14. The Icarus Factor


The Bechdel Test

might be an interesting place to start with this one. I mean both Dr. P and Deanna got a lot of lines, and they seem to have a lot to do with the story. So surely it’ll pass the test, right? Well to pass a TV show must

  1. have at least two women in it, (Dr. P and Deanna, check!)
  2. who talk to each other (minutes are spent with just the two of them in conversation, check!)
  3. about something besides a man (Ooooh, so close.)

This whole episode’s about men and what they do to prove they are men. The women wait on the side and while they do that why would they talk about anything other than men?

A Man Proves Himself

according to the Icarus Factor, in one of five ways:

  1. vindication
  2. endurance
  3. support
  4. opening up
  5. forgiveness

Let’s take them in that order.


is the theme of the subplot that leads off the episode. The engines have some tiny problem, and Geordi apparently brought it to the attention of the big three (Picard, Riker, and Data), just to let them know how he’s going to deal with it. They surprise him by deciding to have the Starbase engineers check it out.

Geordi feels emasculated. It’s his job, and he’s proven he can do it. So what does he say to the big three? “Hey, no problem. Go ahead. I don’t feel emasculated. I won’t run around the visiting engineers complaining.”

In the end, the engineers recommend the same thing Data does, which proves there is nothing wrong with the way Geordi runs engineering.

There, Geordi. Be happy. You’re masculated again. You’re a man.


is the topic preoccupying Worf. He hasn’t had the chance to prove he can take pain, and it’s time he did. It’s the tenth year anniversary of his Ascension, a time when he should get shocked good… as part of a Klingon ceremony.

But no one on the Enterprise knows, and besides it doesn’t matter since there are no Klingons to shock him anyway. So instead he walks around grouchy and pouting and even yells at Data and Wes.

He asks Commander Riker to take him to the Aries because the mission Commander Riker is being offered seems dangerous, and danger might just give him a chance to take some pain. Riker doesn’t like the idea though. He’s got issues of his own, and besides it’s reminding him that he’s interested in danger too.

Things seem untenable until Wes and Data program the ritual into the holodeck, and he shows he can take some pain… sticks.

There, Worf. Be happy. You proved you can take pain. You’re a man.


is what Wes is learning about. It’s not a big part of the story, but it’s there. He finds something wrong with Worf and takes it to Geordi and Data. They let him know that he found the problem he should take the initiative to solve it.

They give him an idea how. Empirical study, examine the subject, and figure it out. But he Wesleys out of that one, and gets them to do the fieldwork. He hits the books or the computer or whatever, and solves the problem there.

There, Wesley. Be happy. You proved you can support your friend and do research your own way. You’re a man?

Opening up

is the lesson Mr. Riker has to learn. He’s been competitive and strict with his son ever since his wife died, but only because of doubt and sadness. It took him a long time to try and overcome it, and now he wants to try.

Why? Commander Riker is considering a job and he’s likely to take it because it’s dangerous. He does dangerous jobs to prove himself to his dad, and he feels the need to do that because dad has always been competitive, strict, and distant.

He reaches out, but Commander Riker’s not having any of it. Mr. Riker is a bit of a meanie, and that doesn’t help. Finally they fight, and Mr. Riker broaches the subject of his feelings by cheating. Turns out he’s been doing that since Commander Riker was 12.

Why? Commander Riker’s been a better fighter since then, and how was Mr. Riker going to teach him anything if he couldn’t stand up to him the ring? You see, he didn’t know what he was doing, and he was heart broken. He finally tells all that to his son.

There Mr. Riker. Be happy. You proved you loved your son by opening up. You’re a man.


is Commander Riker’s lesson. He’s been trying to win his dad’s love since he was young, and when he couldn’t, he grew to resent him. Then his dad bailed on him, and didn’t talk to him for fifteen years. The resentment grew, but so did the need for his love. He pushed himself harder and harder to win it, and got nothing but silence for his trouble. Now his father is ready to try and open up, and finally Commander Riker can make him hurt too. It’s hard not too, and Commander Riker’s a bit of a meanie. He says things he thought out of anger as a little kid, but in the end, he realizes forgiveness is what he needs to grow. So he forgives.

