Sep 29 2011 1:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Icarus Factor”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “The Icarus Factor”“The Icarus Factor”
Written by David Assael and Robert McCullough
Directed by Robert Iscove
Season 2, Episode 14
Production episode 40272-140
Original air date: April 24, 1989
Stardate: 42686.4

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise arrives at Starbase Montgomery. An engineering team is investigating some readout anomalies, while Riker is informed that he’s been offered a command. The captain of the Starship Aries is retiring, and Starfleet wants Riker to take the center seat and lead the ship’s exploration of Vega Omicron, a sector that has indications of new life.

The starbase sends a strategic attaché to give him a personal briefing on the Vega Omicron mission — that civilian advisor turns out to be Kyle Riker, Will Riker’s father. They haven’t spoken in fifteen years, and Riker’s demeanor toward his father could charitably be called “cold.”

However, “cold” is the exact opposite reaction that Pulaski has — turns out she and Kyle have a past, and they catch up. Riker, however, refuses every overture, while he vacillates on the subject of taking the commission. He gets advice from both Pulaski and Picard on the subject. Picard’s advice is particularly compelling: on the Enterprise, he’s still second in command, but on the Aries, even though he’d be on a small ship in an obscure sector, it would be his ship.

Meanwhile, both La Forge and Worf are out of sorts. The former is cranky at the rather large team of engineers the starbase sent to look over the engines. The latter’s issues take a bit longer to suss out: it’s the tenth anniversary of the Klingon’s Age of Ascension. It’s supposed to be a day of celebration with one’s fellow Klingons, but Worf doesn’t have any of those around.

Wes programs the holodeck to simulate the ritual, which he, La Forge, Data, Pulaski, and O’Brien attend. (Troi brings him there, but does not stay for the ceremony.)

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “The Icarus Factor”

The Rikers finally decide to have it out by facing each other in Anbo-jytsu, which Kyle laughably refers to as the ultimate evolution of martial arts. While wearing outfits that look like a combination of motorcross uniforms, Japanese armor, and Power Rangers costumes, they fight each other with giant staffs in a small circle with visors covering their faces. An evolutionary dead end, maybe....

Anyhow, it comes out that Kyle has been cheating since Riker was twelve because the son kept beating the father, and he had to keep the boy interested. Kyle says he loves Riker, Riker inexplicably says that he’s glad Kyle came, they hug each other, and Kyle goes off. Riker then comes onto the bridge, saying that he’s not taking the Aries because he finally remembered after 45 minutes that he’s in the opening credits, and therefore can’t leave the show.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “The Icarus Factor”

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Pulaski puts Kyle together with Troi, during which she psychoanalyzes him within an inch of his life. Later, she and Riker have a tearful, cliché-ridden, and utterly pointless goodbye, since Riker doesn’t actually take the command.

If I Only Had a Brain...: At the beginning of the episode, Data suggests that the Enterprise’s readout anomalies can be solved by reprogramming the computer. After a lengthy once-over by Starbase Montgomery’s team, they recommend that they reprogram the computer, just as Data said. That’s why they pay him the android money....

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Pulaski has been married three times, all to men with whom she’s still on good terms. Kyle was almost number four, and she does say she loves him, but she didn’t think it would work. She tells Riker that she fell in love with him when he recovered from grave injuries under her care following an attack on a starbase where he was serving as a civilian advisor.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf runs a gauntlet of painstik-wielding Klingons, admitting his innermost feelings — phrases like “blood of my enemies,” “bile,” “river of blood,” and other happy, shiny thoughts come out of his mouth, both in English and Klingon. At the end, he looks up at the others and utters a pained, “thank you.” It’s actually kind of touching....

I’m a Doctor, Not an Escalator: Pulaski never thought it was worth mentioning her prior relationship with Kyle. She insists that it never came up, having apparently forgotten that it came up just last week in “Time Squared.”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “The Icarus Factor”

The boy!?: Wes is the one who notices that Worf is out of sorts, figures out that it’s the anniversary of his Age of Ascension, and programs the holodeck to do the ceremony.

