TNG Episode 2.14: The Icarus Factor

TNG Episode 2.14: The Icarus Factor

In which ohana means pain.

Memory Alpha says: When Commander Riker is offered command of the starship Aries, his estranged father, Kyle Riker, is sent by Starfleet to brief him on the mission. Meanwhile, Data, La Forge, Dr. Pulaski, Wesley, and O’Brien help Worf celebrate the anniversary of his Rite of Ascension.

My Review

Going into this, I expect to be vastly more entertained by the Worf B-plot. The director of this episode noted that the A-plot about Riker and his dad was kind of a damp squib because, at this stage, Roddenberry was still really pushing the idea that by the 24th Century, humans have just grown beyond stuff like grief and resentment and Daddy Issues, a.k.a. all the best stuff for character conflict (and the entire basis of Lost, no wait, that was ultimately about Mommy Issues… and bunnies). Also, the thought of Data, Geordi, Pulaski, Wesley and O’Brien all being involved in some of Worf’s Klingon issues just makes me smile in anticipation. Awkward people UNITE.

Why does nobody want to use any of Data’s ideas? Oh, okay, Picard just really wants to go to Starbase Montgomery.
And do you think Data was actually trying to protect Geordi’s ego or reputation by proposing a plan that let them solve the problem without outside help, or is that an idea a little too sophisticated to have occurred to him? Perhaps he just thinks it’s more efficient – particularly as he doesn’t expect this to be a big problem anyway.
Oy, again with the manual docking we’re supposed to believe Riker did such a great job on. Data and O’Brien did all the work. He didn’t touch anything!
And the reason Picard really wants to go to Starbase Montgomery is that Riker has been offered what actually sounds like a somewhat shitty job. Yes, it sounds cool to get the command of a starship (a little more badass if it were called Ares than Aries), but what it actually means is spending months in full warp, hauling ass out to the middle of nowhere, in order to check out a possibility of intelligent life that might not be there after all. If the Aries doesn’t have holodecks or at least an array of fascinating and sexy colleagues to have mutually damaging affairs with, it’s going to be dreadfully boring.
I’m also somewhat confused about whether Riker’s going to rendezvous with the Aries and then head out to Vega-Omicron, or if the Aries is waiting in V-O and he’s going to have to go and join her on board another ship. Like, will another ship have to go all that way out of its way just to deliver Riker? Will Riker have to go on his own in a runabout (well, a mini ship, runabouts hadn’t been invented yet)? Ha ha I like getting to start a sentence with ‘Will Riker’ where ‘will’ is a verb.
Picard assumes Riker will take the job, even though staying on the Enterprise sounds like much more fun (and more prestigious) to me. But what do I know? Perhaps this is the red-onesie equivalent of ‘frontier medicine.’
So a civilian advisor on the ass end of V-O (if it’s so distant and we’re not sure what’s out there, how can he have any expertise?) beams on board and AW SHIT it’s Riker’s dad Kyle, the one who always made him cook the eggs, and Riker is like FUCK YOU OLD MAN only much more coldly polite. Kyle tells him that he’s done well and he’s proud of him, but it cuts no ice. Riker just stalks out and won’t even show him to his room.
AIEE Riker’s dad was Greg’s dad on Dharma and Greg! I loved Greg’s dad! Wow, he did not age very visibly in between this and that, apart from his hair whitening.
Next up, the Enterprise gossip machine is already kicking into gear, as Wesley ambushes Worf in the corridor and talks his ear off about OMG RIKER’S SURPRISE DAD, while Worf gets increasingly growly and repressive. Wesley is like YAY DADS and Worf is like CAN WE NOT TALK ABOUT DADS GOSH and neither of them has a dad and let’s just remember Picard is everyone’s dad. Worf bites Wesley’s head off.
I guess the transporter room tech blabbed within seconds of the Rikers leaving his station? Earlier I got the impression that Picard taking Riker aside to the conference room was because he wanted to tell him about the promotion in confidence, so he could make up his mind without any pressure, positive or negative, from the rest of the staff. Which makes sense. He needs to think it over carefully without anyone going GO FOR IT GO FOR IT or BAWWWW STAY HERE WITH US WE LOVE YOU AND YOUR TREETRUNK LEGS AND SMILEY EYES. But it’s just the next scene, with only a short lapse of time implied, and everyone seems to know everything, right down to the cabin boy. You know what loose lips do to ships, people.
