Episode 21: "The Secret(s) of Castle McDuck!" 8/4/18
Starring: Scrooge McDuck, Dewey Duck, Huey Duck, and Louie Duck
Costarring: Launchpad McQuack and Webbigail Vanderquack
Featuring: Fergus McDuck, Downy McDuck, The Demon Dog of Castle McDuck, and the Ghosts of Castle McDuck
Setting: Dismal Downs, Scotland (Castle McDuck)
Plot: Revelations abound when Scrooge and co. travel to Castle McDuck in search of hidden treasure.
Everybody has parents… even 150-something-year-old Scrooge McDuck. Thanks to an immortality curse, they’re still alive too! Fergus, Scrooge’s father, is especially full of vim and vigor. Since Scrooge seldom visits, Fergus takes this as an opportunity to pummel his son with barbs of disapproval and a bevy of insults. However, dwelling beneath this hardened and acidic exterior is a secret that ultimately sweetens their sour dynamic.
Then there’s the nephews who don’t know their mother at all. She’s been gone all their lives,* leaving the boys with nary an explanation for her disappearance nor clues to her current whereabouts. Try as he may, Dewey has been working at solving the mystery all season long but he was never going to resolve anything while keeping Huey and Louie in the dark. Now that the Duck Boys are united in their task, it’s only a matter of episodes until the questions of Della and the Spear of Selene are finally answered.
It’s fitting that the backdrop for this story is Castle McDuck, Clan McDuck’s ancestral home. The only thing as murky and mysterious as the ancient castle is the McDuck family itself. It’s not enough that the castle is only accessible once every five years;** its secret passages, candlelit stairwells, and haunted catacombs provide a surprise at every turn.
Fergus and Scrooge’s relationship is fraught with the hallmarks of most troubled father/son dynamics. At his advanced age and standing in life, Scrooge has very little need or interest in what his father has to offer. In fact, Scrooge didn’t come to Dismal Downs to visit his family at all. Nay, he’s there to search for the legendary Treasure of the Knights Templar which has been hidden in the castle by their ancestor Simon McDuck.
The main point of contention from Fergus’ standpoint is that he sees Scrooge’s life of excess as a personal affront, leading to his refusal in helping Scrooge to find the treasure. Finally, a frustrated Scrooge, weary from his father’s insults claps back, “I never needed your help before and I don’t need it now!” Then, he hits his old man with the knockout blow, “you never gave me anything!”
Their mutual resentment has finally boiled over. Despite Scrooge’s unparalleled success in life, he still harbours pain from his impoverished upbringing. At the same time, Fergus carries the shame from his inability to properly provide for his family. All of Scrooge’s good fortune, including his rebuilding of Castle McDuck, is just a painful reminder for Fergus of what he isn’t.
Now, with their wounds fully exposed, Fergus finally comes clean and LITERALLY rewrites his and Scrooge’s history. It turns out that the Number One Dime, Scrooge’s self-proclaimed catalyst for all his fortune and success, came from his father. Fergus reveals that he supplied Scrooge’s first customer with the Dime and encouraged his patronage. Fergus wanted to give Scrooge the gift of self-reliance so he could succeed where he couldn’t. He then tells Scrooge that he’s only been so hard on him because he misses him. Overcome with emotion, Scrooge says “I miss you too, Daddy.” They both realize that they don’t need treasure when “we’ve got each other” and vow to find it when Scrooge returns in five years.
Meanwhile, the chickens finally come home to roost for Dewey when his own familial secret is finally exposed. Huey and Louie rightly excoriate their brother for excluding them from his search for their mom. Dewey rationalizes that he was only trying to protect his brothers from whatever pain the information about Della could bring.
However, Huey cuts through the bullquack by correctly pegging “classic Dewey” as selfish and only keeping the secret to himself to feed his need to be “special.” To his credit, Dewey recognizes their error of his ways and apologizes to his brothers. Then, as a team, the Duck Boys ultimately uncover a sketch of the fabled Spear of Selene left by their mom that includes the date of the boys’ hatching.***
The symmetry of this episode is expertly and effectively executed. While Clan McDuck is built on mysteries and secrets, these same ambiguities can also tear a family apart. Scrooge wasn’t finding the Treasure of the Knights Templar without Fergus and Dewey isn’t going to find Della without his brothers. Their respective adventures also both turn out to be elaborate pranks. Fergus’ father, Dirty Dingus McDuck, already found the treasure and re-hid it so his son would have to find it again for himself. Then, the riddle that Della left on the back of Donald’s portrait, turns out to just have been a game for Donald to find his missing hat.
As we’ve mentioned before, DuckTales is a show about family. And, just as the ghosts of Castle McDuck**** (their distant relatives) saved the Duck Boys, it’s going to take an all wings-on-deck approach to solve the mystery behind Della Duck and the Spear of Selene. The next step is for the triplets to involve Scrooge and Donald in their quest by demanding answers and forcing them to reckon with whatever painful and catastrophic events led to the disappearance of Scrooge’s niece/Donald’s sister/and Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s mother.
(*) Since ducks lay eggs, Della could’ve conceivably flown the coop before the boys were even hatched.
(**) The dense mists of Dismal Downs only part enough to reveal Castle McDuck’s location once every five years.
(***) As we’ve long expected and written about before, the Spear of Selene looks to be some sort of rocket ship. Della and her connection to the moon is all but fait accompli at this point. Also, the date of April 15 corresponds with Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s debut from all the way back in 1938 from the classic short Donald’s Nephews (where Donald’s sister, Dumbella, sends her boys to visit Donald).
(****) The Ghosts of Castle McDuck, most of which can trace versions of themselves back to the Uncle Scrooge series of comic books, are as follows:
Almost hidden smack dab in the middle of this mythology heavy/plot moving story is a brilliant and hilarious showing by Launchpad McQuack. Dressed in Donald’s sailor blacks and offering a comedically awful impersonation of the tempestuous Duck, Launchpad “oh boy, oh boys” and “quacks” his way toward the performance of the season. Launchpad is the true treasure of the episode.
The episode draws similarities and inspiration from the Carl Barks’ comic “The Hound of the Whiskerville” (which is taken from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novel The Hounds of Baskerville) as well as its 1987 adaptation, “The Curse of Castle McDuck” from the original DuckTales.
“Jettison that jalopy from my driveway this instant, you deadbeat!” Like father, like son: this is the same line Scrooge utters to Donald in “Woo-oo.”
It’s never really explained why Donald is excluded from the trip but it’s mentioned that they had to sneak out behind his back. Why that is… I cannot surmise.
Scrooge refers to Donald as his parents’ great-nephew but, in reality, he’s their grandson.
We lose Webby midway through to a catatonic state known as “joy overload.” This plot device works since the tension of mystery solving doesn’t work as well when Webby is forwardly peppering Scrooge’s parents with questions all episode long.
Downy has been hoarding Scrooge’s returned birthday cards that include checks for five cents each.
Huey, Dewey, and Louie walking down the torchlit stairwell is a direct homage to the iconic shot in the opening sequence from the original DuckTales.
Although occurring offscreen, it’s clear that Fergus defeats Scrooge in an arm wrestling match by virtue of his frock coat being pulled over his head.
Scrooge’s childhood pet, Whiskers, was a mere clump of hair from the local barber that the family all pitched in to purchase for him.
While Huey and Dewey know about “nerd things,” Louie knows about gold. Hopefully this pays off with Scrooge at some point.
Scrooge’s sister and Donald’s and Della’s mother, Hortense McDuck, is never mentioned.
Junior Woodchuck Rule 217: Rub all documents with a pencil.