What Happens on the Holodeck Stays on the Holodeck: The Klingon ceremony is re-created, allowing Worf to party hearty without having to leave the ship.

Welcome Aboard: Mitchell Ryan does an excellent job playing Kyle Riker as a spectacular jackass. Colm Meaney plays a major supporting role as O’Brien, for the first time acting as a serious part of the cast, sharing a drink with Riker, chatting with La Forge about the inspection, and joining the gang on the holodeck for Worf’s party.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “The Icarus Factor”

I Believe I Said That: “Now, let me guess: twenty-piece orchestra, magnificent ballroom, everyone in formalwear?”

La Forge’s sarcastic speculation regarding the specifics of Worf’s Age of Ascension ceremony.

Trivial Matters: This is the second time Riker’s been offered a command and turned it down, the first revealed in “The Arsenal of Freedom,” when he said he turned down the Drake, choosing instead to sign on to the Enterprise. He will turn down yet another command, the Melbourne, in “The Best of Both Worlds,” and will finally sit in the center seat following Star Trek Nemesis on Titan.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido: “The Icarus Factor”Kyle Riker is the focus of about half of Jeff Mariotte’s novel Deny Thy Father, the other half of which follows Will Riker’s time in the Academy. He also appeared in two issues of DC’s TNG comic book in 1995 by Michael Jan Friedman and Gordon Purcell, and in the Voyager novel Mosaic by Jeri Taylor. He finally appeared in Robert Greenberger’s A Time to Love and A Time to Hate, during which he was killed and Riker accepted command of Titan.

Picard recalls Riker’s manual docking of the Enterprise’s saucer section with its stardrive section in “Encounter at Farpoint,” admitting that he was “miserly” in his congratulations for his accomplishing it back then.

The cohost of Entertainment Tonight at the time, and also sometime New Age musician, John Tesh played one of the Klingons, apparently a lifelong dream of his. The overwhelmingly bland Tesh playing a Klingon is just too hilarious.


Make it So: “I can’t believe you fell for that.” What a dreadful episode. The entire plot revolves around a decision that is preordained by virtue of Jonathan Frakes’s position in the #2 spot in the opening credits. So we are subjected to endless scenes of pointless Riker agonizing combined with endless scenes of the Riker Family Drama. Kyle is an egomaniacal, self-centered jackass who deserves every bit of scorn that his son directs at him. Whatever redeeming features he might have had goes out the window when he dismisses his abandoning Riker at age fifteen: “I hung in for thirteen years, if that wasn’t enough, that’s just too bad.”

Worse, his very existence sabotages Pulaski as a character. Here’s a hint, guys: if you want your new chief medical officer to be sympathetic, don’t establish that she loves this guy.

And then we have the “ultimate evolution of the martial arts.” When I first watched this episode as a college student, I thought Anbo-jytsu was stupid. Now, twenty-five years later, I’m a first-degree black belt in karate, and I can say with authority that Anbo-jytsu was incredibly stupid. Staffs that long are completely impractical in a circle that small. Plus, the “ultimate evolution of the martial arts” would require physical skill beyond manipulation of a staff, none of which are in evidence in the Rikers’ match.

Finally, we have the ending. The Rikers have been sniping at each other the whole episode, culminating in Kyle revealing that he’s been cheating at Anbo-jytsu in order to keep beating his son at it. Then, Kyle says he loves him — suddenly, the sun comes out, flowers bloom, birdies chirp, and all is right with the world. Riker hugs him and says he’s glad he came. Say what?

The subplots with Worf and with La Forge and the engineering team are entertaining, but they’re B-plots that can’t carry this testosterone-drenched machismo-laced crap.


