Star Trek Strange New Worlds’ Wild Musical Episode Unpacked By Director Dermott Downs


WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for episode nine of season two of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

Cue the music and pick up your dropped jaw. The highly anticipated first ever musical episode in Star Trek history arrives on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Aug. 3 on Paramount+. Dubbed Subspace Rhapsody, the episode features 10 original songs, production numbers, and — what’s this? — even singing Klingons?

Oh, how this could have gone so badly. But hats off to Strange New Worlds showrunners Akiva Goldsman and Henry Alonso Myers, and director Dermott Downs for taking this remarkably daring leap. Let’s face it: A musical episode on Star Trek? The very idea had “jump the shark” written all over it. But in episode nine of Strange New Worlds, which was made available to press to screen, we have a remarkably creative offering that stays in sync with what’s possible in Star Trek. Best of all, the episode is believable. Subspace Rhapsody isn’t just good. It evokes a giddy joi de vivre that ultimately finds you caring more about individual crew members of the USS Enterprise.

In this exclusive MovieWeb interview, director Dermott Downs shares more about Subspace Rhapsody, the risk involved in creating the episode, and how he wanted it to land with viewers.

Finding the Right Notes Early On


Subspace Rhapsody begins with a voiceover from Communications Officer Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding). The USS Enterprise is traveling in the far edge of the Alpha Quadrant when it comes across an unusual phenomenon, a naturally occurring subspace fold. Spock (Ethan Peck) believes it can triple the speed of subspace communication in the sector, but the experiment requires a rerouting of ship’s power and Uhura must maneuver coms the old-fashioned way—think 1940s switchboard operator. More on that anomaly in a bit because…

This episode also nicely sets up a series of conflicts. Captain Pike (Anson Mount) is reluctant to take a trip with his girlfriend Captain Batel (Melanie Scrofano). Lieutenant Kirk (Paul Wesley) beams aboard as he’s about to begin a new commission and must be “shown the ropes” of the starship by La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong). That irks La’an, of course, because of the alternate timeline connection she and Kirk shared that nobody — not even Kirk — knows about. Meanwhile, Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) is awaiting word on a fellowship at the Vulcan Science Academy, which could put yet another dent in her already shaky relationship with Spock.

Back to the subspace fold. Pelia (Carol Kane), the new chief engineer of the Enterprise, suggests to Spock and Uhura that they have been attempting to communicate through a medium with a different law of physics, so why not communicate through song. “Perhaps fundamental harmonics are the answer,” she muses. Cut to Uhura, who wonders if subspace is a fan of the Great American Songbook. It is. But the ramifications are wild.

Almost immediately after sending off the music catalogue — starting with Anything Goes no less, which hints at where the rest of the episode will take us — the shockwave that follows permeates throughout the Enterprise and every crew member. When Pike asks Uhuru for an explanation, Spock breaks out into song. And so, begins Subspace Rhapsody.

Tell it to Me in Song, Please

Star Trek Strange New Worlds Pike Singing

As episode nine rolls along, eventually we learn that the anomaly is somehow linked to an individual’s emotional weather, and that’s why the crew sporadically breaks out into song. Some songs move certain story arcs — Spock/Chapel, La’an/Kirk, for instance. Others are big, bold and immersive ensemble numbers. At each and every turn, director Dermott Downs creates one of the most inventive Star Trek episodes we’ve seen. But even he had his doubts about it.

“I had never done anything this ambitious and certainly in the canon of Star Trek lore, there had never been a musical,” Downs said. “So, yes, there was a lot of weight on this. Before I read the script, I was just like, okay, the show is grounded, but it’s in outer space. And with this special episode, you have your 10 songs and musical numbers, and it was like, ‘How are we not jumping the shark?’

“To everyone’s credit, I think this episode is grounded in emotion as any of the episodes,” he added. “I think it stills moves characters forward, because song then becomes a tool for exposition in a way that is actually much cooler than just people sitting around talking. Because once the virus is in the ship, and the more the crew sings, the more they’re expressing their biggest vulnerabilities. So, it was a cool approach.”

Related: Star Trek Exclusive: Rod Roddenberry and Trevor Roth Talk Roddenberry Entertainment

Moving Along Story Arcs

Star Trek Strange New Worlds Subscpace Rhapsody

Dermott Downs is no stranger to storytelling. His life in the arts began at the age of 7 when he delved in theater. Much later, his work on music videos captured attention before he transitioned into directing, working for Jerry Bruckheimer Television, and teaming with director Danny Cannon (CSI: Vegas, Miami & NY; Gotham). Eventually, he’d go on to work with Greg Berlanti on a reboot of the British sci-fi series The Tomorrow People before heading into the Arrowverse, overseeing episodes of Flash, Arrow and Supergirl.

