Nurse Chapel and Mr. Spock’s most famous TOS scene now means much more.
When news that Star Trek: Strange New Worlds would include several legacy characters from The Original Series broke, I felt optimistic. In addition to a young Nyota Uhura, Strange New Worlds would reintroduce us to two minor medical characters: Dr. M’Benga, who had only appeared in two episodes; and Nurse Christine Chapel.
I intend no insult to Majel Barrett Rodenberry in calling Nurse Chapel a minor character. Although Chapel appeared in 34 TOS episodes and several animated Star Trek episodes, she rarely had much to do beyond assisting Dr. McCoy in sickbay and mooning over Mr. Spock, for whom she harbored unrequited love. Even what little backstory TOS gave Nurse Chapel was about her love for a man. She shipped out with the Enterprise, we were told, to search for her missing fiancé Dr. Roger Korby.
Jess Bush’s performance in Strange New Worlds’ first episode caught me completely off guard. This energetic, wisecracking, flirtatious Nurse Chapel was light-years removed from the Christine we’d seen in TOS. While I couldn’t deny Jess Bush has charisma to spare, I wasn’t sure about the series’ choice to immediately lean heavily into Nurse Chapel’s constant crush on Spock.
But in almost every episode, Strange New Worlds has shown Christine and Spock forging a rich, full, complicated friendship. The latest episode, “All Those Who Wander,” serves up the most moving moment yet in this relationship—and brings Spock and Nurse Chapel’s most consequential scene in TOS into sharper and clearer focus.
“All Those Who Wander” anticipates Nurse Chapel and Spock “The Naked Time”
In the classic TOS episode “The Naked Time,” a perspiration-passed virus perspiration robs the Enterprise crew of their inhibitions, allowing hidden personality traits to surface.
When Nurse Chapel becomes infected, she passionately declares her long-hidden love for Spock to him, infecting him as she caresses his hands.
Both Majel Barrett and Leonard Nimoy played this scene to perfection. In it, Chapel tells Spock,”I see things. … I know how you feel. You hide it, but you do have feeling.” When Spock tries to protest that he controls his emotions, Chapel tells him, gently but firmly, “The others believe that. I don’t.”
Now, more than five decades later, this iconic scene carries extra resonance thanks to Chapel and Spock’s last scene together in “All Those Who Wander.”
Nurse Chapel sees Spock become visibly agitated at Hemmer’s funeral. She watches as he leaves and punches a bulkhead so hard, he dents it. Despite Spock telling her, in decidedly non-Vulcan fashion, to “back off,” she follows him. He grabs her wrist—the inverse image of Chapel tenderly taking Spock’s hands in “The Naked Time.”
Spock confesses he can’t control his rage and pain. He fears his mind has become weak. Chapel gently but firmly takes hold of the back of his neck and reassures him his emotions don’t make him weak—they make him human. She embraces him, and he returns the embrace, having found a safe space to feel what he feels.
The moment is one of several beautiful and heart wrenching moments in the episode’s last act. And it gives great substance to the love Nurse Chapel professes in “The Naked Time.”
No longer can we dismiss Chapel’s feelings (if we ever could or should have) as a barely disguised “crush.” Now we know, about a decade earlier, Nurse Chapel saw Spock lose control of his emotions, and supported him in a moment of emotional vulnerability. It’s not hard to imagine how this moment could make Chapel’s love for Spock grow—and, no doubt, vice versa.
Throughout its first season, especially in “Spock Amok,” Strange New Worlds has planted the idea that Nurse Chapel’s affection for Spock wasn’t entirely unrequited after all. It’s a lovely recontextualization of what was largely a one-note “joke” in TOS.
This scene in “All Those Who Wander” is the strongest portrayal of love—not simply romantic infatuation or erotic interest, but warm and vulnerable love—between these two characters yet.