Review: Things Gets Musical in ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ “Subspace Rhapsody”

Anything goes … including rapping Klingons.

Becky
8 Min Read
Best Possible Screengrab/Paramount+

An all-musical episode of Star Trek? Something that’s never before been done in almost 60 years of television and cinematic history? Folks might say the latest episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds may have jumped the shark. I would say they have, at worst, tossed a tribble. Let’s do a quick dive into last week’s highly anticipated (and romance-heavy) episode, “Subspace Rhapsody”.

Please note: spoilers ahead for the episode.

We open on the Enterprise’s latest discovery: a naturally occurring subspace fold that could be used to triple the speed of communications. Spock absolutely must dive head-first into its analysis. (Could he possibly be overworking to avoid those pesky emotions around Nurse Chapel? Eyebrows point to yes.) Which naturally takes up so much juice, Uhura has to do communications “the old-fashioned way” and has become the ship’s de facto switchboard operator. As we watch, she routes calls to the crew with a degree of romantic foreboding. 

Just like any other musical worth its salt, the bulk of this episode was all about the romance, focusing on the current big three couples: Captain Pike & Captain Batel, La’an & James Kirk, and Nurse Chapel & Spock. One of these three escapes this episode unscathed, and spoiler alert, it’s not the one you’re rooting for.

(Chris and Marie’s relationship has gotten a fair amount of mileage this season and while I could watch Melanie Scrofano in anything forever and always, it mostly feels like a series of contrived issues to give something for Pike to do outside of the business of Captaining. This episode is no exception, with them quibbling over taking a vacation on a planet called Crivo, something she loves but Pike feels is too touristy.)

In the process of trying to see if this subspace fold will actually accelerate the communications, they make a last-ditch effort to subvert the physics of the fold (just hang with the space talk, we will get there) by sending the “Great American Songbook” as a message, hoping it will reach someone. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. As a mysterious wave hits the ship, everyone’s eyebrows (and Pike’s hair) raise a little higher. 

And then, Spock starts singing.

Listen, I’m going to level with you here on two things. First, as Beckett Mariner pointed out a few episodes back, “I’m going to keep this like 100% profesh but I was thoroughly unprepared for how hot young Spock was going to be.” We, as an audience, didn’t need another reminder of how wonderfully talented Ethan Peck is, it’s just overkill at this point. But secondly and more importantly, it sort of works? They sing about how terribly strange this phenomenon is and well, it is. But the entire cast jumps in head first with the camp and the cheese and we just believe it. We’re along for this absurd ride.

So, why are they singing? By sending the songbook into the fold, they’ve created a quantum uncertainty field which creates a musical reality. Does that make total sense? Not really. But it’s said with a lot of Trek language, so we (and the crew) go along with it.

Television is no stranger to mid-season musical episodes, and while Star Trek hasn’t gone there in its nearly 60 years, they hit many of the same beats which is to say, accelerated character growth. It’s as if someone hit warp speed on some of the character beats we’d been expecting for a while now. La’an has a lovely Fantine-style song where she decides to finally confess to Kirk the whole business of sort of being in love with another time version of him. (Breaking a rather serious time law, which will absolutely come back to haunt her, and yet, we love a reckless romantic moment.) And we learn that while Kirk felt something akin to a connection to her, he’s sort of in a relationship with this woman named Carol who may or may not be pregnant. Whoopsy-daisy.

(Oh, that’s right, we suddenly remember Kirk is a player.)

Our other heartbreaking romance is that of Nurse Chapel and Spock. At the top of the episode we see Christine get accepted to a fellowship, (she’s been trying for several over the last few episodes, ending one a few weeks ago with a rejection from the Vulcans) and she’s over the moon about it, but cold as ice to Spock. They’d been on the outs since the crossover episode where Boimler disclosed to her that Spock will go on to do many incredible, important things; but none of them where he’s happily in love. Depressingly, she continues to push him away, and Spock, with all his big Vulcan feelings, sings a very sad love song about math.

(I didn’t say this episode was completely void of cringe moments, mind you. Just that it was worth the ride.)

There were two great standouts I have to mention. The first being Rebecca Romijn, who spends most of the episode expressing Commander Una’s joy in finally getting to live her truth and singing to La’an and Kirk to inspire them. Romijn commits to the bit, and I love to watch her get a little goofy in this role, dancing through the halls of the Enterprise. She’s a delight to watch.

But the gold star goes to Celia Rose Gooding, who has been absolutely killing it this season with Uhura’s story arc and this episode is no exception. And boy, does she have some pipes! Ultimately it is she, as the ship’s Communication Officer, that bands the 200+ crew together (plus a ship of rapping Klingons, I swear to Q) for one show-stopper finale that hits the right frequency to zip the fold right back up. 

I love camp in Star Trek, and this episode rode the line pretty hard between that and cringe. Was it the single best musical episode of television I’ve ever seen? No. For all my marbles, that award likely goes to Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Once More With Feeling” and let me tell you, the way my spouse and I flew off the couch hearing someone mention “bunnies” during this episode, I think that one was on the writer’s minds as well. 

I’m not sure that we’ll see another musical in Star Trek ever again, but we appreciate this cast for boldly going where no Trek cast has gone before. 

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds airs Thursdays on Paramount+

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By Becky
Becky joined the staff of Nerds and Beyond in 2018, but she's been a nerd since dial up modems were all the rage (yeah, I'm that old fellow kids). From her first fandom to her current, her passion has always been writing and engaging with the media she consumes. When she's not freelance writing for Nerds, she is the Creative Director at non-profit Random Acts. Other hobbies include consuming New Adult fiction, binge watching anything the Gay Agenda recommends, and taking deep breaths in national parks. Find Becky on twitter at @hello_minky.
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