Episode: 122 "The Last Crash of the Sunchaser!" 8/11/18
Starring: Scrooge McDuck, Dewey Duck, Huey Duck, Louie Duck, Launchpad McQuack, Mrs. Beakley, and Webby Vanderquack
Costarring: Donald Duck and Duckworth
Appearances by: Bentley Buzzard and Bradford Buzzard
Setting: Duckburg (McDuck Manor) and the Sunchaser
Plot: Marooned on the peak of a mountain, the McDuck family is forced to reckon with their painful past while the Sunchaser teeters toward a catastrophic crash.
This is it! This is the episode where we can unequivocally say that THIS is our best version of DuckTales. For it to leave me as emotionally wrecked as it did (and, I’m a VERY manly adult man… who also blogs about cartoons) means that the show established stakes early on that built throughout the season and then BOOM – gut punch delivered.
The clues were there all along too. The series opens with Scrooge in an almost reclusive state where he’s been out of limelight for some time. He’s clearly depressed and had even stopped adventuring. He is also estranged from his nephew, Donald, and we are led to believe an unspeakable event caused the rift. It’s been so long since they’ve spoken to each other that Scrooge has never even met his great-nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie.
Then, at the Pilot’s end, Dewey and Webby discover an old painting with his mother, Della Duck, in it. This begins the season long arc of solving the mystery of Della’s disappearance. Little by little, we learn more. Dewey and Webby discover an old note left by Della telling Scrooge that she’s “sorry” for taking the Spear of Selene. What is the Spear of Selene? At first, we are led to believe that it’s an artifact of some sort, with Dewey and Webby even going so far as to meet the actual goddess, Selene, to inquire with her.
Then there’s Donald who has been moping about all season – jobless and living on a broken boat in a swimming pool (still refusing to live in McDuck Manor). We learn that he’s quit adventuring because, as he puts it, “someone always gets hurt.” Obviously, he’s talking about Della, but he’s also referring to himself. Him, Scrooge, and Della were a globetrotting’-treasure-huntin’ team but, more importantly, they were a family. Whatever happened is so catastrophic that Della is still gone while Donald and Scrooge are still unable to reconcile whatever it is that occurred. All we know is that Donald seems to have more of a problem with Scrooge than the other way around.
Scrooge is back though. He’s adventuring again thanks to his nephews and Webby reinvigorating him, rescuing him from his doldrums. But all is not okay. The seed that was planted all the way back when Della first disappeared, has now grown into a gnarled and tangled knot that is slowly choking the life out of the high they are currently riding. The past MUST be dealt with and that time is now… trapped in the Sunchaser, teetering in the clouds, on the most precarious peak that ever peaked, and in the hands of the most accident-prone pilot who’s ever piloted. And, just like the Sunchaser itself, the McDuck family is crashing down to reality.
The episode opens with the gang* all a twitter, they’re headed to Monacrow** for a youth symposium called E.X.C.E.S.S (the EXtreme Consumer and Electronics Science Symposium) while Scrooge plans to search nearby for the Maltese MacGuffin.*** Scrooge even gleefully admits to Beakley how revitalized and vital he feels having the kids in his life. In fact, this is the most excited we’ve ever seen Scrooge when he cries out “to our greatest adventure yet!” Sure, this has all the makings of having the rug pulled out from under us (as we will soon find out) but life is, in fact, the greatest adventure and this is what life is – it’s heartbreak, it’s anger, it’s regret. And, it’s the best of us who push through the “Dismal Downs” of life to come out the other end, all bright-eyed and bushy-feathered, ready for the ups and downs of whatever the next adventure may bring us.
But these are the doldrums, the lowest of lows. Dewey finally confronts Scrooge about the Spear of Selene and Scrooge comes clean. We learn that ten-years-ago Scrooge recklessly emboldened Della’s dreams of exploring outer space while Donald steadfastly implored against it,**** mostly due to his sister currently waiting on three eggs to hatch (Huey, Dewey, and Louie). However, Della takes matters into her own wings, rashly absconding with the Spear of Selene, the rocket ship Scrooge was building for her in secret. Already hurtling through space, Della encounters a cosmic storm but Scrooge encourages her to push through… ultimately leading to her disappearance and his and Donald’s estrangement.
