As of right now, Disney has the full episode up on YouTube here: if you haven’t seen it yet, or want to watch it again, it’s free to watch.
So, I was barely on the cusp of teen hood when The Disney Afternoon started with The Gummi Bears. Which I didn’t care about. Nor Ducktales, which I did watch, but only if I were bored, or waiting for the next shows. But TaleSpin? Rescue Rangers? My jam. And when Darkwing Duck arrived on the scene, it was like Tad Stones spoke to me, because it was just fucking amazing, full of crazy humour and meta humour and references to all sorts of other shit and it was glorious. So you can imagine how happy I was to see the little call backs and references to these shows in the rebooted Ducktales, and I was pretty convinced that was all we would get. References. Some of which were admittedly very, very deep cuts, proving these creators actually were fans of the originals.
Flash forward to 2020, and we’ve not only seen Darkwing Duck actually appear as a character, but the Rescue Rangers as well (through a glorified, winky cameo), and supposedly, more TaleSpin characters will arrive as well, not just Don Karnage. One of the episodes of season 2 was all about Darkwing’s new origin story (and more on my feelings on that some other time), leading up to this: a full hour episode that is basically a remake of “Darkly Dawns the Duck,” the original pilot for Darkwing Duck.
When I say remake instead of reboot, it’s because this episode, while taking the basics of the original, go in a very different direction. Most of this is because of the meta involved with the fact this Darkwing, while still Drake Mallard, is also based off a TV show in-universe, so many jokes and events are contingent upon this fact. The only things that are brought over from the original show are Taurus Bulba, the Ramrod, Gosalyn, and her grandfather, and a few beats from the original plot. Everything else is new.
Anyway! This is going to be long and rambling and spoilerific episode synopsis, so fair warning: if you haven’t seen it yet, or don’t want to know what happens, don’t open the spoiler space.
Spoiler Space Here!
In this episode, Scrooge is visiting St. Canard with his nephews to see what one of his scientists is working on; a large bull named Taurus Bulba, who has created the Ramrod. However, there have been issues with the project, which is why Scrooge is on his way to check on him, though he argues with Bradford that he trusts Bulba. Launchpad and Dewey, on the other hand, are planning to visit Darkwing at his new lair (and are totally unsubtle about who it is, which was actually fairly hilarious, and also a super obvious joke), so Dewey can film him for his show.
Launchpad and Dewey visit Darkwing in the tower, which is basically his version of the Batcave – big shiny computer, various costumes behind glass, etc. He claims Fenton created the computer for him (which is clearly an attempt to answer what the original show never did), and that Fenton clearly hates Gizmoduck. Launchpad and Dewey, eager to see him fight crime, find out that despite St. Canard supposedly being a horrific, crime-filled city, the new mayor has apparently cleaned it up, and there’s nothing going on. And that Darkwing’s new computer, W.A.N.D.A., is a smart-ass who doesn’t hesitate to call him out. But Darkwing promises to find them crime to film.
At the lab, Scrooge, Huey, and Louie are being schmoozed by Bulba, who is a charismatic scientist willing to show off the Ramrod. He manages to produce haggis (“It tastes like socks and bitter regret!” “That’s how you know it’s haggis!”), and Huey, being Huey, questions how it’s possible.
Back in the city, Darkwing is showing off (and asking Dewey to film him from his good side, another nod to the original’s ego), but nothing has been going on for hours. When Dewey tries to call Gizmoduck (to do what, we never find out), Darkwing stops him, only to then finally find a crime in progress to thwart. Except it’s not a crime; it’s literally a moving company doing their job, so he ends up finishing their job for them after apologizing.
After embarrassing himself with the movers, Darkwing, depressed, wonders what good a hero is when there’s no crime to fight. Launchpad, noticing movement at McDuck Enterprises, interrupts Darkwing’s babbling (“…at least the cape looked good, right? It would have struck fear into the heart of any….”) to point out the possible crime in progress, which is someone breaking in through a front window. When the trio manage to stop the intruder, they find out it’s a young duckling who is desperate to keep Bulba from seeing her. She manages to escape just as the lights go on, and the guards arrive, along with Scrooge and the others.
In a complete twist on the original show, Darkwing, while immediately being pegged as a criminal by the guards (and Scrooge, who doesn’t recognize him), is actually recognized as a hero by Bulba. Even the mayor gets in on it with giving the key to the city to Darkwing at a press conference. (It may be the fastest press conference in history, considering.) Huey and Louie, on the sidelines, argue over Huey trying to figure out how Bulba’s machine works; Louie doesn’t want to know, because he just wants infinite gold. (Huey wisely tells him that would devalue the price of gold; Louie does not take this well.)
