Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: It's Only a Paper Moon   Rewatch 
November 3, 2016 4:50 AM - Season 7, Episode 10 - Subscribe

A young idealist is so traumatized by recent events that he retreats into a fictitious, noncontemporaneous realm of comforting illusions. But enough about the 2016 election.

♫ It's a Memory Alpha world / Just as phony as it can be / But it wouldn't be make-believe / If you believed in me: ♫

- This episode is unique in Star Trek insofar as it focuses almost entirely on two non-regular characters, although this was not the original conception of the episode. It began as an A, B, C story, with three concurrent plotlines (like the second season episode "Shadowplay") all taking place in Vic's, and the Nog story was simply one of them. In fact the original pitch for the episode didn't even feature the Nog story at all, because it was pitched long before Nog lost his leg. In 1995 John J. Ordover and David Mack came up with a unique idea, which they pitched to Ronald D. Moore. According to Ordover, "Our notion was that the most attractive pitch would be something that was as cheap for them to produce as possible. Well, that would be an entire episode that had no visual effects, very little makeup, and only one set to light." The original idea involved a Bajoran holiday and everything on the Promenade closed except Quark's, which is where the episode would be set. Ordover and Mack dubbed their idea "Everybody Goes to Quark's". The writing team tried to build an episode from the idea, but they were unable to at the time, and the concept was shelved. It was only with the introduction of the character of Vic Fontaine in Season 6 that Ira Steven Behr suggested revisiting the idea, and setting it at Vic's instead of Quark's.

- David Mack commented: "...the major force on 'Paper Moon' was Ron Moore. John Ordover and I had pitched a story years before that bore only a passing resemblance to the episode that it became. By the time the DS9 writing staff had finished 'revising' our original pitch, the basic idea was in place. Ron asked us to draft a full outline based on the premise of Nog coming home after "The Siege of AR-558" with a cybernetic leg, and seeking solace in the Vic Fontaine holoprogram. What John and I added to that premise was the reason why Nog was in the holosuite: PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder. Essentially, Nog had confronted the truth of his own mortality, and it had destroyed his youthful illusions about being invulnerable and about the 'glory' or 'heroism' of warfare. But the truth is that it was Ron Moore who took that idea and put it into words and images, giving it such resonance and honesty. It was also Ron’s courage as a writer that enabled two supporting cast-members to become the leads for an episode. I am simply honoured to have been part of the process".

- Obviously, the show is also a personal favorite of Aron Eisenberg's; "I was honored. It was my biggest episode in all seven seasons. I was working every day, and I was in almost every scene. I had a ball. They trusted that James Darren and I could carry an episode, and I gave it everything I had. I played Nog differently than I had before, because he was in a different place in his mind. He wasn't the gung-ho soldier anymore. Now his goals were blurred, and he was on this downward spiral because of fear." His favorite scene is when Nog breaks into tears; "It wasn't written that way. The script just said that Nog gets emotional. When we were ready to shoot, I realized that I had to cry. It was the defining moment of what the episode was all about. You finally see what's inside that's gotten Nog to this point. Up until then, you didn't know why he was behaving that way. I grew that day as an actor."

- After this episode aired, Eisenberg was contacted by a number of combat veterans who told him that his performance was extremely true to life, and who complimented him on his work.

- According to Ronald Moore, this is one of his favorite episodes that he worked on.

"At first, it struck me as a little... peculiar. But after I thought it over, I began to think that maybe this is a good sign after all."
"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."
(amused) "Hey..."
"Or that stupid Viking program."
(outraged) "Hey!"

- Ezri, Quark, Jake, Leeta, and Rom teasing Bashir

"And who's going to pay for all this holosuite time? (everyone looks at Quark) I guess I am."
"And it's very generous of you."

- Quark and Sisko

"Vic's matrix is a little different than your standard photokinetic hologram. He can turn himself off and if he doesn't want to appear he doesn't appear."
"You mean he has free will?"
"I'm an engineer, not a philosopher!"

- Miles O'Brien and Nog

"Are you okay?
"No, but I will be."

- Leeta and Nog
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (11 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What a fantastic episode, and not just because it takes the risk of concentrating almost entirely on two supporting characters. First, I'm happy that they decided not to go with Space Casablanca (the working title "Everybody Goes to Quark's" is a riff on Everybody Comes to Rick's, the originally unproduced play that was turned into Casablanca), because the show had already done a sort of Space Casablanca with "Profit and Loss". (And rewatching that episode helped remind me of why I hated the confusingly-similarly-titled "Profit and Lace" so much; in the former, Quark is a man who admires and has affection for strong, principled women; in the latter, he's a leering sexual exploiter. But I digress.)

