The long-awaited Star Trek: Strange New Worlds musical episode has finally beamed in. In “Subspace Rhapsody,” the crew of the USS Enterprise under Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) make first contact with a reality based on musical theater.
For this week’s Trek Tuesday, we have five reasons why SNW boldly going into the musical genre deserves a standing ovation.
Tops Is the Limit
In the opening scenes of “Subspace Rhapsody,” Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) and Spock (Ethan Peck) provide the catalyst for the musical mayhem that follows by sending the song “Anything Goes” into the subspace fold. The song is taken from the 1934 musical of the same name, first adapted to screen by Paramount Pictures in 1936. Anything Goes follows the events on an ocean liner traveling between New York and London. Because so many elements of Star Trek have nautical inspiration, Uhura’s selection from the Great American Songbook is especially apt.
Furthermore, the full lyrics to the song “Anything Goes,” which compare the “old” to the “new,” may have an additional playful meta-meaning. Many components of SNW are modern-day interpretations of characters, ships, aliens and equipment originally seen on Star Trek: The Original Series. Even the song’s reference to “four-letter words” can be compared to some of the online discourse surrounding current-era Star Trek.
Finally, Paramount Pictures released another big-screen adaptation of Anything Goes in 1956 — just in case you happen to think remakes are something strange and new.
TOS (The Original Soundtrack)
While the inclusion of “Anything Goes” was a nice touch, the majority of the music from “Subspace Rhapsody” takes the form of original compositions. Although some TV musicals elect to have their cast perform cover songs, SNW offers a full complement of new tracks. This allows for lyrics that directly speak to the show’s engaging ongoing storylines.
Plus, it means a fresh batch of earworms. Which one have you had stuck in your head since Thursday last? Best of all, the soundtrack for “Subspace Rhapsody” is already available on many music streaming platforms.
Gilbert & Sullivan; Spock & Kirk
As any devoted Trekkie knows, “Subspace Rhapsody” is far from the first time music has played an important role in Star Trek. Just one example took place in the Star Trek: Short Treks episode “Q&A.” Just after Spock first came aboard the Enterprise, he and Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) were trapped together in a malfunctioning turbolift. This gave Spock the chance to ask Una a series of questions.
This culminated in Una (and eventually Spock) singing “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. However, the song was used to illustrate Una’s point that Spock may have to “keep [his] freaky to [him]self” in order to command.
But in the time since Spock first joined the Enterprise, Una has undergone some serious character growth. When “Q&A” took place, Una was concealing the fact that she was an Illyrian augment (as seen in SNW Season 1’s “Ghosts of Illyria“). But as seen in SNW Season 2’s “Ad Astra per Aspera,” which not-coincidentally directly referenced “Q&A,” Una’s truth was revealed. She was nevertheless accepted back into Starfleet.
This leads to her Gilbert and Sullivan-inspired number in “Subspace Rhapsody.” This time, she isn’t singing to Spock; she’s singing to his classic character foil James T. Kirk (Paul Wesley). And thanks to what she’s learned during her tenure on the Enterprise, she’s not offering advice to hide one’s weird, but rather, the opposite. In “Connect To Your Truth,” Una advises James to be true to himself to be most effective as a Starfleet officer.
Just because it’s a musical episode doesn’t mean it’s a throwaway. On the contrary, the soul-bearing nature of musical theater means that the Enterprise crew are all compelled to be true to themselves in this episode. As discussed above, Una is especially well-prepared for this after the events of “Ad Astra per Aspera.” However, it causes something of a crisis La’An Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong). La’An attempts to conceal the feelings she developed for James in “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.”
Another nice nod to continuity takes place in Una’s second song, “Keeping Secrets.” As Una sings about “the secrets we keep inside” to La’An in the Enterprise ready room, the screen cuts to Doctor Joseph M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) in sickbay. This alludes to the climactic revelation from the previous episode, “Under the Cloak of War.” Perhaps M’Benga’s well-honed skill at concealing his truth explains why he was able to avoid breaking into a solo number in “Subspace Rhapsody.”
The Wrath of Horak
Lyrics in one of Uhura’s songs make reference to late Enterprise chief engineer Hemmer (see “All Those Who Wander“). However, while Bruce Horak does appear in “Subspace Rhapsody,” it is not as Hemmer. Instead, he plays General Garkog of the Klingon Empire. And as a quick aside, is it just me, or does Garkog’s eye blink sideways?
Playing Garkog gives Horak, a self-professed fan of mask work, the chance to boldly go into a strange, new role for this second appearance in SNW Season 2 (having played a version of Hemmer in “Lost in Translation“). Is it possible Horak will appear as a third distinct alien species in SNW Season 3? And will we ever get an episode featuring guest appearances by both Horak and fellow Trek chameleon Jeffrey Combs? Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
In a season full of scene-stealing episodes, “Subspace Rhapsody” may have nevertheless managed to secure the spotlight. Focusing on the Enterprise crew and keeping the action confined to the ship meant meaty musical numbers for most of the main cast. Plus, James and Sam Kirk (Dan Jeannotte) were both welcome supporting roles, as was Jenna Mitchell (Rong Fu). And while Garkog’s part was small, casting Horak in the role ensured even this guest appearance kept it all in the Enterprise family.
With catchy music and meaningful plot movement, “Subspace Rhapsody” is another episode of SNW that can’t be missed. And the spectacle of a Star Trek musical means even more viewers than usual are likely to tune in to the transmission and see the future showcased by Star Trek. Enter, friends! Let’s start planning Starfleet sing-along showings stat.
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