It's Only a Paper Moon
Production no.: 560
Teleplay by: Ronald D. Moore
Story by: David Mack & John J. Ordover
Directed by: Anson Williams
Stardate: not given
First satellite airdate: December 26, 1998
Aron Eisenberg .............
Max Grodénchik ...........
Chase Masterson ..........
James Darren ...............
Tami-Adrian George .....
Ezri accompanies Rom and Leeta to the cargo bay where Nog will soon be arriving home for the first time since receiving a new biosynthetic leg (after losing his real one in combat). They join all the other officers as the ship docks, and at last Nog comes through the airlock, walking with a cane. Everyone cheers, but Nog is subdued, as he gives Sisko his new orders: medical leave, meaning no duties until further notice. Saying he's tired, he heads off for his room.
Ezri has a talk with Nog later, playing the role of the upbeat friend, but Nog knows she's really here as a counselor. Before she can ask about his cane, he heads her off. Yes, the artificial leg is working perfectly. But he insists that he needs the cane to walk, regardless. "Look, can I be perfectly honest with you? I've spent the last three weeks talking about my feelings with the counselors on Starbase 235, and to tell you the truth, I'm a little sick of it. I just want to be left alone for a while." Ezri understands, and leaves. Nog then goes into his bedroom, where he lies down and begins playing a piece of music: Vic Fontaine's recording of "I'll Be Seeing You".
It's plain that all is not right with Nog as the days pass. He sleeps over 18 hours a day and has been missing physical therapy appointments; his counseling sessions are going nowhere, according to Ezri, who admits she can't blame him. Sisko asks what they should do. "I'm not sure," says Ezri. "For now, I think our best bet is to simply watch and wait...Sometimes a patient can help guide his own treatment. Let's see what Nog does next."
In the middle of the night, Jake hears "I'll Be Seeing You" one time too many. "Nog, I am trying to be understanding and I want to be your friend, but enough is enough. You've been playing that same stupid song for three days. I can't take it anymore!" Nog doesn't have anything to say to him; all he wants is to be left alone. "All right, OK," says Jake. "But if you want to hear that song again, go rent a holosuite." After Jake goes back to bed, Nog gets up and heads out.
On the turbolift, he has a series of flashbacks to AR-558, recalling the horror of the moment when he took a phaser bolt in the leg. Opening the lock of his uncle's bar, he relives the moment when Bashir told him he would have to amputate, and when he woke up afterwards with the leg missing.
Finally Nog enters a world where it's always 1962: Vic Fontaine's Las Vegas lounge, where the singer greets him with a smile. Nog tells him he wants to hear "I'll Be Seeing You", and that's his only request. "It helped me once when I was unhappy." "What more can you ask from a song?" approves Vic, who proceeds to sing it. Listening, Nog flashes back to when Bashir started playing it at AR-558. "I thought it might take our minds off our troubles," Bashir says. "Is it bothering you?" "No," replies Nog. "It's kind of nice."
Obligingly, Vic does all fifteen arrangements that he knows of the song, then comes down to chat a bit. He's heard about Nog's leg. "If you really want to know, it hurts," Nog tells him. "...They say it's all in my head. 'According to my tricorder, the pain receptors in your leg aren't being stimulated, Nog. You must be imagining it.' I don't care what they say. It hurts all the time." "I believe you," says Vic; Nog says, "You're the only one."
He is about to go off to bed when he stops. "I don't want to go back to my quarters. Actually, I don't want to go back to my life." Then Nog gets an idea: why not stay right here? Starfleet regulations say he can choose his own rehabilitation facility, after all. Vic seems a little puzzled that he would want to choose a holosuite program for that purpose, but he's game. "Okay, kid. If that's the way you want it. From now on, you're staying with me."
Rom and Leeta, along with Quark, Bashir, and Sisko, are brought up to date on Nog's unusual decision by Ezri. "At first, it struck me as a little peculiar," the counselor says. "But after I thought it over, I began to think that this might be a good sign after all." She looks on it as Nog subconsciously seeking out his own form of therapy. Bashir agrees with her, that they should let this play itself out. Sisko says someone should apprise Vic of the situation, and Ezri volunteers. Quark reluctantly agrees to absorb the cost of the holosuite time.
