We select and review products independently. When you purchase through our links we may earn a commission. Learn more.

Why Captain Shaw is the Best Character in ‘Star Trek: Picard’

Todd Stashwick as Captain Liam Shaw on Star Trek: Picard.
CBS Studios

The main draw for Trekkies to watch the final season of Picard is the return of the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast. But, two episodes into the defacto reunion special, the character that’s captured the imaginations of Trek fans isn’t Worf or Riker; it’s U.S.S. Titan skipper Captain Liam Shaw.

Warning: SPOILER ALERT! This article contains spoilers for the final season of Star Trek: Picard as well spoilers for past Star Trek films and TV shows.

Captain of a Ship in a Strange Universe

It’s not a secret in the Trek fandom that the first two seasons of Star Trek: Picard was not to the liking of many classic Trek fans. Many complained that the show was too dark and dreary, overly violent, and portrayed Starfleet, its officers, and the Federation in a manner that was not consistent with the values those institutions professed during the 1966-2004 classic era of Star Trek.

The complaints were so loud in 2022 that Paramount+ released a teaser trailer for Picard season three, announcing the return of the Next Gen cast, before the second season finished airing. The message from the studio to the fans was clear: “We know this stinks. Help is on the way!”

That help comes in the form of Picard season three showrunner Terry Matalas, who has transformed the show from a Star Trek-themed CBS melodrama into a ten-part Next Generation feature film in the style of the classic 1979-1991 movies featuring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy as Kirk and Spock.

The result is the fusion of three different iterations of Star Trek, featuring the cast of The Next Generation, the world of Picard, with the classic films’ aesthetic, structure, and ethics. And sitting right in the center of that nexus is Liam Shaw played by Todd Stashwick.

Great Characters Have Grand Introductions

Todd Stashwick as Liam Shaw in Star Trek: Picard

The animating factor for Picard season three so far is “Picard needs to save Beverly Crusher.” She’s injured on a ship in deep space and sent the former Enterprise-D captain a coded distress signal warning him not to involve Starfleet. Picard recruits his old first officer William Riker for help. Riker cooks up a plan to trick the captain U.S.S. Titan into taking them to the edge of Federation space, where they could take a shuttle to find Beverly. Picard and Riker board the Titan under the pretense of a surprise inspection conducted by two legendary Starfleet officers ahead of “Frontier Day” celebrations.

We don’t meet Captain Shaw until the latter half of the first episode of Picard season three, but if this season were structured as a 10-hour movie (and it is), he walks on stage exactly when you’d expect him to. And like the main foil of a good Star Trek movie, he gets a memorable scene to make that entrance. Think of Star Trek II when Khan made his first appearance—a scene that would end with a mind control bug going in Chekov’s ear—and Star Trek VI when General Chang stepped off the transporter pad and greeted Captain Kirk with the line “in space all warriors are cold warriors,” then proceeded to chew the scenery while quoting Shakespeare in the famous dining scene that followed. Captain Shaw gets that level of introduction, so you know he’s an important character that’s going to stick around a while.

From the beginning, Shaw is onto Riker and Picard’s scheme. He knows their history. He’s not stupid. He’s a Starfleet captain. Imagine this was an episode of Star Trek: Titan, and Captain Shaw and crew are on a routine mission. Then two legendary yet inactive officers with a long history of saving the galaxy and getting drawn into dangerous situations appear unexpectedly and start poking around on the ship. Picard and Riker are playing the Evil Admiral trope on that episode of Titan, and Captain Shaw would be foolish to let them deceive him.

Shaw shows he’s onto Picard and Riker before they even step foot on his vessel by not greeting them when they board. Titan first officer Seven of Nine informs the pair that Captain Shaw is “catching up with some logs,” and will join them for dinner later. Shaw further disrespects Picard and Riker by eating halfway through his meal before they show up to dine with him. Claiming that their “reputation preceded you so far into the room that I started early.”

Shaw’s rudeness continues when he low-key insults Picard’s gift of a bottle of wine from his vineyard, stating that he’s a “Malbeck Man,” and unsubtly jabs at Riker’s command style by proclaiming to have “purged the bebop” from the ship’s systems when he took the captain’s chair five years ago. The verbal jabs don’t let up until the scene ends after Shaw declines Picard’s request to change course with a simple “No.” Then follows up by saying that he won’t endanger his ship for this ruse and reveals his distaste for Picard as a “former ex-borg” (It’s unclear if this double-negative was intentional or not).

It’s a riveting scene and shows the care that showrunner Terry Matalas took to make Shaw a multi-dimensional character rather than just someone who calls Picard names and swears at him—as we have seen with other Starfleet officers in earlier seasons of Picard.

Echoes of Edward Jellico

Todd Stashwick as Captain Liam Shaw in "Disengage"

A lot of viewers may not personally like Captain Shaw’s gruff demeanor. Not only is he rude to Picard and Riker, but so far, he appears to treat Seven of Nine with a bit of disdain. But there are reasons for his behavior. Most instances where we see him being less-than-nice toward Seven have to do with her insubordination in taking the ship off course and helping Picard and Riker commandeer a shuttle. There remain issues of his insisting that Seven go by her human name (Annika Hansen) rather than her Borg designation and his outright disgusted remark about “former ex-borgs.” But I think we’ll see the genesis of that particular prejudice played out in further episodes.

