There was plenty of talk about episode 209 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. It was the musical episode, the wide step outside the Star Trek box that had people either loving the concept or completely against the whole idea. Musical Star Trek? Is that even Star Trek? Well, I can tell you now that “Subspace Rhapsody” is entirely Star Trek, entirely fun, and offers its crew the chance to express themselves deeply in a uniquely effective way.
I was enjoying the episode as it rolled past my eyes, finding some of the songs catchy, the emotions being expressed interesting, and then … the Klingons showed up. You know those memes and GIFS out there saying something to the effect of “You haven’t heard Elvis until you’ve heard him in the original Klingon?” Well, those wonderful little social media ditties are going to be put on the shelf after this week’s Klingon dance festival. Yeah, when the Klingons show up and get to dubstepping, the party was truly on. And I was here for it.
This is your SPOILER ALERT. There are SPOILERS ahead, so be warned.
The plot is a familiar one to Star Trek fans. A singularity or, in this case, a quantum probability field in space could help communications across the star system be a lot faster. The Enterprise is studying this potential, but things aren’t going well. Enter Pelia (delightfully played by Carol Kane) with an idea that, perhaps, instead of words, musical notes could open the door. And with that advice, Spock and Uhura open a pandora’s box of fun and expression. Their first song stirs the probability to life and it begins to expand, sending the Enterprise into a state of Broadway joy and delight.
And the phenomenon is growing, threatening to engulf not only Federation space, but most of the Klingon territory as well. It’s a dangerous, uncertain problem that is fun to watch as strong emotional feelings cause the crew to break into song. There’s normalcy going on, but whenever there’s something that stirs the soul, the words that Pike, La’An, Chapel, Spock and others find hard to speak come flowing out in song, instead. It’s wonderfully uncomfortable as truth and feelings they’d not wanted to speak are, instead, sung. I thought it a fun and inventive way to help with unresolved feelings.
Once again, Star Trek boldly goes where no one, or no sci-fi show has gone before it – at least in quite the same way. What I truly enjoyed about this episode is that Akiva Goldman and Alex Kurtzman simply could have played it safe and written a basic Star Trek episode – a placeholder before the season finale. But they know what we know at this point, there’s a lot of things that haven’t been said, a lot of feelings that haven’t been expressed by an Enterprise crew that, in the name of professionalism, simply can’t express normally. But when forced to confront their feelings in song, it’s a whole new ballgame. I thought it creative and fun.
Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) is tabbed for a fellowship that will require her to leave the Enterprise. We get an expression of her delight as a dream is coming true, punctuated with a fun song and dance number that finishes were her stating intensely, “I’m ready!” Spock later offers his feelings about her leaving in a heartfelt solo number, where he laments his emotional side and vows to pursue his Vulcan side more intensely. It’s an interesting moment that gives us a little more insight into the Spock we will later see in TOS, and why he’s like he is then. Good stuff.
We also swim through Captain Pike’s relationship with fellow Captain Marie Batel, some advice from No. 1 to a newly-minted first officer, Jim Kirk, who has come in for a week of shadowing. Then there’s the struggle of La’an’s feelings for Kirk, something she expresses fantastically in her quarters, along with the watch she’d gotten from Kirk in an alternate timeline. All of this is done in song in her darkened quarters (nice mood lighting) and it’s smoothly done and revealing. And I think that’s important. These aren’t songs for a musical’s sake, they are songs that further the story, get emotional obstacles out of the way and reveal some things about some of these crew members.
In fact, one of the interesting moments for me was La’an confessing her alternate timeline travel to Kirk, and that he’s been the only one to really “see her.” It’s a fantastic breaking of temporal travel rules, but we also learn that Kirk is in a relationship with Carol (Marcus) and they have a child on the way. Again, a little tidbit that we will see play out later on in Wrath of Khan. It’s a wonderful moment for a character that is wrapped really tightly, but one that portends a character that is evolving and ready to change her trajectory a bit.
So while there’s song and dance breaking out aboard the Enterprise, then more and more Star Fleet ships (the Enterprise is the conduit, it would seem), the Klingons are on the way to do a typically Klingon thing – destroy the singularity. Fortunately, led by Uhura, the Enterprise breaks into a shipwide song and dance, in the best tradition of “Showboat” and through the beauty of science and harmony are able to stabilize and diffuse the quantum probability field. And the day is saved.
But, not before we get a little Klingon song and dance, reminiscent of your favorite Backstreet Boys music video. It lasted only a few seconds, but it was a beauty of a touch and one that will keep social media folks in stitches for a long time. And I loved the look on their captain’s face when they finished their song and dance – like a man who can’t believe how weird his life became in those few moments. Dishonor? Most likely. But damn, was that a fun little piece of this whole musical puzzle. I loved it. BTW, Bruce Horak as the Klingon captain was just leaning into this thing. It was fun.
With the season finale now upon us, there are some questions. Is Jess Bush (Chapel) leaving the show for season 3? Given the fellowship, it seems like that scenario is in play. Hope not, really enjoy the character. Will we see a new, more Vulcan Spock moving forward into season 3? How much Jim Kirk will we see moving forward. He’s been a bigger part of this season than I’d imagined. And will we see La’an really make the emotional change to a more open soul than we’ve seen? There’s a lot to unpack and, perhaps, the finale will give us some clues as to what might come next.
For my money, “Subspace Rhapsody” was far more than a fun musical experiment in the realm of Star Trek. There was depth within the songs we heard, some good advice and some important messages delivered within the lyrics and I appreciated that. It was something different and I appreciated that. Mostly, though, I appreciate the creators of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds not being afraid to take a chance. Aboard the Enterprise, we saw what happens when folks put themselves out there, take a chance, and sing their realities. Strange New World’s creators did the same with this episode.
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