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The Trek Nation - It's Only a Paper Moon

It's Only a Paper Moon

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 13, 2004 - 12:44 PM GMT

See Also: 'Covenant' Episode Guide

When Nog returns to Deep Space Nine, having received an artificial leg to replace the one he lost at the siege of AR-558, Ezri counsels Rom, Leeta, and the crew to treat him normally, but Nog needs a cane to cope with the pain of his replacement leg and spends most of his time locked in his room, listening to Vic singing "I'll Be Seeing You," the song which was playing when he awoke in the midst of the battle. At first Ezri is sympathetic to Nog's complaints that he's had to deal with too many Starfleet counselors recently, but soon everyone realizes that he's not coping well - particularly Jake, who shares the room and announces that if Nog wants to listen to "I'll Be Seeing You" any more, he'll have to go to a holosuite and do it there.

Nog flashes back to the war as he approaches the suite, where he meets Vic and requests several versions of the song. The young Ferengi tells the hologram that he doesn't want to go back to his quarters - or his life - and asks whether he can move in with Vic, using the program to rehabilitate himself. When the rest of the crew expresses concern (though they're glad Nog didn't choose one of Bashir's spy novels instead), Ezri tells them that Nog is probably seeking his own form of therapy. She meets with Vic, assuring him that Nog doesn't really need his cane - it's a psychological crutch, not a physical one - and Quark volunteers to keep the holosuite running for his nephew.

Nog watches unrealistic old war movies with Vic while the singer frets over his books and announces that he has to perform because swing not only pays the bills, it's what he does. He gives Nog a cane which once belonged to Errol Flynn which reminds the Ferengi of the Nagus' staff. Yet Nog is hostile to Jake and especially to Jake's date Keisha, ultimately throwing a table at his friend for defending his date when she apologizes for calling Nog a hero and drawing attention to his wounds. Vic throws Nog out of the club but later asks the Ferengi for help balancing his books, despite the fact that his "computer" is a pencil and paper.

Ezri enters the holodeck and announces to Vic that she thinks it's time Nog came back to his real life, but Nog comes in and announces plans to expand Vic's business by building a casino. When Ezri realizes that Nog has given up the cane, she believes that Vic has his own plan to gently wean Rom from life on the holodeck. Rom and Leeta visit and tell Nog that his father got a promotion, but Nog has little time to speak to them, having holographic clients to schmooze. Vic realizes that it's time for the Ferengi to leave, though he's sorry - his books are in great shape, and he's had the opportunity to experience real life for several weeks.

Nog is furious and refuses to leave, arguing he wants to stay, but Vic points out that there is no "here" to stay; it's all an illusion, not a life. The hologram ends his own program because Nog refuses to do so, and Nog discovers that not even tinkering with the holographic controls can bring Vic back: O'Brien tells him that the singer's matrix is different from an ordinary hologram's, enabling him to turn himself off at will. Vic reappears to Nog when he stops working on the engineering problem, and Nog admits that he's scared: he experienced horrible things during the war, at least on the holodeck he knows what his life will be like. The hologram counters that if he remains, Nog will become as hollow as a hologram. "Play the cards life deals you - win or lose, at least you're in the game."

Nog exits, leaving his cane with Vic. As he stumbles into Quark's bar, he tells his family that he'll be all right. Later he visits Vic in uniform, telling the singer that he's on limited duty and offering him a thank-you gift: he's made arrangements for Vic's program to run around the clock so that Vic can continue to experience real life. Vic is delighted and sings "I've got the world on a string..." as Nog buys Jake and Keisha dinner.

Analysis:

Vic's bar is one of the finest gimmicks any science fiction series has ever come up with, finally justifying the ongoing use of the holodeck which usually serves as a gimmicky excuse for mindless sex, bouts of homesickness, and (on Voyager in particular) hand-to-hand combat. This episode had a lot in common with "Hollow Pursuits," the TNG episode in which Lt. Barclay dealt with life on the Enterprise by creating holographic doubles of the crewmembers, but in "It's Only a Paper Moon," nobody had the same panicked, furious reaction to discovering that a suffering Starfleet officer preferred his fantasy life to grim reality. "Hollow Pursuits" made Barclay an unsympathetic, sniveling geek and equated holographic pleasures with shameful masturbatory practices (for the most part, holographics pleasures do serve that function, but considering that Riker gets off with holographic jazz babes and Janeway flirts with Victorian lords, why should Barclay be the object of scorn?)

Nog certainly has a stronger sense of what he needs than do any of his peers and friends, who look unfortunately incompetent (Ezri announcing to Vic that he's a hologram so she outranks him sounds like a whiny youth facing an intimidating elder). It's odd that Quark himself wouldn't have recommended some old-fashioned Ferengi therapy involving making profit, so it's hard not to see the rest of the crew as insensitive to Nog even if they claim they're bending over backwards to think of ways to help him - nobody either joins his fantasy or offers him a good reason to leave it. The young Ferengi's recovery seems artificially rapid after Vic unceremoniously boots him - a maneuver which works not so much because it seems to be what Nog needs at that moment so much as because it seems to be what Vic needs, before his unreal life starts mattering to him too much. This character contains some of the best aspects of TNG's Moriarty and Voyager's Doctor in his existential dilemma, plus Vic sings and doesn't take himself overly seriously.

Aron Eisenberg gave a terrific performance, lower-key than he sometimes plays Nog even during the emotional scenes - he has grown greatly in this role, and the script showed off his skills. Ditto James Darren's as Vic. The episode could have used a couple of stronger scenes involving the rest of the crew, Ezri in particular, but the overall impression is of a tightly-written, well-directed little postwar story with a good balance of humor and music, if not much science fiction.

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green reviews 'Enterprise' episodes for the Trek Nation, for which she is also a news writer. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.