Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Icarus Factor   Rewatch 
August 17, 2020 6:38 AM - Season 2, Episode 14 - Subscribe

Father and son share an Airing of Grievances, followed by Feats of Strength... was there a Festivus pole and I just happened to miss it? Also, Worf faces his greatest enemy: John Tesh.

And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me/ He'd grown up just like me/ Memory Alpha was just like me:

- Director Robert Iscove accepted this assignment as he was a fan of the original series. He remarked, "It was an emotional piece, a character piece between two people. The father has deserted Riker for 25 years, then he comes back and they have this confrontation. Well, according to Roddenberry, by the 24th century we've all kind of resolved those feelings of anger. So it's very hard to play. If you're not going to serve the resentment and the anger, what happens once the two of them get together, you can't get into any real Human drama... The original series was much more humanistic in its approach." While Rick Berman and others supported Iscove's attempts to add more emotion, they were all overruled by Roddenberry. Iscove's dissatisfaction with Roddenberry's handling of this episode led him to turn down offers to direct further Star Trek installments. He commented, "If you can't deal with the emotion, what's the point?"

- Rick Sternbach incorporated numerous anime references to the anbo-jyutsu mat and set pieces seen in this episode.

- John Tesh, co-host of Entertainment Tonight from 1986 to 1996 and a devoted Star Trek fan, appears in a cameo role as a Klingon during Worf's painstik ritual. The experience was documented in a segment on the show. As an homage to him, the Star Trek Customizable Card Game identifies his character as "K'Tesh".

- This is this second episode to mention Commander Riker being offered command of a starship by Starfleet. He had earlier been offered the USS Drake, as mentioned in the first season episode "The Arsenal of Freedom", and was next offered the USS Melbourne, in "The Best of Both Worlds".

"And they use those?"
"Those are Klingon painstiks. I once saw one of them used against a two ton, rectyne monopod. Poor creature jumped five meters at the slightest touch. Finally died from excessive cephalic pressures."
"You mean..."
"That's right. The animal's head exploded like a -"
"I think that's enough Chief O'Brien."

- Wesley, O'Brien, and Dr. Pulaski, discussing the effects of a Klingon painstik

"Are you sure he'll accept such a dangerous assignment?"
"He'll accept it just because it is dangerous."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because I would. And we aren't so different, Will and I."

- Troi and Kyle Riker

"I came here thinking we could talk this out. But maybe you're right. Maybe I am no father, and you're no son. And this fight is all we have left."

Kyle Riker to Will Riker during the anbo-jyutsu match

Poster's Log, Emergency Posting Hologram reporting:

Doing stories about the crew's relatives, especially when they have a problematic relationship, have been a staple of the franchise, ever since "Journey to Babel" and Spock's frosty attitude toward his father. We've already seen Troi's mother, aka Space Aunt Mame, and Data's brother-kind-of-twin, aka the Evil Twin. Now, we get Riker's dad, aka The Most Interesting Man in the Galaxy. Some people in the previous episode's thread were talking about the series' shaky approach to continuity, and it seems pretty unlikely, with Kyle glad-handing every other person in Ten Forward (not to mention having a history with Pulaski), that no one had previously said, "Hey, Will Riker? I know your dad, he's a great guy!" You'd think that they'd have been telling him that as often as people told Snake Plissken that they thought he was dead. I mean, we could No-Prize a theory that one person--just one--made that mistake early in this crew's tour, and word got around, but still. Anyway, as Riker is getting the offer of his own command--something that, as noted above, is a recurring theme in this show--he's making no bones about his dislike at his dad's appearance, and one might be excused, if this is your first watch of the series, if you thought that Will might take that assignment just so that he can avoid the old man some more.