In Engineering, Geordi has more help than he wants. Basically he and Data could have fixed this together, I think, but the place is full of extra nerds and it’s spoiled their BFF time. Wesley comes in all bummed out and headless, and calls Worf ‘really eccentric at times.’ ‘That’s one word for it,’ says Geordi, because I don’t think they were allowed to use ‘bitchy’ in their timeslot. Geordi thinks Worf is just sad about Riker leaving (because this is how he feels himself), but Wesley thinks there’s something more to it – no shit, son, you think it could be something about DADS?
In Ten Forward, Pulaski is being a hit with the ladies at the bar and, for reasons I am not sure about, O’Brien and Riker are sitting at a table together. Riker is sitting there moodily petting his coffee cup while O’Brien tries to guess what’s bothering him. I sort of want to pinch him for his first guess being ‘Female?’ You couldn’t say ‘A woman’? (I object to being referred to as ‘a female’ because to me, that sounds like a female animal. I’m a woman; sometimes I also double as a lady or a girl.)
I’m just trying to imagine how this scene started before we joined them; did Riker join O’Brien at his table and just sit there sighing like ASK ME WHAT’S WRONG, or did O’Brien see Riker moping and go over to try to cheer him up?
And then, just to ruin Riker’s life a little more, it turns out two dudes in the bar know his dad and Pulaski at some stage nailed him. Kyle makes a joke about her baking him a cake, like dang, this dude always expects other people to cook for him. Diana Muldaur looks pretty foxy in this scene. She is well lit.
In Engineering, Wesley is still fretting about bitchy Worf, although he describes his behaviour a little oddly, saying he was ‘completely unaffected’ by all the dad business. If the scene had been played with Worf acting cold and aloof, sure, but he growled and yelled.
Data points out that Klingons are pretty grumpy just as a baseline, but ‘Worf has been unusually out of sorts.’ Geordi is kind of dismissive of the whole thing, because Geordi kind of hates emotions. Team Nerd agree that they’re going to try to figure out what crawled up Worf’s butt, but it’s Wesley’s job to observe him for clues. Perhaps Data will lend him a magnifying glass.
Back in Ten Forward, it seems that Kyle is a civilian contractor and until recently has been working in Japan, doing battle strategies (?). Riker goes over just long enough to make it clear he’s in a huff – with both of them now. He says to Pulaski, ‘You never told me you knew him’ and she replies ‘Well, it wasn’t exactly a secret. It just never really came up.’ Well, not in a non-awkward way. How would you have felt if, last week at your breakfast party, she was like ‘And by the way, I have also had breakfast with your dad, if you know what I mean’?
The main point of this next little exchange is that Pulaski has been married and divorced three times, but (somehow) is still friends with all her ex-husbands. I don’t know if this is supposed to be evidence of advances in human relationships, or just that Pulaski is pretty awesome and easy-going. She calls Kyle ‘crusty’ but also says that she loves him.
Meanwhile Geordi and Data are lurking and watching Worf, who is lurking and watching the stars. Even though they told Wesley it was up to him to keep tabs on Worf, he’s evidently manipulated Data into doing it for him by claiming he had to do homework. Data: ‘But he needs his study time!’ Geordi: ‘I can’t believe you fell for that.’ Well… note that because Data asked you to come and do this, here you are. Also, if situations like this annoy you, you have yourself to blame for palling around with teenagers and adorable androids.
Geordi is still in ‘there’s nothing wrong with Worf’ mode, but as Data points out, since Worf is just standing there by himself, they can’t really observe any unusual behaviour.
Geordi: Good point. Let’s not tamper with the status quo.
Data: But that would defeat the opportunity for our behavioural research. In all probability, he is simply lonely. We can relieve his anxiety through socialisation.
Geordi: Be my guest.
I think the scene is supposed to be presenting Geordi as having a better reading of the situation than Data, because Data gets his head bitten off too, but I can’t help perceiving it as Data being kind and sweet and Geordi just not caring very much. Yes, Data’s attempt to approach Worf is clumsy, because he tells him he and the other nerds have been talking about him, but he’s just such a dear saying ‘You have friends here. We (looks briefly back to Geordi, as if considering whether this is the right pronoun?) – we care about you.’
