The Enterprise is examining a rift in subspace which they believe can be made to work to Star Fleet advantage. Spock and Uhura postulate that with a little tweaking they can use the anomaly to increase the Federation’s communication network in that area of space, allowing interstellar messages to be boosted and travel faster. Pelia suggests that using music rather than words might overcome one of the harmonic obstacles and a classic track is quickly transmitted.
However, when it doesn’t immediately work, Spock explains the problem… in rhyme. It quickly becomes obvious that the entire Enterprise has been subjected to a harmonic wave coming from the anomaly, something that puts their inner most thoughts, frustrations and desires into song. It all seems impossible, or at least unlikely, but with an ‘improbability field’ being blamed, a solution must be found before the harmonics spread to other star-ships, the entire sector and….Klingon warships?
Even for a science-fiction series known for taking punts in unusual directions, the in-universe premise for the episode is utterly ridiculous (‘Improbability fields’ and universes that are built around the principles of a musical is just…. well….silly) and if you’re already watching you either have to tune in or tune out to the excuse for an unapologetic and opportunistic stunt episode. Timing, as in both comedy and a musical, is everything and Strange New Worlds – full of deserved confidence, though it is – might have been served better if it didn’t have two so high-concept episodes so close to each other. The Lower Decks crossover (The Old Scientists) and Subspace Rhapsody feel like they should have been key, marketable events in different seasons rather than the marmite-on-steroids efforts that exist in the back-end of the show’s sophomore run (and also something of an uncomfortable handbrake turn from the incredibly dark episode Under Cloak of War that separates them).
Musical episodes inherently divide audiences and there’s a range of examples that vary between inspired and insipid and where there’s more than enough ammunition for both stances… but it would take a fairly dour individual to utterly hate this outing on principle. OTT? Sure. Silly? Definitely. Stupid…. no, definitely not…. it’s momentary, escapist fun for cast and audience and perfectly acceptable, as long as it’s a one-off…
Truthfully, while the songs are catchy and show presents a welcome range of styles and substance, presented in great orchestral and dance-numbers, the collected ‘book’ doesn’t quite have the same lasting resonance as ‘Once More with Feeling‘ – which set a universally high touchstone and benchmark. The numbers are utterly enjoyable in the moment, yet didn’t press me to run out and immediately buy the soundtrack (which, in the case of Buffy, it did) though, for the record, they are now available on Spotify. It could be that the episode so readily skews to that legendary Vampire Slayer event (even looking to a similar ensemble poster for promotion) that it sometimes feels like the Trek songs were inspired by (and trying to emulate) them a little…. and if there was any doubt even M’Benga and La’an start talking dismissively about bunnies. (Or maybe midgets?)
Like Once More with Feeling, the Trek episode takes what could have been a wholly self-contained gimmick and manages to achieve commentary looking back and going forward on the rest of the season – especially about relationships. We get movement on the Spock and Chapel situation (though not in a happy way) as she celebrates getting a fellowship sabbatical away from the Enterprise (and a possible date with destiny), Una sings advice about being more open with the rest of the crew, Pike and Batel consider some home truths (but given the upcoming finale will it be too late?) and La’an addresses her complicated alt-history with Kirk. The latter proves interesting for other canon-fodder reasoning that doesn’t require a soundtrack to amplify it. Here we have NSW‘s first reference to Carol Marcus – with whom Kirk admits to being in an on/off relationship – but he also says that Carol is pregnant. The canon on when Kirk knew about that has been nebulous over the years…we know from The Wrath of Khan that Carol had their child and she requested Kirk stay away from them until the events of that film, where Kirk met ‘David’ for the first time. Several times now, Strange New Worlds has tweaked the timelines and continuity (partly out of creative choice, partly out of necessity) so how closely it all lines-up may be a matter for future seasons as we boldly head to the destined star-dates.
What are the standout numbers? From the start, the episode’s credits have an acapella version that somewhat emulates the original series’ cadence. While several of the ensemble benefit from some auto-tune assistance, they all put their heart and soul into it. Jess Bush’s I’m Ready is the most joyous and Christine Chong’s How Would That Feel is the most heartfelt. The finale / climax Keep Us Connected, with Celia Rose Gooding’s voice resonating on all frequencies just as Nichelle Nichols once demonstrated in TOS… and featuring an all-singing, all-dancing Enterprise crew (and an utterly ridiculously wonderful Klingon boy-band – K-Pop meets Qapla’? – headed by ex-regular Bruce Horak in a sly cameo) certainly leaves things with a huge and silly smile.
Musical episodes inherently divide audiences and there’s a range of examples that vary between inspired and insipid and where there’s more than enough ammunition for both stances… but it would take a fairly dour individual to utterly hate this outing on principle. OTT? Sure. Silly? Definitely. Stupid…. no, definitely not…. it’s momentary, escapist fun for cast and audience and perfectly acceptable, as long as it’s a one-off.
- Production Design / VFX9