When Ezri talks to Vic, the hologram is hip to the fact that Nog has some healing to do. He even has some ideas on how to wean Nog off the cane, and assures Ezri that he won't push. Vic then goes to his suite, where he starts working on his accounts while Nog watches Shane on TV. Nog is puzzled and maybe even a bit upset when Shane rides off on a horse at the end, not bleeding or in pain despite having just been shot in the arm. Then Vic, who's about to go do his show, gives Nog a gift: a cane with a cigarette lighter inside the carved handle. He cautions him that it might not take his whole weight. "Actually, I don't need to put my whole weight on it," Nog admits. Vic chooses not to comment. The two of them go to put on tuxes.
Nog is at a table with the holographic crowd, listening to Vic sing "I've Got the World on a String", when Jake comes in with a Bajoran girl: his date, Kesha. Instantly, Nog turns defensive and close-mouthed. When Jake goes to get Kesha a drink, the girl tries to make conversation, telling Nog that Jake says he's a hero, but Nog doesn't want to hear it. She happens to glance at his leg; things go downhill from there, as Nog twists the meaning of the glance into some kind of patronizing curiosity. Kesha finally realizes that nothing she can say will help matters, and tells Jake when he returns that maybe they should leave. Nog continues to radiate hostility as they try to smooth things over. Finally, Nog overturns the table on Jake, and punches his friend, causing Vic to come down off the stage. Vic tells Nog to take a hike. "You heard me. You don't come into my club and start hitting customers. Now get out before I throw you out."
Chastened, Nog goes back up to Vic's suite, where Vic joins him after the show. Nog apologizes, but Vic says he's not the one Nog belted. Nog promises to settle things with Jake and his girl, and that it'll never happen again. Hearing the cause of the whole fracas, Vic says, "She called you a hero, and for that you slugged your best friend? Remind me never to give you a compliment."
The hologram is somewhat surprised to realize he's tired. After all, his program has never run this long before. But rather than go to bed, he needs to get his books in order. Nog offers to help; after all, Ferengi are natural bookkeepers. As Vic heads for bed, Nog asks him a question. "When you sleep, do you dream?" "Good night, kid," Vic says.
Ezri comes into Vic's wanting to talk to Nog. In her opinion, it's time for Nog to leave the holosuite. Vic protests that Nog is making progress. "Vic, he can't hide in here forever," Ezri tells him. "He has to face reality sometime." "The kid's had too much reality lately, if you ask me," Vic replies. "He's lost a leg, he's watched good friends die. Like you said, we shouldn't push him. He needs time to heal." Ezri tries to pull rank, but Vic points out that Starfleet regulations say Nog can spend his medical leave anywhere he chooses. Nog appears to back this up, and even threatens to resign his commission if forced to leave here. After all, he and Vic have big plans (which is news to Vic). He tells Vic that there's enough money to actually expand the place. "Nog, this is a holosuite," Ezri protests. "Of course it's a holosuite," says Nog. "That doesn't mean we can't build a new casino." Ezri can see there's no changing his mind.
Nog continues to live in the program, he and Vic make their plans, and Ezri comes in from time to time to discreetly watch. One night, she sees Nog schmoozing the clientele at the club -- and no longer depending on the cane. When Rom and Leeta come in, Nog is genuinely pleased to see them, and seats them himself, telling them how well things are going at the club. Rom has gotten a promotion, to maintenance engineer first class. Nog offers to throw a private party, but Leeta says that actually, Chief O'Brien threw one last night. Saying he probably couldn't have gotten away anyway, Nog goes off to attend to a big-shot customer.
Watching him, Ezri talks to Vic, admitting that Nog seems to be doing well. Vic says proudly that Nog actually ran up some stairs the other day. They're going to Tahoe for a couple of days to meet "Sammy". "I see," says Ezri. "You're going to get Sammy to convince him that it's time to leave the holosuite." Vic looks startled. "Well, no." Ezri smiles. "Forget it. I should know better by now than to ask you to give away your secrets. You probably have the whole thing all mapped out. I mean, what am I thinking? That this new casino is anything more than a ploy? That you'd actually let him live out the rest of his life in a holosuite?" "No, no, of course not," Vic says with a forced laugh. "The casino's just a -- just a ploy, like you said." Just drive the point home, Ezri notes how glad Rom and Leeta will be to have Nog back. "It's like you said -- he just needed a break from reality. Now all that's left is to decide when he's ready to go back. But I'll leave that up to you." She goes out, leaving Vic looking thoughtful.
