The Spool / Recap
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ musical episode hits all the right notes
A peculiar quantum improbability wave spurs the crew of the Enterprise to start singing and dancing, and discovering truths about themselves through song.

A peculiar quantum improbability wave spurs the crew of the Enterprise to start singing and dancing, and discovering truths about themselves through song.

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

With apologies to General Chang, General Martok, and all other Modern Major Generals…

The new release from Strange New Worlds is known as “Subspace Rhapsody”,
A musical and crisis set to test Pike in his captaincy,
And though the ones who’d swear off fun might see this all as blasphemy,
They took a chance on song and dance and showed their perspicacity.

The writers and producers seized upon this opportunity,
To follow on the path laid down by Buffy and Community,
And though it may require a broad strokes view of continuity,
They execute the concept with great lyrical acuity

The show should be commended, ‘cause the challenge isn’t minimal,
To take a fifty-year IP and do something original,
The end result is nothing short of charming, bold, and beautiful,
This is the very model of a modern T.V. musical.

The outing sees La’an explore her feelings quite affectionate,
For James T. Kirk, although she fears it violates time etiquette,
And though the future captain says he simply isn’t ready yet,
There’s triumph in her openness to matters oh so delicate.

Commander Una gives advice to help out her associates,
Though many fear expressing thoughts that might be inappropriate,
As Chapel tells her beau with flair she’s taking a sabbatical,
And sullen Spock is hurt to find that love is not mathematical.

Uhura sings of loneliness and worries rather artfully,
Yet in the end, it’s her who forges splendid shipwide harmony,
The captain and his partner settle their joint constitutional,
This is the very model of a modern T.V. musical.

Kay Hanley and Tom Polce came in to handle matters lyrical,
The way their tunes align with current stories is a miracle,
The script still ties the singing to a problem astrophysical,
But mostly it’s just fun to see the series be this whimsical.

As with the recent crossover where they met Beckett Mariner,
The show does use the concept to break through emotion’s barriers,
The actors are all game, though some do seem like better carolers,
And still they find a few good lines for each and every character.

To channel Trek through Broadway is a project quite commendable,
There’s humor and there’s pathos, the results are truly memorable,
If you would balk then you need an adjustment attitudinal,
This is the very model of a modern T.V. musical.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Paramount+)

Phew! I think the quantum improbability wave has been zipped up now. My apologies to Number One (Rebecca Romijn) for reinterpreting some of her favorite Gilbert and Sullivan there. 

Suffice it to say, I got a massive kick out of Star Trek’s first full-throated musical outing. Trekkies have seen Spock and Uhura jam with hippies. They’ve heard the musical stylings of Vic Fontaine. They’ve watched Data become a wedding singer. They’ve even listened to Jurati’s bizarre Borg ballad. But “Subspace Rhapsody” is, somehow, the first time the franchise has done a full-blown musical episode.

Outstanding results like these suggest it shouldn’t have taken 57 years for the franchise to dive head first into the world of show tunes and choreography. As my little ditty hopefully conveyed, “Subspace Rhapsody” is absolutely bursting with fun and creativity. The episode succeeds as a flight of fancy, channeling the strange spatial phenomenon of the week to break format and let the cast cut loose.

More than that, though, it succeeds as a melodic exploration of some of the lingering emotional sore spots for several major characters and as a chance to use the musical conceit to advance ongoing storylines. If that weren’t enough, the whole shebang ends on a heartfelt (and hilarious) paean to unity and shared purpose, paying tribute to Star Trek’s fundamental ideals.

With a sly reference to mysterious bunny-based phenomena, the writers acknowledge the influence of “Once More with Feeling,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s own duly lauded musical episode. What elevated that installment was the way it did more than simply lean into the gimmick. It used the musical premise to deeply examine what its characters were going through and provoke some major psychological breakthroughs.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Paramount+(

“Subspace Rhapsody” smartly follows the same tack. The creative team harnesses the grand emotional energy a big show tune can provide to reconcile the feelings La’an (Christina Chong) still harbors for Kirk (Paul Wesley). The same approach works to set a triumphant Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) off on her freighted fellowship with Dr. Korby, while poor Spock (Ethan Peck) licks his wounds and laments the vulnerability he showed while exploring their relationship lead to heartbreak. And Una provides advice that’s practical, personal, and ultimately piercing.

