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Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S2E14 "The Icarus Factor"

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"Aaaaaauuuuuugggghhhhh!!!! Why do these painsticks have to be so painful?!?!"

Original air date: April 24, 1989

The Enterprise has stopped off at a starbase to examine a glitch in the computer as well as conduct some staffing changes. Picard takes Riker aside and informs him that he's been offered the captaincy of the starship Aries to conduct a long-range investigation of a new intelligent species. Riker is conflicted about leaving the Enterprise, even if it does mean his own command. He's further conflicted when he discovers that the mission briefing will be conducted by his estranged father, Kyle.

Riker receives his father coldly and is even more offended when he discovers that Kyle had a romantic relationship with Dr. Pulaski. Kyle makes an attempt to reconnect, but Riker has no interest, and Kyle quickly grows frustrated. The pair revert back to bickering and achieve no progress.


Meanwhile, Wesley notices that Worf has become more surly than usual for no apparent reason. He enlists Geordi and Data to find out the cause. Other than corroborating that something is amiss with the Klingon, they make no progress. Wesley eventually figures out that an important life event in Klingon culture is impending for Worf, but he has no one to conduct the ceremony with. Wesley enlists a few crew members as witnesses and arranges the ceremony to be conducted in the holodeck. Troi lures Worf to the ceremony, where he undergoes the Macho Masochism expected of a Klingon warrior. Afterwards, Worf is exhausted but grateful.

In parallel, Riker and his father have agreed to settle their differences with a match of anbo-jyutsu. In between rounds of combat, they express their feelings about each other and Riker's late mother. Eventually Riker realizes that Kyle is cheating. In fact, he's been cheating to defeat Riker since childhood to keep the boy motivated to get better. Riker finally accepts that his father does want the best for him, and they reconcile their differences.


Troi and Pulaski lament that men need such macho pursuits to satisfy their primal instincts, but they admit that it's part of what makes men so exciting.

In the end, the glitch is resolved and Riker elects to remain in the Enterprise, where he feels he belongs.

Tropes featured in this episode include:

  • Bilingual Bonus: The Anbo-jyutsu arena contains references to Urusei Yatsura, including the manga's title and the names of the main characters Ataru and Lum written in Japanese.
  • Call-Back: Picard remembers how Riker manually docked into the station in the very first episode of the show.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Riker strongly disagrees with his father's absentee parenting style after his mother died, and after treating him coldly the whole episode, finally lets his feelings out during their Anbo-jyutsu duel—exactly as his father planned.
  • Characterization Marches On: Picard recalls how sternly he treated Riker when they first met and admits that he regrets it. This sequence acknowledges how out of character that scene seems now and plays it off as Character Development.
  • Cry into Chest: Deanna Troi cries in Will Riker's arms over the prospect of his leaving the ship.
  • Declining Promotion: Riker turns down a promotion to captain so he can stay on the Enterprise.
  • Disappeared Dad: Riker had to raise himself from the age of 15 after his father left him.
  • Duels Decide Everything: Kyle Riker proposes he and his son settle their differences with an anbo-jyutsu match.
  • Fantastic Fighting Style: Anbo-jyutsu, supposedly the "ultimate form of martial arts," is a duel fought with padded staves in a small circular arena, with the objective being to knock one's opponent out of the ring. The catch is that the contestants are blindfolded, and must locate their opponents using a beeping proximity sensor on the non-padded end of the staff. It's apparently Japanese in origin.
  • Friends Are Chosen, Family Aren't:
    O'Brien: You choose your enemies, you choose your friends, but family? That's in the stars.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Geordi and Data repeatedly state that they don't want to risk getting Worf mad at them.
  • Macho Masochism: What did you expect from a Klingon ceremony? Worf must walk between two rows of (holographic) Klingons who are jabbing him with painsticks, while shouting out his determination to finish.
  • New Old Flame: Kyle Riker and Dr. Pulaski were romantically involved at one point.
  • Number Two: Discussed. Picard notes how being second-in-command of the Enterprise grants Riker more prestige than captaining the Aries would, but that it also precludes him from running things in his own style and vision.
  • Omniglot: Picard mentions that Riker's potential Number Two speaks 40 languages.
  • Soldiers at the Rear: The Aries is being sent to an obscure sector of space, far from the prestige mission of the Enterprise.
  • Sole Survivor: Kyle Riker was the sole survivor when the starbase he was working on was attacked by the Tholians.
  • Soup Is Medicine: Dr Pulaski mentions that a flu patient will be cured with a hypospray that they'll get from another planet, plus some P.C.S., which means Pulaski's Chicken Soup.
  • Status Quo Is God: The episode is about Riker considering taking a captaincy, which would necessitate him leaving the Enterprise. While the cast turnaround in the show to this point has been fairly high, there's really no risk that Riker will actually leave.
  • There Are No Therapists: While Troi does finally start getting involved in the latter half of the episode, it's odd that Wesley never considers going to Troi when he tries to figure out what's bothering Worf considering that that's her entire job. Ultimately, her only part is leading him to the ceremony.
  • With All Due Respect: Data tries to get Worf to open up to him, only to be shut down quite firmly. Since he is Worf's superior officer, however, Worf manages to maintain a modicum of politeness.
    Worf: With all due respect... BE GONE! Sir.
  • You Didn't Ask: Riker is annoyed to discover that Pulaski has never mentioned the fact that his father is an old flame of hers. She protests, "It was never a secret. It just didn't come up."
  • Your Head Asplode: O'Brien tells Wesley a story about Klingon painsticks doing this to some poor critter.
  • You Should Have Died Instead: Will Riker thinks his father should have died instead of his mother.