The following article contains spoilers for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Season 2, Episode 9, "Subspace Rhapsody," which is now streaming on Paramount+.
In Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2, a bold move was made by exploring the American musical tradition. It was a risky choice to go where no Star Trek series has gone before. Of course, it's not the first genre show to feature a musical episode, and it shares something in common with the first.
In Episode 9, "Subspace Rhapsody," the crew find themselves endangered by a rift in space that causes them to burst out into spontaneous musical numbers. From its use of original songs to the characters' complete awareness that what's happening isn't normal, there are many similarities between this and the first musical episode of a modern television series. But the most significant similarity is why the songs start in the first place.
Strange New Worlds' Sudden Onset Musical Numbers are Triggered by Emotion
"Subspace Rhapsody" sees the Enterprise come into contact with a subspace anomaly that Science Officer Lt. Spock believes could be used to speed up communication over great distances. It saves time in contacting Starfleet Command and other starships. Unfortunately, every experiment Spock and Uhura attempt on the anomaly ends in failure until they try sending a musical transmission. The resulting energy surge from the rift triggers the episode's first number, "Status Report," in which the crew expresses their confusion about what's happening. More numbers follow, and a pattern emerges.
It turns out the sudden song and dance numbers are neither spontaneous nor random. Instead, they are triggered by strong emotions, particularly the ones people were trying to suppress. Upon realizing this Lt. La'an Noonien-Singh is able to avoid exposing her deepest secrets by confining herself to her quarters for her power ballad, "How Would That Feel." Later, she and Lt. James Kirk subvert the effect of the anomaly through open and honest dialogue. This is a stark contrast to Pike, who winds up turning a "Private Conversation" into an embarrassingly public argument with his girlfriend in front of the bridge crew, and Spock's heartbreak at Nurse Chapel's showstopping "I'm Ready." "Subspace Rhapsody's" effective use of this plot device honors the spirit of musical theater, much in the same way that Buffy the Vampire Slayer did two decades earlier.
Strange New Worlds' Musical Episode Echoes Buffy's 'Once More with Feeling'
On Nov. 6, 2001, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 7, "Once More, with Feeling" aired on UPN. With original songs by series creator Joss Whedon, the episode followed Buffy Summers and her Scooby Gang as they tried to discover why they -- and everyone else in Sunnydale -- couldn't stop themselves from performing Broadway-style song and dance numbers. The Buffy and Strange New Worlds episodes have a few key plot differences, such as a demon named Sweet being the cause of Ms. Summers' predicament in the case of Buffy. However, the most important plot point is how the songs reveal people's hidden truths.
Even many of the tunes from each show have their parallels to the other. Xander and Anya's song, "I'll Never Tell," have the same playful book number feel as Una and Kirk's "Connect to Your Truth." Both reveal secrets that those characters would've preferred to keep to themselves. Spock's "I'm the X" is filled with regret for a love that can never be, resonating on the same emotional frequency as the vampire Spike's "Rest in Peace." Every song serves to not only move the plot along, but reveal the inner lives of the characters, particularly when they'd prefer not to. This helps to establish important future plot points.
Although Buffy subverts the large ensemble ending by having Spike and Buffy bail on the finale, both episodes reach a satisfying conclusion. Of course, the overall story in Strange New Worlds is far from over, as was the case with Buffy Season 6 in 2001. This is the polar opposite of musicals, where the finale signals the conclusion of the overall tale. In the case of Buffy, there were still about two-thirds of a season left to wrap up the storylines that "Once More, with Feeling" exposed. Likewise, Strange New Worlds still has more to explore beyond "Subspace Rhapsody."
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is now streaming on Paramount+. All seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are currently streaming on Hulu.