Strange New Worlds‘ “Subspace Rhapsody” in Review
After top comedy and top drama, fans now hotly await the musical episode. The trailer has provoked a ton of interest, so how does the episode stack up?
The Enterprise is probing a naturally occurring subspace fold. Nothing they’ve transmitted into it has prompted any reaction, until Uhura tries music — specifically a rendition of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes”. Instantly, a ripple passes out of the anomaly and through the ship. Moments later, Spock delivers his report in song. The Enterprise officers are collectively singing instead of talking, baffled as to why.
It becomes clear that some kind of improbability field – as per The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – is spreading through the ship, accounting for the singing. La’an has a solo about her confused feelings for this reality’s Jim Kirk.
Pike and Batel air their relationship issues in song on the bridge viewscreen. The anomaly is spreading through the subspace communications network too, affecting other starships.
Uhura figures out that the improbability field is somehow following the “rules of musicals” and that the songs are triggered by heightened emotion. Together with James T. Kirk, the crew tries to find ways to shut the effect down. Firing on the anomaly would propagate through subspace and cause major devastation. The Klingons have been affected too and are en route, assuming the effect is a prelude to an invasion by the Federation. The Klingons plan to destroy the anomaly when they arrive, putting a timer on the problem. As Jim Kirk notes, the destruction will annihilate the entire Federation and half the Klingon Empire.
Spock confronts Chapel about the fact she has been offered a research position with Doctor Roger Korby. Chapel’s excitement about her career prospects generates a table-dancing number en masse… and puts him in a gloomy mood that their relationship is over.
Alone, Jim and La’an briefly discuss the Klingon ship, which La’an refers to as K’t’inga-class. She finally opens up to Jim about her feelings and the “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” alternate version of him, only for him to say that he has a pregnant girlfriend, Carol Marcus.
In engineering, Spock sings about his woes over Chapel’s imminent departure. He apologetically leaves and Uhura sings about being alone while trying to keep everyone else connected.
Uhura discovers a sensor pattern in which a particular energy reading spikes whenever someone sings. With two more K’t’inga-class battlecruisers on their way, the decision is made for the Enterprise crew to do a grand finale in the hope that this will nullify the anomaly. Pike has Uhura introduce a shipwide motivation — they should sing in joy of themselves and the Enterprise. Cue the big dancing-in-the corridors number from the episode’s trailer.
The Klingons almost mess things up but Uhura opens a subspace signal to them to make them sing, in one of the best surprise moments. The Enterprise and the trio of K’t’inga-class battlecruisers even do some pirouettes.
The frequency peaks and all is magically restored. Or at least improbably; none of it makes any sense…
This time around, there doesn’t seem to be much science in the fiction, and what there is is Douglas Adams fanfic. “But it’s a musical,” you might say. “It’s supposed to just be fun and joyous.” Well, yes, but it fails on that score too, because technically it’s not a musical; it just wants us to think and feel that it is. True musicals have songs that can stand alone, whereas this just has dull dialogue stretched out by being set to a musical tempo.
This is basically the “let’s clear the hanging character arc stuff off the table so we can focus on the finale stuff next week” episode. So, we have Chapel and Spock splitting more towards their TOS vibe, La’an’s crush on Jim Kirk (her famous ancestor must have been spinning in his cryotube — that’s a story worth doing) getting dropped, and all via Uhura reminding us of her musicality from “Children of the Comet”. The musical trappings just try to hide that simplicity of plot and drag the episode out about half an hour beyond the actual amount of stories they’re wrapping up here.
It doesn’t help that if the anomaly is going by the “rules of musicals,” it’s so specifically the rules of American obligatory-musical-episode TV shows. It doesn’t integrate its gimmick at all well and so comes off as a contractually obligated knockoff still trying to cash in on the far superior Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical that started the whole tradition. It makes good use of Uhura’s musicality, but why not bring in the Vulcan lute that M’Benga gave Spock in the season premiere? That would at least have fit with tying up character arcs.
What of the good bits? All the regulars do well, of course, and the direction is very pretty, as is the choreography of the two dance numbers. Spock’s reporting to sing at the pre-titles is pretty funny, though the biggest laugh is when the Klingons’ song totally subverts expectations. It’s also worth noting that the Klingon captain is none other than Hemmer actor Bruce Horak, making a great cameo.
Musically, Nami Melumad gives better value than songwriters Kay Hanley and Tom Polce. Melumad gives us an amusing acapella version of the theme, even if it is wincingly reminiscent of Robot Chicken’s performance for their Star Wars specials. She also gives us a beautiful rendition of the TOS closing theme after the big finale number. Hanley and Polce mostly seem to supply tempo to groaning dialogue rather than actual songs, and not in an operatic sort of way. They do give La’an a standalone solo that works, even though it’s more teenager’s relationship poetry.
There are also some nice continuity references, such as Doctor Korby (also mentioned in “Charades”), Carol Marcus and by inference David Marcus, the lovely new Klingon battecruiser renders, and the Kor-style sash Bruce Horak wears… The episode also establishes that K’t’ingas were introduced as early as this in the timeline, coexisting with D7s rather than replacing them by the time of the TOS movies.
Overall, this has some nice moments but is a basically incomprehensible mess whose important scenes could have been worked into earlier and shorter episodes. There’s no question that this is the worst episode of the season. It could have been so much better, musical or not.
David A McIntee is a writer and historian who has written for properties such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, Final Destination, and Stargate, as well as having written several adventures in the Star Trek franchise for Pocket Books. He has contributed many pieces to the magazines Star Trek Explorer (née Star Trek Magazine) and Star Trek Communicator, as well as having written nonfiction books about Star Trek: Voyager.