SPOILER WARNING: Discussion for Star Trek: Picard Season 3 to follow!
Welcome to Warp Five, StarTrek.com's five question post-mortem with your favorite featured talent from the latest Star Trek episodes.
Ever since his debut in the Season 3 premiere of Star Trek: Picard, Captain Liam Shaw has not concealed his contempt for the presence of Starfleet legends Admiral Jean-Luc Picard and Captain William Riker aboard his starship, U.S.S. Titan-A. He establishes his boundaries early on that while he loves reading about all their “wildly exciting and equally irresponsible adventures,” the Titan’s his ship now and will not tolerate their usual MO — “We won’t be blowing things up. Taking or engaging in fire. Crash landing expectedly or unexpected. You know, the usual for you boys.”
When Picard and Riker commandeer his ship, to rescue Dr. Beverly Crusher and her son Jack Crusher, they inadvertently place the Titan and her crew in the path of Vadic and her destructive warship, the Shrike. While the starship is stuck in a nebula’s gravity well and severely battered by the Shrike, the captain reveals his first actual encounter with Picard — the Battle of Wolf 359. When he was an engineering officer on the U.S.S. Constance, he witnessed all his friends and colleagues die at the hands of one single Borg cube. He holds Picard responsible for the 11,000 causalities across 40 Federation starships because Picard, assimilated as Locutus of Borg, was “in that Borg cube, setting the world on fire!”
Despite surviving the encounter with Vadic and neutralizing the Changeling saboteur aboard his ship, Shaw was eager to contact Starfleet and report Picard, Riker, and Commander Seven’s activities that endangered the lives of everyone aboard the Titan (as seen in “Imposters”).
StarTrek.com had the opportunity to speak with actor Todd Stashwick, who plays the fan-favorite Captain Shaw, about the first half of the third season as well as the Star Trek fandom.
On Shaw’s Backstory and How that Informs His Leadership Style
Speaking to Shaw’s recollection of the Battle of Wolf 359 in “No Win Scenario,” Todd Stashwick details, “Obviously, the events of 359 were seminal in the foundation of how he would choose to lead. Without having all the information, because he wasn't on the bridges of all those ships at the time, he was only on his ship. He was on the Constance. He sees Picard and Riker and the crew of the Enterprise back in the day, how their space cowboy reckless ways poked a bear, which led to the abduction of Picard and the becoming of Locutus, and Shaw losing most of the crew of his comrades of his ship.”
WATCH | Star Trek: Picard - Battle of Wolf 359
Stashwick continues, “He then vowed, ‘I am not going to be a space cowboy because I see what happens when you are that. I am going to follow protocol and procedure because that keeps people alive.’ Those events, like many tragic events, shape who you are going forward. Trauma is the fire to which often character is built.”
As to helming an exploratory vessel, Stashwick believes, “Part of him is curious about understanding a galaxy that would produce something like the Borg. Part of him is curious. He chose exploration obviously because he just abhors war and violence, and he wants to stay out of harm's way. But also, he's in the final frontier and they're going to run into dangerous situations. He's like, ‘I'm going to meet them with my ethos and how I would lead.’ He's been in scrapes. He's a decorated officer. In his Ready Room, there are awards to heroism and battle. It's not his first rodeo. He knows what to do and when to do it, but I think you're right, I think he chose exploration as opposed to a more combative vessel for that very reason.”
As for carving out Shaw’s own captaincy, Stashwick explains, “I have to build this character from the ground up and make him unique and make him my own and therefore, honoring Star Trek by delivering a character that they hadn't seen before in the same way that Janeway, no one seen her. No one had seen Picard. You want to carve out your own space as opposed to trying to be someone else's character. In ‘Imposters,’ you get to see Shaw in full captain mode, red alert and battle stations and all of the captaining of the ship. You got to see him take control and do all the things that you would see if this was the Shaw show.”
Summing up Shaw’s sentiments towards Picard and Riker, Stashwick states, “He feels very little for them. No, I'll take that back. He's got a lot of feelings for them and they're just not good ones. He doesn't have the reverence; they are not legends to him. He thinks they're reckless and that's not good. His job is to keep everybody alive. Protocol’s there for a reason. They’re time honored and tested. So, listen to your captain.”
On Shaw’s Relationship with His Bridge Crew
As Picard addresses a group of young Starfleet cadets in “No Win Scenario,” he shares, “You’re only ever as good as those around you. Your crew becomes a part of you. Completes you. They lift you up to accomplish the things you could never do alone.”
This is one instance where Stashwick sees Shaw and Picard seeing eye-to-eye on — the significance of one’s Bridge crew. “Love my Bridge crew,” expresses Stashwick, before calling out the officers, “Sidney La Forge, Mura, Esmar on communications, and one really special thing for me is my friend [Stephanie Czajkowski], who I’ve known for a very long time, she’s our science officer T’Veen.”
“She was part of my improv school,” adds Stashwick. “I literally had old friends on my bridge.”
As for Shaw’s relationship with his first officer, Commander Hansen (aka Commander Seven of Nine), Stashwick jokes that their relationship is “sunshine and roses; they’re BFFs.”
