Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Icarus Factor"


Air date: 4/24/1989
Teleplay by David Assael & Robert L. McCullough
Story by David Assael
Directed by Robert Iscove

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

When Starfleet offers Riker his own ship and command, they send his father, Kyle Riker (Mitchell Ryan), to brief him on the new mission. The two haven't spoken in 15 years, and Riker has little desire to start now. Meanwhile, Worf's mood is noticeably brooding, even for him.

"The Icarus Factor" has a certain amount of guts because it doesn't have a plot in the traditional sense and instead puts its trust solely in characters getting the job done. It's not a great show, and hardly one of the series' most memorable, but I think it's a good one. Kyle Riker is portrayed here as a well-intended father who is being made to pay by his son for his past mistakes as a parent. Wil Riker has a lot of pent-up anger over his mother, who died when he was a young child. As these sorts of family-turmoil stories go, this is a passable one that tries to see both sides and doesn't make anyone a hero or a villain but simply addresses this as a problem faced by both parties. Pulaski has her own insights, as she once was involved with Riker's father. The episode is perhaps overly optimistic in the way it depicts Riker's forgiveness so quickly at the end (either that, or their problem should've been solved years ago with one talk), but I suppose that's part of the TNG charm. Also worth mention are the Riker/Picard discussions about what it means to command a starship, even if it's not something as high-profile as the Enterprise.

More interesting is the Worf storyline, which gives still more insight into his (sometimes-insane-seeming) Klingon warrior code, and how that code exists in isolation on the Enterprise. Leave it to the Klingons to have something called "pain sticks" as part of a ritual involving the Age of Ascension (of which it's Worf's 10th anniversary). I also want to quickly mention Chief O'Brien (Colm Meaney), whose profile became steadily higher throughout the second season, to the point that he exists here as a supporting character right alongside Geordi, Pulaski, and Wesley.

Previous episode: Time Squared
Next episode: Pen Pals

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11 comments on this review

Sun, Oct 2, 2011, 4:19pm (UTC -5)
Icarus factor: Wow that sucked. Slow pacing, and "anbo-jitsu"? The Enterprise has a room just for this? Couldn't they save space by leaving this stuff to the holodeck? Seems inneficient to have a room that they rarely ever use, but that's beside the point; Riker's dad called it: "The ultimate evolution of the martial arts"... uhuh... its just American gladiator with japanese characters all over the place, and blind-folded besides. Also, what did Riker's dad do that was cheating? They never explain that.
Mon, Oct 3, 2011, 3:02pm (UTC -5)
Speaking of weird Trek sports, does anyone else ever laugh aloud when they see Worf leading the group in some kind of Klingon aerobics? lol I find that so ridiculous! Kang must be rolling in his grave!
Wed, Dec 12, 2012, 4:23pm (UTC -5)
I agree with Eric...anbo-jitzu is ridiclous.

Probably part of why parises squares was never shown on film (kind of like Vera on Cheers and Maris on Frasier) because it eventually became so hyped as this great, dangerous game that any elaboration on what it really is (though we did glimpe the uniforms they wear for it) would almost certainly be a silly letdown.
Tue, Mar 12, 2013, 1:26pm (UTC -5)
This is more like 2 stars for me.

I'm with Eric when he says "Wow, that sucked". It was a slow and contrived show.

I think they had some good ideas going on. The whole thing with Riker's not-so-perfect family was nice, and discovering that Worf is more "sensitive" than expected is fine.

But the execution was very bad. The whole thing feels so fake. "Anbo-jitsu" looks like anything but a real sport, or game, or anything remotely believable. And Worf's ritual wasn't that much better, either.

At least there were some funny parts. Like when Data tries to cheer up Worf and he gets a "BEEEGOOOONE!...sir" as an answer.
Thu, Mar 28, 2013, 6:14pm (UTC -5)

I know we shouldn't quibble about star ratings nor take them too seriously, but you gave "The Icarus Factor" and "Family" the same *** ratings. You don't believe they're of dramatic equal quality, do you?
Thu, Mar 28, 2013, 7:52pm (UTC -5)
No, they are not equivalent. "The Icarus Factor" is so much better.

Kidding, of course. As I've said time and time again, the star ratings just sometimes get taken too seriously, and they are not absolute by any means, especially when you have to consider the difference between a S2 episode and a S4 episode. I did my best with the star ratings to be useful. But sometimes they're just a burden.
William B
Mon, Apr 1, 2013, 6:56pm (UTC -5)
I agree with most of the above posters. It's true that the episode tries not to paint either Riker as the villain, but somehow moments like this exchange --

Will: I've been on my own for 15 years! I think I can handle myself.
Kyle: Please, spare me the pain of your childhood. I hung in for 13 years. If that wasn't enough it's just too bad!

