Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 2: The Icarus Factor

Airdate: April 24, 1989
39 of 176 produced
39 of 176 aired


On a visit to Starbase Montgomery in order to investigate some "minor readout anomalies," the Enterprise also receives a shocking bit of news - Starfleet wants to promote Commander Riker to the captaincy of the Aries, taking him away from the Enterprise and the show. Delivering the news is an unexpected guest - Riker's estranged father. Will they bury the hatchet, and will Riker leave the ship for good in order to pursue his dreams?

"Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!"


Matthew: This episode has a strange structure - A, B, and C stories. I'd call A the Riker tale. B goes to Worf's Ascension anniversary. C is the "readout anomalies" in engineering. Why does this count, you ask? Because we get several scenes of Geordi being annoyed by the Starbase Montgomery personnel monkeying around his engine room (despite claiming that his ego is not at stake). It was just sort of an odd structure that really didn't have a heck of a lot of science fiction. And what's with the "Icarus Factor" title, anyway? Icarus was sent by his father, the master crafstman Daedalus, on wings of wax and feathers to escape from Crete. Ignoring instructions not to fly too close to the sun, Icarus ended up melting his wings and falling to his death. What connection does this have with the story - indeed, any of the stories in this episode? Kyle Riker didn't make his son's life easier, or help him escape... Alaska. Riker hasn't plummeted to earth because of hubris. Are we to take it that Riker has failed to attain command because of his dad, or because of ignoring his dad?
I think not. The connection fails with Worf and Geordi, too.Geordi says his ego isn't at stake, then is irritated by Starbase Montgomery help. Umm, yeah. Worf never knew his father. OK. So it's just a pretty tenuous connection to a mythical story about a father and son.

Kevin: As for the title, I think this was a case of a writer going "I need a title about fathers and sons that's more sophisticated than calling it "Fathers and Sons. Hey, isn't Icarus about fathers and sons?" without really remembering what the story was about. That aside, there is a lot to like here. I like this kind of character development. An issue for a lot of science fiction is that, like the plot, the characters become attenuated to serve the interests of the story or the allegory being attempted.As we've said, part of the appeal of Star Trek is that these are real people with real lives, albeit in a fantastical setting, and plots like this serve that end. Watching Riker's personal and professional lives get twisted up is fun. It retroactively adds depth to his speechifying in Matter of Honor. I also liked the continued construction of Klingon culture. Leaving Heart of Glory as it was would have been easy, but it's nice that keep adding layers. The Montgomery plot must have been to fill time. The plot had no tension of any kind, and the character moments for Data and Geordi were adequate, but ultimately disposable.

Matthew: I like that Riker hangs out with O'Brien in Ten Forward drowning his sorrows. But then the Kyle Riker/Kate Pulaski thing hits us. I mean, Will Riker's cooked her eggs. She failed to mention that she banged his dad? Speaking of continuity, I liked the reference to the Farpoint manual docking docking. This episode also gives us the first extended use of the Klingon language in the Ascension chamber. The Ascension ritual is an interesting peek at Klingon culture... but why is this Ascencion ritual, which is a "secret known only amongst Klingons" also in the main computer?

Kevin: Finding secret rituals in the computer always bothered me too. The ceremony itself was pretty cool though. Star Trek has always had to skirt a line due its generally family friendly status on showing violence, and the painstik is a pretty decent solution.  I also like the way Federation multiculturalism gets played here. No one really likes the idea of the ceremony, but can set it aside for Worf's benefit. It's one thing to say we accept all people; it's another to do so. It worked because it was neither two-dimensionally preachy against a foreign culture, nor two-dimensionally accepting of it, either.

Matthew: The Riker "why are you still here" story is a little early. It's only season two, after all. The way it plays out feels a little cheap. We get all the sturm and drang of Riker leaving, including a tearful goodbye scene with his Imzadi (during which they should have had sex, but whatever) - all to have it magically reset by the end. In the end, the character development is left somewhat mysterious. Did Riker choose to stay in order not to become his dad? I couldn't tell if Kyle Riker's presence was in any way significant to Riker's decision to stay. 

Kevin: Agreed on all counts. Had the first captaincy been in BoBW, it would have had more impact, and the stall in his career more apparent. Coupled with the decline of the Aries at the start of the series, it goes too far and makes the viewer question if he really wants to be captain at all. The scene with Troi crying was well played on both sides, and it's the divends of the investment the actors have been making since Farpoint. With less context, it's the obligatory goodbye scene. Here, it was genuinely affecting.

Matthew: The dialogue during the anbo-jyutsu match was a little bad, as was the clipped style of their tension. Is it really useful to keep cutting off conversations at 2 sentences by walking out? It felt like a J.J. Abrams production at times (the worst possible insult I can level?). There was just a very "writerly" feel to their back and forth, as there was also when Pulaski was telling Kyle Riker he's "crusty, with a reputation for being hard as nails." Who talks like this, regardless of century? On the other hand, it was a nice scene with Riker and Picard, in which he gives advice - I think the writers created much more naturalistic dialogue for them, probably a function of their being regular characters.

