The Good: Exploring Riker's character well, Acting, Attempts at character
The Bad: Utter lack of real plot, Pacing
The Basics: The demise of the Riker character is presided over by father issues and distracted from by John Tesh as a Klingon in “The Icarus Factor.”
Commander William T. Riker is a cat that's hard to write for. At least, that appears to be what happened on Star Trek The Next Generation. The first season, the story was Picard and Riker's. The second season, it's mostly still Riker and Picard, but Riker is in decline. Data and Worf from this point in the series will grow as characters and gain more airtime; Riker has one season finale and it's the second season's. "The Icarus Factor" is part of the reason Riker's character begins to disappear following the second season.
"The Icarus Factor" finds Commander Riker offered his own command. And arriving to help facilitate that transition is . . . Kyle Riker, William's father. The Rikers have issues between themselves; Kyle abandoned his son following his wife's death. William resents his father and refuses to forgive him for his past. In a b-plot, Worf celebrates his anniversary of his Age of Ascension (a coming of age rite in Klingon life). After several scenes of buildup, the Klingon undergoes a ceremony where he is stabbed with painsticks in front of his friends. Ooh, exciting.
One of the most successful things that "The Icarus Factor" does it bridge the a and b plots using Dr. Pulaski (Diana Muldar). She had a past relationship with Kyle Riker and her friendship with Worf has been something that has been building in the series since her arrival. Pulaski serves as a good commentator for the human condition. She is the human element that we are able to relate with, probably because in the 24th Century, she is considered a conservative. She effectively negotiates the Riker/Riker relationship and explores Klingon culture in the Worf plot.
The strength of this episode is that it takes on the Riker character in a meaningful way. All along, we have known that Riker's ambition is to be a starship captain. Now, what he wants most is set right in his lap. And Jonathan Frakes rises to the occasion. His self-doubt and ambition collide and the writing in relation to his issues with his father and how the command and father issues collide is expert. It's finessed well with Frakes infusing Riker with facial expressions and body language that perfectly evokes the controlled rage he has for his father.
The problem is that the episode comes too quickly in the series. Riker's greatest ambition is satisfied by episode 40! Whose idea was that? Whoever it was made a huge mistake. Why? Riker's attainment of a command position could have been an excellent give and take over the years as he struggled to prove himself to StarFleet. Here, StarFleet says "You're ready" and Riker reacts as he does. I suppose it doesn't ruin the episode to know that Riker, naturally, does not take the job. He's there the other five and a half seasons. His reason is that he feels at home on the Enterprise and he believes the Enterprise is where he can learn best. So, why then does he not spend the rest of the series looking to Picard more as a mentor? The writers drop the ball.
Or maybe they don't; perhaps this is the point the writers realized that Riker's potential was seriously limited. The character came to the series fairly well developed, he had his ambitions, he had a past relationship, he was a man of action. And here, in the most philosophical Riker episode to date ("Hide and Q" hardly counts), a full third of his character is put to rest. Lacking the ambition for command, Riker's character begins to wither.
It seems appropriate, then, that the b-plot in this episode is a Worf story. It also is appropriate that it's not the best Worf story. Most of it takes time with Wesley trying to figure out why Worf is walking around acting perturbed. When it is finally revealed that Worf is simply sulking about not being around other Klingons on his anniversary, it seems anticlimactic. And once that happens, all Worf has to do is get stabbed with painsticks? Oooh. Who cares?
Unfortunately, it's not enough to keep me into it. Both plots seem to have awkwardly simple resolutions for the magnitudes of the problems experienced. Moreover, the pace is often so slow in this episode that it exaggerates the insignificance of the conflicts.
Not terribly accessible to those who aren't fans of the show and certainly not earthshattering for those of us who are.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the sophomore season by clicking here!
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© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.