Back at the tower, Dewey is filming his show with Darkwing, only for the young duckling from the break in to appear, having had no issues at all finding them. (The lesson, everyone, is that live streaming from a secret hideout is a bad idea. Also, his smoke bombs had traces of saltwater in them.) Surprising no one, it’s Gosalyn (who points out Darkwing’s immense complex, seeing as his face is on everything), who came to him to ask him for help. Gosalyn tells him that her grandfather, professor Waddlemeyer, actually built the Ramrod (in a nod to the original show), but figured out there was a flaw. He left to tell Bulba one night, and never came back; after her grandfather disappeared, Bulba took the credit for the machine.
In a twist of common sense meeting reality, when Gosalyn demands he help her prove Bulba is a thief and possibly worse, Darkwing points out she has no proof, and that Bulba is a upright citizen who no one would believe is a bad guy when all they have is her word. Frustrated that he won’t help (and claiming it’s because he wants to protect his own reputation), she says she’ll keep working on her own to get the key to the machine and prove her story. In a not-so twist, Launchpad convinces Darkwing to help her anyway, because while the city needs him, so does she, so why not check it out? So the four of them cram into the Ratcatcher to go to the lab.
Back at the lab, Scrooge, proving to be a good uncle who trusts his nephews by this point, agrees with Huey that something isn’t right, and tells Bulba he wants to see the plans. During this, the other four drop in to Bulba’s office to look for clues to Bulba’s villainy; Bulba ends up bringing Scrooge and the others to his office, necessitating some quick hiding spots for the others. Bulba gives Scrooge a fat book that will lead him to the Ramrod Plans room, getting rid of him and the two nephews. He then immediately greets Darkwing (since the duck wasn’t subtle in squishing himself into the file cabinet), who tries to blow it off by saying he was making sure the place was safe. Darkwing finds a picture of Bulba, Gosalyn, and her grandfather, and asks who they are; Bulba then spins up a story of Thaddeus Waddlemeyer coming to the lab to fix a flaw Bulba claimed didn’t exist, accidentally blasting himself into oblivion. Bulba claimed to have covered it up so Thaddeus wouldn’t be remembered as a crackpot, but Gosalyn, who has been listening in, attacks him and steals the key.
A chase ensues, and Gosalyn finally keeps the key long enough to try and turn the Ramrod on, but Darkwing stops her. Telling her it won’t bring her grandfather back, she drops the bomb of the episode: the machine doesn’t create anything. It grabs things from alternate dimensions, and Bulba sent her grandfather to one of them. (Duh, duh, duuuuh! Also, a very different twist from the original, where the machine basically told gravity to suck it, and was an anti-gravity device that could lift entire buildings.)
Scrooge and the other two boys realize the same thing, though Huey also realizes the Ramrod is unstable because of this. Darkwing and Gosalyn discuss the possibility of her grandfather being alive in another dimension, but Bulba tells them the machine isn’t stable enough to search a trillion dimensions to find him. This makes Darkwing realize Bulba has been bullshitting; after all, he claimed to have to made sure the Ramrod was stable when he had talked about Thaddeus trying to fix it. Caught out, Bulba turns it on to send them to another dimension, only to have Dewey smoke bomb him. In the melee, Gosalyn gets the key and goes out the window to the window cleaning platform. Bulba arrives to get the key back; Darkwing then engages him in a fight. While Darkwing holds him own for a while, Bulba knocks Gosalyn off the platform, and Darkwing jumps to grab her, using his cape to float down to Launchpad. (Launchpad claims it was pretty cool, but “not as cool as the old show.” He’s right. He’s really right.)
Inside the building, Dewey runs into his brothers and uncle, who tell him the same thing Bulba said; that the machine is unstable. They go to Bulba (walking in on his muttering villain monologue about stopping “that meddling brat, and that ridiculous superhero”), to tell him to shut it down, and he decides to “get dangerous” by bringing The Fearsome Five (minus Negaduck) from another universe. (Yes, he really uses the phrase.) (Does this mean the original show exist in an alternate dimension? Possibly?) We see that they very quickly start wrecking havoc, with Bushroot entangling the bridge in vines. Darkwing, wisely, decides they’re doomed, because he doesn’t have super powers, and they’re super villains. Gosalyn and Launchpad manage to talk him out of it and entice him into trying to capture Quackerjack, to force him to let them into Bulba’s lab.
