Star Trek: Strange New Worlds shimmied and crooned into a new world indeed with its latest episode. Titled “Subspace Rhapsody,” the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds musical episode took the crew to new notes as a subspace fold ripple has an unusual effect. It causes the crew members to uncontrollably sing their feelings, often with dancing. “I thought it was a joke,” choreographer Roberto Campanella tells Nerdist. “It took me so many conversations to understand that they were going to do a musical. It was the whole thing. They kept saying, ‘Listen, this was never done before. It’s the whole episode.’ I felt the pressure.”
It’s true that when you think of Star Trek, musical doesn’t immediately jump to mind. However, the idea has been in the works for a while. Cinematographer Benji Bakshi (who Nerdist spoke to separately from Campanella) says the discussions about the musical started when he was interviewing for the series. Bakshi, a cellist whose family has strong connections to music, brought his musical sensibility to filmmaking by using the camera as an instrument. “As early as we could, we were chewing on what the concept would be. One of the exciting things about it was I thought, ‘Oh, musical. You’re just going to go off the rails and have everybody sing instead of talk.’ But it wasn’t that. It was this really interesting, scientifically motivated plot-based phenomenon that caused them to sing instead of talk when the emotions reached a certain point.”
With songs from Tom Polce and Kay Hanley and a script from Dana Horgan and Bill Wolkoff, Campanella and Bakshi worked closely with the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds musical episode’s director, Dermott Downs. Campanella shares he read the script for episode eight before getting into “Subspace Rhapsody,” because he wanted to know where the characters were coming from. They held a number of meetings to discuss the emotional narrative, but ultimately, Campanella put his trust in the cast. “Now, the cast, as always, they know better than anybody else,” Campanella says, “If you detour, if they’re not too sure about it, then they talk to you. I knew that I was in good hands. There was that mutual trust that really helped keep an eye on where we were going and to make sure the progression didn’t peak too quickly.”
At first, the crew of the Enterprise is hesitant, confused. They ask, “Why are we singing?” Feelings they would not have otherwise shared make themselves known in verse. Bakshi notes each song lent itself to a different tone and dynamic. He says, “They’re all channeled by certain emotions, which is typical of musical numbers. You’re living in the moment of an emotion and using the song to process it.”
For example, La’an’s intensely personal “How Would That Feel” is the quietest of the episode, and as such, was filmed that way. “La’an’s song was this deeply internal struggle,” Bakshi explains, “She goes alone in her room, and we thought the lighting should be moody. This is a dramatic internal piece. She’s literally arguing with herself over, ‘Can I change as a person? Can I open up and not be this way? Why am I this way?’ Then she has a dream sequence of what it could be with Kirk, and she awakes into the idea of, ‘No, I can’t do that. I’m stuck in my ways.’ It’s an almost tragic wrestle. That needed to be a womb-like presentation.”
Campanella notes “How Would That Feel” was his favorite number in the musical episode. “Just that emotional power that she was able to express, but with everything and just standing there doing nothing,” he says. Campanella’s second favorite song was Nurse Chapel’s “I’m Ready.” It’s big, loud, and joyful. Chapel celebrates good news in the lounge with a confident song and dance number. She’s ready to move on into her next role, and everybody’s part of the moment except Spock.
“That is her character. ‘I want to be experiencing the world and I’m ready to be free. I’m ready to come out,'” Bakshi says, “We needed to capture that energy. We did flashing lights and moving the camera around and all the dancing. We planned pretty intricately on this overhead shot where she’s spinning at the camera floating and crowd-surfing.”
Campanella emphasizes that the cast all devoted as much time as they could outside their regular shooting schedule to learn their dances. He did rehearsals with dancers and then the actors would come to see the dancers, give their notes, and learn before starting their own rehearsals. Bakshi would pop his head in and they would both talk with the director to determine the dynamics and the best way to adjust it for capturing—including that epic Klingon boy band scene.
As the Enterprise crew joins their voices to stop the subspace fold’s influence, they hail the approaching Klingons. The Klingons have come to destroy the fold, which would have disastrous consequences. They appear on the Enterprise‘s viewscreen, which means we as viewers have a limited angle. But the crew rigged the captain’s chair on a track to slide back. “That became the mechanism to widen the shot and turn it into choreography. There was that aspect of it,” Bakshi says. “Then it was the writers, and I believe Nami, the composer came up with the idea of the boy band because the finale was really hitting every single music genre. So, what haven’t we touched, and what would be the most fun, because they’re trying to elevate the energy of the subspace fold to its peak. What would happen?”
The Klingon boy band made the final cut, thankfully. However, they shot two versions of the Klingons, led by Bruce Horak as the Klingon captain. The second was opera. Ultimately, the opera take felt too close to the other singing. Luckily, the Klingon boy band won. Bakshi jokes, “That said, nobody knew if that would actually go too far or break Star Trek.”
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will wrap season two on Paramount+ on August 10. You can pre-save the musical episode soundtrack now.