But this episode is about avoiding the easy thing, even if the alternative is painful (literally in Worf's case), and both father and son eventually get around to confronting their mutual pain and Will's resentment of his dad. I can't remember if I've watched the whole thing before, and when Kyle was getting around to finally admitting why he really came to the E-D, I was afraid that he'd come out with that old chestnut, "Because I'm dying, son." Instead, it occurs to him that Will might die, and to Kyle's credit, he's willing to put up with an awful lot of shit from the kid to get to the point that they can work it out in the anbo-jyutsu... ring... octagon... thingy. (Speaking of which, I get that it's some sort of anime tribute/reference on Rick Sternbach's part, but damn are those outfits cheesy. I was going to say that they looked like some kind of Rollerball knockoffs, but then I looked up Rollerball and even they weren't that bad.) And The Galaxy's Most Interesting Man kind of deserves it, given that he's the kind of guy who cheats at Space Pugil Sticks and won't let his son land the fish that he hooked. If the ending came off as a little too pat and convenient, given all the bad blood between them, well, the showrunners were probably planning on this being a one-and-done appearance of the old man. Maybe the original version of the script, prior to Roddenberry's interference, made it a little less pat.

Also of interest was Pulaski's frankness regarding her relationship with Kyle (not to mention all those ex-husbands-that-are-still friends). This ep does almost as much for her character development as it does for Will's. The gender-essentialism of the conversation between Pulaski and Troi wasn't great--maybe accepted more then than now, but we're watching it now--but at least we have the S5 episode "The Outcast", also a Riker-centric episode, to counter that somewhat. Also, too, there's Worf's running of the painstik gauntlet. Somewhere else in the franchise, someone makes a joke about Klingons having a ritual for everything, and this kind of follows that pattern, but there's a sort of poignancy in that Worf can't just let people know about this thing, because he's Worf, and that he doesn't really have to--the smart kid looks it up on Space Wikipedia, and a bunch of people show up to witness it because they care.

Poster's Log, supplemental: I made the joke about John Tesh, entertainment reporter and mellow world music purveyor, but even though I wasn't a fan, I remember being impressed somehow that he was--that you would have random celebrities dropping in to do cameos because they dug the Trek. Again, this wasn't exactly unknown--celebrity attorney Melvin Belli guested on TOS--but you saw more of this on TNG, and it was a big switch from the attitude during the seventies and much of the eighties that it wasn't cool to dig Star Trek.
posted by Halloween Jack (24 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is another one I've skipped on at least one prior rewatch…and now I remember why: this weaksauce A-story. I'm not sure which thing annoyed me more: Riker's petulance, which seems quite out of character even this early in the show; their dorky fight to "resolve" their issues; the dorky lobster armor in said fight; the abrupt resolution that doesn't really resolve anything; or the overly SPAAAAACE-y idioms in the dialogue. No, I *am* sure; it's the last one. Thank god this franchise so rarely got heavy-handed with that crap.

This ep does almost as much for her character development as it does for Will's.

I'd say moreso, because IMO this doesn't do much for Will's. Kyle is very rarely referenced in subsequent episodes, and when it comes to characteristics that make Will Will, I'm kind of at a loss to name one that this episode establishes. Mayyyybe his capacity to be uncompromising when he deems it situationally-appropriate; not sure we've seen a lot of that pre-"Icarus," but we will see it thereafter.

I mean, characters' conflicts with family members is a good and fruitful well to go to, but in this case, eh. Seems like, in trying to comply with Roddenberry's "No Emotion" policy, the rewrites just landed on both characters being unredeemable jerks for an hour.

there's a sort of poignancy in that Worf can't just let people know about this thing, because he's Worf, and that he doesn't really have to--the smart kid looks it up on Space Wikipedia, and a bunch of people show up to witness it because they care.

Yes. For a B-story where not much actually happens, boy does it have a lot of meaty subtext, and not only because we have retroactive awareness of where Worf's character will go. THAT is good, efficient character-building.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:39 AM on August 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

There are certainly worse episodes of TNG, but this one is my least favorite episode of all.
posted by Servo5678 at 7:53 AM on August 17, 2020

Anbo-Jyutsu, the ultimate martial art! ...I would not be surprised to see it on Lower Decks at some point.

