DuckTales is back! Again! After a six-months hiatus, Disney is pushing a new slate of shows and episodes this summer, re-jiggering its entire approach as this show now airs on Disney Channel proper. (I have a theory as to why.) Still, it’s good to be back in the Duck-verse, even if this ‘verse is perhaps a bit different than what we’ve expected. There’s plenty to like about this iteration of DuckTales, but there’s also plenty of more weaker content, and “The Spear of Selene”attempts to at least contextualize the show’s overall approach by directly questioning it–an effort that is most appreciated, but still doesn’t quite smooth over its flaws.
Really, though, the flaws for the most part are structural. Things like pacing, storytelling logic, inciting incidents–elements that feel like narrative hiccups than anything, but really harm the ability to get drawn into the show–like Dewey hitting random switches on Launchpad’s plane to confuse him and, I guess, crash the plane. But also, it seemed like it was an intentional bit, pre-planned between Dewey and Webby to... something (since they weren’t sure where they were). But then Webby seemed to be in on it, but Dewey didn’t, and then when they crashed, Webby had to remind Dewey why they were there, or remind him this coincidental crash never-the-less gave them the opportunity to go searching for the Spear? The whole set-up is just so clunky, and what’s worse is that, since Dewey had to be reminded of this opportunity to find out what happened to his mom, it already starts off as if Dewey doesn’t even care.
Luckily, he does, although it takes Madison Bateman’s script a bit to get to the heart of things. Dewey and Webby dart on an adventure through the Temple of Heroes to find the Spear and/or any information about Della, but it’s not really an adventure per se. It’s more like a “sad trombone” of adventures, with their ventures always leading them to the wrong artifact, dangerous encounters being quelled when they realize they’re chasing the wrong thing. (The monster guarding the Spear of Poseidon lets them go casually, and we don’t even get to see what happens after they accidentally grab the Sword of Selene). DuckTales takes a “wink and nod” approach to its adventurous spirit than actually showing a solid adventure, and yes, that’s clearly this show’s MO, but it still feels... not right, and honestly I may not ever get over that feeling. But I will say that this episode uses that subversion to comment on one aspect of this whole adventuring thing when Webby and Dewey go head-to-head.
Webby’s desire to solve the mystery is part of her character, part of her passion to know all about the McDuck family, so I can see how her constant push to know the truth, and her refrain on Della’s betrayal, blinds her from Dewey’s feelings. Dewey does want to learn the truth too, but he freezes up, and even fights Webby, when there’s a chance that Della may indeed have done terrible things. There’s something specific about this bit: it feels like commentary of adventurous “heroes” and how they may, quite often, do terrible things to find artifacts or treasure (insert here one of the many jokes about Indiana Jones being an awful archeologist). I do love the very honest “Okay” Webby says after Dewey admits this to her, and it’s probably the first time since “Woo-oo!” that the show hit such an honest beat. Dewey eventually comes around though, ready to learn the truth no matter what (I do wish the episode took a bit more time with his change of heart. There’s a powerful beat to be had in accepting hard truths about loved ones–remember when Steven Universe had to accept learning about his own mom’s more questionable past actions?–but, baby steps). More than what they do learn*, the scene itself gave these two characters a great dramatic moment, and shows they make a really do make a great pairing.
On the other end of the island is a weird little conflict between Scrooge, Donald, Huey, and Louie–and two Ithaquack gods, Storkules and Zeus. Apparently Donald and Scrooge landed here before (or vacationed?), and Scrooge bested Zeus at a bunch of games, and I guess Donald and Storkules became friends, but neither of the ducks couldn’t care less about being back. Again, this is DuckTales subverting our expectations, but there’s a more clear-eyed reason for it. While Scrooge’s disinterest in the events is his overall annoyance at Zeus (and obviously, no treasure to be had), Donald’s indifference is rooted in surprising pain. It’s implied that his avoidance of adventures is rooted in Della’s demise; although it’s not clear that she’s dead, the fear that it leads to people being hurt holds the sailor duck back, as well as goes to explain his overall paranoia and over-protectiveness. DuckTales using this to question the drive for adventure and the consequences it befalls on those who pursue it is a noble one, but I am concerned with how much the show can tackle this, since by design Duck comics have thrived on adventure, and past subversions from this show haven’t quite worked as well. Still, DuckTales continues to put in a lot of quiet work in exploring Donald as a character, a great development that unfortunately serves to show how little Scrooge is working, depth-wise, and how the “scattered” the nephews feel.
Both stories in this episode are looking at the core difference between just adventuring and heroism, exemplified with Storkules’ dilemma over whether to steal a golden fleece from a child. Ditto the speech he gives Donald at the end of the episode:
“You may think you’re done with adventure, but it will never be done with you. You’re a hero, whether you want to be or not.”
“Spear of Selene” is culmination of the overall approach to DuckTales so far, a thesis statement of sorts that seeks to showcase those adventures that the Duck-verse is known for, while simultaneously subvert and question them. It’s not one hundred percent cohesive yet, and I doubt younger audiences care about all this academic self-awareness, but at the very least, the show is trying to aim for something bigger than itself, which, for a franchise so rich in history, is quite the feat.
- * Okay, what we learn is that there is no such thing as a Spear of Selene and it’s both figurative and puzzling. There’s nothing really more to say about this. The show doesn’t seem particularly interested in this mystery so there’s no reason to spend much time on it. Selene seems really cool though. That final hug was adorable. She also gave the the Sphere of Selene, which most likely is the next clue or whatever.
- Donald is great as always but the fact that he set himself up in parachute when he thought the plane was going to crash, but not his nephews, feels out of character. His late rally– “No one gets hurt today!”–is such a potent and rich turn, in contrast.
- Scrooge seemed a bit out of character too, since he usually loves getting back into adventures, but I buy it since “Scrooge being annoyed at pathetic adversaries” is pretty well established.
- Over on Twitter, there was a lot of excitement about Zeus being one of the the team’s favorite villains, but I got to say... he wasn’t really much different than the show’s take on Glomgold. Funny, though.
- Ithaquack is also referenced in the old DuckTales episode “Home Sweet Homer” but otherwise the episodes are unrelated.
- Della being dead would be one hell of a reveal, even though it’s pretty unlikely.
- That ending could probably be seen as subversive too, but, like the beginning, it feels more like tossed-off writing, a big shrug to attempting any type of narrative resolution, even though the emotional resolution was fine. (Unless the next episode is supposed to be a part two...?)