We find out Bulba, in the meantime, has locked the triplets up, and is actually working with Bradford and F.O.W.L., surprising absolutely no one. Bradford claims that F.O.W.L. are not super villains; Bulba laments that’s too bad, because he is, and Megavolt arrives to blast the vulture. Bulba asks for ideas on how to show off to the world, and Liquidator suggests killing Darkwing. The three are sent out to find him (not four, since Quackerjack, for plot purposes, is running around the abandoned toy district). Bradford is thrown in with the nephews, who rightfully ask why the hell he’s even there; Huey then assumes it’s because he’s worried about the financial cost. The triplets then easily pick the locks to get them out, and Bradford hangs back to call for a rescue from Agent Black Heron.
Meanwhile, at the abandoned toy factory that Darkwing and the others have tracked Quackerjack to, they find out Quacky has created a 30 foot robot version of himself, that chases them through the city. Darkwing manages to hide them under a bridge, upsetting Gosalyn, who wanted to fight the giant robot; common sense prevailing again, Darkwing asks her how in the hell she thinks they could possibly do that. It proves to be a moot point as Liquidator shows up, riding a giant wave through the city.
Back at the lab (insert your own theme song), the triplets are leading Bradford out of the building. They find Bushroot at the only exit out (who Dewey only recognizes because Launchpad made him watch a lot of episodes of the cartoon), and Bradford rather smartly points out that that they should stay put, and not engage the “dangerous plant man.” Huey blows off that salient point, as it’s the only way out, and they can totes handle it, they do this shit in their sleep, right? Again, the vulture (displaying common sense despite being a bad guy) points out that not everything needs to be an adventure, but Dewey sadly rebuts it with “all the time, but no one listens, so it’s no use.” Surprising absolutely no one, they try to pass without touching the vines, which fails miserable when Dewey, in the middle of his a capella theme song, trips over a vine. (Bradford almost gets caught out when Black Heron calls him to tell him she’s near, but Dewey’s singing makes for a surprisingly decent cover for him to bluff it off.) They manage to escape, and Bradford goes on a very true rant that so many problems have been caused by Scrooge and the triplets doing stupid shit. And then swallows his communicator as a pill, because the boys nearly catch him out again when it flies off him.
Darkwing and the others make it back to the tower, where Gosalyn finds out Darkwing has been running himself ragged asking Fenton to try and figure out how they can bring her grandpa back. (This is while he’s suited up as Gizmoduck, fighting the super villains as well, though Darkwing, dense as always, doesn’t realize it.) Launchpad says Darkwing hasn’t slept in days (which is hard to tell, since the show is horrible at showing the passage of time; literally every scene is at night), and Gosalyn overhears Fenton telling him that the Ramrod is so unstable, there’s no safe way to do it. One more run of the machine could de-stabilize reality. Gosalyn is touched, and manages to get Darkwing to sleep, which works, until W.A.N.D.A. wakes him up by alerting him to the fact the Ramrod is running again.
Leaving Gosalyn and Launchpad at the tower, Darkwing walks up to the lab, knocking on the door to call Bulba out. Instead, the four super villains attack him; Gosalyn, waking up, realizes he’s gone and asks the computer to tell them where he is, and they see him being dragged inside the lab after getting his ass kicked. A lab where Bradford and the triplets finally find the room with the Ramrod, only to discover that Scrooge was sent to an alternate dimension. Bradford is finally caught out when he’s forced to cough up the communicator, and he throws the three of them into the same dimension where Scrooge is.
Launchpad and Gosalyn show up dressed as two villains that Quackerjack doesn’t recognize (and why would he?) to get into the building. Darkwing, meanwhile, is tied up and being used as a prop for Bulba to show off his villainy, dumped on the Ramrod’s (still active) platform, as Gosalyn and Launchpad sneak around above them all on the cat walks. Gosalyn has a rare (and out of character for this version) moment of cold feet, realizing out loud that they’re not on TV, and that she can’t do it, and Launchpad talks her out of it. She throws a smoke bomb and makes up a classic Darkwing catchphrase while Launchpad frees Darkwing to kick Bulba in the face. Bulba uses the chance to show off his super villains’ (or the “fearsome four,” as Liquidator calls them) power, filming them. Gosalyn, meanwhile, goes to the machine to try and find her grandfather as reality finally starts to get funky; Launchpad and Darkwing riff on original episodes as they fight the villains.