Given Shaw’s past experience with the Borg at Wolf 359, how did he come to choose an ex-Borg as his second-in-command. Stashwick notes, “It was never officially discussed, but I think he did choose Hansen. I think he chose Seven for many reasons. Therapeutically, subconsciously, to gain control over his own fears. In a way, if he is a higher rank that someone who’s a former Borg, that’s an active control. Also, immersion therapy, part of his brains needs to; if you’re afraid of bees, allow one to be by you so that you can slowly get through that fear. Also, he recognizes he’s not a dumb man; he recognizes the strength in having an opposing view on his bridge. You don’t want your commanding officer to be a yes person. You want them to, in the same way that Riker did often, actually look at Picard and go, ‘Here’s an alternative perspective on this moment. Maybe you should weigh another opinion before you make your decision,’ and a smart captain pools opinions. He isn’t a dictator. He has the final say and hopes that they carry out those orders.
During a conversation with Jeri Ryan, who plays Commander Seven, and Stashwick ahead of the season’s release, Ryan reveals, “I love butting heads with [Todd]. This was so much fun, but you come to find out there is definitely a begrudging mutual respect that develops and that you see. They do truly need each other and play off each other well,” before Stashwick adds, “Shaw needs Seven. He needs her to be the antithetical voice. He needs that push back. As much as he’ll say he doesn’t, he deep down understands that it’s necessary for things to work.”
On the Multiple Threats at Hand
In the third season’s second episode “Disengage,” Shaw explicitly states his reason to not engage with the Shrike and the ship’s primary directive to his second-in-command, “We are an exploratory vessel. If that ship decides to engage us, we are outgunned. And I am not going to risk 500 souls for two relics who think that a couple brass medals make them golden boys.”
Unfortunately for the by-the-books captain, he has encountered a series of devastating events the moment Picard and Riker stepped aboard his ship. For a man who answers only to Starfleet, he’s shaken by the recent discovery from Commander Ro Laren’s investigation that Changelings have infiltrated and compromised Starfleet at every level.
How does Stashwick view the various situations at hand? “Obviously, having had, in part of his past, having Locutus there, which was a compromising of Starfleet where a Starfleet officer had been taken over, it’s not his first rodeo,” he cheekily remarks.
“He also recognizes he is Starfleet and whatever was happening on the Intrepid no longer is,” continues Stashwick. “He is acting in Starfleet's best interest to try and protect Starfleet. When Starfleet has been compromised, the only solution to that, after he hears Riker's opinion and he hears Jean-Luc's opinion, like the smart captain that he is, he weighs the opinions and realizes, ‘Yes, this is the only sane choice,’ is to run, to keep his crew alive and run. They were about to be fired upon by the Intrepid.”
On Feeling the Embrace of the Star Trek Fandom
Despite Shaw’s prickly and grumpy disposition towards legends like Jean-Luc Picard and William Riker, Star Trek fans have embraced Stashwick’s portrayal of the character and have been vocal about their love of Shaw.
On his reception among the fandom, Stashwick remarks on the experience as “super humbling.”
“The best version of how humbling it is, is when veterans have reached out to me to talk about the portrayal of survivor’s guilt and to talk about the portrayal of PTSD from a military perspective, and people who are in non-military [fields] just talking about PTSD and survivor’s guilt in many ways,” explains Stashwick. “Wow, I’m just a knucklehead from Chicago who played a part, and it is somehow resonating with people who have been through some real trauma. The fact that they felt connection to this character and connection to his struggle and catharsis in his struggle and to feel seen and represented on-screen. That has been great, and then also to watch people go, ‘Oh, he's not just a dipshit. He's not just a jerk. There's more to him than just he's being snippy to my legacy legends.’”
The native Chicagoan recently got to witness the fan reception in person during last month’s Star Trek: The Cruise. “It’s absolutely bonkers because you become a shepherd,” details Stashwick. “You become an ambassador. You become a custodian of something that has reached into people's hearts that they grew up with, that they watched with their dad, or their mom, or their cousin. This was their show and to be embraced alongside the Rikers of the world, the Picards of the world, the Kirks of the world, to be treated with that same shared love, a love that I had long before I was on Star Trek, again, I keep returning to the word, it's humbling and it's a hell of a lot of fun.”
On What Star Trek Means to Todd Stashwick
Stashwick’s relationship with Star Trek runs deep; he’s been a fan since he was six years old. Not only that, Captain Liam Shaw isn’t his first Star Trek role; Stashwick played the Vulcan Talok, who turned out to be a deep undercover Romulan operative, in an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise.
Reflecting on his relationship with Star Trek, Stashwick shares, “The best answer I came up with is family.”
“It means family,” he continues. “My cousin introduced it to me. My uncle and I have reveled in Star Trek forever. It's literally my own family, and then in the family that I met on set, the found family that I met with Jonathan [Frakes] and Patrick [Stewart] and Jeri [Ryan] and Terry [Matalas] of course, who I had from 12 Monkeys, and then the family that I meet on Star Trek: The Cruise, and that I'm meeting online, the extended, fan community family. That's the best word I got for you.”
Christine Dinh (she/her) is the managing editor for StarTrek.com. She’s traded the Multiverse for helming this Federation starship.
In addition to streaming on Paramount+, Star Trek: Picard will also stream on Prime Video outside of the US and Canada, and in Canada can be seen on Bell Media's CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.
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