TNG: S2E14: “The Icarus Factor”

In which the Enterprise stops for repairs, Riker considers a promotion, and the worst martial art ever is shown.

"Maybe the needle's stuck. Did you try flicking it?"

“Maybe the needle’s stuck. Did you try flicking it?”

The Enterprise is en route to Starbase Montgomery, hopefully named after Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, in order to get some minor repair work done. Well, it’s either a minor problem with the sensors or a major problem with the warp engines. If one of the gauges on a nuclear reactor is redlining, you could have two very different problems, after all, and they’re treating this one with, I think, appropriate caution. The starbase will do a diagnostic while the Enterprise gets a 12-hour layover for some personnel transfers that appear to concern Riker.

Picard is in his ready room and reminiscing about Riker’s arrival on the Enterprise,  and as the captain of the Aries is retiring, Starfleet has tapped Riker to be her new captain. The assignment is on the edge of Federation space with the potential for the discovery of a hitherto-unknown set of intelligence – a good posting, one which requires a skilled captain, so Riker getting offered this is a big deal. I mean, not as big a deal as getting Q powers, but big nonetheless. The Starbase will be sending an attache to brief Riker on the Aries‘ mission so far. And that attache is Riker’s father. William is not particularly excited to see Riker Senior.

Nobody is particularly happy about the possibility (currently seen as a foregone conclusion) of losing Riker. Riker Senior, Kyle, appears to know a lot of people on board the Enterprise, including Pulaski, so that’s already a mark against him. (I kid, she’s been less bad lately, although this may merely be because she hasn’t had any scenes with Data since “Unnatural Selection.”) Worf gets pissed at Wesley for being Wesley, and Data and Geordi appear to be setting the tyke up to walk the line between getting punched in the face by Worf and getting dismembered. While Pulaski and Kyle Riker flirt, Data tries to engage Worf in conversation, and Worf is having none of it.

Riker is flipping through some photos, and with a close look at the terminal he’s using, it has almost no manual UI. Granted, not much of a UI is needed for flipping through photographs, but that terminal is more multipurpose than a mere picture frame. In fact, most of the UI for personal computer use appears to be voice-based, while ships operations tend to use the LCARS touchscreen interfaces. I touched on this with regard to replicator menus in “The Dauphin”  and it’s still interesting. It suggests (weakly) a class divide between the technical and non-technical classes. The Federation is definitely a society that expects a decent education out of every one of its children and calculus by the time they’re ten, yet any non-technical UI seems geared towards even the illiterate. The remnants of a haves/have-nots class divide, or the result of a concerted effort to separate duty from leisure and generate a more meaningful work/life balance?

"I wonder if you are aware of just how creepy that was?"

“I wonder if you are aware of just how creepy that was?”

Other revelations in this scene are that Kyle Riker was a control freak when Will was growing up, and that Word would like to go with Riker, should he take the transfer. Among his stated reasons for wanting to do this is the chance to die a hero. In the next couple of scenes, we get further reinforcement that the family Riker hasn’t talked in fifteen years, and that there’s no such thing as Doctor/Patient confidentiality in the future. Seriously. Kyle Riker wanders into Sick Bay and Pulaski starts just telling him about the diagnosis and treatment for one of her patients. It’s nothing embarrassing or anything, but still. Troi comes in, lies about Pulaski’s bedside manner, and gets hit on by Kyle Riker.

A brief aside about the Aries first officer, Flaherty. Apparently, he speaks 40 languages and can just ‘figure out’ any language he hears. Assuming he’s human, this may be the first time we’ve seen any kind of ESP mentioned in Homo sapiens since “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”

Wesley figured out the problem with Worf, anyway. Apparently, it’s the 10th anniversary of Klingon Bar Mitzvah, and there’s supposed to be a celebration among Klingons, probably dating back to the days when surviving to be 23 was a pretty big deal. Data, Geordi, and Wes decide to set him up with the appropriate celebration. A celebration which involves tasers, basically.

Picard gives Riker some words of wisdom about the choice he’s facing, while explicitly not offering advice on what he should choose. They both know that’s Riker’s choice to make. The Enterprise is the Federation flagship, and the Aries is a relatively insignificant ship, but it will be Riker’s. Serving in heaven, or ruling elsewhere. We know Kyle Riker would have taken it, because he said as much directly to Troi. It seems as though Will has made his decision, since he starts running around saying his goodbyes, starting with Troi. They have some feels, and it’s following this that Will goes to butt heads with his father.

You can tell it's a recreation because the floor is lit by bulbs instead of blood that's on fire.

You can tell it’s a recreation because the floor is lit by bulbs instead of blood that’s on fire.

I’ve mentioned the plethora of useless rooms aboard the Enterprise. In order to facilitate their chat with one another, Kyle suggests (loudly) that they should do anbo-jutsu at each other if only there was a suitable ring. There is one, on deck 12. Why?! At least the Klingon ritual Bar Mitzvah chamber is on the holodeck. With the guests ready for Worf’s surprise party, Troi leads him to the holodeck where he will get zapped with tasers that can make a one-legged aurochs’ head explode, unless O’Brien is just screwing with Wes. The question is whether the Holodeck created actual painsticks, or simulacra that lack the juice of the real thing. One can presume that with Data and Geordi on the case, they could turn off the safeties if they wanted to. Pulaski gets off a shot about humans having evolved culturally beyond barbaric displays of physical strength, which is of course juxtaposed with Will and Kyle Riker knocking each others brains out in the gym with Q-tip polearms.

Let us not forget that this was the era of American Gladiators.

Let us not forget that this was the era of American Gladiators.

Anbo-jutsu is apparently ‘the ultimate evolution in martial arts’ and is played while blindfolded using a stick with a sensor on one end and a boffer (presumably standing in for a blade) on the other. One uses the sensor to try to tell where the opponent is (it makes a noise when pointed at someone) and then swings the weapon around to attack. While I would love to see this as a professional sport, I struggle to see how it could have evolved from a martial art.  Unless it was approrpriated from an order of blind-yet-technological monks with an otherwise human-normal set of senses, it’s hard to see how anyone but a science fiction writer would have come up with it. Unless melee fights against cloaked combatants has been a thing in the past, there’s just no conceivable application for replacing your primary means of sensing the world with a worse one that prevents you from attacking except competitive sport. That said, where were the anbo-jutsu-inspired weapons during the Dominion war?

Anyway, Riker beats the crap out of his dad, and then things get personal when he tells Kyle he wishes he’d died instead of Will’s mom. In classic fashion, the truth comes out in the fight and Kyle Riker behaved the way he did deliberately, in order to push Will to become better, but could never talk about his feelings, until now. And now everything is better.

It also turns out there’s nothing wrong with the ship. Will feels the same way, and will not be accepting the transfer and promotion. The Enterprise,  he feels, is still a better assignment with the better crew. D’awwww.




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