DS9: S7E10: “It’s Only a Paper Moon”

In which Nog limps, punches Jake, and builds a casino empire. 

It’s not quite Drums and Guns/ Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya but it’s not great.

Rom is very worried about going to meet Nog for the first time after his injury. Leeta, too, is worried that Nog hasn’t answered any of her letters and doesn’t want to press too hard. Ezri does some counseling for the two of them on how to greet their wounded kid. He’s the last off the shuttle, limping on his prosthetic, and gets a bit of applause from everyone there to greet him. Everyone gives him a bit of a ribbing before inviting him to a welcome-home party, but that post-combat depression hits hard and he’s off to wallow alone.

Ezri fills him on on the latest developments on the station, but this does not draw him out into talking about why he walks with a cane, despite the medical diagnosis that his prosthetic should work properly. Unfortunately, his leg, or lack thereof, hurts, and moreso when he puts weight on it. Also he’s tired of talking about his feelings, so they end the day’s session and Nog puts on some of Vic’s music and goes into a sleep that’s consuming most of his life. Ezri and Sisko are concerned, and Jake is getting really sick of the same song playing over and over for three days. This leads to a confrontation, where Jake steals the holodisk and tells Nog to go to the holosuite if he really wants to hear it again.

On the turbolift, Nog has flashbacks, which the music probably helps to drown out. This is what he’s been living with, and why he breaks into Quark’s and climbs the spiral stairs up to go talk to Vic. Vic greets him warmly, and plays the song. Nog even mentions that it helped him through the rough times. It was playing during the battle at AR-558 while Nog was convalescing. And Vic takes him through all 15 arrangements, starting from crooning and ending in up-tempo, and in the end he has a frank talk with the kid about his leg. He doesn’t need to hear the song again, but he doesn’t want to go back to reality, and asks to bunk with Vic for the duration of his rehabilitation.

“How did this become the ‘everyone piss on Julain’ show?

Rom’s not a fan of this plan, nor is Sisko, but Ezri disagrees. It’s not pure escapism, since Vic knows he’s a hologram and can interact with Nog on a genuine level. So after they all take a moment to dogpile Bashir, Ezri makes her case and Bashir backs her up. The two medical professionals in agreement, Sisko backs the play, has Ezri brief Vic, and has Quark donate the holosuite time with the patented Sisko Glare. Turns out Vic has some ideas on how to ease Nog off the stick.

Nog’s watching Shane on Vic’s television, reveling it it, when Vic starts complaining about his finances. Nog’s wrapped up in Shane’s miraculous recovery from his shot in the arm, and Vic gets him ready for the performance with a classier cane that’s a bit fragile and can’t take his whole weight. Jake drops by with a date to say hi, but Nog doesn’t feel like engaging with real people, and it ends with him tipping over the table on Jake, punching him, and getting thrown out of the club.

“See, the real secret to becoming rich is a montage of accounting scenes set to an uptempo lounge number about the illusory nature of success.”

Later in Vic’s suite they have to talk over what happened. Vic’s also reveling in the novelty of being tired – this is the longest his program has run, and he still has to do his accounting. Nog finally engages in the sidequest. During this, Ezri drops by to pull Nog out, and Vic argues that the three days or so haven’t been sufficient. Nog is adamant about staying too, to build up Vic’s nascent empire. We also watch Nog slowly forgetting about the cane as he gets engaged in the program.

Leeta and Rom stop by to check in on him, and by this time he’s feeling good enough to talk to people. Nog wants to throw them a party, but he missed the real one, in the real world, because of his holo-therapy. Vic’s gotten wrapped up in it too, so much so that he’s forgotten to develop an exit strategy for Nog. I can’t tell whether Ezri is ribbing him about that or not, honestly, until she goes completely over the top. She reminds him of his role here, lets him figure out the details, and leaves.

Which is a fascinating question about AI, isn’t it? It more or less suggests that the ship’s computer, running through a self-aware lounge lizard, is a better therapist in this instance than everyone Nog’s talked to so far. Because it has props at its disposal, and can run objective analysis through a friendly-looking personality matrix.

That said, as soon as Ezri reminded him, Vic loses all of his soft-touch charm. He tells Nog to get out and not to waste the life he has in reality, the kind of life Nog’s just shown him exists. He shuts himself off, leaving Nog, the tux, and the cane as the only real things left in the holosuite. Cut to Nog trying desperately running maintenance on the holosuite, since Las Vegas simply won’t run anymore. O’Brien notices the anomaly and stops by. Seems Vic can decide whether he wants to run or not, presumably during initialization. Miles won’t speculate on whether Vic has free will, but I’d like to believe that this is the end result of Picard sticking Moriarty in a box and handing him over to starfleet for study.

Apparently, this has happened before, where Vic has refused to reappear. I invite you to imagine under what circumstances that could have been. Once O’Brien leaves, Vic pops back in to give Nog a real farewell. He finally gets Nog to admit the real, core problem – he’s dealing with the ruins of all the illusions he had about personal exceptionalism. It’s a difficult thing to confront, but Nog has at least left the cane in the holodeck when he comes back downstairs to face reality. Phase one, getting the patient to engage with therapy, is finally complete.

Nog comes back after some time to report on his progress to Vic and thank him like a real person. As a token of gratitude, Nog’s arranged to keep Vic running constantly so Vic can experience life, in perpetuity.


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