Picard Season 3’s Liam Shaw Is the Captain Star Trek Needs Right Now

Star Trek: Picard's Captain Shaw made an impact in his very first Season 3 scene. The future should be full of his adventures.

Todd Stashwick as Captain Shaw in Star Trek: Picard
Photo: James Dimmock/Paramount+

This Star Trek: Picard article contains spoilers.

Star Trek: Picard Season 3 feels like a miracle. The first two seasons of Paramount’s much-hyped Jean-Luc Picard solo show were arguably hogwash, with some promising moments early on that quickly deteriorated into big fat nothingburgers. But with Season 3 comes the reunion of the old Next Generation crew, and some of the old Trek magic is finally back on screen. It’s ironic, then, that the best thing about Season 3 is a brand-new character in the mix: USS Titan-A Captain Liam Shaw, as played by 12 Monkeys star Todd Stashwick.

We first meet Shaw in episode one, “The Next Generation“, when William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) optimistically arrive aboard the USS Titan-A, intending to convince its captain to divert course so they can investigate an emergency message sent to Picard from his old flame, Doctor Beverly Crusher. This should by all accounts go smoothly; Riker and Picard are Starfleet legends with countless wins under their belts, and at this point we know next to nothing about Shaw, other than he doesn’t let Seven use her Borg name on duty. Seven does tell the duo that they should lower their expectations, however.

An incredible scene unfolds as soon as Picard and Riker enter the room where Shaw is in the middle of eating dinner, having started without his guests. The air shifts. Suddenly, the pair aren’t the confident stalwarts wielding priceless wisdom that they think they are – they’re just two kids who woke their mom up from a nap to tell her that one of them threw up on the couch.

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Taken off-guard by Shaw’s immediate snark about Picard’s reputation, the admiral nonetheless comes bearing gifts, and he offers the captain a bottle of his châteaux’s wine. “I’m much more of a Malbec man myself,” Shaw says, setting the bottle aside as though it were some ceramic monstrosity his toddler brought home from daycare. He then snaps out a series of insults directed at Picard and Riker’s Starfleet history, declaring himself the kind of captain who runs the kind of “boring”, “structured”, and disaster-free starship that the duo would quickly tire of. His message becomes clear when he eventually denies their request to pursue Beverly’s signal: “I’m better than you.”

Newsflash: Captain Shaw is not better, but he is different. While his brusque and intentionally rude nature might call back to recent Discovery standout Emperor Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), she was from the evil Mirror Universe. Shaw, as he himself acknowledges, is “just a dick.” We don’t find out why he is the way that he is until episode four, “No Win Scenario”, but by that time he’s already a breath of savage air for Starfleet and its glut of earnest team players. Shaw is initially refreshing as a human being who has reached his limit on other peoples’ nonsense. Where others might get dragged into dangerous situations by effectively demurring to more experienced colleagues, Shaw is dragged kicking and screaming into the events of Picard, and we along with him, having already been burned by the first two misguided seasons of the show.

But by the time we’ve reached the end of episode four, we’ve peeled back one of Shaw’s layers. It turns out he’s just broken, having spent decades grappling with survivor’s guilt. “Forgive me,” he says to his crew after vomiting years of repressed emotions all over Picard, having smothered them with a blanket of efficiency and structure to quell the storm inside. “At some point, asshole became a substitute for charm.” Meanwhile, we can’t begin to unpack the reasons he employed a former fully-fledged Borg as his first officer; a constant reminder of his pain that he can pick at like a wound that won’t heal whenever he feels like it.

Yes, Shaw is grumpy, stubborn, and completely damaged. He’s painfully flawed from the outset, but that means he’s got room to grow; to show us how his laughably shitty nature proves to be an advantage and a disadvantage in different scenarios. We’re instantly curious to know how he rose in the ranks to captain the Titan-A, and we get a piece of the answer every time the Picard crew includes him in their attempt to find a winning scenario in episode four’s no-win scenario – without Shaw’s key knowledge of the Changelings and his engineering grunt background, our familiar Trek vets would have been completely screwed.

It’s also easy to see why Shaw’s quickly become a fan favorite. These types of characters are largely not created with longevity in mind – it’s the audience’s unexpected love for their refusal to adapt to the internal universe’s status quo that helps them endure. Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer was never supposed to become a full-time addition to that show’s cast. Characters like Crowley from Supernatural returned over and over again because it was clear to the writers that those episodes were going to be enhanced considerably by their appearance.

In pursuit of the next iconic Star Trek captain, Paramount has more often than not gone back to the well. J.J. Abrams rebooted the Original Series gang for his lens flare-riddled blockbusters, Strange New Worlds embraces the largely untold story of Original Series captain Christopher Pike, while the divisive Discovery chose to mire its lead character Michael Burnham in an ongoing “will she, won’t she” storyline for ages. Picard has seemingly done the impossible by creating a new Star Trek captain from this universe who we just can’t help but want to see more of; a fresh, fascinating character with tons of nuanced stories just begging to be told.

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It’s clear that we must rise up and yell “Shaw spinoff show when?” As a hivemind, we must psychically manifest Paramount pay checks for Picard showrunner Terry Matalas and actor Todd Stashwick that are so plump and alluring, that they will have no choice but to create more Shaw content. 

Make it so.

Star Trek: Picard season 3 streams on Thursdays on Paramount+.