allow for instantaneous communications for many light-years across the sector. 

The subspace anomaly that soon turns rhapsodic.

Spock (Ethan Peck) is using most of the ship’s computing power to run experiments on the rift, leaving very little computer power for communications, meaning that Uhura has her hands full—manually operating the ship’s ‘switchboard,’ and coordinating all incoming calls to their designated spots.  Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) is expecting a call from a Dr. Roger Korby regarding a fellowship, while La’an and Una are in the transporter room awaiting a signal from James T. Kirk (Paul Wesley), who’s been promoted to first officer of the Farragut, and is assigned to shadow the Enterprise’s exemplary first officer Una (Rebecca Romijn), aka “Number One,” as part of his training program.  Somehow, Uhura manages to route all overlapping comm traffic in a timely manner.

Note: Yes, the Dr. Roger Korby—the man who later becomes Chapel’s fiancé and future mandroid who downloads the contents of his dying body’s mind into an android body; much to the shock and horror of Chapel when they reunite some years later on the planet Exo III (What Are Little Girls Made Of?”).

Hurrah for Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding).

Elsewhere on the busy ship, Chapel reads her communiqué; she’s been accepted for the Korby fellowship, to which she’s overjoyed. Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) is saddened to be losing his chief nurse for three months, but is glad for her opportunity to study under the “Pasteur of modern archeological medicine.” An excited Chapel then realizes she has to break the news to Spock, to whom she’s become close. Meanwhile, an off-duty Captain Pike (Anson Mount) is having a subspace squabble with his paramour Captain Marie Batel (Melanie Scrofano) over vacation plans…

Note: Yes, after nearly two seasons, Pike’s part-time lover, Captain Marie Batel is finally given a first name.

James T. Kirk (Paul Wesley) arguably spends as much time on the Enterprise these days as the Farragut.

In the transporter room, Una and La’an (Christina Chong) are standing by to receive Jim Kirk, who beams in.  Una detects unusual nervousness from La’an, who had an intense, but tragic love affair with an alternate-James Kirk in mid-21st century Toronto (“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”).  That mission to Earth’s past was highly classified, and no one in her timeline ever knew it occurred.  After meeting and getting to know the Kirk from her universe, La’an still has a difficult time containing her feelings for the uncanny doppelgänger of a man who once loved her.  Once aboard, Kirk asks about his brother Sam (Dan Jeannotte), and remembers that La’an still owes him a drink.

Spock (Ethan Peck) Uhura and Pelia (Carol Kane) come up with a great but terrible idea…

In engineering, Uhura and Spock are continuing their experiments with the subspace rift.  Pelia, noticing Uhura’s humming, wonders if they’ve tried targeting the rift with music?  Perhaps harmonics might react well with the subspace energy (don’t ask).  Inspired by Pelia’s suggestion, Uhura selects the 1934 Cole Porter tune “Anything Goes” for transmission into the rift. With the music sent, a strange energy wave soon reverberates throughout the ship, as if in response.  As Spock and other crew begin speaking, they find themselves involuntarily singing their words.  On the bridge, we see Captain Pike, Lt. Ortegas (Melissa Navia) and the others wondering what’s going on, as they involuntarily croon in reply to themselves, “All is okaaaaaayyy…”  🎵🎤

Spock and Uhura, in a promotion pic taken on the bridge…

Afterward, in the briefing room, the crew are back in speaking voices, wondering what just happened.  Visitor Kirk half-joked that he thought the impromptu song was rehearsed by the crew until he realized he was singing as well.  Spock theorizes the music they aimed at the rift dislodged a quantum insurgency field, creating a new reality where people sing uncontrollably.  So long as they remain tethered to this “improbability field,” they will continue experiencing bouts of involuntary show tunes.  Pelia notes the field resembles a zipper of energy—perhaps a ‘zipper beam’ might be generated to undo it?  Pike approves the plan, and the officers report to their stations.  On the bridge, a distracted Spock asks Uhura about Chapel’s communiqué from Korby, absentmindedly not realizing Uhura can’t divulge private communications…

Note: I never got the impression that Spock had such intense feelings for Chapel back in TOS; I’d always assumed it was more Chapel for Spock than the other way around.  However, Ethan Peck and Jess Bush are so good in their roles that I really don’t mind if that dynamic is reversed a bit.

Una (Rebecca Romijn) supervises as Kirk reroutes a few familiar power lines in a Jeffries Tube…

In the ship’s Jeffries’ tube (a maintenance conduit-crawlway first seen in TOS Star Trek), Kirk is rerouting some electrical lines as his ‘mentor’ Una watches from below.  Una patiently gives the headstrong, impulsive young first officer advice on how to connect with the crew on a more personal level—something she’s learned for herself fairly recently. 

