Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2, Episode 9 – Debuted Thursday, August 3, 2023
Written by Dana Horgan & Bill Wolkoff; with original songs by Kay Hanley and Tom Polce
Directed by Dermott Downs
Strange New Worlds makes Star Trek history with an engaging episode that turns out to be more than just a musical.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
“We appear to be singing.”
The Enterprise is at the edge of the Alpha Quadrant studying a subspace fold Spock thinks can triple communication speed. His experiment is tying up the computer, so Uhura has to go old school, channeling her inner Ernestine to keep the ship connected. Elsewhere, we see Pike and Captain Batel arguing over their upcoming vacation and La’an struggling to keep her cool as she welcomes James T. Kirk, who’s beaming on board for some first officer training with Una. In sickbay, Chapel finally gets some good news with an acceptance letter to a prestigious fellowship with Dr. Roger Korby that is going to take her off the ship for a while… and away from Spock. Oblivious to this impending separation, the Vulcan is having trouble figuring out how to tap into the hypothesized super-communication capability of this subspace fold. He sees merit in a suggestion from Pelia to try using music, since the fundamental harmonics might work within the fold’s different laws of physics. Uhura is inspired by the idea and chooses a classic Cole Porter song for the experiment. The musical signal sent into the fold results in a pulse of energy that ripples through the ship, so Pike demands a status report. Spock complies, reporting that all systems are stable… except he is singing, and soon enough, others across the ship are doing the same: Pike gets updates from everyone on how “all is okay” – but in song, along with some nice harmonies. Even the captain joins in asking the question on all of our minds… “But why are we singing?” Cue the new choral opening credits, we are in for a musical journey.
So that happened, and Captain Pike wants answers about why there are musical outbreaks across his ship. Spock explains that sending the song into the fold has created a “quantum improbability field” and they are now tethered to the fold and a new “musical reality.” Got that? The analogy of the week is this reality has torn open like a zipper and the plan is to zip it back up by teching a lot of tech. While Spock and Uhura are tasked for finding the right frequency, Una and Kirk start connecting the shields and Heisenberg compensators to the deflector dish, as if this was just another Star Trek episode. But soon enough they start talking about command styles, and here comes the music again as Una has some advice for young Kirk in a jaunty tune about connecting to his truth and to his crew, as she has decided to move away from her more distant style. Others watch bemused as Kirk and Una ballroom dance down a corridor, but La’an is concerned and goes off to her quarters to launch into her own little torch song over her James T. Kirk, dead in another timeline, and how maybe it’s time (or is it?) for her to let go of her strict control and find some of her own happiness and freedom. Once her impressive solo is done, the security officer makes a beeline to the captain to reveal that the songs people sing are disclosing highly personal emotional information. This isn’t just an amusing musical interlude, it’s a security threat.
“This musical reality wants us to sing.”
Worried by La’an’s information, Pike is happy to find the various teams are ready to unzip this reality, and Una fires the rejiggered deflector beam at the fold to “collapse the musical reality back into our quantum state.” Sounds good, but the fold has other ideas, responding with a new, bigger energy surge. Things get even worse when the USS Cayuga hails and Captain Batel wants to “have a private conversation in a more discreet location about our canceled vacation.” Uh oh, now she’s singing too, and Pike joins her in a very awkward viewscreen duet that thankfully gets shut down when La’an closes the link. Now the improbability field has spread throughout Federation space; singing has infected 12 ships so far and Admiral April (a beautiful baritone, BTW) is pissed. Uhura posits that things are actually following the rules of musicals, so songs are being triggered by emotion and what’s most pressing on people’s minds. An exasperated Pike has a simple solution, which he can’t believe Spock agrees is worth considering: Shoot photon torpedoes at the fold. Just to be sure, La’an and Kirk are tasked to capture some particles to test. The security officer confides in Una that it isn’t a good idea for her to be around Kirk inside this musical reality… for “temporal” reasons. Number One gets the hint, but the first officer has some advice for her old friend… and here we go again. Una goes downtempo to sing-share how she spent her life keeping secrets, imploring her friend to not do the same. She also turns off the gravity for some inexplicable musical reason.
La’an and Kirk get to work transporting particles and she tries to open up to this Jim, but they are interrupted by an explosion. Spock’s experiment revealed the photon torpedo plan would only make things worse—a lot worse. Speaking of bad news, an incoming message from Klingon General Garkog makes it clear they have been hit by the improbability field too and it has caused “dishonor,” so stay out of their way. They are coming to blow up the fold, which will end up destroying the Federation and half the Empire, but just trying telling that to the Klingons. Pike needs a Plan C fast. Uhura wants to capture data from the moment a song begins so she takes Spock to the port galley, where he sees Christine celebrating landing that fellowship. So yeah, this should do it. He awkwardly asks why she didn’t tell him the good news and Nyota is ready with the tricorder as it’s time for Nurse Chapel’s big number. Christine joyously sings how she is “ready” to see her dreams come true, the whole bar lifts her up (literally) as she shares how for her the sky is the limit and if that means she has to leave a certain Vulcan behind, so be it. Ouch, dumped by dance number.
