You’ve done it, Mr Matalas.
I’d stopped watching Picard because of it’s intense need to romanticise the visuals of death to a staggeringly inconsistent degree. 92,000+ killed in Season 1 alone, if you add up the numbers cited, was quite enough to put me off the melodramatic wails of “the universe needs Jean-Luc Picard!” I’m sure Season 2 satisfied those who watched it — once Q was announced, and his ending promptly spoiled (92,001?) I simply wasn’t interested. Perhaps my distaste was simply born out of my dislike for endings? I don’t know yet.
Regardless, and forgive my rambling as I get to this point: you’ve done it. I care.
And it’s all because of Captain Liam Shaw. The Todd Stashwick-faced dipshit from Chicago did it. Shaw single-handedly ripped me out of my anti-Picard stupor and forced me to love him.
I’m fucking enthralled with this man.
I can say confidently that he is one of my favourite captains — and at the time of writing this, he’s appeared in just four episodes. The only person to beat that episode-count-to-love ratio was one Captain Christopher Pike played by Anson Mount.
Mount now leads his own Star Trek show — I’m sure you can see where I’ll be going with this letter.
Back to the point. “You think the guy who’s Star Trek: Picard‘s biggest asshole of season three is one of Starfleet’s best captains?” you may be saying. But I implore you: it’s true.
Let’s first address the Titan. It’s an exploratory, scientific vessel. It’s Constitution-III class is based on those Luna and Constitution-class vessels — theoretically not designed to be tactical marvels. They’re capable in a fight, but a dedicated battleship? No. This is not a ship built for the Dominion War (Defiant, Enterprise-E), not retrofitted to handle skirmishes with the Maquis or dozens of Kazon (Voyager), and certainly not designed for Klingons (Discovery). It is the quintessential “seek out new life” ships, utilizing the original ideology of Starfleet… albiet, run by a guy who probably wants to avoid “new life” to the best of his ability, but to each their own.
Shaw in fact may be the antithesis of my Star Trek needs: he is not an optimist — he’s rather pessemistic across the board. He runs the Titan with efficiency… but it’s powered by one underlying motivation: the well-being of his crew.
Given the nature of Picard and Discovery‘s first seasons, the Titan is a nice breath of fresh air, where we should have started this entire journey. Shaw contrasts the Titan with such utter brilliance that I cannot blame many for not making the connection as to why he’s qualified to be this idealistic vessel’s captain. His command reflects his experience as an officer. In Shaw’s case, he started out as an engineer. He lived through the Battle of Wolf 359, experienced the Dominion War, not to mention the android uprising, and uses those significant events to drive how he handles life after disaster.
Shaw is, if nothing else, a persistent bastard willing to put up with travesties in the line of duty to protect others from the same atrocities. It’s frankly made him jaded — so it’s up to the junior officers to be brighter while keeps the draw-bridge of doom firmly shut.
It’s considered a stretch by some, but I truly believe Liam Shaw is exactly who Christopher Pike and Will Riker would have become if they’d had to wear Shaw’s shoes.
What’s more: in the grand scheme of the conflict with the Shrike, Shaw has yet to be wrong.
- He doesn’t agree with Picard and Riker’s request leading them to Crusher (it’s literally in the opposite direction) — had this been a TNG episode, absolutely Riker in particular would have had problems with a retired Admiral and random Captain coming aboard to redirect the Enterprise.
- He prioritizes his crews rest to the best of his ability even in the face of persuent danger. Even Shaw, the asshole-charmer, has work-life balance standards. A rested crew is an optimal crew, after all.
- He hears there’s a changeling onboard and immediately starts sussing out potential ways to unveil them because of the danger it presents to his people. (Also psuedo-apologises to Seven during his whole “this is what a changeling would say” speech.)
- And low-and-behold, when they’re at their most vulnerable opening those nacelles, he points out a changeling would do well to come in and fuck them up. Guess what happens? The avoid the fuck up because Seven agreed with him and called ahead.
Misguided — yes, especially so in his treatment of Seven.
This is a character I am genuinely surprised to be enjoying in a Star Trek series, and frankly, this double-entendre of a man is exactly what Picard needed years ago. We’ve sat through dozens of episodes of “we can’t trust anyone anymore!” storylines in Picard purely made with cheap, bland, death and destruction shock tactics, and now finally we’re given something significantly more juicy and compelling: what happens after? What happened to the veterans after Wolf 359, after the Dominion War? Their outlook — Shaw’s outlook — is so coloured by what he’s had to go through that it does not compare to the bright and glitsy nature of The Next Generation and Voyager.
Picard needed to focus on recovering after the trauma of Deep Space 9‘s Dominion War — we almost got it in the films, which didn’t follow through because Rick Berman probably thought those who watched the movies didn’t watch the shows (a choice clearly unprepared for a Disney Marvel future…). It is so incredibly fulfilling to finally have that occur.
Some years ago, I wrote a scathing letter to a writer on Star Trek: Picard season 1 because of Stardust City Rag. From that point forward, I lost my will to care about the show because, perhaps childishly, that one episode single-handedly decimated the optimism and hope Star Trek had given me since I was a kid. In my humble opinion, we had been viewing the dregs of writers’ personal life trauma. We’re taught to write what we know, and unfortunately, some of us do that to a brutal degree.
So, Season 1 tried to create dangerous and compelling villains for Picard using sudden death, gore, and shock value, the deaths of Icheb and Hugh… After all that devastation, can you remember the name of the primary antagonist? Do they even matter anymore?
And yet, season 3’s villain sits tucked away in a corner: in the first four episodes, they’re simply not relevant. Something much bigger has stepped into that role — and it’s divided the fandom deliciously: is Liam Shaw a villian, or an obstacle to overcome?
Truthfully, he is neither. But he is inherently untrustworthy. Picard and co cannot trust Liam Shaw because he is not interested in losing his crew to some ridiculous skirmish none of them were given the choice to be part of — exactly because that’s what happened to the USS Constance in Wolf 359, and what happened to most of Starfleet during the Dominion War. They cannot trust Shaw because he is not falling for the legendary-status bullshit. Shaw, while technically on the “good” side, can swing either for or against Jean-Luc Picard. He’s not evil: he just knows what he’s been through and what he’s doing now. Finally, a compelling foil and contagonist worth both caring about and fearing.
He didn’t get anyone killed to achieve this status, either.
I hope someone’s taking notes.
I’m glad death is no longer the theme, or really the narrative, anymore. Instead, we’re finally embracing something much deeper: acceptance.
PS. If you could organise to get Todd Stashwick his own Star Trek show, that’d be swell. If Strange New Worlds takes its shot at looking to accept the future, than the Shaw-Seven show should be to accept the past.