Anyway Worf tells him to BEGONE. He begoes.
Do they just not want to bother Deanna with this, or something? I don’t mean Worf would react any better to her getting into his business, but the writer seems to have forgotten there’s a counsellor on the ship, and as Worf’s superior, Data could refer him to her (or vice versa). Oh well. Nothing wrong with watching the ships’ dorks try to solve emotional problems that they fundamentally don’t understand (Data because he’s Data, Wesley because he’s a kid and Geordi because have I mentioned I don’t think Geordi likes feelings?)
Data: He seems quite sincere in his desire for solitude.
Geordi: Seeing is believing, huh?
We see what you did there, blind guy.
SEE what you did there!
oh how I laughed
Riker is still moping, over his old photos now, including a not-terribly-believable (early Photoshop? Wikipedia says it was in development around the time TNG started but wasn’t released until 1990) one of his dad stiffly posing with him as a kid.
Perhaps smarting from the fact that the nerds have been pitying him, Worf seeks solace with a fellow jock. Because Worf isn’t quite sure how to talk about his problem, they have an adorably awkward exchange about one of Riker’s childhood snapshots: ‘That is a fish you are holding.’ Riker explains that he didn’t really catch it – he hooked it, but then his dad insisted on reeling it in, because he thought he’d fuck up. (He also told him ‘Don’t choose, Will, don’t decide. You don’t want to be a hero. You don’t want to try and save everyone because when you fail… you just don’t have what it takes. And your eggs? Are rubbery.’)
Anyway, Worf asks Riker to take him with him on the Aries, because he hopes there’ll be fighting and there’ll be a chance for him ‘to die a true hero.’ Okay that is pretty close to suicidal ideation and I really think someone should mention to Deanna that Worf is not doing well.
Conference room, Riker is all frosty and calling his father ‘sir,’ all the information Kyle needs to give him is on a USB, Kyle tries to excuse being a shitty distant father by claiming ‘It’s a funny thing about being a parent. There aren’t any tech manuals. No quick readouts to get you to the next set of variables. You just got to wing it from day to day.’ Excuse you, even in 1988 there were stacks of books about parenting. You do have to read a lot of different ones to find all the bits you need for your particular weirdo kid, and you do have to exercise a lot of critical thinking and judgement to discern which bits those are, but come on. You didn’t even try reading Dr Spock? Or did you think that would be all about suppressing your emotions and playing the lute?
Kyle wants to reconcile before his son goes off to the ass end of the galaxy, Will is having none of it. So Kyle goes to sickbay to bother his ex-girlfriend, because it is the Riker Way to keep an ex-girlfriend handy for when you’re at a loose end.
Pulaski makes chicken soup? Nice. Deanna finally shows her face in this episode, with a crashingly awful line, ‘Doctor Pulaski’s greatest medical skill is her empathy.’ Look, yes, empathy is an absolutely necessary quality for a doctor to have, but I think it’s a social skill, not a medical one. That’s just naff, especially considering the huge amount doctors learn about anatomy and pathology and diagnosis and STUFF. But then, I understand why Deanna would think it was high praise. Anyway, Kate has summoned her to handle Kyle, because, as she awesomely says, ‘Deanna’s job is to keep us from deluding ourselves.’ She excuses herself to do ‘lab work’ (cooking soup).
Kyle and Deanna have a really boring conversation, in the early stages of which he keeps hitting on her as a kind of defence mechanism. Deanna has another line that I disagree with, ‘Respect is earned, not bestowed.’ The problem with that line of thinking is that you end up with people refusing on principle to respect anyone else until they prove themselves. I think respect, at least at the beginning of a relationship, should be extended as a gesture of goodwill. We all owe others a certain basic level of respect (listening to them, taking them seriously) just because they’re people. If a father has lost his son’s respect over the course of their relationship, that’s a different issue. So she might have said something like ‘Respect, once lost, can’t just be given back.’