“We’re connected as a crew…”
Back to La’an: As she and Kirk analyze K’Tinga battle tactics, she gets the jump on the musical reality, spilling the time travel beans about falling in love with a Jim from another reality. That Kirk could see the version of her she wishes she could be, but he’s gone. Lt. Kirk isn’t the same, but she kind of likes the way he looks at her too—but before things progress, he drops the bomb that canon dictates for him to have a pregnant girlfriend around this time. So much for this pair, but she did avoid breaking into song. In engineering, Spock is analyzing musical data and scrutinizing Christine’s in particular, triggering his own sad song. The Vulcan has done the calculus and sees he is the variable, deciding he will no longer be solving for human emotions. Singing ceased, a disheartened Spock exits engineering and leaves Uhura alone to find the pattern that will get them out of this mess. This is the musical number we have been waiting for as she goes full Grammy-winning Broadway star, belting out her journey from the pain of loss to her loneliness to working her way through to her new path. She may have started alone but now she is the communications officer, she keeps everyone connected… and on the Enterprise, she is never alone. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Uhura has figured it out and briefs the captain on how each musical moment caused spikes in the field, with a boost for moments with multiple singers. To shatter the field, it’s going to take a lot more singers. Pike tells her she is the one who can motivate everyone to share an emotion together. No pressure! The coms officer opens hailing frequencies to talk to the crew, breaking through the chaos and refocusing them to come together to fight for their lives. Soon enough, one by one, others begin to sing and dance their way through the ship… yes, it’s the big finale number. Together this crew sees their purpose as they function better all together, and it’s working. Uhura’s field boosting meter climbs, but it’s still not enough voices so Pike opens a channel to General Garkog as his bridge boy band to drop some K-Pop beats (that’s K for Klingon, get it?). The Klingons plus one last push on the Enterprise bridge does it; the fold bursts and the musical reality returns to the songbooks. La’an and Una take a moment over drinks to think about what they just learned. Pike and Batel come to a romantic dinner accord, but their vacation will have to wait as she has a new priority one assignment. Uhura takes us out with a final log, reporting things are back to normal across all affected ships, Klingons included. But she leaves us humming an earworm, and a nice end credits medley as this one-of-a-kind musical journey comes to a close.
More than an anomaly
Well this is it, the swingiest of the “big swings” of season 2. Singing is nothing new in Star Trek, starting with Uhura’s song and DS9 even had a resident crooner, but a full-on musical episode with 10 original songs is on a whole new level. “Subspace Rhapsody” will surely be a matter of taste, with fans of musicals mostly likely to relish it. But even those (like this reviewer) who are not necessarily fans of the genre can be impressed by the enormous effort that went into this episode with superb levels of coordination between script and songs, choreography, and performance, especially from the professional singers in the cast like Celia Rose Gooding and Christina Chong. Analyzing “Subpace Rhapsody” as a musical will be left to TrekMovie’s musical-loving Laurie Ulster below, but behind the music, this was still a strong Star Trek episode that brought fascinating twists to familiar beats but also tied into the emotional throughlines of the second season.
Creating a musical episode has been a stated goal of executive producer Alex Kurtzman for years, yet there was still a welcome level of logic to keep the story within the rules of the Star Trek universe. From eddies to tears to ruptures, subspace anomalies have been the gift that keeps on giving to the franchise, so it makes sense to build this episode around a “subspace fold” which created the “musical reality.” And for a show that usually likes to avoid engineering solutions, Uhura’s Giga Electronvolt scale and “We need melodies and harmonies with tone ratios that achieve both algorithmic and logarithmic balance on a mass scale” fits right in with some of the franchise’s best technobabble, however, the logic only holds together at a surface level. While the explanation of the musical reality was better than a handwave, the logic falls apart upon scrutiny, but this isn’t the kind of episode where that really matters.
Even with the unique musical execution, this episode still had a nice affinity with the broader sub-genre of episodes featuring crews acting out of character, like TNG’s “The Naked Now” to DS9’s “Fascination.” The internal logic of where the music, lyrics, harmonies, and choreography were coming from might have worked better if there was some identified entity manipulating things, like the way the Hirogen transformed the Voyager crew into characters from a World War II movie in “The Killing Game.” However, that would actually give up the key that makes this episode hold together. Each of these songs was deeply rooted in long-developed character arcs, and even acted as a bit of a season resolution with some emotional breakthroughs, from Una and La’an learning to let go of their secrets and control to Christine embracing her ambition and agency, and especially Uhura finding her true calling on the Enterprise. That being said the impact of the various songs was still mixed and perhaps the most emotional scene of the episode (with La’an opening up to Kirk) had no singing at all.