There Commander Riker. Be happy. You proved you can be a better person by forgiving. You’re a man.

Because of reasons

Commander Riker decided not to take command of the Aries (such a manly name for a starship), but they’re never discussed or explained.

In the end, Picard tells the bridge crew Commander Riker accepted the promotion when surprise, surprise, he comes a swaggering sideways onto the bridge. Happy to be number two. He’s decided to stay. Well he’s number one, but he’s not, you know, the captain. Anyway it seems Commander Riker accepted and then reneged.

If you dive a bit below all the man talk, I think you just might find these are the reasons.

  1. Commander Riker doesn’t have to prove himself to his father any more – the new mission is dangerous, so he was likely to take it because by doing something dangerous he can prove how great he is. If he proves that, then Mr. Riker’s just got to love him. Well, Mr. Riker already loves him, so he doesn’t have to prove it any more.
  2. There’s a lot to learn on the Enterprise.
  3. He loves Deanna. I know what you’re thinking. OK. I admit I haven’t a clue what you’re thinking. Chances are you haven’t even made it this far, but please just let me imagine that you have made it this far and you’re thinking I’m reading too much into the farewell scene between Commander Riker and Deanna. Well, how else can we explain that scene? It was all tearful and sobby and the commander has a lot of feelings. He was just doing what he thought was necessary to win his father’s love, and he was sacrificing her love. Not all that romantic when you think about it. Poor Deanna. Poor Dr. P for that matter. Men suck. OK not all men. I mean I’m a man and… Well I’m not exactly a prime example of manliness. I’m a socially awkward bookworm who’s practically an agoraphobe. Anyway let’s restrict our complaint to men from the Riker family as they’ve got a track record of being meanies… to each other… and hurtful to the women they love. I mean emotionally. Whatever.

Morals, Messages and Meanings

  1. Forgiveness leads to happiness
  2. Be open and honest about your feelings. No one knows what to do, but if we talk about it we can help each other and avoid lifelong psychological damage.
  3. Support the people around. You never know what they’re going through. They may be walking around angry, acting rudely, but if you dig a little, you’ll find they just need support.
  4. Be open about your work, and don’t be too afraid of having it double checked.

Does it hold up?


But isn’t the subconscious mind an interesting thing? Last week, I said that the scrambled eggs and Riker talks about his dad scene seems like it belongs to the next episode and not Time Squared. That had to be because the fact remained in my subconscious despite my conscious mind having forgotten it. Also while I was watching when Mr. Riker appeared, I said that’s his dad. The fact came out of some long unaccessed part of my brain.

All that fun stuff aside, this episode is all about being a man and therefore perpetuating oppressive gender roles. It relegates women to the sidelines to say nothing of people who don’t identify male or female. I wish the focus could’ve been on the personhood. Instead this one of the most sexist episodes this season (still can’t beat the Child), and one of the most backwards looking Star Trek episodes I’ve ever seen.

From a storytelling standpoint, it tries to do too much, which means all the subplots are rushed. The result is that none of the payoffs (the Riker family hug, Riker’s decision to stay, and Worf’s thank you) are earned. So we feel nothing when they occur.

Plus just as in Coming of Age when Picard had the chance to leave the Enterprise, watching Riker struggle over a decision to leave when we all know he’s not going to is boring.

So far we know Riker has turned down the chance to captain the Drake and the Aries. This could get boring too, and it could make Riker seem weak, like a baby bird afraid of leaving the nest.

Having Dr. P be in love with Mr. Riker isn’t going to do anything to help the fans like her.

In the end, I’d say that this episode made everyone except Wesley look bad.


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