Anyway, Riker finally gets to have a talk with his real daddy as Picard pops in to talk to him about the Aries. Apparently the first officer is an Irishman with a Babel Fish, because ‘he has this unique ability of instantaneously interpreting and extrapolating any verbal communication that he hears.’ Dude. Dude. That is exactly my desired superpower. Well, half of it, because I also want to be able to understand any language that I see. So Commander Flaherty is essentially better at learning and understanding alien languages than the incredibly powerful and adaptable Universal Translator software. We will never see or hear anything about this incredible savant again. He probably has at least one officially licensed novel about him though. Or would a character like that be too hard to write, like how it’s hard to write about a brilliant writer, because sooner or later you have to show your audience an example of his work and it has to be good enough to impress them more than your surrounding narrative?
In a world where a malignant virus destroys the Universal Translator, one man can prevent Babel… becoming Hell.
yes okay back to the actual episode, but I hope you read that in the voice of that one guy who always does the action-movie trailers.
Riker’s crap dad intrudes and he and Will argue some more, concluding in the exchange,
‘I only want you to know I’m here if you need me.’
‘I’ve been on my own since I was fifteen. I can take care of myself.’
‘Please, spare me the pain of your childhood. I hung in for thirteen years. If that wasn’t enough, it’s just too bad.’
(What was happening during the two years in between, before Riker gave up on their relationship but after his dad did? Lots of Alaskan juvenile delinquency – snowmobiling drunk and knocking up Palin girls?)
Kyle Riker is officially a gaping asshole, by the way.
In Engineering, Geordi is fretting about that computer problem that I thought wasn’t really a big problem (the episode can’t seem to make up its mind about this, and I think it’s trying to do that thing where the ship hangs around in one place for an unusual length of time because Geordi won’t take it out of park until it’s just right – even though there have been multiple references to spending a twelve-hour layover at Montgomery).
Wesley bounds in to inform them that he knows what’s wrong with Worf – not because he got him to talk about it, but because he read the Klingon Wiki. Basically it’s Worf’s Klingon birthday but he doesn’t have any Klingon friends to celebrate it in the appropriately Klingon way, so ‘Worf is feeling culturally and socially isolated.’
Geordi, seriously, asks what they’re going to do about it because he doesn’t want to invite ‘a bunch of Klingons’ onto the ship. He somehow refrains from making any comments about how they smell or that ‘only top-of-the-line models can even talk.’ Geordi LaForge, gaping asshole number two. The only nice thing he says is ‘We’re his family.’ Just… his family who look down on his original family.
So they decide to make a bunch of fake Klingons in the holodeck and throw Worf a surprise fake party! God I love these dorks. (I mean Data and Wesley.) This is so inept and disaster-courting, but I guess because it‘s TNG it’s going to work.
Riker and Pulaski have a strange conversation in the course of which she basically says that, because his dad can’t be killed by Tholians, he ought to forgive and love him despite the fact that he bailed on him at the most vulnerable stage of his adolescence. I think she’s trying to imply that Kyle didn’t remarry because ‘he had other priorities’ meaning Will, but he bailed on Will when he was thirteen. He did not make his son a priority! A parent does not have a right to give up on a kid that age, even if he’s a frickin’ psychopath – which Will was not. I can buy that he was unruly as a kid but he is a basically nice and mentally sound person, as everyone in Starfleet except admirals is required to be. And if Kyle had remarried, if he chose his wife well that could have made Will’s life happier. The dates don’t work, but just think what a fine stepmother Pulaski would’ve made.
Over in the B-plot, the nerds are planning Worf’s party, and Geordi keeps being a sarcastic little shit about how trashy the Klingons are and how weird their rituals. Data has to remind him about ohana. Why is painstik spelled without a c? Are the English ‘stick’ and Klingon ‘stik’ incredibly improbable cognates? If it’s an attempt to distract us from what a silly name ‘pain stick’ is, it’s not working. Anyway, Geordi seems to be uncomfortable with the idea of watching Worf get physically hurt, but I don’t really give him that much credit for it, because has he cared that Worf has been hurting emotionally this week? No. He hasn’t wanted to be bothered with it.
Riker talks to his real daddy about what to do, and Picard says he can’t advise him, but tries to break down the situation for him: the Enterprise is super awesome but he is only second-in-command. The Aries is kind of shitty but he would be the boss there, ‘and being who you are, it will soon be vibrant with your authority, your style, your vision.’ Awwwwww. This is how you validate your kid, Kyle.
