Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – Season 2 Episode 9

Aug 3, 2023 | Posted by in TV
Strange New Worlds

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.

“Subspace Rhapsody”

Star Trek: Strange New World delivers the franchise’s first musical episode where an anomaly causes the Enterprise crew to break into song.

Musical episodes of shows that aren’t normally musicals are undeniably a gimmick. Doing one is a deliberate break from the norm and an attempt to create a fun viewing experience for the audience. The challenge is always whether a given show can pull off such a radical departure from the usual style and have the audience accept it. A famous example is Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s “Once More With Feeling”. In that episode, the musical gimmick was used as a contrivance that resulted in the characters declaring their truths through song which brought certain secrets to the surface.


Why are we singing?

If a normal episode had featured as many revelations it would likely be looked on as rushed but justifying it as being a result of the spell that compels everyone to burst into song then it suddenly works. “Once More With Feeling” is an important episode for getting certain things out in the open to be explored in the episodes that followed. Other shows have delivered musical episodes such as The Flash in a crossover with Supergirl and Lucifer among many others. The success rate is variable but the intent is to break from the norm and do something radically different.

“Subspace Rhapsody” shares some DNA with “Once More With Feeling” in that both have characters forced to confess their truth through song. Characters are keeping secrets from one another or not saying how they truly feel and are suddenly forced to confess because of external circumstances. “Subspace Rhapsody” is far from a throwaway episode because of all that comes to the surface. It positions itself as an important stepping stone going into the end of the season and also delivers compelling character development thanks to the songs providing a reason for certain things to be addressed.

One development likely to be continued in the finale is Chapel being accepted for a fellowship she applied for. The fellowship is run by one Roger Corby; a character those who know The Original Series will be familiar with. Canon connections aside, the development is significant as it impacts the Spock/Chapel relationship. Chapel leaving the Enterprise would seem to put an end to it and -as she reveals through song- it’s a sacrifice she’s willing to make for the sake of her future. On the surface, it’s an engaging emotional problem as a couple is being faced with something that will separate them and have to deal with that.


That’s one way to give advice!

It’s complicated because it represents the culmination of something Chapel has worked hard to achieve. She has been working towards this since before her relationship with Spock began and has made the decision to prioritise her future. Part of this decision may flow from Boimler letting slip that Chapel’s relationship with Spock isn’t historically significant. She doesn’t know why but it having an expiry date would certainly be on her mind and possibly play a part in influencing her decision to leave to pursue her own interests. A debate could be had about whether she made that decision based on future knowledge or not could be had but regardless of the prompt, the fact remains that she has decided to leave.

Friction develops between Spock and Chapel when he finds out about her decision after what seems like everyone else on the ship. The knowledge comes to him by song and fuels his anxiety about the state of his relationship with Chapel after he notices that she has received a communication that may be about her application and wonders why she hasn’t spoken to him about it.

There’s a compelling contrast between the songs sung by Chapel and Spock. They represent contrasting feelings about the same thing and are founded on the perspective each of them has about the situation. Chapel’s song is upbeat as she’s excited about her future and feels that she has earned the opportunity that has been presented to her. It’s a fun song that makes great use of the space, Jess Bush’s voice and the others present providing backing vocals while developing the Spock/Chapel relationship by having Spock be made aware of the information that he reflects on in his own song.


A life not lived

Spock’s song is very melancholy. He has been exploring his emotions over the recent episodes and doesn’t have much experience in dealing with them. Heartache is new to him and he has no frame of reference when it comes to dealing with it so he sings a lament about his frustration for allowing himself to get close to Chapel. Lyrically the song is perfectly suited to Spock as they detail a conflict between the emotional and the rational. References are made to him approaching his emotions scientifically and being unable to reconcile things being able to add up. When in turmoil, he tries to retreat to the comforts of science and analysis but they fail him because of how irrational emotion is. He’s left in this uncertain place emotionally as he feels rejected and compelled to retreat within himself. It’s currently unresolved but it’s nicely set up to continue in the finale.

It’s well handled in the context of this episode but in the wider scope of the Spock/Chapel relationship, it doesn’t fare quite so well. The problem stems from the systemic issue Strange New Worlds has with character-based serialisation. Developments tend to happen with limited background supporting them. In the case of the Spock/Chapel relationship, there has been almost no time spent exploring their relationship dynamic prior to it coming to an end. They got together in the closing moments of “Charades“, discussed whether to declare their relationship to Starfleet in “Lost in Translation“, Chapel learned that their relationship isn’t historically significant in “Those Old Scientists” and Spock struggled to support her when she was suffering from PTSD in “Under the Cloak of War“. These amount to milestones but no time has been spent establishing a baseline for their relationship. Everything that has been depicted since they got together is designed to test their relationship in some way so it doesn’t come across as organically lived in. There has been very little time to invest in them as a couple before they are torn apart by circumstances. Strange New Worlds still struggles to organically weave serialisation through the episodic stories.

