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Star Trek Deep Space Nine: It's Only a Paper Moon

Hey, it's real to me, Kid.

Nog makes his way back to Deep Space Nine to rejoin the crew – but before he can do so, he has to find ways to pull himself together. Being Nog, he chooses something unorthodox.

I was charmed by this story, as ridiculous and full of holes as it is. I mean, the idea that a person can choose their own site of rehabilitation being a rule of Starfleet seems like the bendiest rule you can imagine, even for a More Perfect Future. And yet, the idea that someone can be repaired physically and still have to deal with enduring trauma, and the notion of exploring what it means to have that trauma in a future like Star Trek's, is quintessentially Deep Space Nine. Even so, this is one of Deep Space Nine's more philosophical episodes – and a tour de force on the part of Aron Eisenberg.

Nog returns to Deep Space Nine with a biologically regrown leg after "The Siege of AR-558" but also a whole lot of trauma and depression – and limping on a cane, a rather Victorian solution to an injury obtained in the far future. As such he's on permanent medical leave – his leg is apparently perfect from every medical perspective, but he still can't (or won't?) walk. He tries counselling with Ezri with very little luck and keeps playing the same song over and over again. It's Jake who seemingly gives Nog the idea of living in a holosuite with our old friend Vic Fontaine – but two minutes later Nog has broken into one of Quarks holosuites and is deep into a simulation of the Fontaine nightclub.

What's happening with Nog? He seems truly haunted by AR-558, his first true experience of loss and injury in war. Nog was shaping up to be something pretty incredible, and his journey has been fun to watch. Here, however, he chooses to descend into escapism to deal with his PTSD, essentially living full time in the holosuite with Vic. It makes sense – Vic sent a recording with Bashir to comfort the troops in that episode – and Ezri as the station counselor wants to give Nog the opportunity to find his own path towards healing.

What about Vic? Well, that's a little more complicated. In this episode Vic acts incredibly human, working with Ezri to understand Nog's needs and trying to create some situations where Nog has the opportunity to shine – a fancy cane with a lighter, teaching him the slang of the time, even tuxedoes. While there are some moments of success, Nog doesn't respond entirely as hoped to Vic's actions. He still gets depressed and angry when Jake brings his friend Kesha to visit and winds up hitting Jake. I was shocked by this – but maybe shouldn't be; the two have operated as semi-brothers for years. Ezri's ready to yank Nog out of the holosuite, but Vic implores her to give him one more chance, and makes Nog his accountant, starting to build a new business – something which definitely gets Nog's interest, even if they are holoprofits, and even if it means he's missing out on real life – promotions for his family members, for example. Nog's escapism is overwhelmingly not helping, even if he has moments of not using the cane.

The thing is, Vic isn't a regular holo program, and I think this is where it starts to become clear – and this is a spoiler line if you're watching this episode for the first time. You see, Vic has much more autonomy than a regular program. Maybe even has desires? Now that his program is running 24/7, he's getting tired, he needs naps, he almost has a life... simulated as it is. This simulated living isn't something he wants to shut off again. Ezri confronts him about his unspoken motivations – and, again acting with incredibly human motivations, Vic decides to confront Nog, give him one more chance to leave Vic's world. Nog, predictably, is very satisfied with his new fake life, and doesn't want to leave; Vic uses his autonomy for the good of others, and shuts off the holosuite, leaving Nog alone. Nog tries desperately to fix the holosuite, and O'Brien in passing lets him know that there's something unique about Vic – who comes back, alone, when O'Brien leaves, and finally helps Nog face the truth about his overwhelming fear of death following the Siege. In the process, Nog leaves behind his cane.

I like that the show ends with both characters, Vic and Nog, having given each other the gift of life, too: Nog arranges to have Vic's program running 26 hours a day, ensuring Vic will have the closest thing to life possible.


Logged and Noted

Is this the first time we've heard that the patient can choose the environment for their own rehabilitation before?

I first encountered the titular song in a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire, and as time went on I found out it's a song with a uniquely New York history, that debuted on Coney Island.

Cirroc Lofton impresses in a suit.

Quark's face realizing he's the one who's paying the holosuite fees this time.

When in Vic Fontaine's house, Nog is watching Shane, with Alan Ladd and Jack Palance.

Recovering from trauma is never a simple, direct path. I appreciated that this show was willing to take risks. Ezri used the holodeck as a tool when direct counselling wasn't doing it – and used a call to a higher self to make a holodeck program choose the right path. Escapism can be a healthy part of a recovery path. To use a metaphor, eventually you have to rip off the bandaid because getting some air can be healthy, too.

From the Sage on the Stage Ship

Quark: How can hiding in one of Julian's adolescent programs be a good sign?

Rom: He's a one-legged crazy man!
Ezri: He is not crazy.
Sisko: But he IS living in a holosuite.

Nog: Where's your computer?
Vic: Right here. (It's a pencil.) It's 1962. What do you want from me?

So is Vic alive or not?

I don't know. I'm not a philosopher, as O'Brien said. I don't know what free will looks like for a machine. Vic had to be reminded by Ezri and somewhat led by her in the process. When it came down to it, Vic chose to make decisions for the good of the crew. Whether or not he's alive, he's made good decisions and actions and in my book deserves to get experience. And this episode bore really well on rewatching, and has a lot to say about trauma and fear. Five out of five Victorian canes.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful review for Nog's (Aron Eisenberg's) most important episode. I love how you point out that Nog and Vic both give each other the gift of life, a symmetry I had not noticed before.

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