“Subspace Rhapsody”: The ‘Star Trek: SNW’ Musical Where No One Says I Love You
However you feel about the idea of a musical episode of Star Trek, chances are “Subspace Rhapsody will not change your mind.
There’s a naturally occurring subspace fold on the edge of the Alpha Quadrant. It can potentially triple the speed of subspace communication–if Enterprise can figure out how to use it. Chief Engineer Pelia suggests sending music. Fundamental harmonics sent through the fold may net a positive result.
Uhura sends Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” through, and the result is that the space around the fold becomes a musical. At first this only impacts a few ships. But the more Enterprise tries to correct the problem, the further the musical virus spreads. Eventually, it hits some Klingon ships–and the Klingons are not happy. Long story short, the Klingons want to destroy the fold but to do so will destroy everything the fold made musical.
Meanwhile, inside Enterprise people sing their deepest thoughts and feelings. Chapel breaks up with Spock over a fellowship with Dr. Korby. La’an admits her feelings to Kirk–who is dating a pregnant Carol Marcus. Pike and Batel argue in front of their crews about their upcoming vacation. And In the middle of everything Uhura finds the solution to close the fold by getting the entire crew to sing a showstopping grand finale.
“Subspace Rhapsody” is Strange New World‘s biggest swing to date. And the results reveal a limitation not of Star Trek, but of modern television.
Once More, With Feeling
Two decades ago, Joss Whedon and his then-wife Kai Cole crafted songs for what would become the blueprint for musical episodes of non-musical TV shows. And all these years later, “Once More, With Feeling,” the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is still the benchmark. And there’s a very good reason for that: time.
Whedon allegedly wanted to make a Buffy musical episode from the show’s inception. But it was during the show’s fifth season that he and Cole finally spent six months writing the songs for what would become “Once More, With Feeling”.
Five seasons of character building. Six months of songcraft. Three months of vocal training. And who knows how long in actual, episodic production.
Buffy had time to get it right. And you can see that in how tied to the character’s personalities each song is. Many of the show’s biggest arcs turn on a dime in this episode. Buffy reveals she was in heaven before her friends ripped her out of it. Tara finds out that Willow mind-wiped her. Giles admits he has to leave Buffy so she can grow. And, after years of fan ‘shipping, Buffy and Spike finally kiss.
“Once More, With Feeling” has all this time. Time gives everyone the vision to see what something as bonkers as a musical episode needs to accomplish. And with not quite two seasons and likely a very limited amount of time to put everything together, the team behind “Subspace Rhapsody” has none of those things.
The result is a musical episode that is good, but not great.
To Boldly Review “Subspace Rhapsody”
The best part of “Subspace Rhapsody” is the cast. The biggest, positive difference between Buffy‘s team and SNW‘s is that the latter is so clearly capable and game to make a musical. Obviously, Celia Rose Gooding is the lynchpin for this entire endeavor. Her background and skill as a musical stage performer is the reason “Subspace Rhapsody” could even be a consideration and her performance is absolutely tremendous.
There are a few standouts. Ethan Peck continues to straddle the chasm between the Spock we know and this more emotional version he’s portraying. Christina Chong does an exquisite job keeping La’an in security mode, even while singing a deeply vulnerable ballad. And both Jess Bush and Rebecca Romijn take turns bringing in arguably the most fun performances.
It’s tricky critiquing what feels like something that simply needed more massaging. Consider that from inception to opening night, most Broadway musicals take around EIGHT YEARS to gestate. What composers Tom Polce and Kay Hanley do in what I’m sure was a ridiculously tight amount of time is nothing short of astonishing.
And likewise the writing team of Dana Horgan and Bill Wolkoff, similar to “Once More With Feeling” bring a number of ongoing plot points and character beats to a major pivot point.
All that being said…
Dance Dance Resolution
If you start on “Anything Goes” that sets a precedent. And while no one expects anyone to be Cole Porter, there is a vibe using one of his best-known songs suggests. A musical episode of a non-musical show should be fun and funny. And while there are moments, the weirdest and most unsuccessful aspect of “Subspace Rhapsody” lies in how serious it is. There are too many ballads and there’s too much tension without nearly enough release.
The strongest songs are the ensemble numbers that open and close the episode. La’an’s ballad “How Would That Feel” is a stunner. On its own, it works. But songs like “Private Conversation” and “Keeping Secrets” both feature more down-tempo songs with bummer topics that don’t really move the plot. And while it makes sense for Chapel’s “I’m Ready” and Spock’s “I’m the X” to sound similar, too many of the songs are indistinct from one another.
And the reason this review bears the headline “No One Says I Love You” is because every romance ends on such a down note. Spock and Chapel break up after only three episodes together. La’an’s feelings are for naught because Kirk’s girlfriend Carol Marcus is pregnant. And Pike and Batel’s vacation gets delayed over Batel’s priority one mission which, let’s face is probably going to get her killed.
The goofiest, funniest moment involves singing Klingons (don’t think I didn’t notice you, Gregory Brothers) and it lasts seconds. Given more time to massage this idea, I suspect we would have gotten more of that. I wish modern television allowed this episode the proper time to gestate and flourish. They could pay their writers and actors a fair wage, even! What we got was good, but the bones for something far greater are there.