The third season of Star Trek: Picard is all about legacy and legend. Billed as a last hurrah to the classic Next Generation cast, this season reunites Patrick Stewart with his ‘90s crewmates for one last ride, a capstone to their decades of universe-saving adventures. But one character has, refreshingly, been less than effusive in his praise for the Starfleet icons — Captain Liam Shaw, skipper of the USS Titan-A, played to prickly perfection by Todd Stashwick.
A Chicago-born actor, Stashwick is no stranger to Star Trek, having played the Romulan operative Talok in a season four episode of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2004. But the Second City veteran is also a prolific actor across a wide swath of films and TV shows, including several Law & Order series and the FX drama The Riches.
Since Picard and Jonathan Frakes’ Will Riker set foot on the Titan for their clandestine mission to save Beverly Crusher at the top of the season, Shaw has been more than a little dismissive of the exploits fans have come to love. He carries no great love for Picard and crew, and for good reason: Shaw is a survivor of Wolf 359, a massacre that Picard personally committed while under the influence of the Borg. Losing your crew will poison you against the person who did it, after all, making Shaw’s passive aggression and spiky personality a delightful foil for our heroes.
Captain on The Bridge
For Stashwick, a lifelong nerd, coming to Star Trek was a dream come true. But what really drew him in was getting to work with season three showrunner Terry Matalas, with whom he worked on Syfy’s 12 Monkeys. “If [Terry] asks you, ‘Do you want to play a Starfleet captain?’, you say yes,” Stashwick told Wealth of Geeks in a recent interview.
But what drew him to the character specifically was the aforementioned pathos of the character, depicted in episode four in what Stashwick calls “the Quint monologue.” “To create a character in such stark relief to these legacy legends, that’s fun,” he muses. “There’s meat on the bone for the character.”
While the Quint monologue was the lynchpin for Shaw’s backstory, it allowed Stashwick to sketch in the other elements of the character’s attitude. “Now you see why this man puts the survival of his crew so high on the list,” he notes; Shaw’s sick of the space cowboys poking bears out there in the galaxy, of which he counts Picard among that number. He’s a by-the-book disciplinarian, one more concerned with keeping his crew out of unnecessary risk.
It’s a role Stashwick takes seriously, especially the element of survivor’s guilt that plagues the character. Since the season premiered, he’s received several responses over social media from veterans who told him they relate to Shaw’s PTSD. “I’m just a knucklehead from Chicago,” Stashwick demurs, “but to get a chance to be a surrogate for these people, and show how you can live your life even with these moments you can’t yet reconcile in your heart, is very humbling.”
Seven Habits of Highly Successful Captains
The Shaw of Star Trek: Picard is a snarky, dismissive martinet who flits between foil and reluctant ally of our beloved TNG crew. But what’s he like as a day-to-day captain of the Titan? “He’s a protocol guy,” Stashwick explains — he’s there to explore the galaxy, not get into fights. “So when we meet adversity, the protocols are there to keep us alive and safe. We need that chain of command, especially when engaging with potentially hostile situations.”
It’s the kind of down-the-line, hands-on mindset that works well with another element of Shaw’s backstory: his engineering experience. He thinks you can fix any problem with the right set of tools. It’s an approach Stashwick took even with how Shaw takes the chair; he keeps his hands busy when seated, staring at problems as if an engine needs fixing. He even took some inspiration from his father, a Chicago-born mechanic, and how he’d look at machines to figure out the broken parts and go in and fix them. “There this blue-collar grace to [my] portrayal [of Shaw],” says Stashwich.
One of the most exciting wrinkles for Stashwick was figuring out how to sketch out his relationship with his first officer, Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine. From the start, their dynamic is more than a little adversarial — he refuses to call her by her chosen name, insisting on her human deadname of Annika Hansen.
So how does a Borg end up on the bridge of a Borg-hating captain? “I think he chose her,” Stashwick explains, whether through a subconscious need to control what he fears as his second-in-command or an acknowledgment that she’s simply the best person for the job. “He’s a smart man who knows he needs every tool in his belt,” he says of Seven’s assignment to the Titan. “You don’t want your first commander to be a yes-man, but you want to hear alternatives.” Since Shaw is more cautious, there’s something in him that might want someone who shoots a bit more from the hip.
Band on The Run
In a recent episode, Shaw has regained command of the Titan after healing from the injury that forced him to relinquish control to Riker — only to have to follow their lead once again after Changelings framed them for Captain Ro Laren’s (Michelle Forbes) murder. So how does Stashwick carry Shaw now that he’s deeper into this supporting role?
“Well, Shaw doesn’t see it that way,” Stashwick responds. He recalls a moment in Episode Five where Shaw investigates the body of a dead changeling with Picard and Dr. Crusher. “I remarked to my wife that, if this was Star Trek: Titan, you would have the scene where they bring the captain down to investigate.” To his mind, when we’re not following Shaw, he’s going about the business any Trek captain would conduct: taking meetings, making decisions, and doing the hard work of running his ship. “I don’t think Shaw sees himself as a supporting role in Picard’s story,” says Stashwick. “They’re the ones who set his house on fire in the first place.”
Second Star to The Right
Speaking of which, would Stashwick be up for a Star Trek: Titan?
Smirking, with a slight pause in his voice, Stashwick teases, “As I’ve told them, I’m Aragorn. And they have my sword. So if Terry or someone else blows the Star Trek Horn of Gondor, I’ll show up. If his legacy is his guest spot on Enterprise and Shaw, he considers it an embarrassment of riches.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.