-- make it hard for me to think Kyle Riker has a side that is all that much worth hearing. The Pulaski/Kyle relationship is mostly a question mark. The Troi/Pulaski conversation about how maybe the fact that men never grow up is part of why they find them so attractive is pretty cringeworthy. Mostly, the climactic catharsis-through-combat scene, while a parallel to the Worf material, is tremendously silly in both concept -- it *is* a cliche and not a particularly useful one -- and execution, because, jeez, ambo-jitsu looks *so silly*. I like, too, how Kyle challenges Will to an ambo-jitsu match before it's even been established that they used to play that. The early material within the Riker(s) plotline isn't bad, but the ending doesn't register to me as real at all.

The other problem is that in all the Kyle Riker material, there is no space to deal with Riker's own decision not to take the command of the Ares. (Ares, huh? Very violence-themed episode.) It's implied that Riker only considered taking the job because of his father's expectations; but Riker's driven-ness is so much a part of the character's initial conception (and the reason given for the Riker/Troi breakup) that there needs to be more development to establish why he refuses a command, or why he wouldn't want him for himself. If Riker's *entire* ambition is because he internalized his father's expectations, they would not go away just because he found out his father cheated at ambo-jitsu. Certainly, he *likes* it on the Enterprise, and will miss Troi and the rest of his friends and Picard. But does that add up sufficiently to the Enterprise being the best place for him? Fortunately for the character, The Best of Both Worlds does a much better job at covering this issue for Riker, which is a pretty important one given that his continued presence on the Enterprise really needs to be explored.

On the other hand, the Worf plot *is* quite good -- The Worf plot here is good -- in fact, it's hugely funny, in the way the crew react to Worf's bizarre Klingon traditions with alarm but hold themselves back because it's for his good, so...yay? The "BEGONNEEE!...sir" is also a highlight. The C-plot in which Geordi's ego bristles at the starbase personnel is lightweight but serviceable.

I think the Riker material is two stars, but the subplot is strong enough to bump it up to a low 2.5 from me.
Fri, May 10, 2013, 7:16pm (UTC -5)
If this is a good episode, then why did the outfits Commander Riker and his father wore for that futuristic martial arts thing remind me of Easter Bunnies? I just could't get over the headgear, it looked like bunny ears to me.
Diamond Dave
Thu, Aug 27, 2015, 5:41am (UTC -5)
A welcome character piece, that is happy to hang its hat on the strength of those characters and let them lead the plot. The further insight into Riker's, Worf's and to a lesser extent Pulaski's back story continue to enrich the characters.

In terms of delivery it starts well, but the Riker story tails off badly to the end, and the final martial arts combat of him and his father facing off in spandex and chasing each other round like a piƱata is, frankly, risible. It does, however, at least address the issue early of why, if Riker is so competent as a number one, he doesn't have his own command.

"BE GONE..! Sir" is another great Worf line though. 2.5 stars.
Mon, Oct 19, 2015, 4:57pm (UTC -5)
I love this one! Right up to the moment when Will and his Dad go to the Tron rummage sale and buy a pair of gallivanting suits. I just block that part from my mind.

His Dad is a real jerk. But at the end, I don't get the sense they have really fixed anything--but Will is not going to waste any more time on him.

I love Pulaski in this--she is so awesome. I was trying to picture Beverly at the Klingon ceremony and nope! She would have made a speech about nonviolence, or some such crap, and stayed away. Whereas Pulaski objects to the ceremony, as she comments later, but she keeps her mouth shut and honors Worfs customs. No wonder she is worthy of poison tea.

I still don't get why Will never accepts his own command--when Picard was describing it, I wanted to jump on the Ares and go! I would change the name of it to The Irascible Mustelidae and head for the far reaches! But oh no, "this is the right place for him right now." Ptooey. I know they need to have him stay for the sake of the show, but they never really come up with a good reason. As the years go on, it just looks cowardly.
Wed, Feb 17, 2016, 2:46am (UTC -5)
Picking this episode at random because it has the name Icarus in the title, not that the ep knows what to do with the concept, so rich and promising in narrative and dramatic nuance. I just want to put on record that for a ST lover who grew up with ST, I find the entire TNG series to be an unmitigated disaster. It is so wooden in every respect it's completely unwatchable. I have it all on DVD and rewatch the other three series regularly. What I want to do with TNG is get Anorax from The Year of Hell (VOY) to erase it from time.

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