I also think that it's an excellent showcase for Aron Eisenberg, who really pulls out the stops here and does the difficult trick of making a sympathetic character in part by showing him in some of his less-sympathetic moments. Nog has always been somewhat of an abrasive character, even in some of his more obviously people-pleasing interactions, but especially when he's feeling threatened in some way; in one of the earliest (if not the earliest) Jake-Nog scenes, Nog rebuffs this young hew-mon who wants to hang out with him on the upper level of the Promenade, which of course became their favorite thing to do when they finally became friends, and then there was the infamous double-date scene where Nog acts out the worst Ferengi stereotypes. He ends up winning us over because, if someone is patient enough and works past his defenses, he lets us know what's really going on, as with his telling Sisko why he wants to join Starfleet. And thus here, after he literally flips a table on Jake and his date. He fought hard to get into Starfleet, and seemed to be doing very well (with occasional mishaps such as that Red Squad business), and then he gets his leg blown off. And he tries so hard to keep a stiff upper lip about the whole business that maybe a hologram is the only person that he could have talked to about it.

Speaking of whom, James Darren is also in fine form here, trying to help Nog and speculating about his own nature at about the same time. We'd already gotten some stories about holograms-as-AIs from TNG and VOY (which is already in its own fifth season at this point); the latter's EMH in particular had had some great stories in this regard already. DS9 took a more low-key approach to its own exceptional hologram, with the note in "His Way" that Vic's program was exceptional in some way and his own comment in this episode that he's "smarter than the average bear." The interesting thing is how they say that he'll be running his program 26 hours a day in an actual holosuite and not just in a virtual box a la Professor Moriarty.

One minor quibble: I kind of wish that O'Brien had reached out to Nog in a more sympathetic, I-know-what-you're-going-through sort of way when they were talking; if there's anyone on the crew that could sympathize with someone's PTSD, it's O'Brien.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:39 AM on November 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

Did we ever get a Trek episode that explored the consequences of everyone immersing themselves in holosuite programs permanently? I think we might have gotten close with Barclay, but details escape me. If the technology is there, why don't people live their lives entirely in a fantasy world? It's certainly been explored in other sci-fi features, but seems like an easy Trek story.

The scenes were the entire crew were sitting around discussing Nog's fragile state of mind and his holosuite addiction were a little awkward. If they were sitting in Quark's discussing their concern for a friend, that's one thing, but sitting in a boardroom in an official capacity it felt like it should have been a more private affair. That's probably me reading too much into it.

I, for one, would have liked to have seen an Everybody Goes to Quark's episode where everyone is filtering in and out of the bar over the course of a day or a weekend. As much as I like Vic Fontaine, his presence filled the helpful bartender role and probably took some screen time away from Quark.
posted by 2ht at 8:44 AM on November 3, 2016

Did we ever get a Trek episode that explored the consequences of everyone immersing themselves in holosuite programs permanently?

Not the holosuite, per se, but this was basically the premise of the first episode of Star Trek ever, the original Trek's first pilot ("The Cage") where aliens offered a permanent fantasy world, which was later turned into the backdrop for "The Menagerie."
posted by ilana at 11:44 AM on November 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

This is the episode that compelled me to send an email letter to Ron Moore on AOL. It is one of my favorite episodes of any Star Trek incarnation, and coupled with The Visitor and In the Pale Moonlight, why I incessantly recommend DS9 to people.

(As we know from reading these fantastic posts Halloween Jack and CheesesofBrazil have been putting together,) Ron Moore was a DS9 writer and producer. During the show's run, AOL's Star Trek forums hosted an online channel/chatroom called "Ask Ron Moore." You could submit questions for Ron to answer through a special AOL email address. He answered them in batches. His responses were posted on AOL, duplicated at TrekWeb and archived in text file format. The text files were archived at a geocities site for years, until they closed down a few years ago. They're now being hosted at Memory Alpha.

When I first began posting DS9 threads here on fanfare, I considered browsing through 'em and linking to individual bits of trivia, but reading those text files can be a tremendous time suck and I often found myself lost in them rather than posting episode FPP's. :) The good news is, the folks who write the Memory Alpha pages for each episode have usually mined the chat text files for info, saving us the trouble.

