DuckTales, Season 1, Episode 22, “The Last Crash of the Sunchaser!”

So…shit got pretty real in this episode, didn’t it?

It was a year ago today when the pilot for DuckTales premiered on Disney XD, and it was at the end of that adventure when the disappearance of Della Duck was first teased (also, yes, this series premiered a year ago, and we’re still on the first season!). Now after several episodes worth of hype, the mystery has finally been solved with “The Last Crash of the Sunchaser!”,  but it’s the aftermath of that revelation–rather than the resolution itself–that has the most bite here. “Sunchaser” is far and away the bleakest DuckTales to date, ending on a note that is as satisfying as it is emotionally devastating.

From the beginning, the episode lets the viewer know that it’s going to go into “event” territory. Scrooge merrily notes that it’s been six months since he’s taken the nephews in to live with him, and everyone feels just a little too happy. All of the characters are along for the ride here (sans Donald, who’s staying behind to work on his houseboat), with Scrooge bringing the family with him to search for “The Maltese MacGuffin” (that’s a great joke), but that treasure–which is never mentioned again–isn’t the focus of the trip. The boys and Webby believe that they have the keys to the secret of Della in the form of some torn documents, but they’re one piece short when it comes to solving the puzzle. Things take a turn for the chaotic when Launchpad crashes the plane, but this time he lands it on the peak of a narrow canyon cliff, leaving the gang stranded.

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From here, a lot starts happening at once. Beakley is furious when she learns that when Scrooge has been taking the children on “road trips,” he has actually been sending them on dangerous escapades (then again, she did find out about Atlantis in the pilot, so maybe Webby has gotten a lot better at lying to her grandma since then?). Launchpad tries to calm everyone down by digging into the Disney Afternoon nostalgia toybox and playing an old Darkwing Duck VHS as an “in-flight movie,” but the tape is stuck which results in the end credits simply playing over and over and over again (this is, as with the “MacGuffin” bit, a terrific gag). Amid all of this, Dewey plays an elaborate game of hide-and-seek as he tries to obtain a sheet of paper that will supposedly resolve Della’s disappearance, all while not trying to get caught by Scrooge, who he’s certain won’t cooperate if he finds out.

Of the three nephews, Dewey has easily been given the most to do this season, and despite his short-lived turn as a pirate captain, he’s possibly the one who cares the most about finding some form of companionship in his life. His bonding with Webby over the course of several episodes has been evidence of that, and his “secret” hobby of hosting a TV talk show by himself suggests not only the desire for adoration, but the longing that comes with loneliness. Though they all wish they could’ve grown up with Della, it’s Dewey who probably probably craves the unconditional love and approval that comes from a mother in the most desperate way possible, and his unease over her potentially being a thief has only increased his drive to find out the truth about her.

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All of this may explain why Dewey becomes so desperate to solve the case that he is willing to risk his life by stepping outside of the plane in order to get the clue. There is a hint of madness about his actions–Webby cries out that it’s not worth it–but Scrooge finally caves and agrees to tell him the story he’s been praying he’d never have to tell anyone else. It turns out that “The Spear of Salene” was a reference to a rocket ship, one which Scrooge had built for Della has part of her urge to continue her exploring after she had already been across the entire world. “She wanted to give you the stars,” Scrooge explains to the boys in almost a half-whisper, the bitter tenderness in his voice exemplifying just how deeply he cared for her, and I don’t think enough credit can ever be given to David Tennent–who I haven’t talked about so far in these reviews–for how he handles this episode. Donald was against Della going into space, feeling it was foolish and irresponsible for an expectant mother to attempt such a thing, but Della shared her uncle’s stubbornness and defiance of “by the book” tendencies when it came to things like personal safety. Behind Scrooge’s back, Della launched the rocket on her own, but an unexpected storm took place as she did so, causing her to be lost in space forever.

Scrooge wraps up the story by explaining that Donald never spoke to him again after that incident, and that the only thing that changed that was when he and the nephews came over to live with him. His tone suggests a sense of resolution and finality, as though he–and the episode itself–fully expects for everyone to hug and kiss and then move onto the next adventure. That is decidedly not what happens here. The boys are furious, placing all of the blame on Scrooge for what happened, even though, on some level, it was probably Della’s fault more than it was his. Yet blaming the (presumed) dead never feels as morally correct as blaming the living, and Scrooge goes all out on the defensive as his loved ones accuse his greed of being what did Della in, stating that he never would’ve spent any more than he had to on getting her rescued. Even Webby, her idolization of Scrooge aside, goes in on the attack, and then things start to get ugly, with Scrooge–frazzled and desperate over being interrogated over his darkest secret–yelling that she has no business getting involved since she’s “not part of his family.”

From there, due to the inability of apology, everyone declares they’re done with Scrooge. The boys decide to move back in with Uncle Donald in his houseboat, Mrs. Beakley drags Webby away from the mansion (perhaps not permanently, but she does have more than 900 vacation days to spend), and even Duckworth’s ghost, in a brief moment of emotionally levity, packs his bags and goes. Left alone in his now gloomy quarters, the truth of what happened to Della Duck is truly revealed: Scrooge didn’t encourage her to keep on going after she launched the rocket, but lost contact with her. Scrooge didn’t hold back on searching for her: he put all of his companies assets into launching several vessels into space to rescue her. No pennies were pinched: Scrooge was literally drug away from the project by his stockbrokers because it cost him more than half of his fortune. There’s a heart-wrenching, almost Arrival-like quietness to the explanation of everything here, a certain inescapable bitter-sweetness that makes everything about Scrooge’s actions suddenly make more sense. When Scrooge’s eyes well up in the episode’s chilling final moment, the audience shares his tears.

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We react to film and television on some level based on what the expectations for it are. If a Game of Thrones episode ended on a note like this, for instance, it would be a walk in the park by that show’s standards. DuckTales however is a family cartoon from Disney, one where the very name alone promises fun, excitement and a bit of surreal absurdity. Children’s shows (a term which I hate using) aren’t supposed to have endings like this, which is probably where series like The Legend of Korra and the 2012 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had their greatest impact on the genre, in that they’ve given their entertainment cousins permission to take a few risks, or worded another way, get a little dark and even violent. “The Last Crash of the Sunchaser” brings about such a strong emotionally reaction from the viewer for the same reasons that The Other Bin of Scrooge McDuck did: the safety net of perceived standards for the genre is removed, and as such, the audience feels the impact when they hit the ground.

* Other stuff…

* Della Duck is probably not dead.

* “Dewey, the Darkwing Duck video is still playing! Do you want me to pause it for you?” Even with how heavy this episode got, there were moments like this one that still allowed for it to be hilarious when it needed to be.

* Having said that, I’m not sure if the “slow chase between Scrooge and Dewey” bit worked for what was such a pivotal  moment for the series.

* Duckworth being dead is certainly one of the…odder choices the DuckTales reboot has made so far, along with making Doofus into an evil rich boy. I’ll say more whenever I finally get around to covering previous episodes (which will probably be during the show’s upcoming hiatus).

* Magica and Scrooge face off next week!