Star Trek: Strange New Worlds review, Episode 209: “Subspace Rhapsody”

L-R Carol Kane as Pelia, Christina Chong as La’an, Ethan Peck as Spock in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Best Possible Screengrab/Paramount+
L-R Carol Kane as Pelia, Christina Chong as La’an, Ethan Peck as Spock in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Best Possible Screengrab/Paramount+ /

There’s a stereotype that Star Trek fans miss emotional cues and subtext. I’m watching Strange New Worlds with the attentiveness and focus of someone who has to review and recap each episode, and I’m not entirely sure I’m catching all of the emotional beats. Perhaps that’s why sci-fi franchises typically enjoyed by socially awkward nerds should have an episode where the characters literally sing their emotions. It’s a lot more fun than trying to learn what facial expressions mean using cue cards.

I jest… It would be awful if this were to become a trope. This musical episode of Star Trek works precisely because it’s never been done before, and will probably never be done again.

“Subspace Rhapsody” is a one-off get-out-of-jail-free card. Strange New Worlds has given us a fantastic mix of plot-driven and character-driven storytelling this season, but while the plots generally get wrapped up as soon as the problem of the week is solved, the personal stories are a little harder to wrap up. After all, how do you narratively resolve unrequited love?

In the streaming age, most shows would stretch that story out over the length of a season of TV. But Strange New Worlds is a throwback to the days when stories were wrapped up in 45 minutes or so. They needed a way to make usually restrained characters confess their emotions to themselves, to each other, and to us in one big purgative moment of catharsis. A musical emotional deus ex machina, if you will.

“Subspace Rhapsody” demonstrates that the writers understand how musical theatre actually works. My concern for a musical episode of Star Trek was that it would fall into the same trap as a lot of high-concept musicals and load the song lyrics up with clunky exposition and plot development. The role of songs in a musical is to express the characters’ inner emotions and to spell out themes. The stories in musical theatre have to be simple enough that they can be developed in between songs.

Not only does “Subspace Rhapsody” understand the rules of musicals, it comments on them. After the Enterprise is hit with a shockwave from a negative space wedgie, the crew all begin spontaneously breaking into song. They soon realize that their reality is merging with another reality that conforms to the rules of musicals, and their heightened emotions cause them to sing.

Since the songs don’t have to vehicles for the story, they can focus on being good catchy songs. They’re not all winners, but it’s a really good set of songs. And each one is better than the last, building to an impressive show-stopper. That final song is tooth-achingly saccharine but infectiously joyful. It features a chorus of reluctantly crooning Klingons threatening “eternal torture” in smooth R’n’B. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard at anything on Star Trek.

Just go with it

A lot of what happens in this episode is a “just go with it” proposition, starting with the technobabble that kicks it all off. The space wedgie here is a subspace fold. In the Star Trek universe, subspace is a dimension through with communications travel, allowing for correspondence that moves faster than light. No communications sent through this particular subspace fold have been received. Pelia suggests sending music, because fundamental harmonics may work with the different laws of physics in subspace (just go with it). Uhura plays Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” into the fold, which generates the shockwave that makes everyone sing.

James T. Kirk is there too (just go with it). I do not remember the in-universe reason for his presence, but his role in the story is pretty significant. After seeing him, La’an sings a torch ballad about her crush on him, which is how she works out how serious the situation is. Thinking like a security officer, she reasons that if the songs make everyone sing their inner feelings, then they’re a security risk. Captain Pike immediately demonstrates this principle by having a lover’s tiff with Captain Batel, in song, over the bridge’s viewscreen, in full view of the crew. Thankfully the song is fun, or else the second-hand embarrassment would’ve made the scene unwatchable. With perfect timing, La’an shuts off the viewscreen just before it becomes too much.

That tells them that the singing is affecting other ships. From Spock and Uhura’s unsuccessful attempts to undo whatever it is that the fold is doing, we know that destroying the fold would destroy every ship affected by it. So while Spock and Uhura continue to try and shut it down, La’an and Kirk are assigned to try and stop a group of Klingons trying to destroy it.

A recurring theme in Strange New Worlds is that we can’t have silliness without heartache. So first up we have La’an reasoning that she has to tell Kirk about her feelings before they come out in the form of a sea shanty. But Kirk tells her that he’s seeing someone: Carol at Starbase 1, who is currently pregnant. That’s sort of an easter egg, as we meet Kirk’s son David in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, approximately 25 years after this.

Then we have Spock and Uhura coming to the conclusion that they need to prompt a song so they can observe it and see if there are any patterns. So Spock confronts Nurse Chapel, who’s been acting squirrely around him ever since she was accepted into an internship on archeological medicine. Where we expect another ballad about how much she’ll miss him, we get a big brassy, “I want” song about how much she’s looking forward to it. This is the first fantastic song, but the look on Spock’s face is almost too much to bear. Chapel is giving us real f-boy energy in this moment.

If this is the beginning of the end for Spock and Chapel, it significantly recontextualizes the original series, changing the story while keeping the canon intact. Spock is half-human, but throughout the original series, you rarely saw any evidence of this; instead, he was fully committed to the emotionless, Vulcan way of life. If Spock rejected his emotions because of a broken heart, then the character reads very differently.

Uhura makes her observations, and after belting out her own fantastic “I want” song (this episode may well just exist to give Celia Rose Gooding’s pipes a workout) she reports that there is a pattern to the music: each song is accompanied by a spike in the quantum improbability field (just go with it), and if they can make the field spike to 344 gigaelectronvolts, that should fix everything. An ensemble number about unity and togetherness should do the trick.


There’ve been better episodes, both silly and serious, but I can’t remember having this much fun watching modern Star Trek! It’s the final number that really cinches it. There’s such guileless joy to it that you really have to just forget yourself. Every cast member sings, even those who can’t. And when they can’t quite get to 344 gigaelectronvolts, they hail the Klingons to put them over the edge with their funky impotent rage threats and hip urban dance moves. It has everything!

Through radical (musical) honesty we have seen Pike and Batel overcoming their differences and La’an seemingly moving on from Kirk. With these two threads tied up, we can go into the final episode without tripping over them. But as for Spock and Chapel… well, we know from the original series that Dr. Roger Korby, who she’ll be interning with, is her ex-fiance. It seems that we’re building up to a bust-up between the two so bad that she nearly marries someone else and he rejects human emotions forever.

And you thought you’d had bad break-ups.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds review, Episode 207: “Those Old Scientists”. dark. Next

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