If you're a fan of the show, they're really worth reading, though.

Here are his answers related to Paper Moon:

Geez, yet another episode with Vic Fontaine singing for 5 or 10 minutes of
the episode. I thought that Nog's recovery episode was pretty as is, but
the fact that the writer(s) needed to rely on Vic Fontaine singing and
instead of dialog with key characters suggests to me that Deep Space 9 has
fallen and can't get up. Perhaps its time to pull the plug and take the
show off the air if the writers are more interested in filling precious
air time with repeated Vic Fontaine songs instead of good writing. Don't
get me wrong, I am a huge DS9 fan and like the Vic Fontaine character, but
this Vic thing has been more overused/abused than the dang warp core
breaches were on TNG. With the show winding down, shouldn't the writers
being tying up loose ends better than this. I mean there was not even a
B-story in this Nog/Fontaine story, what's up with that. Let's get this
show back on the road to success so its last season is not remembered as
its worst!

It seems curious that some of you out there don't consider song to be a
legitimate tool of drama. The songs in "Paper Moon" weren't just chosen at
random, you know. If you listen to the lyrics, you'll find that each one
has something to say about the episode and something to say about Nog and
his predicament.

There's nothing wrong with using music and song to tell part of a story.
Using a balladeer or a crooner as a character within a tale may have fallen
out of fashion in contemporary entertainment, but there's actually a very
long tradition in story-telling of having a character who comments on the
drama through song. Having Vic show up occasionally and musically comment
on our characters is a great tool and it was even nicer to be able to use
him for an entire episode.


First, congrats on an outstanding ep with Paper Moon! Despite a somewhat
hokey premise, which I thought would get bogged down with way too much
emotional baggage, you helped craft a wonderful story that takes 'Get a
life!' to a new level. Additional kudos to Eisenberg and Darrin for their
great performances! But... Being a martini aficionado (a habit developed
after seeing The Thin Man in college, and long before the cocktail became
once-again fashionable), I was horrified to see Jake carrying three
highball glasses laden with ice to the table, claiming they were
'martinis, two olives.' Good heavens, man, have you no breeding?

I, too, worship at the altar of the Holy Martini and was somewhat horrified
as well. Turns out they didn't have the proper glasses on the set at the
time... oh, well... even the best shows have some flaws...


I'm really impressed with Nog's ability to get Uncle Quark to run
Fontaine's program 26 hours a day. Did you writers talk about Quark's
profit motive in doing so? As a unique holographic near-life form, does
Fontaine stand as an
interplanetary attraction in his own right? Is Quark actually expecting to
lose money on this deal? Does he have plans for promoting Vic as a
full-time attraction? Did Nog find a way to get Fontaine's program to run
"in the background," thus preserving the affected holosuite as a cash-cow
for Quark's? Or did Nog simply sign a long-term lease for the holosuite?

Although we did talk about Quark using/abusing Vic for profit, we eventually
decided not to go that way. I think that Nog probably pays for the
holosuite out of the same slush fund maintained by Sisko which allows
O'Brien to pay off his hefty bar tab.


Are we now done with Vic? Or are more twists in store?

We have one more full-on holosuite show involving Vic called "Badda-bing,
Badda-bang," which will be our last comedy of the year. After this one,
it's all-ahead full and driving for the finale.


Do you think James Darren will now headline at Quark's Bar at the ST
Experience in Vegas?

Crazy. Hope someone from "The Experience" is reading this...


In "Its only a Paper moon" was the flash back scenes nog had while going
up the turbolift, and vic fontaines lounge, i noticed familar scenes from
the siege ar558, and some new scenes, is the new scenes were they cut out
of the siege ar 558 orignally then readded to its a only a paper moon, or
were they made back up to suit the need for it.

The flashbacks which showed Nog being shot were lifted directly from
"AR-558." The sequences of Nog hearing Bashir tell him about his leg and
listening to the Vic song were shot specifically for "Paper Moon."


Can we hear Morn talk? Please?

He talks all the time. Check the volume control on your TV.

Anyway. I grew up with a father who had multiple sclerosis and was disabled. He had passed away a few years before this episode aired. Nog's scenes -- especially his anger, shame and frustration, and his urge to escape into a fiction where he could feel useful and needed resonated deeply with me because of it. Reminded me of my dad. So I wrote Ron Moore a note thanking him for the episode, and for depicting Nog's injury and its aftermath realistically. Heck, the fact that the show was not ignoring what had happened to the character was rather groundbreaking.

