Darkwing Duck is a vigilante superhero who spends his nights rounding up the criminals of St. Canard, although he finds the lack of press attention paid to his heroics frustrating. After capturing a group of street toughs and depositing them at the police station, he returns to his hideout at the top of the Audubon Bridge and, after running himself through the gauntlet of his breakfast machine (only to forget the milk, resulting in the fridge being dropped on him), turns in for the day, wishing that he could take on a real criminal mastermind.
As luck would have it, there is a criminal mastermind at work in St. Canard: Taurus Bulba, who is running his evil operations from his prison cell under the none too watchful eyes of Warden Waddlesworth. He, his secretary Clovis, and his henchmen - Hammerhead Hannigan, Hoof, and Mouth - are planning the theft of the Ramrod, a top secret weapon being transported by train. The next night, as Darkwing surveys the city, he notices Taurus Bulba's pet condor, Tantalus, flying past the Audubon Bridge with an iron box. Suspicious, he follows Tantalus on his motorcycle, the Ratcatcher, and sees him drop the box to Hammerhead, Hoof, and Mouth, who have boarded the train carrying the Ramrod and left the soldiers who had been posted to guard it Bound and Gagged on the train tracks. As Taurus Bulba monitors proceedings via a camera around Tantalus' neck, the box is revealed to contain a jet designed to lift the car into the sky. Meanwhile, Darkwing has caught up with the train and recognises Hoof and Mouth as Taurus Bulba's henchmen; excited at taking on real criminals at last, he easily bests them in a fight, but his ego gets the better of him when the train's guard, who thinks Darkwing is the real thief, begins taking his picture. Hammerhead uses his distraction to uncouple the car containing the Ramrod, and although Darkwing latches onto it with his grappling hook, it soon soars into the air, and Taurus Bulba orders Tantalus to cut the rope for the hook, sending Darkwing plummeting to earth.
He crashes through the roof of an aircraft hangar, the owner of which initially mistakes him for a burglar. Said owner is revealed to be former Scrooge McDuck employee Launchpad McQuack, who is ecstatic when he realises he is in the presence of Darkwing Duck; he introduces himself as the crimefighter's biggest fan. Darkwing, meanwhile, is delighted to discover that Launchpad is a pilot, and jumps in the nearest plane (ignoring Launchpad's attempts to explain that he has a better one in the next hangar) and offers an autograph in exchange for being flown after the airborne train car. After a wild flight (Launchpad takes off in reverse gear by mistake), they reach the car, but Taurus Bulba orders Tantalus to grab Darkwing and drop him back to earth; though Launchpad catches him, the plane crashes soon after, and an angered Darkwing storms off, dismissing Launchpad's offer to be his sidekick with "I Work Alone".
Back in prison, Taurus Bulba notes that he cannot use the Ramrod without the arming code... and the original plan to get the code from the weapon's designer, Professor Waddlemeyer, before arranging a convenient "accident" to get rid of him fell apart when his henchmen did the second part first. Waddlemeyer's granddaughter, Gosalyn, is currently housed at the St. Canard Orphanage, and Taurus Bulba is convinced she knows the arming code, so he sends his henchmen to the orphanage to kidnap her. Though Hammerhead successfully convinces both the orphanage director, Mrs. Cavanaugh, and the feisty Gosalyn herself that he is a family friend, his kidnap attempt fails when Darkwing swoops in and grabs her. Gosalyn initially assumes he is another kidnapper and fights back, but is persuaded he is on her side when the henchmen open fire. He tries taking her to the police station, but the police believe he stole the Ramrod and also open fire on him. Darkwing finally escapes by riding the Ratcatcher into the harbour, convincing all observers - including a bicycle-riding Launchpad, anxious to make amends - that he and Gosalyn have drowned. The irate Taurus Bulba decides to go after Darkwing personally, and he instructs Clovis to activate the bullhead-shaped airship he has built into the prison, to the amazement of Warden Waddlesworth.
Darkwing and Gosalyn return to the Audubon Bridge, where Darkwing begins looking into alternate accommodation for Gosalyn, but when she threatens to reveal the location of his hideout unless he lets her stay, he is forced to put her up. Although she wreaks havoc with his crimefighting gadgets, she also proves highly adept at the breakfast machine test (though, like Darkwing, she forgets the milk, causing the fridge to be dropped on the hapless hero), and he quickly finds himself warming to her. As he puts her to bed for the night, he asks what she knows about the Ramrod; she is able to recite her grandfather's description of it, but understands none of it, and insists he never told her the arming code. She insists she cannot fall asleep without a lullaby, and gives Darkwing a cue by singing the song her grandfather used to sing, "Little Girl Blue", the lyrics of which seem to be a random string of colours. Darkwing improvises a second, more heartfelt verse that finally gets Gosalyn to fall asleep, then realises that the string of colours in the lullaby are the arming code for the Ramrod - Gosalyn knows the code, but doesn't realise she knows it.