He considers directing Subspace Rhapsody a career highlight because it illuminates everything he loves and is challenged by in his craft. One of the main thing Downs had to pay close attention to in episode nine were two tricky relationships. The first was Spock/Chapel or Spapel as some have referred to them. Several episodes prior, the two admitted their true feelings for one other. But love in space is precarious.

Watching Spock and Chapel realize where they truly are in their “relationship” plays out in fine form here when Chapel receives news that she was in fact accepted for the Vulcan fellowship. This intrigues Spock, who wonders why Chapel hadn’t brought up her desire to leave the ship with him sooner. As emotions rise on both fronts — by the way, Ethan Peck nails it as a crooning Vulcan — Chapel eventually headlines a commanding ensemble number in the ship’s Port Galley that smacks of any big screen musical.

The other relationship that is addressed is between La’an and Kirk. Technically, these two are not in a relationship, however early in the season, La’an slipped into an alternate timeline and she and Kirk fell for each other. Upon returning to her own timeline, she couldn’t reveal a thing about what happened. But there’s more than a hint of interest on Kirk’s part in real time. Like Chapel, La’an’s musical number shines. It’s a solo piece, and boy, does it pack an emotional punch.

Related: Strange New Worlds Season 2 Review: Star Trek Boldly Goes to Great New Heights

An Episode Unlike Any Other

Star Trek Strange New Worlds Subscpace Rhapsody episode

The great thing about Subspace Rhapsody is that it wonderfully balances drama and humor with song and dance. Good news: The singing is exceptional and with Grammy winner Celia Rose Gooding (Jagged Little Pill) here, this episode truly feels elevated. The choreography is above par, thanks to choreographer Roberto Campanella. Take note of the incredible musical number on the bridge, which is one of the show’s standout numbers. Downs said he was fortunate to have ample prep time with a finished script and with temp tracks of all the songs and daily meetings with Campanella, whose artistry could be seen in movies like Shape of Water and Pinocchio.

“I had Roberto for two weeks and listened to the songs to understand what was going to be stripped down what felt like it should be big and celebratory,” Downs explained. “My biggest hope and fear was to honor the music, but in a way that still felt organic to this anomaly that’s taken over the ship.

“I didn’t want this to be just an hour of jazz hands and singing,” he added. “Fortunately, the blueprint for the songs dictated that and obviously, these actors are all very grounded and have great chops, so they kept it really rooted in reality. And though we approached each song differently, it still felt like it was all part of the same story and in the same universe. I was super happy with how that all turned out.”

Singing Klingons with a K-Pop Twist?

Star Trek Kilingons Singing Subspace Rhapsody

As the crew of the USS Enterprise race to undo the anomaly affecting the ship and, it appears, the potentiality of other ships within Starfleet and other alien vessels, an approaching Klingon vessel poses another challenge. How can Captain Pike communicate on screen with the Klingons if he and the crew are busting out into song? The height of these challenges arrives near the end of the episode when ultimately Pike must communicate with the Klingons on screen. Why he must do that should be experienced in its entirely, but the result is bound to create a gaggle of singing and dancing techno Klingon memes.

“All that comes at height of the complete craziness,” Downs said. “There was a very big concern going in if we were going too far with this. Like, you know, Klingons singing and dancing. That’s never happened in the lore. And even here, Spock has even sung, but it’s still grounded as he’s understanding his human side. But then we thought if we don’t really go for it… I mean, this is the zenith of this crazy battle of bands. We had to.”

Downs added that a version of that Klingon scene, which features several Klingons — tres 1990s hip hop group in fact — was shot in a kind of spoken word song. But once the crew began shooting it that way, they realized that, “there was no way we weren’t just going to go ahead and go full K-pop because then they’re [the Klingons] are mortified by what’s happening to them. By that point, everyone on the Enterprise has been expressing themselves through music. So, I’m super happy that that’s the version we stuck with. My only regret is that we didn’t get to go on the Klingon ship with them and really go full blown K-pop because we’re just seeing them on the screen. But it was a great little moment. And the Klingons were horrified to be expressing themselves in that way.”

Curiously, Bruce Horak, who played Chief Engineer Hemmer in season one before his character tragically died in one of the later episodes, is featured in that very Klingon segment. In tons of make-up, of course.

As for the overall episode, it’s yet another great achievement for Strange New Worlds, which continues to be one of the best Star Trek series to experience. But wait — there’s more. There is an actual album, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2Subspace Rhapsody (Original Series Soundtrack), and it holds 11 tracks from various artists, with music and lyrics from the likes of Kay Hanley of Letters To Cleo and composer Tom Polce. The track list includes: Star Trek Strange New Worlds Main Title (Subspace Rhapsody Version), Status Report, Connect To Your Truth, How Would That Feel, Private Conversation, Keeping Secrets, I’m Ready, I’m the X, Keep Us Connected, We Are One, and Subspace Rhapsody End Credit Medley. The album is available on Apple Music.

Episode nine of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (Subspace Rhapsody) streams Aug. 3 on Paramount+.

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