Warp factor rating: 3

Keith R.A. DeCandido has a story in a new anthology called Liar Liar that is filled with stories about lies, and also is the author of new novels Guilt in Innocence, part of “Tales from the Scattered Earth,” a shared-world science fiction concept, and the fantastical police procedurals SCPD: The Case of the Claw and Unicorn Precinct. Find out more about Keith at his web site, which is a portal to (among many other things) his Facebook page, his Twitter feed, his blog, and his various podcasts, The Chronic Rift, Dead Kitchen Radio, and the Parsec Award-winning HG World.

1. Tesh
Ah, but we *do* get to see John Tesh as a Klingon. That's gotta count for something.
2. thelionwaits
This is a craptastic episode, to be sure. After a (I feel) a fairly strong first season, the second is ideal of how floundering things were at the time with the writer's strike going on, I might be wrong.
One positive thing to look at is this: Even though it's canon, it's not timeline-impacting canon. Look at it as the series still finding it's legs because later episodes did right by Star Trek as a whole.
3. Shard
I do have a question, Colm Meany as O'brien really gets accepted into this cast, so why doesn't it work on other shows like Nikki and Paulo in Lost?
David Levinson
4. DemetriosX
The worst part about all these "Riker turns down command" plot points is that it's career suicide. He might get away with the first, since he does it to get a position on the fleet's flagship. But even once after that is admitting he's unfit for command and will never rise higher than commander. He might as well hand in his resignation now.
Margot Virzana
5. LuvURphleb
Kyle Riker met Pulaski while recovering from grave injuries under his care? Wow.
Avoid this episode. Kyle is frankly a butthead. Who knows maybe thats the real reason mom Riker died. Sick of her self absorbed husband. Maybe it was a vegas wedding...
Also maybe Will just said all that stuff at the end to get rid of his father.
6. Pendard
@DemetriosX (#4): I can't agree with you about Riker's "career suicide." Early on, Riker was incredbily driven to become to a starship captain. In ten years he rose through the ranks from ensign to first officer of the Federation's flagship, a meteoric rise. He jumped from ship to ship, supported an unethical captain, and sacrificed the love of his life for his goal. Then he arrives on the Enterprise, he meets Jean-Luc Picard, and he suddenly sees what it is to be a great captain and a great leader. And his character grows to the point that, by "The Best of Both Worlds," he realizes that it's better for him to stay in a place where he feels comfortable, where he has friends, and where he has a mentor that he can learn from -- because he really does have a lot to learn. Everyone thinks he should move on and become a captain, but he doesn't care what everyone thinks and instead he does what's right for him. That makes Riker a very interesting character to me.

I like "The Icarus Factor" -- apparently a lot more than KRAD does! -- because it's a turning point in Riker's character. I don't think this episode is about Riker learning to love his dad. I think it's about Riker realizing that his dad is a huge jerk and forgiving him for it. Kyle had a hard job raising Will alone when he was heartbroken about losing his wife. Their relationship started bad and got worse. But as much as Will hated his dad he wanted to impress him, which is why he has spent his career thus far doing what people think he should do, not what is right for him. The moment Kyle admits he was cheating at anbo-jitzu Will sees the truth -- that he's just a jerk who behaved in an especially jerky way because he was desperate that he would lose what was left of a relationship with his son that was pretty crappy, but it's all he had. Will sees that Kyle was a jerk, an awful dad, but he always has cared. There's no point in impressing a jerk who already cares about you, so Riker lets go of a big part of the chip on his shoulder and becomes a man who does what makes him happy instead of what others expect of him. I find this story very touching and inspirational.
7. Slybrarian
Yeah, turning down so many commands just makes him look unfit to do so. Even though Starfleet doesn't seem to have an up-or-out policy, I don't see how Riker could expect to command anything more than a desk or the equivalent of Camp Permafrost after this. Cmdr Shelby and the admiral in "The Best of Both Worlds" even say as much.

