Saturday, February 5, 2011

Ducktales, Season One, Episode Four: "Armstrong"

I just realized that, although Gyro is in this show, the Helper is not, so far. A shame.

So anyway, in this episode, Gyro builds a super-robot, "Armstrong," to do Scrooge's work for him. This distresses Launchpad, as he feels like he's being made obsolete. Fortunately for him, the robot Turns Evil. This comes as no surprise--that's just what robots do! They Turn Evil! You can rely upon it! No other explanation needed! It's not clear what exactly his (evil) goals are, but I'll grant that Evil Armstrong is reasonably creepy (I especially liked the way he can mimic people's voices, like the Terminator). Naturally, it's up to Launchpad to save the day, which he ultimately does by dumping water on the robot, thus exploiting the same vulnerability that did in the Wicked Witch of the West, and shorting him out--granted, he becomes rather less threatening if the first good rainfall was going to be enough to take him down. From this, Scrooge learns that efficiency isn't everything, though it seems like a rather more apropos lesson would have been "evil robots are bad news."

That emphasizes a problem with plots like this: they're philosophically incoherent. Say you're supposed to complete the following sentence: "Robots may sometimes seem more efficient than human beings, but they can never truly replace people, because_____________" You would probably fill in something like "they lack the intangible assets--creativity, tenacity, heart; the human spirit, in other words--that got us where we are today." If instead you put down "they'll take over our satellites and steal our money and try to kill us," you would probably get some odd looks. I mean, I approve of the humanistic impulse that leads writers to assert that mechanization cannot solve all our problems, but things like this present just the opposite message: I'm pretty sure there is no documented real-world case of a robot Turning Evil, so if that's the only potential problem, then I guess we're good to go! Right?

In spite of this silliness, the episode was fairly entertaining, and I think Launchpad is growing on me as a character.

I'm going to take a page from the AVClub and finish with "stray observations" that wouldn't fit in the main write-up:

-Before Armstrong turns evil, he has an air race with Launchpad to see whether robot can REALLY outdo human (spoiler: yes). Scrooge announces this, and specifically announces that the "human" is Launchpad. I guess "the first ever air race between anthropomorphic pelican and robot" wouldn't have been as punchy.

-While HDL are trying to figure out what's going on, Armstrong attacks them by sending remote-control tanks after them, which is an effective stratagem until the kids realize, hey--they're just toys, and simply flip them on their backs. A funny moment.


  1. Well, hey, Barks sometimes had the ducks refer to themselves as human too.

    I'm really enjoying this and your other blog, by the way. I only watched a few DuckTales episodes as a kid, but recently I got curious and went and watched all the episodes that were adapted from individual Barks stories just to see what they did with them. I'll be interested to see your comments on some of those.

  2. Absolutely the case. "Only a Poor Old Man" obviously springs to mind. Here, it just seemed like Scrooge was so very intent on emphasizing the human aspect that it struck me as odd.

    Glad you like the blogs--"Robot Robbers" is up now.