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The Trek Nation - The Icarus Factor

The Icarus Factor

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 4, 2008 - 10:54 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Icarus Factor' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Picard summons Riker to tell him that he has been offered the captaincy of the Aries, a starship headed for a remote area of space. The ship sets course for Starbase Montgomery to check engine irregularities and bring aboard the officer who will brief Riker on his new command. Riker is unhappy when his advisor turns out to be his father, to whom he has not spoken in 15 years; he is surprised to discover that Pulaski not only knew his father in the interim but apparently dated him. When Worf requests permission to accompany Riker on his new adventure and seems extremely out of sorts, Wesley discovers that Worf is unhappy because it is the tenth anniversary of his Age of Ascension and he has no Klingons around with whom he can celebrate this spiritual rite of passage. LaForge and Data program a holodeck to recreate the ritual, where Worf must endure pain while reciting his spiritual commitments. Meanwhile, Troi and Pulaski encourage Kyle Riker to find a way to reconcile with his son, but Will is so hostile that his father challenges him to clear the air in the gymnasium with an Anbo-Jytsu match. Will discovers that his competitive father can only beat him by cheating, something he did for years to keep Will's respect. The two part on more understanding terms. Though Picard tells his first officer that there is no substitute for one's own command and Troi says a tearful farewell to him, Riker ultimately decides to stay on the Enterprise.


Analysis: A character-driven bottle show for the second week in a row, "The Icarus Factor" doesn't even have a real science fiction hook like the temporal shift of "Time Sqared," but relies on social interaction and a bit of Klingon trivia for its story. Not that that's a criticism, because yet again we see what an effective team this crew (and, by extension, the actors playing them) are becoming. There's not a lot of large-scale suspense, because we know Riker's not leaving the series to go captain the Aries and we know Worf isn't running off to join the Klingons; instead the question is how each crewmember's friends and colleagues will help him resolve the transitional moment in his life and reestablish his position on the Enterprise.

Riker's story gets more air time and more development, in part because his decision will have a much bigger impact on his crewmates. Picard seems both excited and uneasy from the outset when the ship is summoned to a starbase, and his behavior is similarly agitated in the observation lounge when he breaks the news that his second in command has been offered a command of his own. Riker seems a bit ambivalent from the beginning, but Picard, though regretful to be losing him and sorry to have to break in a new first officer, is not; he fully expects Riker to take the position on the Aries and congratulates him. But then Riker gets thrown for a completely unexpected loop as the father he has not seen for 15 years comes on board to brief him about the mission. Kyle Riker, too, seems certain that his son should accept the promotion, and that more than anything seems to trigger Will's doubts. It's not that the mission will be either particularly boring or particularly dangerous, but it will be far away from everyone Will cares about...and Will Riker forms particularly deep attachments to his friends and colleagues, as we have seen before and will see again when the history of the USS Pegasus comes to light.

There's some superficial macho posturing in this episode that annoys me - Klingon men proving that they have come of age by demonstrating their ability to withstand and welcome pain, human men settling their differences with physical combat that makes Troi and Pulaski roll their eyes - there's even some stupid dialogue on Deanna's part about how the machismo may be exactly what makes men like the Rikers attractive to human women, even though there are plenty of women (viewers as well as 24th century characters) who are far more attracted to the more intellectual charms of Picard and Data. What makes "The Icarus Factor" intriguing is that Riker isn't really the guy he pretends to be when he wants to impress his father and senior Starfleet officers. His comfort zone is working under Picard, who's a far better father figure than his own father ever was, with his onetime-lover-turned-best-friend Troi nearby and a close circle of companions who know him well, even if one is a secretive Klingon and another is an android. Repeatedly over the course of the series, Riker will choose close relationships over personal glory and honor. He won't leave the Enterprise family until he's ready to start his own family. Unlike Kyle Riker, who thinks he can be a family man on his own terms and when the timing's right, Will is the real deal.

So it's fun to watch the process through which he decides not to take command of a remote starship and chooses to remain aboard the flagship of the fleet. It's not entirely comfortable - Worf, for one, surely rolled his eyes at the lost opportunity for honor, and Riker keeps learning that he doesn't know all these people as well as he thinks, like Pulaski who was his father's lover yet never mentioned that she even knew him. Apparently Will was scarred as much from his father's emotional distance as he was by his mother's death at a young age; he needs to trust people and be trusted by them more than he needs to be admired, though he demands respect particularly from people like his father whom he believes don't appreciate how hard he has worked to get where he is. He can do some of the same kind of schmoozing as his father, working a room and remembering everyone's names, but it's not a popularity contest with Will - he really likes people, particularly the ones close to him. The episode does a nice job of not making his father a bad guy but simply a man who's very different, who had no idea how to deal with a young son while he was grieving for his wife. Will forgives Kyle awfully quickly once he understands, but that's Will, not carrying a grudge even after a 15-year estrangement.

Worf, on the other hand, is not a merry man at the best of times as we know and when he has personal issues, his approach is exactly the opposite of Riker's - instead of having a drink with someone who's not that close a friend as Riker does with O'Brien, he growls at everyone and isolates himself. It's a bit bizarre that Wesley is able to find out so quickly not only about a ritual supposedly known only to Klingons (though I bet Wesley knows about pon farr, too), but the date of Worf's Rite of Ascension, which presumably is not in his Starfleet record. It's strange overall, because "Heart of Glory" led us to believe that Worf had missed out on the Klingon spiritual rites of passage because he was raised by humans; perhaps the Rite of Ascension is as much like a Bar Mitzvah as the "Today I am a warrior" proclamation suggests, but then why would Worf tell Wesley that it is not something known to non-Klingons?

The Klingon warrior code as it came to exist on Next Gen was in its infancy when this episode was written, so some of the elements were probably tossed in at random. At times it very nearly seems a parody of a culture - I mean, reciting your Haftarah portion is difficult enough without being poked by cattle prods by your nearest and dearest. But it works, in part because of the fearlessness Michael Dorn brings to the role (he's not in the least afraid to bark and leer and risk being over the top) and in part because of the way the other characters' reactions are portrayed, from Troi's smiling refusal to witness the ritual to O'Brien's open-mouthed astonishment to Pulaski's instinctive desire to stop Worf's pain. Ultimately the Klingon ritual looks a lot more dignified than the Rikers' battle in the gym, in which they're dressed like Power Rangers and use weapons that look like wussy versions of the Vulcan lirpa and have light saber sound effects.

All the characters have nice moments in the episode - LaForge supervising Wesley's attempts to figure out what's bothering Worf, Picard telling Riker that there's nothing like one's own ship, Pulaski explaining that she's thrice divorced but still friends with all her exes, Troi telling Kyle Riker that he needs to be honest with Will and figure out why he feels so competitive with him. And the ending manages to be feel-good rather than contrived. So despite some cliches and some really silly dialogue about the mind of the human male, "The Icarus Factor" works, even though I can't make any sense of the title because Riker doesn't try to fly too high past his father...if anything, he plays it safe.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.