This also applies to Una’s apparent shift in command style. She coaches Kirk through song to be a hands-on leader who connects to the crew. Starfleet’s guidance is for leaders to maintain an emotional distance from their crew as forging personal connections makes it harder to make the tough calls that could result in their deaths. Una apparently once subscribed to that idea but has since changed her mind and is now trying to connect to those under her command. It seems like a reasonable development but Una is a character who doesn’t feature as heavily as others -no doubt due to working around Rebecca Romijn’s schedule- so the contrast between her previous command style and her current one simply isn’t there. In fact, there has been no evidence of Una maintaining an emotional distance from her crew as most of her scenes have featured her being friendly with the other characters so it seems to be an invented development to make a point in this episode. It starts off as professional advice to Kirk that sets up his command style when he becomes Captain of the Enterprise and progresses to personal advice given to La’an through song.


Una is full of the advice

Her advice to La’an initially seems to be a cautionary tale against being open and vulnerable. She sings about knowing herself and being selectively open because the only person you can rely on is yourself. The bulk of the song is Una expressing empathy as she understands La’an’s mindset having adopted it herself. She ends the song by stating that being distant no longer serves her and she wishes she hadn’t become so good at it because unlearning that behaviour is very difficult. Her advice to La’an is to train herself out of it sooner rather than later.

Once again, this is reasonable in the context of the episode as Una gives La’an advice based on understanding her problem and having overcome it herself. What lets it down is that Una has never been characterised as having created a barrier between herself and others. It has been mentioned that she kept aspects of herself hidden due to her genetic modifications but that is no longer an issue due to the decision made following her trial in “Ad Aspera Per Apera“. Otherwise, Una has never seemed anything other than approachable but the bulk of her scenes have been spent interacting with either Pike or La’an, two characters she has a strong personal connection to,

La’an is one who perhaps benefits greatly from being forced to express her truth through song. She has a solo number which is entirely appropriate considering her consistent issue opening up to others. The only way she can be open and truthful is behind closed doors and her emotional struggles come flooding out. Her feelings are near the surface with Kirk being around and her song is about her desire to be more open and vulnerable. She doesn’t like the person that she is but also can’t bring herself to be more open. La’an is very much a walking paradox unable to reconcile her instincts with the person she would like to be. Her song very much shows that she is inwardly sensitive but outwardly closed off and her inability to take steps to correct that is an endless source of frustration for her.


A great team

Making things worse is that she is haunted by her time travel adventure with the alternate Kirk. He was able to get through her barriers and make her feel comfortable enough to be the version of herself she would like to be. His death pushed her back within herself with the added complication of getting a taste of the person she could be and missing how that made her feel. The watch being kept in a box is a metaphor for that version of herself being locked away only for her to know about at this time. As Una will later sing to her, self-imposed emotional isolation no longer serves her and being unable to take the step to change it is doing her harm. The song also contained imagery of a fantasy life where she stayed in the past and lived happily ever after with that version of Kirk. It’s undeniably appealing to her because that life would lend itself to her being the unburdened version of herself.

Credit should be given where it’s due and the emotional impact of La’an’s time travel journey has been a strongly featured serialised element. It’s frustrating to see a clear example of the ability to take something and thread it throughout the season when the show fails to deliver elsewhere. La’an has been responsible for one of the few consistent emotional throughlines this season and it has been fascinating to watch her wanting to grow but actively resisting it at the same time.

Her solo leads her to conclude that people declaring their truth through song constitutes a security risk. It’s an extreme reaction to her own vulnerability and she is referring directly to her fear of everyone finding out about the adventure she has been ordered not to talk about. It can also extend to anyone expressing classified information through song to people who aren’t cleared to hear it. La’an’s concern is more about her personal fears but it does add minor urgency by providing a reminder that this situation is best resolved sooner rather than later.


