Thursday, December 8, 2016

ST:TNG - The Icarus Factor

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.

Seriesdate 2.14
The Icarus Factor

a.k.a. Character Development for Dummies

Riker's up for a promotion. Meh, what else is new? Seems like at least once a season he's about to get his own ship, if not elevated to godhood. Granted, by the middle of season 2 TNG's characters badly needed some fleshing out, but this episode sloughs through this perceived necessity in such a painfully hamfisted fashion that it's difficult to take as anything other than blatant filler. Despite steadily increasing production values (more glowy special effects, more extras, fancier costumes, etc.) pretty much nothing happens here. There's no Sci in this Fi. The Enterprise docks under flimsy pretext for its due dose of human drama.

Look, there are good and bad ways to handle character growth. Ideally you can work it into the over-arching plot and action instead of standing characters in front of each other declaring their feelings for one another. This ain't opera. Unfortunately that's exactly what the main plot consists of. Riker's father visits and it turns out father and son don't get along. Cue long-winded commentary on father-son relations.

Luckily the B plot's a little juicier. Worf's about to miss some sort of coming of age ceremony so his buddies arrange one for him on the holodeck.
Ooof! Right in his quadruple Klingon nipples!
Turns out the ceremony's little more than getting zapped shitless with cattle prods. Sorry, I meant "Klingon pain sticks." Unlike the rest of the episode, this scene stuck with me over the years. Simplistic as it may be, it does its job of reinforcing Klingons' warrior cult, and sets the stage for later interactions with both Worf and others of his race. In contrast, Riker's daddy issues are simply mind-numbingly irrelevant. Yes, we get it, his dad pushed him too hard and his ambition's not his own, and once he resolves his family drama he decides not to pursue the power-trip of commanding his own vessel. We might give a damn if this tied into anything at all in the rest of the show, but it's an extraneous non-issue fabricated for the purpose of this episode to be resolved by its end. Unlike Worf's ongoing struggle for Klingon identity, Riker's little journey of self-discovery plays into no greater pattern of either personal or universal meaning. No wonder I'd utterly forgotten about it. It's utterly forgettable.

Regardless of the two plots' relative relevance however, the episode mainly just suffers from amateurishly belabored writing. Geordi, Wesley and Data cycle through half a dozen repetitions of their intent to arrange the ceremony for Worf because We. Are. His. Friends/Family. Kumbaya with cattle prods. Pulaksi and Troi indulge in a couple minutes of repeating "men are such children" reinforcing that supposedly patriarchal society of ours - you know, the one engaging in endless implicit and explicit male-bashing.

Descriptions somersault over descriptive into the ludicrously hyperbolic. The cattleprods aren't just painful, but so excruciating they can make a two-ton space-rhino's head explode with but the merest touch, according to O'Brien. Riker and Riker Sr. eventually settle their difference in a match of Anbo-Jitsu, The Ultimate Evolution In The Martial Arts -

- which apparently involves whacking each other with giant cotton swabs a la American Gladiators while spewing gratuitous (and presumably mangled) Japanese phrases. Why not just dig up Mr. Sulu to fry you up some Tempura for half-time while you're at it?

The actors did what they could with the stilted, declamatory dialogue they were handed. Everything else like sets, effects, extras, the whole feel of the Enterprise is beginning to come together around the middle of season 2. However, none of that could salvage the misconceived, overwrought yet somehow exquisitely forgettable script.

No comments:

Post a Comment