One of the issues with making a character like Flintheart Glomgold the consistent butt of so many jokes is that it makes it difficult to properly develop him, and to make audiences suddenly invest any interest in that development. It takes a whole lot of work to re-jigger a broad narrative to make the ostensible comic relief into something of a raw tragic figure, and somehow “The Ballad Of Duke Baloney” does it. It borrows a lot of cliches (heavy metaphors, meaningful dream sequences, climax-in-a-storm) and some of the show’s wonky, forced comedy (some of which still works!) to get into how and why Glomgold is the way he is. And it underlines that story with a very messed-up dynamic between Scrooge and a young Glomgold (AKA Duke Baloney) that, if you squint, feels like DuckTales’ first real attempt to make some kind of socioeconomic statement about the dark side of immense wealth and labor.
During the climax of the first season’s finale, Glomgold was dragged by his possessed shadow into the ocean. He is “rescued” by a pair of fishermen (fisherpeople?) with no memory of who he was. And as cliche as an amnesia story is, it helps that Colleen Evanson’s script leans into the story, with Louie and Webby–who just happen to be around on their own little fishing excursion–immediately recognizing that he does indeed have amnesia. Well, Webby does. Louie thinks he’s faking it, which sets the episodeup to seem to be focused on whether Webby or Louie is right, and determining if this new “Baloney” bloke is faking it or not. I do like that Webby insists on helping Glomgold/Flintheart. Assuming that she’s right, despite the fact that he would return to his cruel, clumsy self, it is the right thing to do, since he could have legitimate brain damage (the episode comically downplays this, insisting that Glomgold’s history of accidents and physical pain makes him basically immune to any serious damage, but still, Webby’s heart is in the right place).
So it goes, with a funny, if fine, back and forth between Louie and Webby, a solid pairing that the show recognizes works very well (I don’t think we got a proper Webby/Huey pairing yet though?). But it’s not done yet. They bring in Scrooge to finally determine what’s going on, and despite a fairly questionable lip-reading from Webby, it seems that, yes, Baloney is Glomgold and, yes, he does have amnesia. But he’s happy. So it seems like it’s a done deal! So the kids go back to finishing. I’m a bit suspect that they didn’t recognize a storm was coming though, especially Webby, but the script needed them to place them in “danger” so to trigger Baloney’s rescue attempt, to knock him out, and drag him underwater to connect him to one of the most screwed-up interactions this show has done so far.
Back during an expedition in South Africa, Scrooge runs into the young Glomgold, who at this point is indeed named Duke Baloney and indeed has a South African accent (this is how the show bridges the gap between the comics’ incarnation of the character as South African and the old cartoon’s incarnation as Scottish). Young Duke was as nutty as his older self, coming up with complex schemes over basic, simple ideas, and Scrooge, partly in sympathy and partly in pity, decides to give him a dime for his troubles, in an effort to inspire Duke about the importance of hard work, like what was done in his own life. But... you can’t help but think that there’s an essence of cheapskate Scrooge in there making that decision. For all of Duke’s bluster, the shoe-shining did cost a dollar, and Scrooge, in the end, didn’t pay him at all. Duke’s sociopathic rage and obsession grew to the point that he straight-up copied all of Scrooge’s mannerisms, with the singular desire to overtake him, and while that is pretty outlandish, all of this could have been avoided if Scrooge just paid the kid for his services! This is reflected in the present, in which the recovered Glomgold challenges Scrooge to see who has the most wealth by the end of the year (season?). Enraged by the discovery of the money clip and the realization of their shared connection, Scrooge takes the bet.
The whole ordeal is reflective of how petty the fight over wealth can be (visually summed up with two rich dudes sparring while the competent Owlson signs the paperwork for a charity), but also how messed up the basic democracies of labor can be under the lens of the wealthy, who are so up their own... tailfeathers, they can’t just simply pay workers what they’re worth. It all has the air of a rich person providing a “verbal tip” instead of a financial one; the irony is that the snub was exactly the motivation that pushed Duke to be Glomgold and indeed become wealthy. It’s here that Glomgold really feels like a foil to Scrooge for the first time, and even though Scrooge almost nearly avoids this whole thing, ultimately succumbs to his pride and need to stay on top of his rival. This fight to be the richest duck ever seems to be an arc that the show will work with, and has the potential to be pretty significant. Hopefully the show won’t get amnesia and push it aside only to remember it way too late.
- Is “Duke Baloney” ever referenced in any of the comics?
- There’s another dark moment when “Duke” pretends to save Webby in the final storm sequence, but instead grabs her and throws her overboard (Louie saves her). It’s both chilling and silly as Duke reverts back to Glomgold, and while the entire sequence just... ends (there’s no explanation how they suddenly got back to the dock), it can’t help but make an impression, that under all the ridiculousness of the character, there’s a very dangerous threat. That also underlines the scene between Scrooge and Glomgold.
- Keith Ferguson is an amazing talent, but his South African accent was all over the place and fairly dodgy. From what I hear though, the South African accent is incredibly hard to mimic, even from the pros, so it’s best to just accept it for what it is.
- The two fishers are pretty great and distinct as one-off characters. It helps that Grey DeLisle and John DiMaggio give them an extra spark of personality to their already solidly established personas.
- Yes, Glomgold’s dream sequence is incredibly well-done. It’s nothing particularly new, but you really can’t do anything new with it these days. It still looked fantastic though: animation allows for more elusive, dynamic visuals when it comes to metaphors of the mind.
- There’s a shot of Glomgold climbing over Scrooge to grab a lamp on a large pillar. Nice nostalgic callback without being too much.
- Speaking of animation, I also love how the show depicts various characters’ eyes. Zan Owlson’s eyes were particularly vibrant, but also the shifting of pupil sizes to express disdain or shock is a small but effective take, like Webby’s look when she and Louie are spying on Baloney. And one semi old-school technique–drawing circles around said pupils to express a higher-level of shock–is utilized when Scrooge sees Glomgold with his money clip. Details like that really make the show pop.
- I don’t know if that money clip is more significant in any real way? Scrooge recognizes it but doesn’t seem to recognize that Baloney was the one who snatched it from it (and therefore fails to recognize him as the boy who shined his spats so many years ago) until Glomgold reminds him. It’s odd that Scrooge wouldn’t have immediately realized he lost a wad of cash back then, but the clip itself seems like any old thing he probably has a million of, unless that one means something to him.
- I hope Zan Owlson comes back. She’s a pretty great character, and I would love nothing more than to watch her quietly get work done in the background while Scrooge, Glomgold, and Beaks jerk each other around in ridiculous money-measuring contests.
- The whole interaction between Scrooge and young-Duke is extra messed up when you remember the truth of the whole “first dime” from Scrooge’s father in “The Secret(s) Of Castle McDuck.” There’s a lot of rich drama here, and I don’t know if DuckTales can mine it properly, but I hope they do.