Sunday, January 17, 2016

7-10. It's Only a Paper Moon.

Nog takes refuge in Vic's holographic world -
and, like a true Ferengi, fixes his bookkeeping.















THE PLOT

Nog has completed his therapy after losing a leg at AR-558, and has returned to Deep Space 9. He has a new leg, which his medical records show should be working perfectly. He insists the leg hurts constantly, and tells Ezri that after spending two months talking to counselors, he does not want to talk further.

He does spend time listening and re-listening to Vic Fontaine (James Darren)'s rendition of I'll Be Seeing You, the song Bashir played just before the final battle. That leads him to the holosuite of Vic's Las Vegas lounge. After talking with Vic for a while, Nog decides to use Starfleet regulations to perform his therapy at Vic's, moving himself fully into Vic's apartment.

Nog actually makes progress within this holographic world, his Ferengi upbringing allowing him to feel useful by sorting out Vic's books and helping Vic run his business. But as Nog becomes more and more a part of this holographic world, Ezri and his family become concerned about his willingness to return to reality.


CHARACTERS

Capt. Sisko: Is eager to welcome Nog back to the station, and is concerned when Nog shuts himself away in his quarters. He complains to Ezri that watching and waiting is "not (his) first choice," but defers to her judgment.

Ezri: When Nog tells her that he's sick of talking to counselors, she doesn't push him - She even admits to Sisko that after all the psychiatric care he's been subjected to, she doesn't blame him for being done with it. She tells Sisko that they should step back and let Nog guide the course of his own treatment, and initially supports the Ferengi's choice of Vic's holo-program. When she sees that Vic has come to rely on Nog as much as the reverse, she uses reverse psychology to make Vic recognize that the Ferengi needs to return to the real world in order to live a full life.

Nog: Aron Eisenberg received praise from veterans for his convincing portrayal, and he is superb in this episode. The early scenes show Nog completely withdrawn, barely showing emotion, but with a haunted expression in his eyes and voice. When he lashes out at Jake in one scene, we first see his discomfort, then emotional pain when Jake's girlfriend refers to him as a hero. He becomes happy in Vic's holographic world, but when he's forced to return to reality he's in tears as the fear comes flooding back to him. Eisenberg plays every note perfectly, with the early withdrawal and anger fully earning the tears at the episode's end.

Vic Fontaine: His ability to read people, a consistent trait from his very first scene last season, is enough for him to see that Nog needs a break from reality. One of his first acts is to give Nog a new cane - one that's more stylish, but also lighter weight, forcing him to put less weight on the cane to enjoy his gift. Vic almost certainly starts fussing about his bookkeeping as a way to draw Nog into feeling useful... But with the program running 24 hours a day, Vic finds himself enjoying getting to live a complete life. Between that and his genuine fondness for Nog, he needs a nudge from Ezri to let Nog go - Though once he gets that nudge, he barely hesitates before shutting down his program to force Nog out into the real world.


THOUGHTS

"The kid's had too much reality lately, if you ask me. He's lost a leg, he's watched good friends die... We shouldn't push it, he needs time to heal."

DS9 deals with PTSD, and does a pretty good job of it. Compare It's Only a Paper Moon with Voyager's Extreme Risk, in which B'Elanna went through emotional turmoil. B'Elanna's issues hadn't even been hinted at in any previous episodes, and were cured by little more than a single conversation with Chakotay. By contrast, Nog's emotional turmoil rises naturally out of the events of The Siege of AR-558, and are examined over the course of the full episode.

Writer Ronald D. Moore lends layers to Nog's pain. He obsessively listens and re-listens to I'll Be Seeing You. He tells Vic, the song "helped me once when I was unhappy." His guilt over Larkin's death is never explicitly stated, but we see Nog flashing back to it. This, and his reaction when Jake's new girlfriend calls him a "hero" show that he still feels responsibility. Finally, there's his fear, which he frankly confesses to Vic:

"I saw a lot of combat. I saw a lot of people get hurt. I saw a lot of people die - But I didn't think anything was going to happen to me! And then suddenly, Doctor Bashir is telling me he has to cut my leg off. I couldn't believe it, I still can't believe it. If I can get shot, if I can lose my leg, anything could happen to me!"

All these different emotions, and the moments in which Nog lashes out with anger at those around him, make his pain tangible. Mix in superb performances by Aron Eisenberg and James Darren, whose Vic has in a very short time become a part of this show's fabric. If you had told me that a Star Trek show would introduce a singing hologram as a recurring character, I'd have branded it a worse idea than Wesley Crusher on the face of it.  It's a mark of just how good DS9 has consistently been at making its recurring characters live and breathe that Vic not only works and not only belongs, it's become an active pleasure to see him.

It should be noted this episode revolves around Nog and Vic, and I never once thought while watching about this being a show about two guest stars. That in itself is a triumph - Not only that my second-favorite episode so far this season (just a hair behind The Siege of AR-558) is about two guest stars, but that those guest stars feel as fully a part of the show as the main cast does.


Overall Rating: 10/10.


Previous Episode: Covenant
Next Episode: Prodigal Daughter


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