the story: Nog struggles with PTSD.
what it's all about: Well, this is one of the big ones, what I'd argue to be one of the best episodes not only of Deep Space Nine but the franchise as a whole, for the very reasons any episode of this series ever reached such heights: because it got to the very hearts of its characters.
"It's Only a Paper Moon" is ostensibly a sequel to "The Siege of AR-558," an episode most fans normally point to as a classic. But to my mind, "Paper Moon" is such a richer, deeper, more fulfilling experience, relying less on mood than its actual storytelling. Nog has his leg blown off in "AR-558," but has to deal with what that actually means in "Paper Moon," which turns out to be a different matter entirely. Yes, it's a war story, too, in a series and several seasons immersed in war stories, but it's one that gives as much depth to war as it does Nog.
For a long time, Nog was just the Ferengi who contradicted Ferengi tradition and became the first of them to join Starfleet. He was the kid who grew up and made good. In a lot of ways, he stole the arc of his best friend Jake Sisko, whose defining moment came halfway through the series (the equally highly recommended "The Visitor"). Nog has the benefit of hitting his high note toward the end of the series. He's one of the few characters in the franchise to experience something terrible and actually have to deal with it. And the whole episode, brilliantly, features his process toward recovery.
What makes it even better is that "Paper Moon" also features holographic lounge singer Vic Fontaine, and the episode manages to work as well for him as it does Nog. Vic could easily have been a bad gimmick, maybe a character who worked really well once (his debut in the sixth season episode "His Way"), but whose recurrence only serves to expose him. He serves as a de facto counselor, much the way Guinan did in Next Generation. And hey, Guinan already filled that role! But Guinan never had an episode like this one.
At a time when Voyager was also proving what further depths there were to explore with artificial intelligence (The Doctor following in the footsteps of Next Generation's Data), Vic proved that another hologram, in an entirely different context, could do it, too. And really, all he has to be is smart enough to let Nog talk through his problems, give him a little space. No one else is willing to let Nog have any of that. They all expect something from him. All Vic does is sing, right? And, thanks to Nog, have a simulation of a life, once his program runs continuously. But he's okay living that kind of existence, too, because for him it's real enough. And he lets Nog realize that's what life is for anyone. It's only as real as you make it. It's only a paper...
- franchise - One of the best episodes Star Trek ever did.
- series - Another essential war story.
- character - It's the ultimate Nog episode, and the ultimate Vic Fontaine episode.
- essential - It's a must-see, a classic through and through.
Aron Eisenberg (Nog)
James Darren (Vic Fontaine)
Max Grodenchik (Rom)
Chase Masterson (Leeta)