“It’s Only a Paper Moon”
Written by David Mack & John J. Ordover and Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Anson Williams
Season 7, Episode 10
Production episode 40510-560
Original air date: December 30, 1998
Station log: Nog is coming back to DS9, and Rom and Leeta are both nervous. Rom is worried he’ll say something stupid and Leeta is worried she’s intruding as she isn’t “real family.” (Rom insists that she’s completely real family.) In addition to his father and stepmother, Quark, Jake, and the entire senior staff greet Nog at the airlock with applause. He’s walking with a cane and is extremely subdued. He declines to attend his own welcome-home party, responds not at all to the good-natured teasing on the part of Sisko, O’Brien, and Bashir, and refuses Jake’s offer to carry his bags.
Dax catches Nog up on what he missed while he was away, and Nog himself is defensive on the subject of his cane, since the doctors told him his leg was fine and the pain he feels that forces him to limp is psychosomatic.
Three days pass, and Nog misses two physical therapy sessions, his counseling sessions with Dax have gone nowhere, and Jake reports to his father that Nog is sleeping eighteen hours a day. What Jake doesn’t mention is how often his roommate plays Fontaine’s rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You” over and over again, to the point where an aggravated Jake yanks the song out of the player and tells him to go rent a holosuite if he wants to hear it again, because Jake can’t stand it anymore.
So Nog takes his advice and starts up Fontaine’s program. After introducing himself to Fontaine—and Fontaine saying that Rom is always coming in and bragging about his kid—Nog requests the song, saying it helped him when he was unhappy. After Fontaine plays fifteen different arrangements of the song, Fontaine sits and talks with Nog for a bit, and Nog admits that he doesn’t want to go back to his life. His medical leave orders say he can choose his own rehab facility, and he decides that he wants Fontaine’s hotel suite in “1962 Las Vegas” to be that facility.
Nog’s nearest and dearest are concerned to say the least. Sisko meets with Dax (his therapist), Bashir (his doctor), Jake (his best friend), and Quark, Rom, and Leeta (his family) to discuss whether or not his taking refuge on the holosuite is such a hot idea, but Dax thinks it might be his way of seeking out therapy. Sisko suggests that Dax talk to Fontaine and make sure the hologram’s aware of the situation.
Nog is spending his time watching Westerns in Fontaine’s suite. He is less than impressed with the ending of Shane—he was shot, he should be bleeding at the very least. Before heading down to do his show, Fontaine gives Nog a new cane, a replica of Errol Flynn’s (only shorter, and with a lighter).
Jake brings a date named Kesha to the holosuite and joins Nog at his table. When Jake goes to get drinks, Kesha says that Nog’s a hero, according not only to Jake but everyone on the station. The conversation gets more and more awkward, and when Jake comes back, Kesha wants to leave, as she thinks she said something wrong. It devolves into an argument between Jake and Nog, which ends when Nog throws the table at Jake and then punches him (moving very quickly and easily and without the cane). Fontaine immediately throws Nog out of the lounge.
After the set, Fontaine comes to the suite to see Nog watching TV. When he reveals that he slugged his best friend because he called Nog a hero, Fontaine says, “Remind me never to give you a compliment.” Nog can’t explain why he fought with Jake, and he promises to make things right with him and Kesha. He also offers to straighten out the casino’s finances, which Fontaine says are a mess.
Nog determines that the casino’s actually doing better than Fontaine realizes and that he can expand. When Dax comes by to see how he’s doing—and also recommend that he leave the holosuite—Nog refuses, saying he has work to do with Fontaine to expand. Fontaine goes along with it, pointing out to Dax that the kid’s had a bit too much reality lately and could use some fantasy.
After a few days, Dax checks in again to see that Nog has completely thrown himself into the role of Fontaine’s business partner. Rom and Leeta come in to see how Nog is doing, and also reveal that Rom has been promoted. Nog offers to throw him a party, but O’Brien threw one for him the previous night. Nog brushes off missing it and goes off to deal with some high rollers who have walked in. Dax talks to Fontaine, who thinks he’s doing great, but Dax also believes that Nog’s “rehab” is part of Fontaine’s plan to get him out of the holosuite. But in fact, Fontaine is just acting as part of the program, and he’s been enjoying being, in essence, a real person with a life. He’s never been on for more than a few hours at a time before, and he’s loving it.