Darkwing and Launchpad manage to beat the Fearsome Four, necessitating Bulba to step in. Gosalyn, meanwhile, manages to bring Scrooge and the triplets back, and realizes the danger inherent in continuing to run the machine to find her grandfather as reality continues to de-stabilize. (It ramps up very, very quickly.) She makes the decision to destroy the machine before it destroys reality, leaving her grandfather to his fate. The machine sucks the Fearsome Four in to realities unknown before destroying itself. They then realize Bradford is missing, only to find him getting into a very obviously marked F.O.W.L. helicopter. (“Well, I suppose you’d rather fly around in an unmarked helicopter?” “Yes!”) He monologues at Scrooge, telling him his “little adventure fantasy” is coming to an end, and Scrooge is appropriately not happy. And Gizmoduck, as usual, despite not actually doing much at all but fight Bushroot’s plants on the bridge all episode, is cheered as the hero when said plants are cut open to clear the road. (Sadly, we get no reaction from Darkwing about this, which is a shame.)
At the tower, Drake (literally; he’s not in his hero identity) tries to cheer Gosalyn up, and while he doesn’t offer to adopt her, since she’s also literally now an orphan, he offers to help her find her family, and to basically be his sidekick. Launchpad offers to help, spending his nights in St. Canard and his days in Duckburg. They speed off into the night when W.A.N.D.A tells them of a crime in progress: “Let’s get dangerous!”
I have many feelings about this episode, and about how they’ve handled bringing Darkwing back, and I am totally aware a lot of it stems from the show being such a big deal for me as a kid. To be fair, most of the things they’ve done outside of little references and call outs have annoyed me; Don Karnage becoming a Latino (instead of a Spaniard) who is also far, far stupider than his original characterization, the new Darkwing of this show originally being a completely different character (and the actual Drake Mallard being a blander imitation of the original series)…just little things. And I know they’re things that new fans probably don’t even notice or recognize as being bad or annoying; it’s on me.
That being said, one of the things I loved about the original show is the fact it was basically a comic book on screen. You didn’t need an explanation as to how Darkwing had an entirely funded and furnished hideout; you could basically figure out the subtext of S.H.U.S.H. probably funding him. How did he set up the spinning chairs and secret entrance? How did he constantly take all of that abuse and keep on going? How how many origin stories did he have? Dinosaurs? Driving motorcycles on inflated rubber roads!?
But over the years, there’s been plenty of fan speculation on some of it, so it seems the show now has decided to do what Disney really has had a bad habit of doing lately, and Explaining the Fucking Subtext. And Darkwing now, instead of being a comic booky hero, has to have everything about him explained away, taking away some of the funnier mystique and grounding him – to a bit of a detriment, in my opinion – in too much reality.
This episode, as noted at the beginning, is a remake of his original pilot. But as where the original pilot actually worked for its happy ending, with Drake and Gosalyn and Launchpad as a family unit, this one really doesn’t. It just seems to assume you’ve seen the original, so you know they’ll end up together, but there’s no real coherency as to why. In the original, Gosalyn had been at an orphanage (as you would if your only remaining family died), and Bulba’s men try to kidnap her from there to get the codes for the Ramrod. Darkwing figures out that she would be a target and rescues her, giving her a reason to see him as someone other than a bumbling hero. The time they spend together, and the time Darkwing takes to listen to her, and to eventually rescue her from certain death, is what makes the ending work. She thinks he dies fighting Bulba, only to find out when he comes to the orphanage that he did not, and has realized they need one another, so he adopts her. In this episode, Gosalyn and Darkwing never actually connect as family; they snipe back and forth at each other, and Gosalyn barely needs him since she’s hyper-competent Webby 3.0 in this show. But her constant reference to him not being her “family” (which is so fucking awkward, and super fucking weird when they could have done like the original and had her say he wasn’t her dad) is the only thing that makes the payoff sort of work. And even then it doesn’t, because Drake doesn’t say he wants to adopt her, he basically weasel words it to ask her to be his sidekick. (Well. “Crime-fighting partner,” but come on. Sidekick.) Launchpad is along for the ride because he was in the original, not because, as in the original, Darkwing actually decides to make him his sidekick.
There really is no real emotional undercurrent to this episode. Most of it runs on “you saw the original, right? Good, we don’t have to make it work, it’ll just end up the same way!” It’s such a sad contrast to a pilot that had some serious gut punches and real danger and actual pathos. Bulba drops Gosalyn off the fucking tallest building in St. Canard to threaten Darkwing in the pilot; here, her fall is an accident, and she’s quickly rescued. Bulba is a criminal mastermind who stole the machine and had her grandfather killed outright; here, he’s a laughably threatening scientist whose voice at times reminds me of Goofy of all characters. (A very, very far cry from the amazing voice work of Tim motherfucking Curry.) The entire pilot worked to establish Darkwing as a duck who desperately wanted to make a name for himself, and instead realizes what he needed was a family to support him. This one does none of that.
