How ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ Brought Its Delightful Musical Episode to Life: ‘You’re Like, Wait, Spock Is Singing Now?!’

SPOILER ALERT: This story discusses plot — and musical! — developments in Season 2, Episode 9 of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds,” currently streaming on Paramount+.

Since premiering in 2022, “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” has already embraced body-swapping comedy, storybook fantasy and a crossover episode with the animated series “Star Trek: Lower Decks.” So perhaps it’s not surprising that for the penultimate episode for Season 2 of “Strange New Worlds,” executive producers Henry Alonso Myers and Akiva Goldsman would mount the first-ever full-on musical episode in “Trek” history.

Entitled “Subspace Rhapsody,” the episode opens with the crew of the Enterprise investigating one of those deliciously nerdy “Trek” inventions: a naturally occurring fold in subspace. When Ens. Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) suggests using scanning the phenomenon with music to test its properties, the signal instead causes a tear in space-time that plunges the crew into an alternate reality in which everyone starts singing out their most intense — and intensely private — feelings.

And it really is (just about) everyone: Along with Uhura, Capt. Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), Cmdr. Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn), Lt. Spock (Ethan Peck), Lt. La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong), Nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush) and even visiting Lt. James T. Kirk (Paul Wesley) all get standout solos to croon their hearts’ desires.

As Myers and Goldsman explain to Variety, “Subspace Rhapsody” was the result of more than six months of intense work by the cast and crew, as the songs were built around the actors’ respective vocal abilities by composers Kay Hanley (Letters to Cleo) and Tom Polce (Letters to Cleo, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”), in partnership with writers Dana Horgan and Bill Wolkoff. 

The showrunners also revealed which performance ultimately did not make the episode, and what to make of Kirk’s allusion to an it’s-complicated relationship with a woman named Carol.

How did the idea for this episode first arise?

Henry Alonso Myers: The honest, fair truth is that Akiva, from the very beginning, had always been saying to me, “Can we do a musical?” In the first season, I was like, “No, it’s too soon.”

Akiva Goldsman: The truth is it goes all the way back to Season 1 of “Star Trek: Picard.” We were sitting on set and [co-showrunner Michael] Chabon and I were talking about a musical [episode], and Chabon goes, “I know Lin-Manuel Miranda.” [Actor] Michelle Hurd was there and she was like, “Oh my God, call him!” And so then, like, three days later, Michael came in. And we said, “Did you call him?” And he goes, “Yeah, he didn’t call me back.” And so died the musical idea for that series. 

I love musicals, but know nothing about them. And then it turns out my partner Henry has done this before, and well. And so what a fucking delight! I mean, I had no idea what we were biting off. Henry clearly did.

So how did it finally happen for “Strange New Worlds”?

Myers: The idea for it came when were pitching what Season 2 should be. I remember, Bill [Wolkoff], one of our writers had a crazy idea, and we were like, ‘Well, that’s interesting, let’s try that!’ I did a bunch of musicals on “The Magicians,” and I did one on “Ugly Betty.” And so I just knew what a giant pain it would be — I mean, how difficult it was. I started making calls probably about six months before production.

Goldsman: We were lucky enough to suddenly have a cohort that knew how to do all these things, and they were collaborative. It was built around story and theme, and it was tailored to the vocal ranges of the particular actors. We ended up with an absurdly good cast on “Strange New Worlds.” Like, it makes no sense whatsoever. Usually, there’s a dud in the bunch. It was as if they all secretly had been coveting the idea of a musical their entire lives. So it was really good fortune how much everybody liked doing it.

There are so many threads in this episode that originated much earlier in the season: Spock and Chapel’s break-up, La’an’s feelings for Kirk, Uhura’s feelings of isolation. How did you build this episode’s the story around them?

Goldsman: We don’t break them episodically. We break the season first, so we know what our 10 episodes are — in terms of character development, really. We’re a hybridized object. We are episodic, fundamentally, in terms of plot, but serialized in terms of character arc. So we knew what the characters had to go through in the episode and that was connected to where they had come from and where they were going.