Now it’s time for him to return the favor and let Nog have his life back. When Nog refuses to go, Fontaine turns off the holosuite, leaving Nog alone with his old cane. Nog tries to reactivate the program, but it won’t work—as O’Brien explains, Fontaine can turn himself on and off at will, and if he doesn’t want to come online, he won’t.
After O’Brien leaves the holosuite, Fontaine comes back and tells Nog to leave his program alone. Nog pours his heart out, telling Fontaine that he’s scared, afraid that he might die, afraid that he might get hurt worse next time. Fontaine reminds him that if he stays in the holosuite, he will die—but bit by bit instead of all at once.
Finally, Nog leaves the holosuite, leaving his cane behind. He goes downstairs to see Quark, Rom, and Leeta. Leeta asks if he’s okay, and he replies, “No, but I will be,” and then hugs his father and stepmother.
Nog goes back on limited duty, just a few hours a day, and returns to the holosuite to thank Fontaine for all he did. Fontaine thanks him for showing him what a real life is like, and Nog shows his gratitude further by telling Fontaine that he’s arranged with Quark to have the Fontaine program running twenty-six hours a day. Fontaine will have a real life from now on. To celebrate, he sings “I’ve Got the World on a String.”
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Fontaine’s program is set up in such a way that he can control it—but when Nog asks if that means Fontaine has free will, O’Brien avoids the question with a McCoy-ism: “I’m an engineer, not a philosopher.”
The slug in your belly: Dax continues to not impress as a counselor, though she starts out promising by letting Nog find his own way without overwhelming him with too much talking, when he’s already done too much. However, she blows it by actually believing that a hologram could do a better job than she can. And then, to make matters worse, the hologram actually does do a better job than she can. (Yes, it makes my head hurt, too.)
There is no honor in being pummeled: Since Worf only appears briefly in the teaser of this episode, and appears not at all in the next two (he’s not in “Prodigal Daughter,” and we only see his Mirror Universe counterpart in “The Emperor’s New Cloak”), it’s assumed that Worf’s appearance in Star Trek Insurrection commences right around this time period.
Rules of Acquisition: When Fontaine is struggling with his accounts, Nog perks right up. Fontaine’s query as to whether or not Nog knows anything about bookkeeping is somehow not met with the young Ferengi screaming, “DUH!”
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Jake brings a very lovely young Bajoran woman to Fontaine’s, who looks quite fetching in the ballgown. (Jake, of course, looks great in the tuxedo, but that’s because it’s impossible not to look good in a tux. Although, amusingly, the one person I’ve known who almost didn’t look good in a tux is the co-writer of this episode, John J. Ordover, who looked good in the tux he wore for his wedding for about half an hour before he managed to get all rumpled in it.)
What happens on the holosuite stays on the holosuite: Quark snidely asks who’s going to pay for Nog’s endless time in the holosuite, and then answers his own question by saying he guesses that he will. Sisko allows as how that’s incredibly generous of him.
Keep your ears open: “How can hiding in one of Julian’s adolescent programs be a good sign?”
“It could be worse. He could be hiding in the Alamo program.”
“Or that ridiculous secret-agent program.”
“Or that stupid Viking program.”
Quark, Jake, Leeta, and Rom simultaneously worrying about Nog and making fun of Bashir, to the latter’s increasing dismay.
Welcome aboard: The main characters in this episode are actually guest stars, to wit, recurring regulars Aron Eisenberg and James Darren. We also get Chase Masterson as Leeta, Max Grodénchik as Rom, and Tami-Adrian George as Kesha.
Trivial matters: Obviously this episode is a sequel to “The Siege at AR-558,” as Nog deals with the aftermath of his injuries sustained in that episode. There are also two flashbacks to the events of “Siege,” including one scene of Bashir telling Nog about “I’ll Be Seeing You” that we didn’t see in the earlier episode.