One of the weirder things is bringing in the Fearsome Four. Obviously, they weren’t in the original pilot, which made it work; Darkwing had his first big super villain, who he fought and defeated and who really only existed for that reason. (Granted, he did come back in season 3, which was also another amazing episode, but it seems Disney wants to ignore that entire season since they never released it on DVD, and it’s still not on Disney+ as far as I know.) Bringing established villains from the show afterward kills the momentum of Darkwing having a reason to exist, especially when they’re villains from the TV show that this Darkwing is emulating. He’s not his own hero; he’s a carbon copy.
It’s also really weird to hear the voice work for everyone. Some of the VAs are clearly trying to emulate the originals (and for Quackerjack, who’s the only one voiced by his original, he veers between sounding like himself, and someone totally different, which is really bizarre), and Bushroot is still silent, presumably to respect Tino Insana’s passing. I can assume they couldn’t afford Dan Castellaneta anymore for Megavolt, and the VA does a passable job imitating him. Liquidator doesn’t sound at all like Jack Angel. Bulba, as mentioned, sounds absolutely nothing like Tim Curry, and instead sounds like some weird “con man” drawl. I still think Darkwing’s new VA sounds like he really wants to emulate Jim Cummings, and is failing miserably. Gosalyn sounds like the rest of the kids; like a grown up not even trying to sound like a kid, and nothing at all like Christine Cavanaugh (RIP).
Is it a good episode? Well, yeah. If you never knew the original and come in cold, this is a romp of an episode that still has some fun. But it’s emotionally empty for the most part. And for me, it’s disappointing.
What was everyone else’s thoughts on it? Am I being too critical? (Probably.) Or am I spot on? (Unlikely.)
Launchpad’s villain cards are basically nods to the glow in the dark cards that came packaged with the VHS episodes back in the day. (I have all of them. They are coooool.)
Bulba calls Darkwing a “St. Canardian Guardian,” which may be referencing when Binky hit her head and became a hero, the “Canardian Guardian.”
Not a deep cut, but take a drink every time the show references the original theme song.
Gosalyn uses her original catch phrase, “keen gear,” when she first infiltrates the tower.
Bonkers makes a cameo during Gosalyn’s montage of who the super villains are. I was not a fan of that show, personally.
Gosalyn steps on Mr. Banana Brain, Quackerjack’s toy pal from the original show that he often used as a puppet to voice his opinions. It was at one point used as a vessel for a creepy evil spirit called Paddywhack, voiced by the late, great Phil Hartman, who tried to kidnap Gosalyn as a “kindred spirit.” Double meta points for Gosalyn telling Darkwing in this episode that he doesn’t need to protect her from the doll.
The dimension where Scrooge and the triplets end up is drawn like the original Ducktales, different colored coat and identical outfits and all.
Launchpad and Gosalyn dress up like two villains from the original show, and in a further meta nod, Gosalyn dresses up like the villain she had worshipped in her civilian identity as a newscaster (though not as the sidekick she was briefly when she found out the truth about Beakley).
Launchpad and Darkwing bring up episodes “Beauty and the Beet” (Bushroot’s first appearance), and “Just Us Justice Ducks,” a two-parter that introduced the Fearsome Five as a team, as well as the Justice Ducks, which were a motley crew of “heroes” who helped Darkwing fight. The only two of the team from that episode that have appeared so far in this new show are Darkwing and Gizmoduck, both in this episode. (Launchpad was never really part of it, nor was Gosalyn, no matter how hard she argued about it.)
Apparently, the three differently colored dogs that appear on screen before Gosalyn saves Scrooge and the triplets is a reference to an 80’s one off and done Disney show called Floppy Dogs or somesuch; I literally only know because The Black Nerd recognized them. Deep cut, or the deepest cut?
Bulba gets injured at one point, losing part of a horn, and getting slashed across his eye. It references his Steerminator persona, after he’s brought back from the dead by F.O.W.L. and turned into a cyborg. (#bringsbackseason3 #hotspellsisawesome)
During Gosalyn’s flashbacks and in the photo, she wears the purple shirt she had in the original. Unlike the original, she has different sneakers, and has black tights, as well as a ponytail instead of her two pigtails.
Gosalyn apparently likes using a crossbow, presumably a nod to her identity as the Crimson Quackette, and Quiverwing Quack, where she used a bow and arrow to fight crime.