This Star Trek: Strange New Worlds review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 Episode 9
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds continues to swing for the fences in its second season, repeatedly going where literally no one has gone before in this franchise. And if you thought that things couldn’t possibly get more delightfully chaotic than the episode that brought several Lower Decks animated characters into the world of live action, you definitely weren’t prepared for the series’ foray into musical storytelling, an installment that is potentially the most purely fun hour of Star Trek I’ve ever watched. Is it silly? Absolutely. Occasionally cringe-worthy? Kind of. But somehow still perfect in spite of it all? 100% yes.
Most viewers likely assumed that the much-ballyhooed Star Trek musical episode would basically be a marketing gimmick, a silly, largely disposable hour with little to offer besides the chance to see our faves sing and dance together. And I don’t know that any of us would have actually minded too much if that’s all it had turned out to be! But instead, “Subspace Rhapsody” is a surprisingly thoughtful exploration of community and connection, an hour that’s not only wildly fun to watch, but that wholeheartedly embraces the format it’s chosen, using the larger narrative framework of traditional musical theater to say something meaningful about its characters and their various journeys this season.
Life in Starfleet doesn’t often lend itself to overt emotion, which is probably why so many of its members are closet alcoholics. I kid, I kid—mostly—but while Strange New Worlds is a show that literally runs on heart, a certain brand of stoicism does tend to rule the day on the Enterprise. Yes, there are certainly plenty of emotional moments, but getting people freely admitting and talking about their feelings isn’t something that happens particularly often. (I mean, Una basically reverse engineered her own arrest in order to come clean about her Illyrian heritage and her reasons for lying to Starfleet. We just found out about M’Benga’s dark past as a sort of Special Forces assassin last week.) And musicals are made for big, messy, emotions—we sing when we feel so much we can’t keep it inside anymore, when it’s the only way to possibly convey what’s in the depths of hearts. So this is an hour that’s over the top entertainment, yes, but one that’s also full of deep seated and necessary truths.
Smartly, Strange New Worlds fully leans into the ridiculousness of the situation the Enterprise crew finds itself in, a phenomenon brought about by a rare subspace fold and the unfortunate application of a classic Cole Porter track. The songs are hilariously peppered with references to deflector shields and phaser banks, simultaneously incredibly broad and hyper specific. And the episode repeatedly underlines how much no one actually wants to be singing their feelings out in front of their crewmates, gleefully giving various characters cringe-worthy and painfully self-aware public confessionals. Anson Mount, truly making a solid case that someone should just cast him in a romantic comedy already, continues to be the show’s MVP when it comes to subtle humor and deadpan reaction shots.
The overall quality of the episode’s musical numbers is…well, it’s a Star Trek musical, it’s about what you’d expect, with songs about connecting to your true self and the importance of trusting one another. The series’ cast is game for anything, and most of them are fairly decent singers, though Strange New Worlds is smart enough to understand that large ensemble numbers can cover a multitude of sins.
Celia Rose Gooding gets the biggest and best solo number, a showstopper of a self-actualization anthem that’s a lovely celebration of how far Uhura’s come since the series began. Christina Chong, also a professional singer, gets a nice introspective piece about La’an’s internal struggle with control. And while Jess Bush doesn’t necessarily have the strongest voice among the crew, Chapel gets one of the episode’s best ensemble numbers as she rediscovers her free spirit while celebrating her acceptance into a three month fellowship with archeological medical expert Dr. Korby. (Who I assume she’s also going to get engaged to sometime in the not too distant future.)
Vocal performances aside, the high drama and heightened emotions of musical theater make for a perfect backdrop for a surprisingly thoughtful exploration of several of season 2’s key relationships, including La’an’s lingering feelings for James Kirk to Chapel and Spock’s nascent connection. Even Pike and Batel’s one step forward two steps back long distance courtship comes under the spotlight. Granted, I’m not sure how truly invested any of us are in that particular pairing no matter how fabulous Melanie Scrafano is, and this hour does nothing so much as indicate that Pike isn’t really willing to put in the work their relationship needs, whatever he says to the contrary. But, hey, at least we confirmed Batel’s first name is Marie.
Viewers knew that the Spock/Chapel relationship was doomed long before Boimler told the Enterprise’s chief nurse the truth about the Spock history will remember, but its doubtful that any of us expected a break-up between them to happen so soon. Happily, the end of their romantic relationship isn’t about Spock’s nebulous future but Chapel’s very real present, and it’s a relief not only to see her choose herself in the end, but to do so with such a total lack of guilt or uncertainty about it. We love a woman who knows her worth. Of course, it seems more than likely Strange New Worlds will revisit these two at some (multiple?) point(s) in the future, and her choice—as well as his response to it—will surely complicate things between them even further.
Speaking of complicated, this is also the episode in which La’an comes clean about her alternate past history with a different version of James Kirk, fearing quite rightly that the odds of her blurting it out in song at some point are not zero. (Since she so clearly also has feelings for his prime timeline counterpart.) Kirk is surprisingly cool about both the revelation that La’an’s into him and that she watched a different version of him die in front of her, and, to his credit doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity. Instead, he confesses that while he’s drawn to her too for reasons he doesn’t entirely understand, he can’t act on any of those feelings because he has a girlfriend at the moment and said girlfriend is pregnant. Whether this is merely meant to serve as a fun Carol Marcus pseudo-cameo for fans, or if it’s a hint that we might actually get to see some version of this character (and her relationship with Kirk) fleshed out more thoroughly in future episodes, is a question for another day. But why not? I’m pretty sure Strange New Worlds has already proved there’s nothing it can’t do.