I tried to avoid the Internets and the debates around whether Star Trek: Strange New World’s recently released “Subspace Rhapsody” was the best idea or the worst in the Season 2 lineup. San Diego Comic Con gave us a preview, but I could scarcely wrap my mind around it. After seeing it, I concede it was the best!
SO MUCH DARKNESS…
Let me preface the episode with a bit of explanation as to why this particular episode was exactly what the doctor ordered. This season of Strange New Worlds has been dark and heavy, filled with dystopian-flavored affairs such as S2:E1’s ‘The Broken Circle’ in which a subversive plan to restart the Klingon-Federation conflicts relies on using a stolen ship as a false flag operation.
This episode features Dr. M’Benga and Nurse Chapel in an unexpected series of fights and reveals the proscribed super-stimulant “Protocol 12.” This episode also covers for Anson Mount who became a proud papa and was on paternity leave.
The star of this season may have been the courtroom drama of S2:E2’s ‘Ad Astra per Aspera, where Commander Una Chin-Riley is revealed to be genetically engineered, and is faced with a court-martial, dismissal and possible imprisonment. She is forced to confront Starfleet with her life in the hands of an estranged childhood friend whose legislative work challenges the Federation’s anti-genetic engineering policy. An Emmy award-winning performance is delivered by Illyrian attorney, Neera Ketoul, played by the outstanding actor, Yetide Badaki.
S2:E3 “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” takes us on a dark journey into the past where security officer La’An Noonien-Singh confronts her ancestry after time travelers alter the history of the Federation, removing a pivotal event and distorting the timeline of the future Federation. Darkness abounds in this episode.
AND NOW, THE LIGHT…
If I am being generous only one episode this season offers a respite from what appears to be an exploration into the dark side of the Federation and its early history which was the crossover event, S2:E7, ‘Those Old Scientists’ which crosses the animated Star Trek: Lower Decks series with Strange New Worlds in a lighthearted romp where Ensign Brad Boimler travels from the 24th century back to Pike’s Enterprise. Being a history enthusiast, his trip to the past is more complicated than he reckoned and the addition of Ensign Mariner makes a complicated situation, hilarious. Both series are enriched by this first-time crossover.
Which leads me to the surprise episode of this season, S2:E9, Subspace Rhapsody. This episode was billed as a musical, featuring song and dance numbers being entered into what has been for the 50+ years of its existence, a takes-itself-serious franchise about space exploration, futuristic technology and Human development. When you describe it this way, it might even seem a bit stuffy and refined, in that, drinking tea with your pinky at a ninety degree angle sort of way. Which explains the railing and screaming found on the Internet before the episode aired. I refused to check on the asylum afterwards because I LOVED THIS EPISODE.
Lieutenant Uhura and Mr. Spock discover a subspace anomaly which when probed released a rift in reality crossing the stuffy Federation with a reality where characters break out into spontaneous song, a musical-adjacent reality, where the crew is unable to resist the need to address their emotional challenges as boisterous musical numbers complete with background music provided by the anomaly.
It could have been a disaster and to those who cannot see Star Trek as anything BUT a serious-science fiction franchise, it was the worst kind of event. Lead actors belting out their emotions and their fears as carefully-crafted songs featuring issues the characters have faced since the show’s inception come to the foreground through well-directed and excellently-choreographed stories told in song, ala the musical hit ‘Hamilton.’ As a fan of musicals, I was afraid it would be a ham-fisted affair, as writers whom I thought would be unfamiliar with the series, would try and shoehorn silly songs into the story.
It was exactly the opposite. Each song was strategically-placed and laser-focused on the fears of the character, tailored to their psychological framework such as Spock’s rendition of “I’m the X” where his logical mind and his Human emotions battle over his feelings for Nurse Chapel.
With the efforts to break away from the anomaly making the situation worse, we get to watch the crew attempting to adjust to their new reality and realizing just how problematic this might become as the crew are unable to keep their emotions under control while the effect continues to spread with every manipulation of the anomaly.
The situation reaches a fever pitch as it crosses over into Klingon space and while we know the Klingons can and do engage in rousing songs featuring their prowess in battle, the musical numbers inspired by the anomaly are not their kind of music. Not at all. You’ll understand.
IGNORE THE CRITICS AND ENJOY THE SHOW
This episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is sure to be needlessly controversial. I found it’s timing to be quite interesting as it arrives during the SAG-AFTRA writing strike. The nature of the episode showcases the need for the creativity of Human beings as writers, whose skillful merging of the musical framework and the detailed story elements in the episode requiring a hand no computer generated story could match.
It also put me in mind of the last science fiction musical which took place during the last writers’ strike in 2008: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog featuring Neil Patrick Harris as Billy/Dr. Horrible, an aspiring mad scientist seeking both the respect of his supervillainous peers and the unrequited love of his life. This musical showed that science fiction and musical entertainment did not have to be estranged, they only required writers who loved the genres enough to treat them with the respect necessary to fuse the two into greatness.
‘Subspace Rhapsody’ earns a seat at the table in Star Trek history for being it’s first musical effort with stellar performances by the entire cast. As suspected, some of the cast were better singers than others, with Celia Rose Gooding’s excellent vocal range and talent carrying the final ensemble number to a satisfying conclusion. However, my favorite piece was Nurse Chapel’s (Jess Bush) congratulatory number where she celebrates her fellowship opportunity while revealing why she hadn’t told Mr. Spock of her success.
I call this episode, despite its silly premise for existing in the first place, nearly perfect. 9/10. Don’t make me sing about it. Cause I will. Cue music…
Speaking of music: There’s an album, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2—Subspace Rhapsody (Original Series Soundtrack), and it holds 11 tracks from various artists, with music and lyrics from the likes of Kay Hanley of Letters To Cleo and composer Tom Polce. The track list includes: Star Trek Strange New Worlds Main Title (Subspace Rhapsody Version), Status Report, Connect To Your Truth, How Would That Feel, Private Conversation, Keeping Secrets, I’m Ready, I’m the X, Keep Us Connected, We Are One, and Subspace Rhapsody End Credit Medley. The album is available on Apple Music.
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