There’s even a tidy little arc for Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding). She reflects on the string of personal tragedies she’s faced and wonders if the painful loss of connection that followed is permanent. Ultimately, though, she sees the beauty in her role as a communications officer to help forge those connections for others.

Granted, the Broadway form is a bit of a cheat for such epiphanies. As another great musical episode once put it, “I’ll understand every scene / ‘cause they’ll sing what they mean / instead of making a face.” Nyota herself acknowledges that the standard approach to musicals makes way for more direct emotional exposition than Star Trek typically provides for. But in line with one other outstanding musical episode, the fact that the nigh-magical show tune effect only arrives when the characters are overwhelmed with emotion and need to express something true, is a strong choice that serves the episode’s purposes.

Some of the subsidiary creative choices, however, are a touch odd. While Christine’s “I’m Ready” number is a total blast, it seems oddly dismissive toward Spock’s feeling and out of step with their relationship to date. Likewise, La’an’s emotional journey is one of the episode’s high points, but Kirk making his third appearance this season, and explaining that he’s currently entangled with a pregnant Carol Marcus no less, comes off too fanservice-y.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Paramount+)

Nevertheless, using this Broadway break to move so many of both the show’s ongoing stories and the characters’ emotional journeys forward is a feather in SNW’s cap. The notion of a quantum improbability wave triggered by a musical test pulse is a sufficiently science-y fig leaf to put over this entertaining lark. And the effort to “re-zip” the tear before it affects the whole galaxy, through literal and figurative harmony, adds the right stakes and rousing catharsis to the story.

From a song-smithing perspective, the music here is crisp and charming across the board. At times, some tunes can feel a bit samey, with a wash of ballads and torch songs blending into one another (the ensemble pieces and more high energy numbers tend to stand out for that reason). Still, the arrangements are uniformly good, and the cleverness of the lyrics and the potent emotions of the moment do enough to make them memorable, even if a little more variety would be a plus.

On a performance level, it’s plain that some cast members have more experience in this genre than others, but all acquit themselves well. The Tony-nominated Gooding truly shines, with the combination of vocal abilities, movement, and expressiveness that make Uhura the perfect ringleader for this one. In contrast, Anson Mount is a good sport who gruffly talk-sings his way through a few bars before Pike is tastefully kept to the side for most of the hour.

[I]t succeeds as a melodic exploration of some of the lingering emotional sore spots for several major characters and as a chance to use the musical conceit to advance ongoing storylines.

Likewise, some of the crew have beautiful voices but can’t quite croon and emote at the same time. Others get the expressiveness down pat but can’t quite hang vocally. Nonetheless, everyone in the cast is game and makes a good-to-great showing in such an adventurous episode.

From a pure craft perspective, the lip-syncing to the pre-recorded tracks isn’t always perfect, which can disrupt immersion a bit. And as entertaining as the dance numbers are, there’s only a few of them, which can leave some tuneful scenes feeling a touch too static. The direction and editing largely manages to make up for that, though. And on the whole, these are gripes at the margins of what is an undeniably ambitious and infectiously diverting episode.

More to the point, it’s chock full of lovely moments both big and small. The intimate and regretful tones of Una’s song about keeping secrets is another poignant coda to her story this season. The boy band-esque Klingon interlude left me in stitches. La’an once again taking a step toward greater openness and striving to truly be seen is touching. And the final song — championing Federation unity, common cause, and shared connection — is an appropriately glorious crescendo to the whole experience.

Suffice it to say, with any luck, this will become one of Strange New Worlds’ signature episodes, and living proof that it’s good for the franchise to take big swings like this one. Not every note is perfect, but the melody that “Subspace Rhapsody” strings together is endearing, enthusiastic, and absolutely resonant.

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