Note: The Jeffries Tube is a very close replica of the cramped workspace seen in TOS Star Trek. In fact, the cables that Kirk reroutes at Una’s direction are very similar to the ‘energy-tapping’ cables Kirk had to pull out of a sabotaged Jeffries Tube (courtesy of ex-friend Ben Finney) to save a depleted Enterprise in TOS’ “Court-Martial.”  As Una looks to where Kirk is positioned, we can also the set has been digitally extended to go much further ahead than we could’ve ever seen in the modestly-budgeted 1966-1969 series. 

Una and Kirk take an unscheduled dance break…

As Kirk climbs out of the tube, music begins playing from nowhere, as he and Una share a song-and-dance about the nature of command; with Una cheerfully (and involuntarily) advising Kirk to “Con-nect with your creeeewwwww…” 🎵🎤 As they twirl each other in circles, Kirk and Una also realize the songs force them to confess secret thoughts and emotions they’d  normally be reticent to express. Meanwhile, an unnoticed La’an watches from the end of the corridor as Kirk and Una dance—perhaps a flicker of jealousy in her eyes?

Note: The tunes of this episode, credited to Kay Henley and Tom Polce are all very catchy, and very well-suited for their respective characters. Having just listened to an audiobook of legendary comedy writer-producer-director-actor-singer Mel Brooks about 6 months ago (“All About Me”), I gained new insight into the difficulties of adapting plays into musicals, not to mention the challenges choreography and timing. The work put into “Subspace Rhapsody” must’ve been no small feat, and it was done on a television schedule.

Shot almost like a scene from 1983’s “Flashdance”, I half-expected a bucket of water to fall on La’an…

We then follow La’an to her quarters, where she soon realizes that intense emotions at any given moment seem to inspire the involuntary bouts of singing. With the lights down, she begins singing about trying to melt her cool, methodical reserve.  She reaches into a locked drawer for the watch the alternate-Kirk gave her in Toronto, she belts out, “Time to change my paradigm!  I’m flying blind!” 🎵🎤 She’s then flooded by intense, intimate flashbacks from the time she and the alternate-Kirk enjoyed together during their top secret time-travel adventure; a heartbreaking time of her life that she’s unable to share with anyone, for the sake of the timeline…

Note: Christina Chong has one helluva singing voice. I’ll admit, La’an Noonien-Singh began as one of my least favorite characters on the show, but her stock has risen in leaps and bounds.  The writers and Chong herself have given this character much more shading and dimension. This season, she’s quickly become a favorite of mine.

Captain Pike, flanked by Spock and Una, realizes this is a very bad time for personal calls…

La’an communicates her concerns to Pike about the involuntary singing (and confessions) constituting a security threat to the ship. Throughout the ship, Spock, Uhura and even the two Kirk brothers are working to solve the problems posed by the subspace field.  It’s time to implement the ‘zipper beam’ idea first proposed by Pelia and Spock. The beam is fired, but instead of ‘unzipping,’ it produces a surge in the existing field’s strength.  At that exact unfortunate moment, Pike receives a call on the main viewer from his lover, Capt. Batel, who also finds herself singing, from light-years away.  Fully aware that she and Pike are discussing their personal vacation plans in front of his bridge crew, they find themselves unable to stop.  Fortunately, La’an cuts the channel, and saves what’s left of the feuding captains’ dignities. Needing a Plan B, it’s suggested that photon torpedoes might disrupt the field, but Spock insists on beaming a sample of the field within a container for tests first, before they implement the plan. 

La’an is unable to contain her cool when her own voice might betray her.

Alone in the briefing room, La’an and Una have a private chat—she is terrified to sing around James.  Una is aware of her attraction to the Farragut’s first officer, but isn’t aware of the backstory behind it, of course, since it’s classified.  At that moment, music begins from nowhere, and the two friends find themselves trapped in another of the field’s songs.  Una, speaking from her own history with keeping secrets (““), advices her friend to “Pick and choose the truth you want to tell…” 🎵🎤 Gravity is shut off to the deck, and the two of them begin to gently rise from the floor.  

Meanwhile, a sample of the subspace field particles are beamed into a sealed chamber on a transporter pad and sent to engineering for analysis.  Tests on the particles are conducted, and there is an explosion.  Spock concludes that firing torpedoes on the field will only spread it throughout subspace!  Pike says they need a Plan C.  Klingon vessels are detected, and Pike realizes the Klingons will fire torpedoes at the field if they’re not stopped…

Christine, buoyed by the support of her friends, breaks out in a celebratory song of pride and self-recognition.