In Engineering, I think the issue is that, although Geordi and Data were sure there’s nothing wrong with their ship, because Riker and Picard had doubts and asked the Montgomery people to take a look, Geordi is doubting his judgement and getting really antsy about others doubting it. (Is he cross with the Montgomery people or with his bosses for calling them in? The Enterprise does not have a good history with consultants – look at the Bynars, and that jackass Kosinski.) Data, gorgeously, remarks ‘If I were not a consummate professional, and an android, I would find this entire procedure insulting.’ This seems to make Geordi feel better. It is comforting to know that your best friend is the cutest thing ever, I suppose.
Hey, it occurs to me; there’s plenty of talk in this episode about what it would be like for Riker to move on, but nobody talks about what it would be like on the Enterprise without him. Would Data be promoted, or would another Commander (like Shelby from ‘Best of Both Worlds’) transfer in to take his place? Data doesn’t even seem to be thinking about how the changes may affect him, because he’s too busy being supportive to Geordi and trying to help Worf. A) Data, sweetest little buddy ever, B) Data needs to look out for number one once in a while. This is why he’s not Number One, after all.
Wesley invites O’Brien to Worf’s surprise party. Little does O’Brien know the precedent of involvement in Worf’s masochistic festivities this establishes.
Riker goes to say goodbye to Troi, implying that he’s decided to go, and she acts all weird trying to hide her feelings and saying she can’t read his, and in the end she cries and probably gets snot and mascara all over his onesie. Interestingly, I think this is the first time we’ve seen a set for her consultation room. He either kisses her hair or takes a good deep whiff of it.
Then Crap Dad and son have one more confrontation, and Will tells his dad to fuck off again, and they decide to settle this LIKE MEN, with a fight/game of something made up called ‘anbo-jyutsu.’ There’s a conversation between Crappy and Pulaski to let us know that THIS IS DANGEROUS, and frankly I’m just hoping Riker cripples his dad, because that would be great. I mean, they could rip off the bit of ‘Amok Time’ where Spock thinks he’s killed Kirk and is all ‘Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood. / For nothing now can ever come to any good’ and then McCoy reveals Kirk was only mostly dead and Spock is all ‘JIM!’ *rainbows and kittens*
I mean, Pulaski was basically cloned from McCoy, so why the hell not have her use one of his tricks as a way to reconcile father and son?
Also, apparently the Rikers have been competing against each other in this dangerous martial art since Will was eight, and don’t you just know Kyle was a total Competitive Dad about it?
In the holodeck, the nerds are getting the fake Klingon party set up, and O’Brien has some really disturbing anecdotes about cruelty to animals.
For some reason, maybe because she had nothing whatever to do with setting it up, Deanna has been given the job of leading Worf to the holodeck (they couldn’t just be like ‘SECURITY TO HOLODECK 4!’?), and pretty much ruins the surprise by telling him they all know about his Age of Ascension. Worf says ‘That is impossible. It is a secret known only to Klingons.’ (Except… you guys wrote it down and stored the information on an accessible computer system, so no, no it is not a secret.) I think he kind of wants to kill Wesley. It’s lucky this doesn’t turn out to be the kind of secret where you have to kill outsiders if they find out about it, isn’t it? Or the kind where you feel hurt and violated when people pry into it without your permission?
Anyway, they have a very masochistic running-the-gauntlet ritual where Worf gets his ass kicked (or, kind of, his nips tased) with painstiks, and at the end he thanks his friends… although I can’t help feeling he thanks them for the thought rather than for the reality, because while it’s great to know you have friends who will try to set up a fake Klingon pain party for you so you don’t have to feel homesick and crappy, it can also make you feel homesick and crappy that the best you can do is a fake Klingon pain party. At least the pain was real, even if the stiks weren’t! Nobody seems to know what to do at the end – clap?