I guess Riker must have some serious blackmail on someone at Starfleet Command. Certainly that's the only reason he could have survived losing the Enterprise in "Generations". Shields or no shield, he had the most powerful ship in the quadrant. Maybe if he'd fired more than twice things wouldn't have gone so badly.
8. gilbetron
Amen, Pendard. I personally don't think it's a great episode, but you certainly put a great spin on it.
Andrew Barton
9. MadLogician
At the fifth anniversary Next Generation convention Frakes was asked why Riker turned down a command, when he's established as extremely ambitious for one. His answer was 'Bad writing'.
rob mcCathy
10. roblewmac
ah bad fathers. They are the bad writter's switchblade easy to use and they usually work. If you read superhero comics in 1989 EVERYONE went thru "Dady never loved me plots"
David Levinson
11. DemetriosX
Pendard @8: Riker may have been very ambitious, but the simple fact is that in any organization, but especially a military one like Starfleet, turning down promotion like that puts an effective end to your career. He could just about get away with turning down a command for the XO slot on the Enterprise, because the ship itself is so important and, while it looks like a lateral move on paper, everyone would view it as at least half a step up the ladder. But turning down a command promotion two more times should mean he'll never get another opportunity. As Frakes himself said, bad writing.
12. Pah
I agree that anbo-jytsu is stupid, but that said, every martial art there is, no matter how stupid, claims to be the ultimate evolution of the martial arts.
rob mcCathy
13. roblewmac
IT looks a bit like the Martial art from the "scizoid man ep of the Prisonier.
Chin Bawambi
14. bawambi
I got the arc re: his bad father but I never bought KYLE's part of the reconciliation. A man as flawed as Kyle is incapable of admitting error or having feelings of any real meaning. As far as command goes, even Lt. Riker disagrees with Commander Riker in Second Chances as well as his reconciliation with Kyle. I hope that the books (which I never read) don't have Lt. Riker soften his stance.
15. Seryddwr
Hideous episode. The A-plot is, as KRad points out, completely unbelievable. It's also badly paced, the father-son relationship implausibly changes from vitriolic to loving in the space of about ninety seconds, and is acted out by two men who are good actors, but who, placed in the same room with this cowpat of a script to work with, came out of it looking like two pieces of corrugated cardboard. I cannot think of a single good thing to say about it. How long is it til we get to the Borg?...
rob mcCathy
16. roblewmac
1. tng NEVER got that not everyone needs to be a deep character
2. Bad father/brother does not appove of Starfleet feels hacky anyway.
3. Somewhere in my brain the real reason Rykier turn down comand (why would that EVER happen?!) is his HUGE crush on Picard! Start your slashfics today!
17. Terror and Love
I dont think it detracted from Pulaski that she had a thing for Rikers dad. Why would that be so? Its not like she knew about his treatment of Riker. Did she?

"I think it's about Riker realizing that his dad is a huge jerk and forgiving him for it." - Well put.

- I wonder if Starfleet is really strict on its Career progressment path. Not like our is in the US. In Starfleet, Federation civilization in general it seems a meritocracy. But does it force people to take jobs they dont really want?
Keith DeCandido
18. krad
GAH! I forgot about John Tesh!

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
19. Chessara
@6: Very interesting take, Pendard....manages to make this episode's A plot just bearable.

As for the B plot with Worf, I've always liked it very much. I thought it was sweet how La Forge doesn't miss a beat when Wesley says that the "klingon's family has to be in attendance" or something to that effect and Geordi says simply "So, we're his family, we'll go!" aaaawwwwwwwww =)
20. Christopher L. Bennett
This episode never left much of an impression on me. The one thing that stands out in my mind is that I believe it was the first post-TOS mention of the Tholians.
Keith DeCandido
21. krad
Luv: Yes, thanks, that was a typo. *sheepish grin* 'Tis now fixed. Loves me that edit function...

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
22. Cradok
The thing about Riker turning down command so much is that Starfleet, while being military, is a lot less so than our current militaries, especially in the mid-24th century, at least before the Borg and Dominion. Remember that Picard has a 16-year old boy as Flight Controller and with the rank of someone six years his senoir, and would later promote a woman whose knowledge of starships and starship operations was, frankly, appaling to a position of command responsibility less than two years later. And then there was Kirk taking a reduction in rank in order to command Enterprise in TMP.

