Episode 4: “The Beagle Birthday Massacre!” 9/30/17
Starring: Webbigail Vanderquack, Lena, Huey Duck, Dewey Duck, Louie Duck, Ma Beagle
Costarring: The Original Classics (Big Time Beagle, Burger Beagle, Bouncer Beagle), The Glam Yankees, the Déjà Vus, The Sixth Avenue Meanies, The Sixth Avenue Friendlies, The Longboard Taquitos, The Déjà Vus, The Tumblebums, The Ugly Failures, and The Déjà Vus
Plot: After Webby and her new friend, Lena, crash Ma Beagle’s birthday party, they must traverse Beagle territory to make it home in one piece.
For the most part, this episode is as straight forward as it gets. There’s only one story line and not a whole lot of subtext or theming (other than the plot being a direct homage to the 1979 cult classic film The Warriors*). We do get a new character introduced into the DuckTales universe though in Lena – including a pretty cool reveal about her identity and intentions in the episode’s closing moments**. We also get a hearty helping of the expanded Beagle Boy crime syndicate.
But most interesting is what we can learn from the patterns the show has exhibited and established in only its fourth episode. For one thing, Webby is a BIG deal and her character’s rehabilitation from the show’s original incarnation has been both a rousing success and an unexpected delight. And, this show is definitely all about the kids. Not only is Scrooge absent this episode but he no longer seems to be the driving force or focal point of the series like he always has been. Is this a trend the show will maintain or is this the beginning of the marginalization of Scrooge McDuck?
Webby was unbearable during the series’ first run. She was a whiny, doll carrying wet blanket. The nephews tolerated her while Scrooge and Beakley coddled and pandered to her. From the moment we saw her Quacky Patch doll with an arrow through its heart, pinned to the wall in effigy during the Pilot, we knew the show had effectively killed off the old Webby. In her place, we’ve gotten an aged up, smart, proactive, funny, and capable young female character. And, the early returns tell us she’s not only on equal webbing with the nephews but may also stand out as the top duck in the show’s ensemble cast thus far. In regards to this episode, once the nephews effectively abandoned her when she couldn’t fit in their boat, she sulked for a moment but quickly moved on and started her own adventure with Lena. Besides, it’s already been established that the boys like and respect her. There was nothing malicious behind her exclusion, it was just an oversight brought on by youthful exuberance. If this were the 80s, the whole episode would’ve revolved around the nephews learning a valuable lesson about ditching their younger female companion in a way that’s all about the boys while condescending to her. She was a mere plot device, a victim. But now, SHE is the plot! And, in the end, it’s her “weirdly specific super brains,” resilience, and physical prowess that saves the day just like it did in “The Daytrip of Doom.”
Where’s Scrooge? I’m not even referring to this episode either where he’s conspicuously absent***. It’s become apparent, four episodes in, that Scrooge may not be the series’ unquestioned star and protagonist anymore like he’s alwas been in the past. Almost every story thus far has been told from the perspective of Webby, Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Sure, Scrooge flexed his feathers a little bit in the Pilot and we got that fun B-storyline with Donald and Mrs. Beakley but most of the action and plot are driven by the kids with the adults as supporting characters. Even Scrooge seems a little different here. In both comics and TV, he was always an extremely flawed character who is defined be myopic thriftiness, greed, and ambition before ultimately realizing that family is the greatest treasure of all. This was the tension that drove the original series. Here, Scrooge is more of a finished product who has more-or-less figured it out. He’s an attentive uncle who has already bonded with both Dewey and Louie as well as being a progressive and forward thinking businessman. Even his life as a globetrotting adventurer is presented as more prologue than an active part of the present day story lines. Whatever happened with him, Donald, and Della with the Spear of Seline was a thing of the past and it’s become this generation’s mystery to solve.
Don’t get me wrong, this show is GREAT but its tone and direction are decidedly different than the original. These aren’t complaints… just a re-calibration of expectations may be in order. While I’m less enthused about the lack of adult perspective from the likes of Scrooge and Launchpad (it’s only episode four… BREATHE!), they’ve hit a homerun with Webby’s rejuvenation. We can’t ignore Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s makeovers either. They really were nothing characters in the show’s original run and more like avatars for childlike wonder and mischief than actual three-dimensional, fully developed ducks. Maybe that’s why Scrooge has taken a backseat so far. His character is old hat and there isn’t much more that can be done with him. Meanwhile, Webby and the nephews are like new toys the show gets to play with and it’s through them that the new DuckTales is finding its own identity and succeeding in not being a pat reboot and a mere update of its predecessor.
(*) The Warriors tells the story of members of a New York City gang who must make a 30 mile journey back to their home turf through the sprawling city after being framed for the death of prominent gang leader. On their way, they must contend with a series of colourful gangs trying to kill them.
(**) It’s become a pattern to have some sort of reveal in the closing moments of an episode. In the Pilot, we get Dewey finding his mom in a painting with Scrooge and Donald. And, in The Great Dime Chase, Gyro foreshadows inventing Gizmoduck.
(***) It wasn’t until episode 17’s “Sir Gyro de Gearloose” from the original series that Scrooge failed to appear.
I’m loving the reddish colour palate from the sunset on the beach. Even the ducks white down has a rosy hue.
Webby takes note and identifies Lena’s vintage Sumerian talisman. Sumer was among the world’s first civilizations and stood from 4500 – 1900 BC in what is now modern day Iraq.
If Webby is the same age as the boys at 11 then Lena is probably 13ish.
Lena is hanging out in what looks like the ruins from an abandoned, seaside amphitheater.
Ma Beagle was inspired by real life matriarchal crime boss, Arizona Donnie Barker aka Kate Barker aka Ma Barker who had four sons and led their gang from 1910 through 1935. Although her true involvement in her sons’ gang has been disputed, the legend of such exploits have influenced many films and fictional characters. Most notable was 1970’s Bloody Mama starring Shelley Winters as well as Ma Parker (also played by Winters) from the 1966 Batmantelevision series and Ma Fratelli from 1985’s The Goonies. In fact, it was J. Edgar Hoover who perpetuated this supposed myth in part to rationalize the FBI shootout that killed an old woman in Ma. He stated that she was "the most vicious, dangerous and resourceful criminal brain of the last decade." This has been heavily disputed by everyone that knew her but most colorfully by her contemporary and bank robber Harvey Bailey who said Ma "couldn't plan breakfast let alone a criminal enterprise.”
The burly Déjà Vu is seen looking through a Viewfinder.
This is the second episode in-a-row where somebody’s face gets smashed into a cake – first, there was Donald by way of Della and now Ma Beagle suffers the same fate from Lena.
It’s confirmed by Webby that Mrs. Beakley is British. I always thought her accent was Mid Atlantic.
Louie getting attacked and carried off by a flock of seagulls is low key the best part of the episode.
The leader of The Ugly Failures is named Botchjob.
I’ll wait to discuss Magica De Spell more once she makes an actual appearance but she appears to only partly exist now with her consciousness and shadow residing within Lena’s talisman – kinda like a Horcrux(?!?!). Lena is Magica’s niece and I’ll bet that Scrooge is the one responsible for her current imprisoned state.