Always time to celebrate

Ultimately she ends up disobeying orders and opening up to Kirk about her adventure with the alternate version of him. She talks about liking the person she was around him and how he made her feel. It’s difficult being around this Kirk because he both is and isn’t the person she knew in the same way that she both is and isn’t the person she was around him. Reconciling these things is very difficult for her and the best way to tackle it is to disobey orders and tell Kirk the truth. He’s receptive to everything she has to say and feels a connection to her that he’s unable to explain but he also feels it relevant to point out that he isn’t that James Kirk. La’an is aware of that but also likes the way this version of him makes her feel because he’s so charming and welcoming.

Throughout the episode, Kirk has been eager to be around her and believes they make a great team. It’s consistent with Kirk’s character as he will be in The Original Series that he is naturally flirtatious with any attractive woman he comes into contact with but in this case, it’s nothing more than being friendly while being slightly elevated by the connection he feels to her. He makes it clear that they can’t be what she might want from him because he’s in a relationship and his partner is currently pregnant. That partner is identified as Carol so this marks another reference to The Wrath of Khan as that film features Carol Marcus and Kirk’s son, David. It’s mentioned in that film that a decision was made for Carol to have David in her life while Kirk continued his career in Starfleet. It’s likely that Strange New Worlds will detail the conversation that leads to that decision and present it as a difficult choice for Kirk to make.

This works as a reference because Kirk is a guest character who exists to support La’an’s development so the details about his life are largely irrelevant in that context. The important thing is that La’an realises how different this Kirk is from the one she knew and has to accept that a version of her fantasy will never come true. It’s seismic for her because she put herself out there and opened up to him despite every instinct telling her not to. Her conclusion is that she might be able to continue taking chances and slowly become comfortable with being more open around people. It’s an important and difficult step forward for her that flows neatly from the coverage over the course of the season.


The voice to the Enterprise

Uhura is the glue that holds the episode together. Consistent themes are the lack of communication and the difficulty people have communicating. They flow through Chapel and Spock, La’an and Kirk and Pike and Batel. All are dealing with unique problems founded on the truth either being concealed or lies being told and the episode periodically puts Uhura in the role of helping create connections between them. The episode opens with her in her role as communications officer routing calls and messages to their correct places, an overt example of Uhura being instrumental in keeping the crew together and communicating.

This is something that is acknowledged in her solo later in the episode. She sings about helping to make connections between others but resists doing so herself. It’s motivated by ensuring people don’t feel as alone as she feels. Uhura’s song is also about loss and wondering whether it’s perhaps better for her not to forge strong connections. Lines like “Am I at my best unaccompanied?” clearly indicate that she has been wrestling with this. The song also directly references Hemmer and the strong impact he had on her life. “Hemmer’s belief in me changed my life, I found my place” highlights the influence he had on her decision to pursue a career in Starfleet and commit to the Enterprise. He made her feel welcome, helped her find purpose in life and now she’s in a place she feels she belongs. The lingering problem is making strong connections because the loss of Hemmer reopened the wound created by the loss of her parents and prompted her to resist getting close to people out of fear of getting hurt. The episode is bookended by her manning her station with a clear contrast between the two exampled. She ends the episode doing her job far more enthusiastically which may indicate a desire to let people in and truly belong.

Being stuck in a musical is something that excites Uhura which makes sense considering that she clearly loves musicals. Her exuberance at realising solving the problem means delivering a grand finale that will shatter the improbability field shows how engaged she is by this situation and that she loves the idea of getting the entire crew to contribute to a showstopping final number in order to put an end to the unusual situation.


Taking it very seriously

It highlights Uhura’s value to the Enterprise as she is capable of connecting people when they have no idea how to do so. Pike poetically describes her as “the voice of the Enterprise” which is literally true as she is the voice that will be heard when either external or internal contact is made and symbolically accurate as she is the one who can encourage them to work together to solve this particular crisis.

It’s mentioned that the involuntary singing has caused people to drift apart due to uncomfortable truths being revealed but the finale is about music having the power to bring people together. One of the enduring ideas of Star Trek as a franchise is people from different backgrounds putting aside their differences and working together towards a common goal. The simple notion is that people are at their best when together and make each other better by bringing their unique traits to the table. That’s exactly what the final song is about; the Enterprise crew setting aside their differences to work as one and Uhura is the voice that unites them in that cause.