Spock and Uhura are in the corridors, hoping to gather sensor data as someone begins singing. They already know the singing is brought on by a surge of intense emotion.  As they pass the crew lounge, they see Chapel, surrounded by her crew mates, celebrating her acceptance into the Korby fellowship.  Buoyed by their support, a newly emboldened Chapel begins to sing (and dance) about how good it feels to finally gain her hard-earned fellowship.  “I’m ready,” she sings, “I’ve worked so hard for this!” 🎵🎤 Spock, realizing the woman he’s falling in love with will soon be leaving the ship, is unable to share in the others’ happiness for her, though he recognizes the wonderful opportunities and future now opening up for Christine.

Note: As I’ve said before, I love Jess Bush’s headstrong, ambitious take on Christine Chapel,  but I’m saddened to think the character will lose much of that vim and vigor we see in her now, when she becomes Dr. McCoy’s head nurse in TOS Star Trek. Chapel’s future (and engagement) with Roger Korby later crashes and burns, too. Through much of TOS Star Trek, Chapel becomes a sad shell of herself, forever pining for Spock. How I wish this version of Christine Chapel—the one filled with optimism for the years ahead—would be the one we see later on as well. 

It never occurred to La’an that the man she was opening up to was already involved with someone else. Ouch!

Kirk and Una seek ways to disable the Klingon weapons quickly upon arrival, but realize they won’t have time with several Klingon cruisers headed their way.  During a quiet moment alone, La’an decides to tell Kirk about her time-travel mission with his alternate-self, for fear it might come out later, during an embarrassing song.  In this surprisingly music-free scene, La’an tells Jim that she loved his alternate-self.  A sensitive Kirk asks if he’s a lot like his other self?  No and yes, comes her conflicted reply. As tears well in her eyes, La’an also admits to having feelings for this version of Kirk, too. With that confession, Kirk admits to feeling a connection to her as well—however, he has someone in this universe; a scientist named Carol Marcus on Starbase One… and she’s pregnant. La’an struggles to recover from this devastating confession.

Kirk (William Shatner) would later reunite with Carol (Bibi Besch) in 1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”

Note: Possibly the most emotionally hard-hitting scene of the episode, and I’m really glad they had the foresight not to set it to music. Carol Marcus, is of course, the same Dr. Carol Marcus (the late Bibi Besch) we later meet in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982), when she introduces Kirk (William Shatner) to their now 22-year old son, David Marcus (the late Merritt Butrick).  We also saw a very different version of Carol Marcus in the Kelvinverse movie, “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013).

Spock vows to become a rock.

In engineering, Spock and Uhura continue their research into the correlation between the singing and the field’s strength after gaining fresh results from Chapel’s song in the ship’s lounge. Spock lapses into a song of his own. “I’m the X,” he croons with double meaning, as he realizes Chapel doesn’t need him to fulfill herself. 🎵🎤 Chapel’s acceptance into the Korby fellowship changes things for him. Spock now resolves to discontinue his experimentation and flirtation with emotion (for her sake)—he now intends to fully embrace his stoic, unemotional Vulcan side. 

Note: Spock’s song is about much more than being ‘the ex’; it’s his new life mission statement.  This is the evolutionary transition between the smiling, shouting Spock we saw in “The Cage” to the full-blown Vulcan facade he wears throughout most of TOS Star Trek.  It’s interesting that Christine Chapel, the one who tried to draw out Spock’s human side, becomes the unwitting catalyst for him to bury that side of himself as much as possible.  I wonder if Spock’s later decision to pursue the “Kohlinar” emotion-purging ritual in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979) might’ve been motivated by this earlier, painful divorce from his human self. 

Deep in the heart of the ship, Uhura realizes she’s found a home.

We then see Uhura alone in engineering, as she scans results from her research…searching for patterns.  Memories of her lost family; her mom, dad and her “cool big brother” enter her thoughts as she also lapses into song as well.  Her song deals with the loss of one family and the slow realization that she’s gained another—with the Enterprise crew.  “Strengthen the ties that bind,” she belts, “So alone, unaccompanied…come home.” 🎵🎤

Note: As we just saw with Spock, this is another turning point for a TOS legacy character, as we see insecure orphan Uhura realize she’s found an all-new family with the crew of the Enterprise.  She learns that found families can be every bit as loving and valid as birth families. This realization delivers Uhura from her current pain and solitude into the more serene place we later see her in TOS Star Trek and the movies.  Oh, and did I mention that Celia Rose Gooding is also an incredibly gifted singer as well?  

