How DuckTales Carefully Crafted a Character Dealing With Abuse and Trauma

Even though DuckTales is mostly a comedy, the character of Lena stands out as an accurate depiction of abuse and the struggles in learning to deal with it.

Photo: Disney

DuckTales is a very funny adventure series. Following the exploits of Scrooge McDuck’s extended family, the show has no end of wacky hijinks, whip smart one-liners, and truly some of the funniest premises on TV. However, when the show wants to get serious, it gets heartwrenchingly real. While much of the cast have faced some less comedic problems, the character of Lena has gotten the best and most true to life plot of them all. One that centers on abuse and trauma.

Lena was introduced early in the first season as the niece of infamous Duck villain Magica De Spell. Forming a close friendship with Webby, Lena was secretly working to infiltrate Scrooge’s family in order to get his #1 Dime and use it to free Magica. Over the course of the first two seasons Lena grew closer to Webby, betrayed Magica, found out she was a sentient shadow, became Webby’s sentient shadow, came back to life, and is now part of the extended Duck family.

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All of that sounds wildly fantastical but, like many of the best plots on DuckTales, it’s all grounded in real life emotions. Magica’s treatment of Lena is abusive and the show treats Lena as a victim of that abuse. Magica verbally manipulates Lena, gaslighting and making her feel like a monster. Magica makes Lena feel like she’s nothing without her but when Lena does what Magica wants? Magica gives her nothing in return. It’s horrifying to watch because it’s so true to life.

Even when Lena escapes Magica that trauma doesn’t just go away. She blames herself for what she did and is wracked with horrible nightmares. She overcompensates and puts incredible pressure on herself to be “better,” afraid of doing anything bad. Lena’s worried she’ll become like her abuser. Thankfully Lena is slowly but surely working through what Magica did to her but it’s not easy. She still hates herself in a lot of ways and this won’t be something she just “gets over.” It’ll be a long process of healing.

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For DuckTales co-executive producer Frank Angones, Lena’s arc in the series is setting out to avoid a long-standing trope in fiction.

“We didn’t want Lena to be the hench person to the big villain who rebels last minute and then is suddenly a good guy,” Angones says.

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The team behind DuckTales wanted to explore how that kind of reversal takes an emotional toll on a character and that couldn’t be accomplished in a one-and-done story, as executive producer Matt Youngberg explains.

“(Lena) still has things to work out,” Youngberg says. “It’s a continual process and it’s something that’s very true to the experiences of people who go through things like that. It’s not just one event. It’s a process of finding yourself and finding strength in yourself to continue on.”

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This process will once again be addressed in DuckTales season 3 which picks right back up from where we last left Lena.

“In (‘A Nightmare on Killmotor Hill’) she hated who she was because she thought there was something wrong with her,” Angones explains. “In season three we have an episode where she has to come to terms with her legacy and come to embrace what it means to have been a creature of magic. To have been a De Spell.”

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This ties right in with the larger theme of legacy that Angones previously spoke to us about that will define DuckTales’ third season. It will stand in a perfect contrast to the Duck family, who do have their problems but are still close. Since Lena isn’t on good terms with her “aunt,” she’ll have to explore her own family’s legacy and through that will have to process who she is as well.

While on the surface that will have to include her status as a former sentient shadow, we have no doubt DuckTales will also use this to continually explore Lena’s struggles with abuse and trauma. It’s not always easy to watch but it’s been incredibly rewarding to see a series aimed at children handle it with this level of care. It won’t be an easy road for Lena but thankfully DuckTales is committed to exploring every bit of it.