Now, although she led Worf to the holodeck, Deanna didn’t go in for the pain party. Pulaski, who was there and kind of grossed out by it, finds her afterwards in the conference room. I’m going to assume that Deanna preferred to sit it out because, for an empath, having to be in the room with Worf getting painstikked would’ve been pretty ghastly. The ladies link A-plot to B-plot by talking about how Worf’s ‘barbaric’ ritual isn’t so different from what Will and Kyle are about to do, and Deanna talks some gender-essentialist bullshit, saying ‘Human males are unique. Fathers continue to regard their sons as children, even into adulthood. And sons continue to chafe against what they perceive as their fathers’ expectations of them.’
Deanna. Your mother calls you Little One and patronises the hell out of you even though you’re a grown-ass woman with a highly responsible job. And you chafe against what you perceive as her expectations of you like crazy. Don’t you remember ‘Haven’? That is not a male thing!
And there’s this crap about ‘men never really grow up, that’s why we love them, it’s so cute’ and I’m like NO. As a feminist, NO. I believe men are better than that. Everyone retains some immature traits into adulthood, or sometimes regresses to childish behaviour, and everyone (barring certain mental illnesses and disabilities) is capable of rising above that when necessary. Yes, boyishness can be sweet and charming, but without manliness (mature and honourable qualities like courage, kindness, judgement, honesty) it’s utterly insipid.
Apparently ‘anbo-jyutsu’ is ‘the ultimate evolution in the martial arts’ and involves dorky-looking plastic samurai armour and pugilsticks. (If you ever watched American Gladiators you remember those.) And you have to do it with a visor that makes you blind. Does Geordi do this? And some very poorly pronounced Japanese.
Anyway, there’s a ‘cathartic’ fight and Kyle cheats and it turns out he’s been cheating since Will was twelve (so a year before he gave up on him). He says ‘I knew I couldn’t take you but I had to keep you interested, I had to keep you challenged, didn’t I?’ Please note that, in the course of ‘keeping his son challenged,’ he never once allowed him to win and feel good about it, even when he could have done so fair and square. And there’s some stuff about how Kyle’s grief for his wife made him distance himself from his son (he seems to have resented the fact that Will, the small child, didn’t recognise that Kyle’s grief was greater because Will ‘hardly knew her’? And never mind that she was his mother) and it’s not really well explained or psychologically convincing. And then it wraps up really really suddenly, like this:
Kyle: You know, it’s funny. I can talk to a whole roomful of admirals about anything in the galaxy, but I can’t talk to you about how I feel.
Will: How do you feel?
Kyle: How do you think? I love you, son. I’ve got to get back to the Starbase.
Will: I know. I’m glad you came.
Kyle: Be careful now, okay?
I find it very interesting that Riker didn’t say ‘I love you too.’
I like my ‘Amok Time’ rip-off idea so much better.
Back on the bridge, you know how at the start of the episode Data said there wasn’t anything seriously wrong with the computer? There wasn’t anything seriously wrong with the computer. It just needed the adjustments which, again, Data suggested at the start of the episode. Data shrugs adorably. None of that stress on Geordi was necessary at all – although Picard considers it worthwhile because it gave them the twelve-hour layover in which Riker could make his decision. Apparently he has accepted the Aries post.
But then Riker prances onto the bridge and asks to stay on the Enterprise after all. Now logically, this should follow from some realisation he had during the fight that was meant to be the climax of this episode and of his conflict with Kyle. Perhaps that his dad is a crappy person, and he can’t do anything about that, and it’s time to let go of his anger about it for his own sake, not Kyle’s; meanwhile here on the Enterprise he is surrounded by lovely people, a family with a good and loving father, and it would be crazy to leave them all just to have his own ship? But this doesn’t follow from anything that was said or done, not that I can see. Because there is so little time left in the episode, the only explanation he gives is ‘Motivated self-interest. Right now, the best place for me to be is here.’
So who’s going to command the Aries now? Somewhere, is Commander Flaherty saying ‘Yes!’ in forty different languages?
Further, it’s hard to see what ‘Icarus Factor’ there is in this story, other than ‘it’s about a father and son.’ Icarus was an adventurous boy who didn’t listen to his father’s safety warnings and died as a result. He’s a cautionary tale.
Okay, next time we have one more TNG episode, ‘Pen Pals,’ in which we see that while Picard is a good daddy, he is a pushover when it comes to his little boy Data. Also, carrot fingers! After that it’ll be back to DS9.

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