March 25, 2023

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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