The damage from this reveal is truly heartbreaking. The Duck Boys have completely turned on Scrooge, blaming him for Della’s fate. Scrooge handles it poorly too. He gets defensive, declaring that the whole lot of them are ungrateful and “nothing but trouble.” He even lashes out at Webby, harshly reminding her that she isn’t family. Even a scolding from Beakley doesn’t snap him out of his self-destructive pity party. With Donald and the boys moving out of McDuck Manor and Beakley, Webby, and Duckworth(!) taking an extended vacation, Scrooge is left to stew over his failures, revealing that he nearly emptied his Money Bin, building a fleet of ships to find Della.
Again, we keep mentioning it but it’s the very foundation that the series is built upon: DuckTales is about family. It’s a running theme that whenever the McDucks act outside the family as individuals is when they get into trouble. Scrooge built the Spear of Selene… alone. Della ventured out into space… alone. Scrooge efforts to find Della… alone. Dewey tries to solve the mystery… kinda alone (with Webby but sans his brothers). And, now, Scrooge is left to stew over his heartbreak and self-pity… alone. He’s only left with Beakley’s lasting words of “I hope you’re happy” echoing through his mind… with him resolutely and tearfully responding “I am.”*****
As amazing as Scrooge is, he’s not going to fix this one on his own. He already tried that and failed miserably. It’s going to take a full, extended McDuck family effort. To find Della it’s going to take Scrooge, Donald, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Webby, Beakley, and even Launchpad. They’d do well to use the super powers of Gizmoduck and primordial Duckworth as well. And… I wouldn’t be surprised if a rehabilitated and fully restored Lena adds a magical hand to the proceedings. We know Magica’s return is looming and will serve as the climactic capper to the season but the return of Della is the dramatic stroke the entire series hinges on.
(*) It’s fitting that Donald stayed behind to fix his damaged boat. All season (as well as ten-years-ago) Donald has been then one firmly grounded in reality and acting responsibly. While Scrooge has been able to temporarily get past his heartbreak, Donald has not.
(**) Monacrow is a “foul” stand-in for real life locale, Monaco.
(***) This is a winking nod to the literary device known as a “macguffin.” Just as their whole trip is, a macguffin is a means to trigger the plot. In fact, the Maltese Falcon is the macguffin to its eponymous story.
(****) Eschewing safety in favour of adventure is, perhaps, both Scrooge’s greatest strength and weakness. His confidence in nothing bad ever happening also falls into that category. It’s even a point of contention between him and Beakley in this very episode. It’s also what spurred Scrooge in helping Della realize her dream of going to space.
(*****) That shot of Scrooge slumped over in his chair, with gritted beak is an ode to the image of him from his very first appearance in the Donald Duck comic, "Christmas on Bear Mountain." This is also a reminder that Scrooge is, in fact, a "Scrooge." At his worst, he's a cantankerous and miserly curmudgeon.
While getting excited for E.X.C.E.S.S., Huey, Webby, and Launchpad evoke the show’s theme song with their recital of “racers,” “lasers,” “aeroplanes?”
Beakley talking about “maxing and relaxing” is taken from the lyrics of the theme song from The Fresh Prince of Bel Aire – another show where a kid goes to live with his rich uncle.
The Sunchaser’s in-flight entertainment is the credits from Darkwing Duck on a loop.
I yada, yada’d over most of the shenanigans that occurred in the Sunchaser. It’s mainly necessary filler, threaded with blatant foreshadowing, before getting to the tragic reveal at episode’s end.
HOWEVER, the point where Huey pleads with Dewey to come back, saying “our family is amazing, we’re enough, let it go!” is brutal, especially considering Dewey immediately tosses the walkie talkie off the plane thereafter.