- John Tesh, co-host of Entertainment Tonight from 1986 to 1996 and a devoted Star Trek fan, appears in a cameo role as a Klingon during Worf's painstik ritual. The experience was documented in a segment on the show. As an homage to him, the Star Trek Customizable Card Game identifies his character as "K'Tesh".

And here he is, the Star Trek CCG card of the episode: K'Tesh. The flavor text claims he"Perfected current pain-stick(sic) design for ritual use." Hmm, I wonder what that process was like? Decipher sometimes made up these little factoids for minor characters lore boxes. It was claimed at the time that these were canonical, for all the difference it makes. I'm not sure how Stellar Cartography would have made him a great painstik designer, but there it is.

K'Tesh is a hologram. Being a hologram meant being deactivated for a turn by effects that would kill other personnel, and being immune to assimilation by the Borg. However, holograms could only operate on ships with holodecks (most Klingon ships didn't) or with special equipment on planets.

Surprisingly, K'Tesh is one of only two Klingon affiliated holograms in STCCG, including all of Second Edition and all fan-made cards. Two in Premiere and then no more, ever.

There's one other holographic Klingon, but he's Non-Aligned. Speaking of things there are only two of in STCCG, the only other card from thie episode is this fan-made Kyle Riker for Second Edition.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:16 AM on August 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

argh, keep forgetting: Greatest Generation episode, with the greatest title.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:12 PM on August 17, 2020

John Tesh does an I think nightly radio show for one of the stations here in Toronto. He's pretty good. I'm never sure if he actually is doing it for multiple cities at once and just doing different radio station call-outs or if he's actually just doing the show for the Toronto station. It's something I could resolve by a 30-second internet search but I don't really want to know, just to wonder.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:18 PM on August 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Maybe this would have worked better as a two-parter? In that way, you could have Riker and his Dad work up to a boil a bit more steadily (maybe they even start to have a good moment and then one of them does something to set the other off), as well as make the tension about Riker taking command of the Aries resolve in a more sophisticated way. At the end of the episode, it's really not clear why he stays. He doesn't need to have some kind of airtight reason, but we're kinda left wondering if there are any reasons - he doesn't want to leave Deanna? He's touched by Worf's loyalty? Yes to both of those things, I think, but I definitely felt like the episode ended too abruptly.

That being said, this episode made a huge impression on younger me. Until I rewatched it, I hadn't remembered how much I thought Riker was the coolest as a young teen. I was definitely into characters who could crack wise (like Spider-Man) and characters who put time and effort into the romantic/relationship side of their lives.

Without getting too personal, this episode also resonated because my father and I experienced periods of estrangement throughout the time he was alive. When I would have been watching this on initial airing, he had even signed me up for martial arts classes, which he then also took. The teachers would sometimes pair us up for sparring practice despite the fact that he had 6 inches of height, 6 inches of reach and about 100 pounds of weight over thirteen year-old me. We had periods where we got along fairly well, but he was definitely always competing with me, and it often shaded over into negative behavior.

So, my rewatch, in many ways, was probably more of a trip down memory lane than anything.
posted by Slothrop at 1:16 PM on August 17, 2020 [6 favorites]

Greatest Generation episode, with the greatest title.

Klingon Bar Mitzvah,
Spooky! Scary!
Boys becoming men.
Men becoming Worf...

nah. never mind.
posted by Naberius at 5:22 PM on August 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

It's wild that Riker would turn down a ship of his own. I never wanted Frakes off the show, but c'mon, who does that? A whole starship! It's almost as preposterous as anbo-jyutsu, the ultimate martial art.
posted by rodlymight at 7:32 PM on August 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

How is Anbo-Jyutsu supposed to be the ultimate martial art when it doesn't even combine the thrill of gymnastics with the kill of karate?
posted by ckape at 8:39 PM on August 17, 2020 [14 favorites]

