As Picard wraps its first season, the final episode truly showcased the great talent of characters in the show. Among them we saw the return of William T Riker, not just “Will” but perhaps the greatest Captain in Starfleet that we never allowed to follow.

Greatest Captain Never Seen: An Imposing Force

Riker with and without a beard
The Power of the Beard

Jonathan Frakes brought Riker to life over seven seasons of The Next Generation and four feature movies. Year one of TNG did not come off the smoothest, but starting with season 2, Frakes brought out one of Riker’s most signature items – the beard! The beard, along with Frakes’ imposing 6’3″ height gave Riker an undeniable presence. When Riker stood toe to toe with any adversary, the money usually lay with Riker as the victor.

Frakes would also invent the shoulder walk where Riker would power stride with one shoulder leaning slightly forward. Get out of his way or he will steam roll you. Then you have the chair straddle or simply putting a leg up on a chair to command attention. Riker’s physical prowess could not be denied, but what about his actual leadership?

Greatest Captain Never Seen: Sparks of Leadership

Ask anyone in sports, the greatest players don’t often lead to the greatest coaches. Riker made a great one on one pawn, but does that mean he can become a great captain. Riker showed promise. He led away teams repeatedly, and generally came out in a better position than when he went in. Crew respected his leadership and rarely questioned his commands.

In a few instances Riker did temporarily command a ship. A great example of his command and leadership style is in the episode ‘Peak Performance’ (S2:E21). Riker takes command of an 80 year old starship (USS Hathaway) to play a war game in the wake of the Borg attack. In several cases, Riker uses some surprise maneuvers to get the drop on the Enterprise. When the games are interrupted by a Ferengi ship, Riker allows ‘acting’ ensign Crusher to use a class science experiment to give the Hathaway an advantage to end the stalemate.

In Star Trek: Generations, not only did Riker get to command the last days of the Enterprise D, but he was given the movie trademark ‘fire’ line any actor wants his character to have.

Greatest Captain Never Seen: Last of Best or Worst of the First?

Mr and Mrs Troi
The Future Begins

Riker continually showed brilliance in his command, but not only that he had a charisma with the crew, making him a crew’s captain. Only one problem stood in his way. In a lot of ways it was a Kobiashi Maru style problem. Does one want to be first officer, second in command, on the flag ship of the Federation, or does one become captain of their own ship, knowing they will never be near the action, nor carry the prestige of the Enterprise?

Riker turned down several promotions. Riker wanted to be on the forefront of the action. Plus, he knew the crew and had many tight ties of friendship. It would not be until Star Trek: Nemesis, the final film for the TNG crew that we finally see Riker (with now wife Deanna Trio) promoted to full captain and preparing to take command of the USS Titan, but as I said, that would be the last we would see of the TNG crew…..until Picard.

Greatest Captain Never Seen: Potential Fulfilled

Riker councils Picard
The Student Becomes the Teacher

Riker proved his maturity and wisdom in the earlier episode where JL lays out what he is attempting. The first officer advised the captain on the future, but then we come to the finale. When our heroes are about to be obliterated, here comes Starfleet to the rescue. At the head of the fleet resides none other than Acting-Captain William T Riker.

Now Riker was always the consummate poker player amongst the bridge crew. He taught the others the art of bluffs and power plays, but facing down a Romulan fleet, Riker radiated nothing but command over the situation. Jonathan Frakes put such a power into that performance, there was never any doubt Riker meant business. He sat there with his tradmark shoulder lean and told the Tal Shiar what to go do with themselves. 100% professional while being 100% serious.

Greatest Captain Never Seen: Where’s the Middle?!

Greatness Never Seen

We saw the greatness Riker evolved into, but what about the middle ground? Why didn’t we get to see his career. No doubt Enterprise or not, he rode high as one of the top Captains in all of Starfleet. Picard grew old. Kirk disappeared. I do not doubt that during the years post TNG Riker became the Captain Starfleet turned too in times of crisis.

Sadly, the way shows were filmed and the eras they came out, we will never get to see Riker in all his glory, but I do not doubt the power and legacy of his career. People argue all the time about who is the greatest starship captain – Kirk, Picard, Janeway, Etc. After that last episode of Picard, I have no doubt William T Riker is perhaps the greatest starship captain we never got to follow.