What was the most important thing for you to get right?

Myers: There were so many other people who ended up having to work extremely hard on this thing — much harder than me. I was mostly just trying to coordinate to make sure it was happening, because I was also worried about the next episode, which I was going to write. The only middle of the night thing I remember having about this was waking up and thinking, “This shouldn’t be a funny episode. This should be an episode that breaks your heart and makes you want to cry.” That’s what people won’t expect from this. They’ll come in thinking it’s going to be funny. And I was like, “No, no, no. These have to have moments, they have to be about real character things.” 

That was all that I came in pushing. And then everyone else jumped in and actually did it. We had someone to teach the people to sing. We had someone to teach them how to dance. The actual shooting of it, weirdly, was not as hard as you’d think, but only because it has months and months of work to lead up to it.

How much of that was happening in parallel with production and all the other episodes?

Myers: All of it! A lot of our cast were walking around set, shooting previous episodes, looking at what they were going to be singing, playing with each other. They would come in on the weekend and work on the dancing. 

How did you bridge the songs and the story?

Myers: We had broken an early concept of what the story would be, which we then shared with our composer and lyricist, and they would send it back to us and then we would give them thoughts. The two writers who wrote the episode were deeply involved in that. We were trying to make sure that all of the stuff that they were coming up with linked with what we were coming up with. They wanted the show to feel like the show, and we wanted the show to feel like a musical. So we kind of found this great place in the middle.

So, for example, who was the person who realized Spock could sing about being both Chapel’s ex and the x variable in an emotional equation?

Myers: I think that came from our composer and our lyricist. Usually, we’d say, “Here’s the emotional thing that’s supposed to happen. We know the beginning. And we know the end.” Because these are story scenes. It can’t be just a song that describes everything you know. This has to be a scene that reveals something. So we knew what was generally supposed to happen. And then we were like, “Now that you have that, go have fun. Come back to us when you have something.”

Celia Rose Gooding, Rebecca Romijn and Christina Chong are all singers, but did you know that the rest of the cast could sing as well?

Goldsman: No! Our composer played with all of them to see what their range was, and we wrote for them. I mean, I didn’t know Ethan could sing until I went, “Holy fuck, Ethan can sing!” Which is, by the way, kind of what happens when you watch the episode. You’re like, “Wait, Spock is singing now?”

Are there any musical areas that you explored that ultimately didn’t make it into the episode?

Goldsman: Well, we had one fantastic moment of contention, which we won. There’s two versions of the Klingons at the end.

Myers: And we did them both because we were like, we’ll try out everything. The other version is great, too. But this was the one that really kind of, you know, knocked us out. That’s why we wanted it.

What we see are the Klingons performing like they’re in a pop boy band, but you shot another genre with them as well?

Myers: We did an operatic one which was also great because the Klingons have a history with that. And it was also good. 

Goldsman: But boy bands was so much better. 

Myers: The boy band took you by surprise. It was not what you thought was going to happen. I’m delighted by it.

At one point, Kirk tells La’an that he’s in a complicated relationship with a woman named Carol, who is pregnant with his son — which “Trek” fans know is Dr. Carol Marcus, who first appears with Kirk’s grown son David in 1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” Would that suggest we’ll meet Carol in Season 3 of “Strange New Worlds”?

Goldsman: I think what we can say is the conversation about James T. Kirk’s love life is not over.

Myers: There’s a lot of known history about his love life, and this part had never really been explored. So we thought, what an opportunity. That’s really what we try to do on the show: None of these things that we know about happening later are known to the people in it.

I will ask the very nerdy question: Did you do the math as far as when Kirk’s son is supposed to have been born vis-a-vis the timeline of the show?

Goldsman: Oh, we always do the math. Anytime we can make canon work, we do. I mean, we’ll body English around it now and then for the sake of a story. But fundamentally, we really try to adhere.

So would you do another musical episode? 

Goldsman: In a heartbeat. 

Myers: Absolutely. But now that’s a high bar. It has to earn itself and be purposeful and feel like a great thing to do. But we loved it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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