The original pitch that David Mack and John J. Ordover sold to DS9 (at the same time that they sold “Starship Down”) was called “Everybody Comes to Quark’s.” Their notion was to have the entire episode set in Quark’s Bar, with an A, B, and C story. The plot sort of bounced around the writers room for a couple of years, and then it was resurrected when Nog had his leg blown off, and it was viewed as the right A story for Mack and Ordover’s pitch, though it was also re-set to the Fontaine holosuite program. Mack and Ordover were then hired to rewrite their story pitch to accommodate the new status quo, which Ronald D. Moore then wrote the script off of. However, as Moore wrote he realized that the B and C stories were too light and interfering with the dramatic impact of Nog’s PTSD, and so the episode wound up focusing entirely on that.
Fontaine sings “I’ll Be Seeing You” (both the recording from “The Siege at AR-558” and two different arrangements that we hear parts of live), “Just in Time” (in the background when Jake and Kesha come into the holosuite), “I’ve Got the World on a String” (at the very end), and, of course, “It’s Only a Paper Moon” (over the montage of Nog becoming Fontaine’s business partner).
Walk with the Prophets: “He’s a one-legged crazy man!” I was surprised when I realized that this was only two episodes after “The Siege at AR-558,” as I thought there was a longer gap, but a check of airdates revealed the source of my confusion: this episode actually aired five weeks after “AR-558,” as no new episodes aired during December 1998. Cha cha cha.
Anyhow, this is a superb episode. It’s a testament to the strength of DS9’s ensemble that it can give over an entire story to two characters who aren’t even opening-credits regulars and make it one of the show’s most compelling hours. Aron Eisenberg is simply superb here, raising the bar from his previous high point (his speech to Sisko in “Heart of Stone”) by tapping the same deep reservoir of emotion that he hit previously. Indeed, this serves as an excellent companion piece to “Heart of Stone,” because Nog joined Starfleet because he wanted so very much to be more than his father, and now that he’s seen the ugly reality of his choice, he wants to be something less than his father: the financial manager for a fictional casino. Jake, Dax, and Rom (and Fontaine, for that matter) all try to gently remind him that he’s acting like Fontaine’s place is real, and every time, Nog brushes it off or ignores it.
I also like the fact that Fontaine is treated like a program here. Yes, he is self aware and he seems real (Nog says as much at the end), but he can only do what he’s programmed to do. Nog wants to stay in the hotel, so Fontaine lets him stay in the hotel. When Dax suggests it’s time for Nog to come out, Fontaine resists, not because he thinks it’s good for Nog but because he’s the one who called for the program, so he’s who Fontaine is going to default to. It isn’t until Dax rather stupidly mistakes Nog’s progress for Fontaine having a master plan to help Nog get back to reality that Fontaine does the right thing and gets Nog out of the holosuite cold turkey. But he’s still a hologram—garbage in, garbage out.
This does an even better job than the episode it’s a sequel to at showing the horror of war by letting us see the toll it takes. Sure, 24th-century medicine is advanced enough to give Nog a leg that’s as good as new in less than a month, but the real damage wasn’t to his leg. Indeed, the damage wasn’t all to Nog: two of the most powerful (yet nicely understated, and points to director Anson Williams for that) scenes are the beginning when Rom and Leeta are struggling to figure out how to talk to Nog and later when the pair of them enter the lounge and are basically blown off by Nog who’s acting more like a maître d’ than their son. In particular the long shot of the two of them after Dax and Fontaine talk, holding each others’ hands looking absolutely miserable and alone at their table is just heartbreaking. And I like that Sisko gathers the people closest to Nog for the meeting in the wardroom rather than just a generic gathering of the senior staff—everyone there is someone important in Nog’s life, whether from a medical, friendship, or family perspective.
I took a point off for two reasons, one being the continued incompetence of Counselor Dax, and the other being a slightly unfair regret that the original “Everybody Comes to Quark’s” pitch never happened. As I mentioned in the “Starship Down” rewatch, story writers David Mack and John J. Ordover are two of my closest friends, so I know what we would’ve seen if what aired was closer to what they pitched, and there are some gems in the original that the world has seriously missed out on.
Warp factor rating: 9
Keith R.A. DeCandido hopes you all have a spectacular new year, and he looks forward to more rewatching goodness in 2015.