In the tenth episode of the seventh season of Deep Space Nine, Nog deals with the ramifications of his last battle. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For extended discussion of PTSD, trauma, triggers, and ableism, as well as a single mention of police brutality.
Well, Deep Space Nine found a way to get me to care about Vic Fontaine.
This was a tough episode to watch, but that’s not a criticism I have. It needed to be a challenge. It needed to be uncomfortable. For the first time in a long while, a character’s injury mattered. Not since Picard’s experience with the Borg has a story hit so hard in regards to trauma! I appreciate that, and I know it’s because this episode is so HONEST. It’s a genuine look at Nog’s pain that doesn’t disrespect the character development that came before, and that’s an important part of this story. His eagerness to be a “good” soldier is part of the reason he’s so heartbroken throughout this experience.
And I’m calling it an experience because while “It’s Only a Paper Moon” is just one episode, it spans weeks. It’s a journey. Nog will always be disabled (THANK GODS THEY DID NOT MAGICALLY CURE HIM AT THE END OF THIS) and he’s not “cured” at the completion of this episode. I do hope that Nog’s development will be addressed in the future, but as it stands: this is still a tremendous episode.
So let me start with Vic Fontaine. There’s a subplot introduced here that I am fascinated by, and it helps a great deal to justify his presence on this show. I still maintain that it’s odd that a holographic lounge singer is now a major character on Deep Space Nine. However, it’s here that he makes sense. I understood Nog’s pull to him; I empathized with how Nog used music to feel something other than the constant pain and sadness that he was in; I comprehended how Vic’s world provided Nog with something he didn’t have on the station. His no-nonsense attitude was perfect for Nog, too! And through this, Vic gets something he never expected: a life. More so than any holodeck character in the Star Trek canon, Vic achieves a kind of sentience that’s really only rivaled by the Doctor over on Voyager.
Yet even then, I wouldn’t argue that they’re the same. While both know that they’re holograms, Vic has never been left on for more than a few hours at most. Once Nog moves in, he’s on for days at a time. That grants him an experience: sleep. Exhaustion. Recreation. He has to fill his day with activists and plans and ideas, and the whole thing is so NEW to him. I understand why “It’s Only a Paper Moon” doesn’t delve too deeply into this; it needs to focus on Nog the whole time. Still, it was a welcome addition, a chance for the show to add some much-needed depth to Vic Fontaine.
As for Nog… y’all, this episode broke my heart. I’ve spoken about the power fiction has to feel like it’s tearing an experience out of your heart, and “It’s Only a Paper Moon” does that in a number of ways. I use music as a support system, and I remember how much I relied on my Depressing Music™ playlist to get me through the haze of grief and sadness I felt for months after my break-up. That’s a smaller thing here, but the bigger one?
Being triggered. Shutting down. Lashing out in anger. Because this script spends so much time with Nog, we get to see multiple aspects of his recovery, and it helps this feel more realistic instead of tokenized. His reactions are varied. Sometimes, they seem confusing. Indeed, what little we see of characters who aren’t Vic and Nog are built on bewilderment. No one can seem to understand why Nog would hide within Julian’s holosuite program, though both Julian and Ezri come close to the truth. Ezri’s counseling is a bit confusing at times, too, but I mostly wrote that off as her being new to counseling these people.
In the end, Nog knew himself best, and that is probably my favorite part of this episode. Yes, he makes mistakes, like assaulting his best friend. (Though even in that moment, I understood his frustration! He was treated in a way that identified him as an Other; his disability was something to be stared at or talked around. That kinda shit is frustrating!) Yes, he allows himself to be swallowed by a fantasy because he’d rather live life in Vic’s world than face the realities of his disability and PTSD in the “real” world. But therapy is not a certain thing. There is no set treatment that works for 100% of people 100% of the time. There is no guarantee that time will heal all wounds. It’s been over eight years since I was beat up by cops and watched it happen to my partner at the time, and I still can’t escape the utter terror I feel when I see uniformed police. The mind can be a scary and confusing thing, and Nog had to find a way to face the world again. To deal with his phantom pain. To deal with his unwillingness to live. And I’m thankful that Deep Space Nine gave him the space to do it.
The video for “It’s Only a Paper Moon” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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