A Central Relationship In Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Has Its Roots In The Classic Series

Set phasers to spoiler warning, as this article discusses the events of the latest episode of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds."

Seven episodes in, it's clear that the creative team behind "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" understands one amusingly recurring facet of the franchise: it just wouldn't be "Star Trek" without at least some undercurrent of sexual tension between certain pairings ... even if it's largely one-sided. Some shows over the years have dealt with such matters better than others, but this latest "Trek" series boasts a murderer's row of cast members who seem to generate easy chemistry with, well, any possible combination of characters that viewers could imagine. (None other than co-showrunner Akiva Goldsman agrees!) The latest episode, "The Serene Squall," takes this even further by delving into the "flirtationship" between Ethan Peck's Spock and Jess Bush's Nurse Christine Chapel.

Newcomers to the series may be unaware, but this classic dynamic traces back its roots all the way to "Star Trek: The Original Series." As a prequel series, "Strange New Worlds" is ideally positioned to shed new light and add fresh layers to many of the concepts and world-building we took for granted while watching William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and the rest of the original "Trek" crew. "The Serene Squall" wastes no time at all, confidently building on the breadcrumbs laid down in this season's "Spock Amok." Here, their simmering chemistry comes to a head in a surprising way — all while paying off decades of established franchise lore.

Logic vs love

It's a tale as old as time. A cold, emotionless, and somewhat naïve rogue comes up against the sweet, affectionate, but ultimately unrequited crush of his would-be suitor. "The Original Series" may have primarily been a series about exploration and thinly-veiled metaphors for ongoing social concerns (though, let's be real, it was often just an excuse for William Shatner to land goofy, double-fist punches on hordes of poor, hapless aliens), but fans couldn't miss the ongoing drama unfolding in the background between Nimoy's Spock and Nurse Chapel (played by Majel Barrett-Roddenberry).

Though rarely apt to take the center stage of any given episode, the one-sided "romance" between Christine Chapel and Spock cropped up countless times throughout the seasons. Again and again, a lingering look or a slightly too-familiar barb by Chapel would be met by the half-Vulcan's usual impassive stare or, worse, a gruff but courteous reminder of the nature of their strictly professional relationship. Not that this ever dampened Chapel's spirits, anyway, as this typically bounced right off and only motivated her even further to somehow, someway get through Spock's impenetrable exterior. Who among us can't relate!

Chapel's infatuation with the pointy-eared science officer reached a boiling point in the season 1 episode "The Naked Time," when a virus loose on the Enterprise causes the crew to lose any and all inhibitions — naturally, Chapel outright professes her love to a shocked Spock. While Chapel never quite gets to act on these feelings (a kiss shared between the two under duress in the season 3 episode "Plato's Stepchildren" doesn't count!), Spock does call her by a first-name basis after he briefly acknowledges her feelings for him in "Amok Time."

Alas, the will they/won't they dance between the two never becomes anything more.

A one-sided affair?

Between "Spock Amok" and now "The Serene Squall," it'd be fair to say that "Strange New Worlds" gives far more attention to the Spock and Christine Chapel relationship than all of "The Original Series" (and "The Animated Series") combined. Overtly positioned as close friends, Bush plays Chapel with a winking self-awareness about her own feelings for the handsome and rugged Science Officer — even as she finds herself in the unenviable spot of providing relationship advice for Spock and his bondmate, T'Pring. Though far less demeaning circumstances than what her counterpart endured throughout "The Original Series," even casual viewers had to have picked up on the yearning in Chapel's face when Spock isn't looking.

This week's episode escalated matters between the pair even more, orchestrating a dramatic (though manufactured) love triangle at a crucial moment of the plot. Space pirates led by Jesse James Keitel's new character Dr. Aspen (er, make that the nefarious Captain Angel) have taken over the Enterprise, blackmailing T'Pring into releasing a dangerous Vulcan prisoner under her guard in exchange for Spock's life. With no other alternative, of course the only solution to get them out of this mess is for Spock to "confess" to an affair with Christine and engage in a steamy make-out session in full view of T'Pring. Though clearly a ruse (even Angel sees right through it and, later, T'Pring acknowledges as much), the writers are clearly adding even more subtext and nuance to the dynamic that fans are well-familiar with from "The Original Series."

The episode ends with Spock attempting to clear the air between the two out of respect for his colleague, but we wouldn't be surprised to see this potentially blossoming romance — one-sided or not — receive more of a focus in future episodes.