“We celebrate through song!” notes Uhura, which explains her character’s future habit of spontaneous balladeering (“Charlie X,” “Conscience of the King,” “The Changeling”), as she celebrates her Enterprise family.

Uhura’s song triggers another eureka moment, as she finds a correlation between their singing and the field. Going straight to Captain Pike with her findings, a newly-confident Uhura tells him that what they need is a big, blowout “grand finale” musical number to shatter the field once and for all.  Pike tells her they have more Klingons arriving soon, so they need to get started…

Note: Personally, I found this week’s episode to be a much stronger Uhura episode than “Lost in Translation.” In fact, “Subspace Rhapsody” is also a strong La’an episode, a strong Spock episode, and a strong Chapel episode. Once again, poor Lt. Ortegas is sadly shortchanged. Though I’m kinda glad we didn’t get a song called “I’m Erica Ortegas, and I fly the ship.” Melissa Navia deserves better.

Flash-mob alert!  
Redshirts, inspired by Uhura’s words, rise up and dance

On the bridge, Pike assigns Uhura, the officer who came up with the idea, to lead the crew in song.  A nervous Uhura gets on the ship’s intercom and says that they are all connected as a crew.  The odds of them finding each other out here on this ship are so improbable, yet here they are.  The crew gathers in optimism, to the point where they feel they can do almost anything. As Uhura’s words take root and inspire, we see the ‘grand finale’ taking shape, as a group of redshirts run through the corridor, flash-mobbing in tandem, as the song builds in strength

Note: If you bought the admittedly silly premise thus far, then you should have no trouble accepting that a grand finale song-and-dance number will succeed where energy beams, photon torpedoes and other means have failed. So grab your popcorn, accept it, and enjoy…

In engineering Spock, La’an and Pelia sing!  “Bring this thing down! We work better altogether.”
Kirk sings his praises for his future Enterprise crew: “If I make captain it’s all because of you…”
Pike: “Uhura, you saved us!”
Chapel: “I will miss this crew!”
Spock, Chapel, Uhura, Pike, La’an and Una, in unison: “Protect the mission! Protect the mission!”
The Enterprise and the Klingon fleet are flying in a funky new formation as the energy of the field builds to a crescendo…

As their joyous collective singing builds, the energy of the subspace field begins to reach a crescendo. The Klingons have arrived as well, and Pike hails them.  The Klingons, led by a sour-faced general (Bruce Horak) are involuntarily singing as well—albeit through gritted teeth—adding even greater energy to the ‘grand finale’ weapon… 🎵🎤🎵

Yes, the Chang-lookalike with the eyepatch is none other than Bruce Horak!

Note: The Klingon general is played by none other than Bruce Horak, who played Aenarian Chief Engineer “Hemmer” in the show’s first nine episodes, and a cameo (from Uhura’s video footage) in this year’s “Lost in Translation.” As Denise Crosby (TNG’s “Tasha Yar”) can no doubt vouch, you never truly leave Star Trek…

“My god! It’s full of stars!”
The subspace field collapses under the weight of 203 overjoyed hearts…

The field shatters, as gleaming particles and streaks of harmless light fly around the ships. It’s over; the involuntary compulsion to sing is stopped by singing itself.  We then hear the original “Star Trek” theme (written by Alexander Courage in 1964) play…

Note: What better way to end the climax of the musical episode than with the very theme that started it all?  Courage’s theme is the one most identified with Star Trek, nearly 60 years after it was first composed. Alexander Courage also composed an entire unused score for the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) which was ultimately rejected in favor of classical composers such as Richard Strauss and Gÿorgi Ligeti.

Pike and Batel, sitting in a tree…

As things return to normal (whatever that means on a starship), we see La’an and Una in the ship’s lounge. Una asks La’an how things went with Kirk.  “Not well,” is the honest reply. The longtime friends share a drink.  Elsewhere, Pike is on a “priority one mission”; making dinner for Marie, since the subspace field’s compulsion for honesty forced him to sing that he didn’t like her choice for a vacation, which opened up a few of trust issues for them to iron out. He’d prefer they just go camping somewhere. Batel agrees, but only if room service is provided.  They seal the deal with a kiss…

Note: I’m with Captain Batel on that one; camping out for me is a hotel room without a mini-fridge or coffeemaker.