It comes down to the fact that Shaw runs his ship differently, with a different personality than Trek fans are accustomed to. This will put off many viewers by design. Think back to the classic Next Generation two-parter “The Chain of Command,” when Captain Edward Jellico took over command from the Enterprise-D from Picard, tasked with a secret mission into Cardassian space. In those episodes, Jellico completely reordered the Enterprise in a manner reminiscent of how Shaw commands the Titan. It’s a very no-nonsense, get-it-done, follow-your-orders style. And the crew hated every minute of being under the command of Jellico.

The trick about Jellico is that while some view him as a “bad captain”, he was right about everything. If you go back and watch that story, you’ll find that Jellico was vindicated in every decision he made and ended up rescuing Picard by his wits. Something similar is happening with Captain Shaw right now in Picard. Rewatch the first two episodes of Picard season three and try to find a spot when he’s factually wrong about something. He isn’t. Not to say he’ll never be, but I have a feeling we’ll be well into the latter half of the season before he makes a mistake—while also being kind of a jerk to people.

However, for all his gruffness, he is still open to advice and will change his course of action. For example, in the second episode of Picard season three, Shaw decides to keep the Titan inside Federation space when he knows that Picard and Riker are in trouble. It makes perfect sense that he would act that way. He knew that his ship would be outgunned if he intervened and weighed the lives of 500 crewmen against just Riker and Picard. But when it came down to the final decision to intervene, Shaw showed that he was open to taking Seven’s advice (even though she had just helped Riker and Picard in their plot) and decided to go save Picard and Riker.

Trekkies can debate whether or not Shaw makes the morally correct call here. Some will come down on Shaw’s side, citing that Picard and Riker were trying to trick him all along, and now a dangerous situation is unfolding like he suspected it might. Others can say that leaving two people to surely die goes against the principles of Starfleet. But, the beauty is that both sides have a solid footing to stand on, a good reason for taking their positions—Captain Shaw as a character represents that.

A similar situation played out near the end of the episode when Shaw had to make a critical decision had to be made to hand over Jack Crusher to the bad guys or try to make a getaway. Throughout the episode, Shaw is adamant that he intends to give Jack to the bounty hunters. But when Picard revealed that Jack was his son at the last moment, Shaw understood and decided to risk his ship and crew to save him. So, as gruff as he is, he’s not intransigent—a sign of a good captain.

He’s Got a Really Sweet Ride

Todd Stashwick as Captain Liam Shaw and Jonathan Frakes as Riker in "Disengage" Episode 302, Star Trek: Picard on Paramount+.

This may or may not have something to do with Shaw’s character in the show. But there’s just something about a man who commands a starship like the Titan-A that commands respect. It’s a gorgeous ship inside and out. And hands down, my favorite starship Star Trek Universe has put on screen since Discovery premiered in 2017.

The Titan-A is a refit of the U.S.S. Titan, first mentioned in Star Trek: Nemesis in 2002. It’s the ship that William Riker left the Enterprise-E to command at the end of that film. But, we never saw it on screen until Lower Decks when Captain Riker and the Titan warp in to save the day at the end of season one. And we see it more in the first half of the Lower Decks season two.

However, this Titan looks much different than the Lower Decks version. The refit attached a more extensive stardrive section onto the Titan’s existing saucer, rechristening it as a “Neo Constitution class” ship (Titan was formerly a Luna class vessel). And true to its class name, the Titan-A has the distinct look and feel of the 1980s Enterprise and Enterprise-A (refit Constitution class, try to keep up) featured in the original films. Which, in turn, were based on the Constitution class vessels of the original Star Trek TV show.

What results is a 2020s version of the original 1960s starship Enterprise, with all the weight, nostalgia, gravitas, and responsibility that brings. And for people like me, you can’t help but look at that ship, think about the kind of person it would take to command such a vessel, and admire the person sitting in the captain’s chair.

Liam Shaw is Written and Acted with Care

It’s clear after just two episodes that Captain Liam Shaw is here to stay. The showrunner and writers identified him as one of the central characters in the plot of the final season of Star Trek: Picard and paid much thought and work to making him a fully realized character.

In the hands of lesser Trek writers, this character may have turned out to be as bland as a piece of bread like Enterprise-B commander John Harriman in Star Trek: Generations or the f-bomb-dropping Admiral Clancy from Picard season one. Instead, we have a complicated, flawed, and believable foil to join us on this adventure.

Of course, I couldn’t let this article pass without praising the stunningly excellent performance of actor Todd Stashwick. We’re only two episodes in, and he’s delivered a show for the Trek ages. He’s one of those character actors that pop up on TV shows from time to time, but I never knew his name. But I sure do now, and I’ll probably never forget it.

Danny Chadwick Danny Chadwick
Danny has been a technology journalist since 2008. He served as senior writer, as well as multimedia and home improvement editor at Top Ten Reviews until 2019. Since then, he has been a freelance contributor to Lifewire and ghostwriter for Fit Small Business. His work has also appeared on Laptop Mag, Tom’s Guide, and business.com. Read Full Bio »