Kevin: Ambo-jyutsu never passed the smell test for me. How would this sport have come into existence? But least it wasn't boxing.


Matthew: Jonathan Frakes created a good emotional tableaux for Riker, despite some wooden dialogue. His best scene was in the transporter room. Before he even said a word, his face telegraphed what he was feeling - hurt, angry, annoyed, sad. Mitchell Ryan was pretty good as Kyle Riker. He doesn't have the benefit of 2 seasons of characterization to overcome the dialogue, though.

Kevin: I think Troi did a great job here as well. Her scene with him had some depth. It wasn't just that she was saying goodbye to her lover again, it's that they had clearly become close again, and that's hard to give up, too. It elevated the scene and the character above the pining damsel. 

Matthew: Worf again gets the funniest scene of the show with Data. "Begone!" was hilarious. He was OK in the ascension chamber, but again, the dialogue was not wonderful. I want to point out Colm Meaney. This was his first big showcase. This is the ultimate "no small parts" kind of part. He really runs with his minimal dialogue and creates a character. I think this episode was his stepping stone to bigger and better things (indeed, outside of Worf, the O'Brien character has appeared int he most Trek).

Kevin: The entire Klingon story was some nice ensemble work. O'Brien, Troi, Wesley, Pulaski. They all contribute something nice and above all, unique to the scenes with Worf and it pays off for all of them. I left the episode with more understanding of Worf, and more emotional investment in his relationships with the crew.

Production Values

Matthew: I was kind of curious why there is a standing anbo-jyutsu ring, as opposed to a holodeck set. They probably didn't want to portray a dissolve optical. It was... OK. It was a redress of the dual-level shuttle bay. The uniform gear was some sort of 80's BMX armor, which looked alright. The sticks were very American Gladiators - though I did appreciate that they had lighted ends that were "synchronized" to the action.

Kevin: Like I said above, the sport always struck me as odd. It was a little too contrived for the sake of the episode. Especially when they have the visors down, I can't help but chuckle.

Matthew: The ascension chamber was the other big "non bottle" set. It was also passable. We got lots of Klingon uniforms, and some "painstik" optical work.

Kevin: I liked the set. It was of a piece with the aesthetic of The Motion Picture and The Voyage Home. 


Matthew: This is the prototypical mixed bag episode. The elements of the story fail to cohere with one another, and some aspects of the plot feel very cheap. There isn't much in the was of science fiction, either. But, and this is a big but, the characters have earned enough goodwill to carry an episode like this, as long as nothing egregious occurs. And nothing does. I cared about Riker while watching, and I cared about Troi, Worf, Wesley, and Picard. I can't say I cared much about Pulaski's thing with Kyle Riker, but that's because it was something of an "ass pull" (to use parlance). But I was entertained, and I cared for most of the show what was happening. So I think this just ekes out a 3.

Kevin: This gets a slightly more enthusiastic 3 from me for a total of 6.  I enjoyed all the emotiuonal moments between Riker and everyone else, and the scenes with Worf were well done. I enjoy connecting emotionally to these characters, and this episode does that at least adequately. The lack of more interesting plot arc, and the stupid Montgomery thing hold this episode back though.

Matthew: Your mention of a "more interesting plot arc" makes me think. They really could have grafter the Riker story onto another episode as a B story, and been more effective for it.  Kyle Riker could be pushing for him to take the Aries, but then see his son do so well on the Enterprise, let's say in "Where Silence Has Lease" or "Peak Performance." Do you see what I'm saying? This could have added depth and punched up the pacing  on an otherwise so-so episode.

1 comment:

  1. Ok, let's start with the title. The myth of Icarus & Daedalus is often misquoted: as Daedalus telling Icarus not to fly too close to the sun. However, he actually tells him not to fly too close to the sun... nor too close to the sea.

    The parable is about setting goals that should stretch yourself, but without them being too lofty to reasonably attain, especially without serious risk.

    I think it fits perfectly with the Will/Kyle Riker storyline. While far from being a decent father, Kyle did help his son become more independent and self-sufficient - in other words, helped him to set and attain goals.

    It seems also possible that Kyle sees Will passing up this promotion for the (obvious) reason... that Will may be waiting for the Enterprise. This could possibly be a lofty, unrealistic goal that could cost his son the advancements he has earned or deserves.

    Not too high, nor too low.

    Second, I can't agree more that adding level upon level of Klingon culture (as well as other cultures and tidbits) is a significant reason this part of the franchise flourished. It really helps to create a multidimensional view of this world.

    And last... Matt said "ass pull". Where is Nicky when you need her??