Taurus Bulba, recognising Darkwing as a huge egotist, sends him a Morse code message claiming he will personally surrender to him at the top of Canard Tower. Gosalyn is suspicious, but Darkwing interprets her doubts to mean that she thinks he's a buffoon who only succeeds through dumb luck, and he storms off to the scheduled "meeting", determined to prove her wrong. Sure enough, he arrives at the meeting and is quickly arrested by the police for stealing the Ramrod, while Taurus Bulba escapes and heads to the Audubon Bridge to capture Gosalyn. Though she is able to fend off his henchmen with Darkwing's crimefighting machinery, she is captured by Taurus Bulba himself.
In his holding cell, Darkwing is feeling sorry for himself, and the criminals he captured at the beginning of the episode are put off wreaking revenge by his almost aggressive self-pity. Fortunately, Launchpad crashes through the jail wall on the Ratcatcher (in reverse gear again), which he found at Canard Tower after Darkwing was arrested. When he hears that Taurus Bulba is in an airship, Launchpad shows Darkwing the plane he mentioned during their first meeting: the Thunderquack, which looks just like Darkwing's face. Darkwing is delighted, and Launchpad is even more delighted when Darkwing addresses him as "sidekick". Taurus Bulba is on his way to set up the Ramrod on top of Canard Tower; when he sees the Thunderquack approaching, he fires upon it. Darkwing notes that he and Launchpad need to blow an entry hole in the airship, and when Launchpad says that sounds dangerous, Darkwing utters his Catch Phrase for the first time: "Let's Get Dangerous!!"
Launchpad drops Darkwing through the entry hole on the Ratcatcher, but although he is able to fend off Taurus Bulba's henchmen, the arrival of Taurus Bulba himself leads to his capture. Gosalyn apologises for making Darkwing risk his life; he tells her that before he met her, he didn't have a life worth risking. Taurus Bulba suspects their affection for each other means that Gosalyn has entrusted the arming code to Darkwing, and gambles on this idea by having Tantalus fly Gosalyn high into the air, threatening to drop her if he isn't given the code. Darkwing initially refuses, but when Tantalus drops Gosalyn, he gives in, and Tantalus scoops Gosalyn up again. Darkwing recites the code, and Taurus Bulba arms the Ramrod and uses it to empty the federal gold depository into his airship. He announces his plans to rob every city in the country blind, and when Darkwing notes he no longer needs Gosalyn, Taurus Bulba agrees... and orders Tantalus to drop her after all.
Luckily, Launchpad catches Gosalyn on the Thunderquack, and Darkwing uses the resulting confusion to race to the control panel for the Ramrod and begin mashing random buttons, overloading the weapon. It fires on Hammerhead, Hoof, and Mouth, who are lifted into the air, and then on Taurus Bulba's airship, which causes it to lose the depository's gold before it crashes into the river and explodes (as Clovis ejects, she mutters that she should have followed her mother's advice and become a dental hygienist); meanwhile, Gosalyn gets revenge on Tantalus by getting Launchpad to bite off the condor's tail feathers with the Thunderquack, sending the bird falling out of the sky. But as the Ramrod continues to fire while Taurus Bulba and Darkwing fight just below it, the overloaded weapon finally explodes, leaving the top of Canard Tower a ruin as a horrified Gosalyn and Launchpad look on.
A few days later, Gosalyn is back at the orphanage, still mourning Darkwing's apparent death, and uninterested in the prospective adoptive parent who is visiting her... until she hears Mrs. Cavanaugh talking to said parent and recognises his voice. Sure enough, it's (a heavily bandaged) Darkwing Duck, who identifies himself as Drake Mallard but signals his true identity to Gosalyn by describing his injuries as a breakfast accident caused by forgetting the milk. Thrilled at seeing him alive, she tackles him in a hug. Drake asks Mrs. Cavanaugh if he can take his newly adopted daughter house hunting, and when the director asks how he can drive in his condition, he explains that he has "help"... in the form of Launchpad, who crashes through the orphanage wall in a car (in reverse gear yet again).