Her appeal to the crew to work together is inspiring. She talks about not feeling alone as part of the crew and pointing out that they are connected because they are a part of that crew. The song is an uptempo celebration of unity that includes the entire crew contributing to a single goal. Many of the lyrics support that idea and uniquely flow from the perspective of those singing them. For example, La’an sings “Our security is only as strong as our unity” which shows that she recognises how her job is helped by everyone working together. Spock acknowledges that being part of the crew is how he found what he is meant to do. The importance of the crew being united is wonderfully highlighted by everyone singing “We work better all together, we overcome our obstacles as one”. It’s one of the pillars of Star Trek expressed beautifully through song. It functions as a strong uplifting thematic conclusion to what the episode has delivered while also functioning as the expected musical finale, therefore, solidifying how valuable it is as an episode.


Even the Enterprise is getting involved

One thing this analysis hasn’t covered is whether it works as a musical. Mileage will vary on this as musical tastes differ but there’s no denying that the episode fully commits to being a musical. There are a number of varied songs that develop the characters and it builds to a showstopping conclusion so it succeeds in what it sets out to do. The songs are well written, suited to the voices of the characters singing them and most of the actors boast impressive musical talent so it passes that test. It’s a meaningful episode of this show that functions well as a musical so it may well enjoy status within the franchise as a classic in the future.

There are some strange decisions made in the construction of this episode outside of it being a musical. The compulsion to sing affecting every ship in the fleet as well as a sizeable chunk of the Klingon empire is a bizarre choice, especially considering it doesn’t come to much. It does facilitate Batel and Pike having a disagreement through song and an amusing interlude from Klingons who unwittingly join in on the closing number but having the event be so widespread was unnecessary as the Enterprise and perhaps any other ship in direct contact with them or close to the anomaly would have been more than enough. It was an attempt to increase the threat level but wasn’t taken seriously enough to actually accomplish this. Another bizarre choice was the fixation on explaining the mechanics of the situation. The technobabble was ridiculous even by Star Trek standards and too much time was taken up by justifying the musical that could have been better spent elsewhere.

Many have resisted the notion of Star Trek delivering a musical episode as they feel that it’s too silly for this franchise. It’s likely that “Subspace Rhapsody” will constitute a breaking point for some but suggesting that Star Trek and silliness are strangers to one another is factually incorrect. “The Trouble With Tribbles” is widely regarded as one of the greats and its premise is inherently comedic. The Next Generation‘s “Qpid” had the characters embodying roles in a Robin Hood scenario. Voyager‘s “Bride of Chaotica” was built around the characters participating in a 1950s sci-fi serial because interdimensional aliens believed a holodeck program to be reality, Deep Space Nine -remembered as being the darker side of the franchise- delivered episodes like “Our Man Bashir” where the characters participated in a James Bond knockoff, they all played Baseball in “Take Me Out To The Holosuite”, “Badda Bing Badda Bang” was a casino heist and so on.

There are numerous examples of Star Trek straying into the ridiculous and it’s true that some are better than others but it’s also true that it’s part of the DNA of the franchise. That isn’t to say those episodes would be enjoyed by all fans and it’s fair that some may prefer the serious and hard-hitting side of the franchise but denying the existence of anything else is a complete fallacy. The beauty of Star Trek is that it can be anything. Not everything will appeal to everyone but there will be something for everyone in the variety that it provides.


Grand finale



A fun musical diversion from the norm with strong songs and meaningful characterisation flowing naturally from what has been threaded throughout the season.

  • 8.5/10
    "Subspace Rhapsody" - 8.5/10


Kneel Before…

  • using the musical to justify so many truths being confessed in a single episode
  • the contrast in the songs being sung by Chapel and Spock about the same thing
  • La’an being a paradox – a person who would like to be more vulnerable but can’t bring herself to be
  • the impact of her time travel adventure with the alternate Kirk
  • the complex conversation she has with Kirk about her experience and her feelings about him
  • Kirk opening up in return deepening that complexity
  • Uhura being positioned as the glue that holds the episode together
  • her solo being about loss and how it has impacted her
  • solving the crisis with a grand finale musical number
  • Uhura’s inspiring appeal to the crew
  • the grand finale song expressing one of the pillars of Star Trek beautifully
  • the final song functioning as an uplifting thematic conclusion as well as the expected musical finale
  • well-written songs suited to the voices of the actors who boast impressive musical talent
  • the episode being important and meaningful for the characters


Rise Against…

  • strange decisions such as the event impacting the entire fleet and a sizable chunk of the Klingon Empire
  • Una’s change in command style not supported by previous episodes
  • the development in Chapel and Spock’s relationship being an example of another milestone and let down by no baseline for their relationship being established
  • too much time spent trying to justify the musical


What did you think? Select your rating in the “User Review” box below

User Review
7.9/10 (10 votes)

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