Celebrating ‘Subspace Rhapsody’

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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has only been running for two seasons, with a third season soon to begin filming, but it has already proven itself to be a beautiful example of how the Trek universe has embraced many different styles and genres over the last 57 years – from courtroom dramas to animated crossover comedies. July 31st 2023 saw Strange New Worlds deliver ‘Subspace Rhapsody’; one of Trek’s most unusual adventures and its first fully-fledged musical episode. This was an episode I had been looking forward to ever since it had first been rumoured. Since joining Trek Twitter, I have posted quite a few videos of myself singing songs that have been featured in Star Trek so I was excited at the thought of having a lot more to choose from.

Singing on-screen in Star Trek dates back as far as TOS’s ‘Charlie X’, where Lieutenant Uhura sings to Spock and a crowd of her fellow officers in the Enterprise rec room. This scene showcased Uhura’s playful side, away from her post as communications officer, as well as offering a window into Spock’s colder Vulcan personality. Since then, there have been quite a few singing moments dotted throughout Trek’s history, such as Data singing Blue Skies at Riker and Troi’s wedding ceremony in the ‘Nemesis’ movie and the iconic (and infamous) Allamaraine hopscotch sequence in ‘DS9’s ‘Move Along Home’. However, ‘Subspace Rhapsody’ moved things up a gear with ten original songs, written by Kay Hanley and Tom Polce.

Polce’s previous experience as a composer for the musical comedy-drama Crazy Ex-Girlfriend had me very excited for this episode because the songs in that series, as well as being really funny, were great in highlighting and advancing character arcs. Although Strange New Worlds has been a return to the more standalone ‘planet of the week’ format of legacy Treks like TOS and TNG, it combines that with today’s serialised standard of ongoing character development. With ‘Subspace Rhapsody’ being a full-length musical episode, the writers could have been forgiven for making it a self-contained story, with no real impact on any of the on-going storylines. Instead, they chose to take my favourite ‘big swing’ of the season by using the musical to push quite a few of the character arcs forward, almost serving as a spiritual finale to the season.

In the tradition of musical episodes from fantasy/sci-fi series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Once Upon a Time, ‘Subspace Rhapsody’ refuses to keep the music buried in the characters’ subconscious. In this case, the Enterprise crew find themselves singing because of an improbability field, created when the ship transmits a recording of Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘Anything Goes’ through a subspace fold. As the field spreads through the entire ship (as well as the entire subspace network), creating a musical reality, it has the unwelcome effect of bringing many of the crew’s deepest feelings to the surface, allowing several of season 2’s character arcs to reach pivotal moments.

For Captain Pike, the field forces him to face up to his fears of taking his relationship with Captain Batel to the next level, via an uncomfortably public duet on the main viewscreen of the Enterprise bridge. The relationship between Spock and Nurse Christine Chapel takes a hit, as

Christine accepts her place on Doctor Corby’s research fellowship and breaks up with Spock in a jazzy number in the crowded Enterprise bar. Later, a hurt Spock vows to return to a more Vulcan philosophy, in a moodier, 80s synthpop-tinged number, performed in Engineering, which acts as a reprise to Christine’s.

Lieutenant La’an Noonien-Singh’s issues with the improbability field play a big part in the episode, as she continues to carry the weight of her experience with an alternate timeline version of James Kirk from earlier in the season. Following a dramatic power-ballad in which she wrestles with the desire to take more chances and be more emotionally open with others, La’an ultimately chooses to tell the prime universe version of James about her feelings on her own terms, without the field forcing them out in a song.

Ensign Uhura’s role in this episode ends up being vital to the resolution. Her solo in Engineering highlights how her position as communications officer has given her a new sense of purpose, as well as new friendships that have strengthened her (like her late mentor, Lieutenant Hemmer). It is Uhura who determines that the improbability field can be shattered if it were to come into contact with the energy produced by an epic grand-finale number. With that in mind, Uhura inspires the entire Enterprise crew to join together in a power-pop showstopper to successfully neutralise the field (with unintentional help from the Klingons, in a hilarious and baffling homage to rapper and singer T-Pain).

Music has been crucial to how I see the world and relate to people since I was 6 years old, singing the latest hits in an isolated corner of the playground at school. One of the great things about music is that it can also help you to learn new things about yourself and allow you to share them with the world. In ‘Subspace Rhapsody’, the music may have threatened to drive the crew of the Enterprise apart but, ultimately, it gave them the opportunity to celebrate their unity and reaffirm their belief in their mission of exploration, just as this episode allowed Star Trek to reaffirm its commitment to telling new kinds of stories. If Uhura humming to herself in the final scene means anything, it hopefully won’t be the last time that music plays a part in the future of Trek.

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Talking Trek, Who, music and many more colourful things in the universe!

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