“Somewhere, beyyyond Antarrres…”

Just as the episode began, it bookends with a log entry from Uhura, who reports that all Federation ships within range of the anomaly have returned to normal—no more awkward confessions with involuntary singing. Spock also managed to smooth relations with the Klingons by sharing a case of bloodwine. Pike also orders the Enterprise’s findings on the subspace field sent to other ships throughout the quadrant. We then see Uhura—a lot closer to the cheerier, confident woman we knew throughout TOS Star Trek—humming a tune, as she’d do many times in the years to come.  She turns to Pike and says, “Sorry…earworm.”

Note: Spock’s knack for negotiating with Klingons was previously seen in “The Broken Circle.” Both that episode and “Subspace Rhapsody” foreshadow Spock’s future diplomatic role with the Klingons, as seen in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991).

The End.

Summing It Up

For the record, I do like a good musical every now and then.  I really enjoyed 2021’s redo of “West Side Story.” I’m also a fan of “Fiddler on the Roof” (seen it live, twice), “Hamilton” (saw it live in LA), “Jesus Christ Superstar” (same) and others. The explanation given for the outbursts of song-and-dance in “Subspace Rhapsody” is that a music experiment within a subspace rift somehow creates a new reality where everyone sings through their feelings with musical numbers, and that reality is now spreading throughout the universe. Yes, it’s completely ridiculous.  But it’s also pretty fun, as well. The actors pour their hearts into it, and the songs are surprisingly well-written too, considering the time constraints of TV production versus a Broadway/filmed musical.

The crew lounge becomes a nightclub cabaret.

Just as TOS’ “The Naked Time” (and TNG’s dismal remake “The Naked Now”) featured the Enterprise crew expressing their innermost feelings through an alien intoxicant, this episode takes that old premise and adds a little music to it. The result is a lot more entertaining, as we see the crew singing and dancing through their feelings, rather than just acting drunk.  Most of the main characters are given moments to shine through ballads (particularly loved Chapel and Uhura’s songs about personal liberation and found family). The only one who gets shortchanged is, of course, Lt. Ortegas (Melissa Navia). What else is new, right? Even in the big musical episode, Ortegas is still sidelined…

Jazz Hands!
Uhura, Pike, La’an and the rest of the bridge crew reach for the sky…

As the characters are forced to reveal personal feelings, their songs advance their personal arcs as well.  La’an (Christina Chong) vows to be less inhibited with those she cares about.  Chapel (Jess Bush) is ending her pining over Spock to advance her research career with future fiancé Dr. Roger Korby.  Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) has found her new family with the Enterprise crew.  Spock (Ethan Peck) resolves to stop dabbling in emotion to become the coldly logical Vulcan we see later on. Captain Pike (Anson Mount) and Capt. Batel (Melanie Scrofano) pledge to be more honest with each other going forward. The songs served a genuine purpose with the story, as they often do with the best of musicals.

Uhura is surrounded by swirls of calculations as she sings about her new family on the Enterprise.

It’s safe to say, some Star Trek fans will not like this episode’s musical format, and that’s okay.  Personally, I wasn’t too sure a musical would work for Star Trek, either.  But at the end of “Subspace Rhapsody”, we learned a lot about these characters, and many turning points were reached in their stories. As ship-bound ‘bottle stories’ go, the musical format provided a ‘logical’ means of delivering a lot of vital character information without feeling like so much clunky exposition.  

As an unprecedented experiment in the show’s format, “Subspace Rhapsody” has the guts to truly go where no Star Trek had gone before, and I’m pleased to say it pays off.

Where To Watch

“Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” is available to stream exclusively on Paramount+. The first season of “Strange New Worlds” is also available for purchase on BluRay and DVD from CBS/Paramount, and is available for purchase wherever you can still buy physical media (Amazon, BestBuy, Barnes & Noble; prices vary).

Images: Trekcore, Paramount+
Images: Trekcore, Paramount+

3 Comments Add yours

  1. scifimike70 says:

    After Under The Cloak War, it’s nice to see the Star Trek universe somehow lighten up, as Trek IV: The Voyage Home achieved after Treks II and III. This episode should prove how ambitiously the powers that be will do anything to keep Star Trek afloat for the sci-fi universe in this era. So I can certainly look forward to seeing how it’s done. Thank you for your review.

    1. Thanks, Mike.
      And yes, last week’s was really dark, and no one came out of it looking particularly good, either. This week was a welcome change of both tone and format. It also advanced the characters’ arcs more than I imagined it would.

      1. scifimike70 says:

        The only thing I disagreed with was Kirk’s revelation to La’an about Carol along with her pregnancy. That clashes most seriously with how it played out for Star Trek Continues: The Holiest Thing which is the version I like much better.

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