Star Trek 446: It's Only a Paper Moon

446. It's Only a Paper Moon

FORMULA: His Way + Hard Time + Melora

WHY WE LIKE IT: Great musical numbers.

WHY WE DON'T: Where has the time gone?

REVIEW: Nog's return to the station isn't so much the story of a maimed war veteran, since the Star Trek universe can fix most of what ails you, but one about a shellshocked soldier. Nog turns his fear into physical symptoms and even after two months (but only two episodes... are they opening things up for tie-in novels, or what?), has yet to really recover from AR-558. Ezri's "wait and see" approach doesn't seem to be helping, and you'd think O'Brien could do something as the voice of experience, but it all comes down to Vic Fontaine in the end. Nog's one escape seems to be his music, and after suffering through the same song once too many times (been there!), Jake sends him to the holosuite.

We already know Vic to be an excellent analyst, and he helped get Odo and Kira together, which is no mean feat. Can he help Nog? Of course he can. In return, he gets a life because he's turned on 26 hours a day, and maybe he forgets what he's there for (until Ezri out-Vics Vic... she CAN be effective, though she never shows her hand). His job is to give Nog back his life, but once he's weened him off the cane, he must ween him off the program. When he pulls the plug on himself, the wake-up call is wrenching. Truthfully, I didn't think Aron Eisenberg had it in him, but he gives a touching and truthful performance.

It's not all tears and hardship, of course. A great many songs are added to Vic's repertoire, and the title tune is a favorite by virtue of its commenting on Vic's holosuite reality (and Star Trek's fictional reality as well). The script is clever with Vic's lingo too. Using "crazy" in the context of this episode has ironic undertones, and there's a pun in Vic describing his life as "hollow" that isn't forced by winking at the camera. The black and white movies Nog watches are full of gunshots, commenting on fictionalized violence as opposed to Nog's own experience.

Lots of gentle humor, with one especially funny moment when everyone takes a shot at Bashir's "adolescent" programs, and one nostalgic bit when Nog is rude to Jake's girlfriend. Vic's explanation for his low-tech "computer" is fun too: "It's 1962, what do you want from me?"

LESSON: It wouldn't be make believe if you believed in me.

REWATCHABILITY - High: Great music, a satisfying mix of humor and drama, and no easy outs for Nog. One of the better "war is hell" episodes.


billjac said...

Another point in this episode's favor is that it is one of Star Trek's real science fiction episodes. It posits the existence of a technology (AI-capable immersive holograms) and extrapolates some interesting ramifications from both the human (well, Ferengi) and AI sides.

It almost justifies introducing Vic in the first place.

Siskoid said...

Interesting point.

Certainly, I think it's Vic's best episode.

Jack Norris said...

What billjac said reminded me of something:
Episodes like DS9's Vic episodes once led me to consider the possibility that maybe,in the Star Trek universe, there's a reason that all the "mind in a box" AIs seem to end up going nuts, while it's not quite the same fait accompli for holograms and androids. Maybe a body or body-image is what is required to allow any chance of staying sane for an AI modeled after humanoid intelligence. Sure some androids have lost it, but not at the same 100% rate as bodiless AIs (unless there's a counter-example I'm forgetting).

Siskoid said...

Interesting notion. TOS certainly featured its share of evil, insane computers. Of course, its message was essentially anti-automation.

Post-TOS examples are subtler and harder to come by, it seems to me, but it may be provable.


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