Applause for the intro text and the Cat's Cradle lyrics. Absolutely spot-on summary.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 8:52 PM on August 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was a kid when this aired originally, and I remember Troi and Pulaski's conversation about men seemed retro and weird even then. The episode was written by a pair of dudes who sound like real TV lifers, with credits including stuff like Galactica 1980, and this episode has a very 1970-something feel. The outfits for Riker's fight with his dad seemed pretty hokey at the time too.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:15 PM on August 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

this episode has a very 1970-something feel

Kyle Riker walked right off one of those late '70s / early '80s shows I mentioned a few weeks ago. Sorry, Kyle, but once again I say that Dukes of Hazzard and Master Ninja film over there.
posted by Servo5678 at 5:30 AM on August 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you keep expecting that the big reveal with Kyle Riker will be that he's a greedy land developer whom our plucky heroes will thwart.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:46 AM on August 18, 2020 [5 favorites]

This episode had a lot of individual parts I liked, but it's hard to like with that horrible, horrible scene between Troi and Pulaski. I feel like we all owe Sirtis and Muldaur an apology for being complicit in making them read those lines. "Oh, men! They're so bad, but just so sexy!"

Wesley played a pretty significant role in the B-plot, and it made me realize he hasn't really been a wonder-boy at all this season.
Geordi: You know, Wesley really should be doing this on his own.
Data: But he needs his study time!
Geordi: I can't believe you fell for that.

This makes me realize, have we still not had a legit Geordi episodie!?!?
posted by skewed at 7:10 AM on August 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

This makes me realize, have we still not had a legit Geordi episodie!?!?

It's coming soon, and it's one of my favorites.
posted by rocketman at 9:27 AM on August 18, 2020

You know, ever since this started I get the distinct impression from your write ups that you’re not exactly a fan of the show. There’s a real MST3K vibe that's kind off off-putting and makes me leery of entering into the discussion and saying anything positive about a piece of entertainment that I really love.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:37 AM on August 19, 2020

It just sets the tone at a whole, “This show is objectively crap, let’s all have a good laugh at it” tone that’s kind of hard to change after the fact.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:42 AM on August 19, 2020

You know, ever since this started I get the distinct impression from your write ups that you’re not exactly a fan of the show.

Well, for my part, I'll redirect you to my remarks about what TNG means to me from the first PIC post. I am a huge fan of the show and IIRC so is Jack. Like, if I lived closer to California or Vegas, I would almost certainly have gone to a Trek convention, and I don't even like conventions generally. Like, if you asked me my favorite TV show of all time…well, I'd say DS9 without hesitation, but TNG might very well be second. I wouldn't DM Trek RPG campaigns if I wasn't basically in love with the franchise, and it was TNG that truly drew me in.

The MST3K vibe, which I will readily cop to, comes from a place of love, as it has for all the Trek FF posters in mmmost of the threads. The snark quotient probably seems more imbalanced now because we're still in season 2, when this show is dang shaky a lot of the time. Across the seven seasons, a FEW episodes (very few IMO) are objectively crap, and several are at least half-crappy. As not just a fan but basically an armchair scholar of Trek, I think examining The Canon critically helps to deepen our appreciation for its general strengths and also to sharpen our awareness of the human foibles (then and now) that creep in sometimes, the better to learn more about ourselves and each other, which is what stories are for—not to resurrect my grad-school-English thinking too much. (And if we're going to do Lit Crit of Trek, let's simultaneously try to have fun, because sometimes the source material doesn't lend itself to fun. But I totally welcome and encourage and, honestly, hope for less-MST3K-style observations and responses in the comments. If you review some of the VOY threads, you'll see that we often got verrrry serious and heavy.)

An outside example would be the podcast Greatest Generation that we have been linking to. This is my first exposure to it, and I'm only one or two episodes ahead of FF's TNG run with it, so somebody correct me if my assessment is incomplete, but: they're at least as snarky as we are, but simultaneously huge fans, able to simultaneously riff on and love the same element of an episode, such as maybe the Riker maneuver.

It just sets the tone at a whole, “This show is objectively crap, let’s all have a good laugh at it” tone that’s kind of hard to change after the fact.