The singing and the dancing certainly kept this bottle episode on the lighter side, and this was buoyed by some welcome humor, with Anson Mount’s Pike again delivering the best subtle comic beats. But there were still some clear stakes set up with a ticking clock and the threat posed by the Klingons. It was a delight to see Hemmer actor Bruce Horak return again in season 2, this time as Klingon General Garkog where he and his boy band bridge crew resolved their arc with humor as they danced their way into the finale number, outrageous gold uniforms and all. Looking closely at what actually happened during some of these songs shows how this episode was a big pivot point for many of the characters, like putting Spock back on a path to logic. Pike and Batel’s romance resolution coming right before her priority one assignment almost certainly sets up the stakes for the finale, possibly even setting up something tragic. The episode even found time to tie into some key bits of canon for some characters, including Kirk mentioning Carol Marcus and her pregnancy (with his son David) and Christine’s coming fellowship with (future fiancé) Roger Korby. Musicals may not be my cup of tea, but there was still enough humor, plot, and character going on to maintain interest. And even someone who has never seen an episode of Glee can be moved by some of the performances here, especially Uhura’s “Keep Us Connected” and the grand “We Are One” finale, both of which beautifully embody the themes of Star Trek.
A most confounding thing, I appear to be singing…
Analysis by Laurie Ulster
I’m not an expert on musicals, but I am definitely a fan of good ones and this fits the bill. The songs come in a variety of styles and tempos, evoking memories of big moments in familiar musicals but with their own unique twists, and the theme of the episode—difficulty communicating—is echoed for La’an, Una, Spock, Uhura, Pike, and Chapel as they reveal their innermost thoughts in song.
Things start off with humor and confusion when Spock starts singing his status report and when the rest of the crew joins in with musical updates on phaser banks and inertial dampers, it’s fun to imagine the Strange New Worlds fan who doesn’t keep up on industry news and had no idea what was coming. But as we move forward into the episode, the humor remains but songs get personal and revealing, taking each character on a journey they may not have been aware of until the tunes came pouring out. Every song moves each character forward in ways spoken dialogue never could, making this work as a perfect penultimate episode as the season: They will take their revelations forward into whatever comes next.
Whether you want to sing along about deflector shields or deepest emotional truths, you’ll find yourself hearing these tunes in your head and wanting to snap up the soundtrack. The songs are beautifully written, with engaging, clever, lyrics woven into musical highs and lows that feel both familiar unpredictable at the same time—no easy task. When Celia Rose Gooding belts out the solo we’ve been waiting for, one can’t help but think about how Nichelle Nichols would’ve felt had she been able to see it. I believe she would have wept for joy seeing how her legacy as both a talented singer and an expert communications officer has come to take its place in the much-deserved spotlight; I teared up thinking about it on my first viewing and felt the exultation in my soul as the song reached its height.
As a musical, it succeeds on every level. The “science” of the story never quite makes sense, but the consequences of each character’s journey are as real as it gets. With its clever and often ebullient choreography (both in dance numbers and camera moves) and catchy tunes, this episode has quickly become one of my most rewatchable favorites.
“Subspace Rhapsody” will surely go down as one of the most talked about episodes in the franchise. Musical lovers will rejoice while others will file it away as silly or even corny. Yet the sheer artistry and audaciousness make it worth watching, at least once. While it is a jarring tonal shift from last week’s dark episode, it still fits well within the season, providing a key pivot point heading into next week’s season finale. And maybe this is one of those episodes that benefits from avoiding overthinking analysis, so this time, just sit back and enjoy the show… and sing along if you are so inclined.
- Begins with communications officers log, Stardate 2398.3.
- This is director Dermott Downs’ first time with Star Trek, bringing his experience of directing a musical crossover of The Flash and Supergirl, “Duet.”
- The comment about people becoming bunnies is a reference to one of the songs in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode.
- With a runtime of 62:34, this is the second-longest episode of the series, just 12 seconds shorter than the season 1 finale
- After appearing multiple times through both seasons, Captain Batel finally gets a first name: Marie.
- Number One’s love of Gilbert and Sullivan was first revealed in the Short Treks episode “Q&A.”
- Starfleet ships affected by the musical reality include Lexington, Republic, Potemkin, Cayuga, Hood, and Kongo. Klingon ships include Forcas and Harlak.
- Spock was dispatched to handle bloodwine diplomacy with the Klingons, something he learned in the season premiere.
- The soundtrack for this episode is already available online.
More to come
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