What I find odder is the fact that Riker was offered Melbourne just before the Borg attack, and wouldn't be offered again for another thirteen years, during which two major Borg offences on Earth, a war with the Klingons and a war with the Dominion and Cardassians took place.
23. euphbass
DemetriosX, Cradok: if I recall correctly, Picard actually states in a later episiode in this series that "Starfleet is not a military organisation" (I think the last or second last episode, but I'm not sure - definitely heard it though). So while it bears similarities to current miltary organisations of our time, the comparison is probably limited.
24. Pendard
@euphbass (#23): I agree. Starfleet is not like today's military.

Gene Roddenberry has pointed out that Starfleet is dedicated to the self-actualization of its members, not just the overall goals of the organization. What's important to Starfleet is that all of its members find what they most want to be and do it the best that they can. A captain who has reached his full potential is no more important than a security guard who has reached his full potential. Riker's decision to be the best first officer he can be as he learns how to be the best captain he can be makes a lot of sense in this context.

Whether or not you believe that an organization could be set up that way in real life, it is a fact that in the Star Trek universe it can be and this one is (mainly because Gene Roddenberry says so). And it would be nice to think that maybe in 300 years our bosses really will care that what we're doing makes us happy.
Justin Devlin
25. EnsignJayburd
@3 Shard, because Colm Meaney is a superb actor and turned his rather bland character into something interesting. Nikki and Paulo, on the other hand, were a couple of jabonis.

BTW, was that really Japanese they were speaking during the Anbo-jytsu match?
26. USER
OMMFG, they didn't invent a completely credible, complete martial arts system for a single episode of a weekly TV show? The nerve. The sand. Not properly calibrating the staff-circle ratio? What fooloids, OMMFG.

This episode, probably unintentionally, makes it seem like Fat Leery Beard ( #1) refuses command of other ships because his pa didn't love him and No. 1 needs Cap'n JLP cuz JLP is his new, better daddy who drinks Earl Grey tea instead of scotch.
Carl Freire
27. ohpopshop
Trivial aside: Having just rewatched this episode for the first time in years, I have to say those are the worst Japanese accents I've heard this side of Sean Connery (who speaks poorly accented Japanese in not just one but two movies!). Also, the writers obviously didn't check with any translators (caveat: that's one of my jobs) since I can't think of or find any character combination that would make sense as the name of a martial art corresponding to the sounds "anbojitsu" (sic.--"jitsu," for starters, should be "jutsu"). Is it really that hard to spend five minutes consulting with someone who, um, has some actual background in the foreign language you're trying to play with? Or can tell your actors how to pronounce the words that are written in the script? (Some of the supposedly Japanese words they said didn't make any sense, either, though it could be the accents that made them unintelligible.)
28. NullNix
USER@26, it's not that they didn't invent a completely credible martial art. It's that lunging vaguely at your antagonist with a foam-rubber-wrapped boom mike while blinded and wearing a plastic american football outfit is not even *slightly* plausible as a martial art. They're supposed to be proficient, but this could not look anything but ridiculously clumsy, which martial arts well-done never do.
29. Tom Green
@22, you said that it's odd it took another 13 years for Riker to get offered a command after being offered 3 in the first 3.01 seasons. Can we just consider that bad writing as well? =)
30. Lsana
@22, 29,

Actually, the fact that Riker wasn't offered another command for 13 years doesn't strike me as odd at all. He was offered 3 commands in 3 years and turned them all down. Why would you offer him another one so he could turn that down too? He made it clear he wasn't leaving the Enterprise, did everything but tattoo on his forehead, "I am not interested being captain of my own ship"; Starfleet got the message. If Riker doesn't want a ship of his own, there are plenty of ambitious young officers who do.

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