I'm conscious of this critique and I believe you're not the first to make it. It's actually something I think about a lot, because we have episodes like "Samaritan Snare" and "Up the Long Ladder" that are intensely problematic and unable to withstand our Stern Metafilter Glare and yet are oddly enjoyable to at least some Trekkies. I try not to genuinely pre-derail or otherwise "steer" a thread too much too often (this might be the one where I was most guilty of it, but I figure the thread would've gone in the direction of that moral debate anyway). All I can say is that I continually try to walk the line, which means sometimes I've probably stepped over it. But please: ignore the vibe, say positive things! Be the change in the tone that you want to see in the threads!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 6:30 AM on August 19, 2020 [12 favorites]

If anyone who's not posting regularly has a unique perspective on the series I'd encourage them to share that!

Cards of the Episode for-sure-not the most popular parts of each thread, but I like to think they help illuminate a bit of the world of Trek that not everyone may be familiar with. Sometimes the silly bits are the point.

Vive la différence.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:30 AM on August 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

The tone of the recaps strikes me as coming from a place of deep affection for Trek without excluding people who aren't at that same level of engagement (like me). When these recaps began, I figured I'd skim occasional recaps and start rewatching along some time in S3. All these weeks later, I'm devoting precious time to "The Icarus Factor" and the lacunae of Dr. Pulaski's romantic history

I also enjoy the card recaps -- I've never played the game, but it's an interesting little window into how Trek uses its own lore.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 11:19 AM on August 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

I just watched this one again tonight on TV and I noticed a couple of things worth commenting on.

1. Twelve years before the time of this episode, Kyle Riker was severely injured when Tholians attacked the starbase where it was at. When Dr. Pulaski mentioned this, it jumped out at me just how many conflicts Starfleet was embroiled in in the years leading up to TNG. This Tholian thing and all the others they used as background to the characters, war with the Cardassians, and so on. Starfleet really is fighting all the time despite its attempts to cultivate an image of peace and exploration and "war isn't us."

2. Chief O'Brien over the years really got shafted as they slowly decreased his status. In this episode, he is in Ten Forward drinking with Riker. He goes the Ascension Rite anniversary with everyone else. In the episode with TNG's very first poker scene, O'Brien was there at the table. All these little appearances that made him a part of the crew would eventually be phased out and it's too bad.

3. Ten Forward in this episode really is a happening place. A lot of extras moving around in the background. What really caught my eye though was the costumes. The costume people really put some effort into coming up with some good looking outfits, especially for the ladies.
posted by Fukiyama at 7:44 PM on March 26, 2021

"Vega-Omicron. It'll take months at high warp just to get there."

Maybe a throwaway line. But was the Federation ever again depicted to be as vast as that line indicates?
posted by Stuka at 7:27 PM on March 28, 2021

Can't recall a specific example, but based on Star Trek Star Charts, it seems like it did happen a handful of times. For astrography/astro-political purposes, I've always found it helpful to think of the Federation not as an enclosed "space-nation" with borders on every side, but as more of a league with areas of varying control/influence that grow more diffuse near the further-flung colonies and member worlds.

It would've been nice if there was some in-universe terminology to distinguish the Federation's "heart" (which seems to include Earth, Vulcan, Betazed) from its frontiers and exclaves and the like, but you're talking about a huge number of often very different writers in the proverbial kitchen; in fact, we're probably lucky that this kind of thing isn't more screwed-up and confusing a la O'Brien's rank.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:33 AM on March 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

"Vega-Omicron. It'll take months at high warp just to get there."

I've been thinking about my comment and I need to add a little.

The point I was trying to make is that the line is a good example of TNG not being consistent. The Federation expands and contracts as needed. Unfortunately.

But on the other hand, that line is, to me, a brilliantly efficient piece of worldbuilding. It's not just alluding to the Federation's size. It's alluding to Starfleet fast transports making long distance and hazardous journeys through deep space. Or its alluding to a whole chain of starships and starbases across the cosmos that Riker would have to pass along to get to the dead end of Federation space that is Vega-Omicron. That is a Federation and Starfleet I'd like to see more of.
posted by Stuka at 9:34 PM on April 6, 2021

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