This episode is why, ultimately, I can't bring myself to hate Vic Fontaine. The concept may be silly and self-indulgent -- but when DS9's writers really put their minds to it, they can redeem even the most ridiculous ideas.
Memory Alpha has a short summary here.
In addition to proving that Vic is not an entirely pointless character dreamed up by a couple of Jimmy Darren fanboys, It's Only a Paper Moon stands as a key illustration of my Ferengi Rule of Thumb: The IQ of an episode is inversely proportional to the number of Ferengi involved. If you bring all the Ferengi together in a "Ferengi episode," stupidity usually ensues -- but if you isolate them and hand them stories that aren't so intensely focused on their racial identity, you are often able to achieve something magical. I mean, let's really go out on a limb here: Quark, Rom, and Nog are awesome characters. They honestly are. Unfortunately, the writers don't always treat them with the respect they deserve. Only once in a blue moon do you get a Body Parts or a Business as Usual -- or an episode like this one.
Cast your mind back to the first season. I know -- we reviewed those episodes more than two years ago, but just bear with me. Do you remember what Nog was like back then? He was a Huck Finn type -- mischievous, unambitious (except when it came to opportunities for profit), and illiterate (until Jake came along). Did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine that that boy would one day enter Starfleet? Neither did I -- but it happened. And the most amazing thing about this transformation is that it was entirely organic. Nog developed self-discipline and a desire to succeed, but his "Ferengi-ness" is still essentially intact. Nog has grown up, but he's remained himself.
Now why do I reflect upon Nog's journey above? Because this episode is the capstone of that entire arc. This is the moment at which Nog conclusively enters adulthood. He's had his brush with death - he's been confronted with the brutal reality of war - and his adolescent illusions of invincibility have been stripped away. He wants to retreat - indeed, for a time, he does - but eventually, he picks himself off the floor and carries on. It's a powerful script made all the more affecting by the strength of Aron Eisenberg's performance in particular (though Jimmy Darren ably assists).
And yes -- as I stated at the start, this is also an episode - perhaps the only episode - that uses Vic Fontaine the right way. There's absolutely nothing that is cheesy or clichéd in Vic's dialogue here. Indeed, while Nog is struggling with his post-traumatic stress, Vic accidentally becomes a three-dimensional character along the way. And that's another reason why, in our view, this episode rates as high as it does.
Kudos to the writers for tackling the aftermath of The Siege of AR-558 -- and for doing so in a way that honors and humanizes Nog (and Vic).
Aron Eisenberg truly outdoes himself, especially with that final breakdown. Bravo!
The theme here - i.e., that the real world will always be more fulfilling in the long run than a fantasy - doesn't rise to feature-level, but it is strong nevertheless.