He sent back a wonderfully warm and heartfelt response, saying that between Inter Arma Silent Leges and It's Only a Paper Moon, he'd heard from quite a few military veterans who were fans of the show, who had spoken with him about their experiences, and often, living with injuries. He said he had found that quite humbling and gratifying, and that he had been passing those notes on to Aron Eisenberg -- and would be doing so with mine as well.

For six seasons, Nog was a member of the show's comic relief race. It's nice to see him get a chance to show off his acting chops -- and he did so here in an emotionally powerful performance, full of grace. Deeply impressive.
posted by zarq at 1:23 PM on November 3, 2016 [10 favorites]

As much as I like Vic Fontaine, his presence filled the helpful bartender role and probably took some screen time away from Quark.

Yeah, I liked Vic, but I'd agree his growing role did feel like it was taking time from Quark, to some extent. Did they ever do a scene where Quark was jealous about everybody flocking to Fontaine's place? It would have been natural for the character, convinced as he is that he's a charmer and a "people person." It had to be galling to watch people going through his bar to go to another, HOLOGRAM bar!

This one was unforgettable, playing like some weird hybrid between Star Trek and a MASH episode. (That's a compliment.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:59 PM on November 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

I suspect that Quark makes out like a bandit from holosuite charges (remember the bit in this episode where someone--Sisko?--insists that Quark should provide Nog with the holosuite time free of charge, which implies that Quark--the same guy who defended Nog from Jem'Hadar on AR-558 at some risk to himself--was planning to charge his own nephew for rehab time), plus the more popular a program is with the senior staff, especially Odo, the more likely it is that Quark can get away with one scam or another, as we saw in "The Sound of Her Voice."
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:35 AM on November 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Well, Quark is a complicated guy. Even as he appreciates the money rolling in, I can totally see him crabbing about how everybody wants to hang around with the hologram instead of spending their time in a fine establishment like Quark's. He probably wouldn't understand what Vic's got that he hasn't. (Odo: Well, he isn't a rude, scheming little criminal, for starters.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:49 PM on November 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

In addition to the outstanding development of Nog's character, we see a bit deeper into Ezri too. It would be easy for a newly-minted, uncertain Starfleet counselor to go into a funk over the fact that a holographic lounge singer made a better counselor for Nog than she did. Instead, she goes along with it without much if any bruising to her own ego, and nudging Vic into getting Nog out of the holosuite, with the implication that that was Vic's idea all along. It's not explicitly mentioned, but I like to think this is the influence of an extra 300 years of wisdom from the Dax symbiont.

The scenes were the entire crew were sitting around discussing Nog's fragile state of mind and his holosuite addiction were a little awkward. If they were sitting in Quark's discussing their concern for a friend, that's one thing, but sitting in a boardroom in an official capacity it felt like it should have been a more private affair. That's probably me reading too much into it.

Oh, I agree. There doesn't seem to be much of a HIPAA-equivalent in the Federation, in any incarnation of Trek — doctors and counselors throughout tend to pretty openly discuss their patients' conditions.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:26 PM on September 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

An interesting note about this episode (which is of course excellent, though very hard for me to watch with how raw Aron Eisenberg's performance is) is that apparently Nog is part of the Ops crew. We'd seen him as part of the "Senior Staff" that Col. Kira rounded up at Cpt. Sisko's orders in "Take Me Out to the Holosuite," but that felt weird in-universe, and we've seen him as the Defiant's helmsman repeatedly, of course, but this implies that Ensign Nog really is part of DS9's senior staff, which is a cool thing to know, and makes the conference room scene discussing his recovery make a bit more sense - they're not just concerned about him as a friend. He's also a crucial part of their team and they recognize that (which, you could argue, is how he lost his leg in the first place - Sisko sent him on the mission because his Ferengi hearing was going to be particularly useful - but here it feels more like the kind of respect that Nog has been searching for, just at a moment in his life when he's not in a place to receive it yet.)
posted by Navelgazer at 8:48 AM on January 16, 2022

Oh! Also: they have Sammy Davis Jr. in that holoprogram as a fully realized character headlining shows in another city that you can visit, apparently. The implications of that are... something.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:50 AM on January 16, 2022

It has a positive ending, but I think this one is a dark horse candidate for "darkest episode of star treK" for it's grappling directly with trauma and raw existential dread.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:16 PM on August 9, 2023 [1 favorite]

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