In Vic's suite that night, Nog is working on some blueprints when Vic takes them and rolls them up. "It's time for you to go, kid." The pronouncement hits Nog like a bucket of cold water. They have a casino to build. "This is just a fantasy," Vic tells him. "It's not real." "It's real to me, and it's real to you," Nog counters. "And don't say it isn't. I know better." "You're right," agrees Vic. "It's very real to me. But I'm a hologram, Nog. I'm not a person. Until you came along, I'd never been on for more than six or seven hours straight." Nog points out that now he's running all the time. "Isn't it great?" "It's incredible," Vic admits. "Since you've been here, I've slept in a bed every night, gone to work every day, had time to read the paper, play cards with the boys. I've had a life. And I have to tell you, it's a precious thing. I had no idea how much it means to just live. And now, I'm going to return the favor and give you your life back."
Nog starts to panic. "But I don't want that life anymore, Vic. I'm perfectly happy here." "What here?" Vic replies. "There is no here. Don't you get it? This is nowhere. It's an illusion. And so am I. In fact, the only thing in this entire program that is not an illusion is you."
"Okay," Nog says, desperate. "You're right. But I'm not ready to go back yet. I need more time. So let's just sleep on this and talk about it tomorrow." Vic looks after him sadly as the Ferengi heads for bed. "Kid, I hate to do this to you, but you're not giving me any choice. Computer -- " "No, don't!" Nog yells. " -- end program," Vic finishes. With that, he and the hotel room vanish, leaving Nog alone in the bare holosuite.
Nog is tinkering with the circuitry of the holosuite, trying to get Vic back, when O'Brien comes in, having noticed a magnetic flux anomaly here. "You know," the Chief says, "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?" asks Nog. O'Brien shrugs. "I'm an engineer, not a philosopher. All I know is that when Vic turns himself off, he's off, and ripping out the guts of the holosuite isn't going to change that." He leaves after telling Nog they miss him in Ops.
After O'Brien is gone, Vic finally reappears. "So, now that the Chief's told you I'm smarter than the average bear, will you stop messing around with my holosuite?" He insists that Nog has to go. "Don't you get it?" says Nog, tears springing to his eyes. "I can't go out there." Vic asks why not.
"I'm scared, okay? I'm scared." Everything comes pouring out at long last. "When the war began, I wasn't happy or anything, but I was eager. I wanted to test myself. I wanted to prove I had what it took to be a soldier. And I saw a lot of combat. I saw a lot of people get hurt. I saw a lot of people die. But I didn't think anything was going to happen to me. And then suddenly Dr. Bashir is telling me he has to cut my leg off. I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it. If I can get shot -- if I can lose my leg -- anything can happen to me, Vic. I could die tomorrow. I don't know if I'm ready to face that. If I stay here, at least I know what the future is going to be like."
Vic looks at him with compassion. "You stay here, you're going to die. Not all at once, but little by little. Eventually, you'll become as hollow as I am." "You don't seem hollow to me," Nog says. But Vic knows better. "Compared to you, I'm hollow as a snare drum. Look, kid, I don't know what's going to happen to you out there. All I can tell you is that you've got to play the cards life deals you. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but at least you're in the game."
And Nog knows the hologram is right. Slowly, he walks toward the door, hesitates, and leaves. Vic picks up the cane which Nog has left forgotten on the floor. "Crazy," he smiles.
Rom and Leeta are at the bar talking to Quark when Nog unexpectedly comes down the stairs. Leeta asks him if he's okay. "No," says Nog. "But I will be." His family closes around him; it's the best news they've heard in some time.
When Nog comes back into the holosuite, he's in uniform. He tells Vic he's on limited duty; Vic asks how it feels. "Different," says Nog. "I feel -- older." "Happens to the best of us," Vic replies. Nog says he wants to thank Vic, but Vic tells him that's not necessary. "You did something for me too. You gave me a chance to see what it's like to have a life." Nog announces then that he has arranged with his uncle Quark to keep this program running 26 hours a day. "It's my gift to you."
Vic is overwhelmed. "Kid, I don't know what to say." "Just put it there, pally," Nog tells him warmly. "And tell me you'll always save a seat for me up front." They shake hands. Nog then says he has to go; he's buying Jake and Kesha dinner tonight. He leaves. Vic looks around in wonder. "Twenty-six hours a day." The music begins, and he starts singing "I've Got the World on a String" to a suddenly full house.
This episode (unusual because it features two recurring characters, with virtually no involvement by the main regulars) evolved from a pitch sent in back in 1995, called "Everybody Comes to Quark's". It was originally going to feature several plot threads, all taking place in the bar. As the staff were finally developing it for the seventh season, however, the Nog storyline became the only one that worked for them, so the others were dropped.