This episode includes examples of the following tropes:
- Adult Fear:
- Two criminals nearly kidnap an orphan by claiming to be friends of her grandfathers to her guardians in foster care. Science fiction elements aside, that is a terrifyingly realistic scenario.
- Darkwing gets captured by cops while Taurus Bulba kidnaps Gosalyn for the arming code he thinks she has. Seeing Darkwing helplessly screaming out her name is pretty chilling for a children's afternoon cartoon show.
- Always Know a Pilot: Darkwing encounters Launchpad by accident when he crashes through his ceiling during an opening chase with Taurus Bulba. This comes in handy a few days later when Darkwing needs a plane and a pilot to get to Bulba's floating fortress.
- Badass in Distress: Taurus Bulba's men go through a Humiliation Conga twice to get to Gosalyn. The second time, she pulls off a successful defense if not for his condor.
- Batman Gambit: Bulba pulls off a brilliant one playing on Darkwing's ego by sending out a Morse Code surrender message for him, allowing him to learn the location of Darkwing's hideout, leave Gosalyn vulnerable, and lure Darkwing into a trap all at once, while at the same time, cause a bit of a rift between Darkwing and Gosalyn's growing bond.
- Big "NO!": Gosalyn when the Ramrod explodes before Darkwing can get away.
- Captain Crash: This is the only Darkwing Duck episode where this trope, one of Launchpad's defining characteristics in DuckTales (1987), is on display. When Darkwing jumps into the nearest plane in Launchpad's hangar, Launchpad initially takes off in reverse, and although he is able to catch Darkwing when Tantalus drops him, his low altitude flight causes considerable property damage before the plane inevitably crashes.
- Car Meets House: Launchpad's carelessness at the controls of a vehicle extends to land-based travel. When he shows up at the jail to bail out Darkwing, he crashes through the wall in the Ratcatcher, and when Darkwing as Drake formally adopts Gosalyn at the end of the episode, Launchpad accidentally reverses his car through the wall of the orphanage.
- Cheerful Child: Despite having lost her grandfather in an "accident," Gosalyn is the life of the orphanage and happily takes on adventure like a duck does to water.
- Chekhov's Gun: Darkwing's breakfast routine. When Bulba's goons try to kidnap her, Gosalyn weaponizes it against them. It almost works; she didn't anticipate that Bulba's condor would evade the traps and grab her.
- Chilly Reception: Darkwing's I Work Alone attitude means he's initially not very friendly to his would-be sidekick.
- Clear My Name: Ultimately averted. Darkwing is blamed and arrested for the theft perpetrated by Bulba's goons. Launchpad comes to bail him out legitimately, but because he ends up demolishing the jail's wall, Darkwing opts to just break out of jail and he's never formally exonerated for the crime.
- Curb-Stomp Battle:
- After Darkwing crashes through the ceiling of Launchpad's hangar, the pilot (believing that he's an intruder) beats him up in minutes.
- Taurus Bulba easily smushes Darkwing during their first combat.
- Damsel in Distress: Young Gosalyn Waddlemeyer is the first damsel in distress in the series, and also in this pilot. She is kidnapped by Taurus Bulba who seeks the Ramrod arming code from her and then dispose of her afterwards.
- Darkest Hour: The end of Part 1 and beginning of Part 2. Taurus Bulba has successfully manipulated Darkwing into falling for his trap, revealing his hideout, gotten Darkwing arrested by the police, and evaded custody himself. The following episode shows that his men successfully capture Gosalyn, Darkwing is stuck in jail, and laments that he doesn't have a friend to ask for help.
- Death Course: Darkwing had one of these as how he cooks breakfast, though it's not really supposed to be dangerous (he does keep forgetting to adjust the spring that launches the fridge, though) and it's implied he dismantles it after moving into a home with Gosalyn instead of living in his lair 24/7.
- Did Not See That Coming: Taurus Bulba's plan to get the Ramrod arming code and then get rid of Gosalyn took into account escaping from prison, the guards watching the Ramrod, and even the local superhero. However, he was unaware of Launchpad when making his plans. Once the pilot saves Gosalyn, Darkwing's concentration snaps back to the problem at hand and he makes mincemeat of Bulba's Evil Plan.
- Disney Death: Darkwing apparently sacrifices himself towards the end of the episode. Of course, he's absolutely fine.
- Establishing Character Moment: The first scene of the episode has Darkwing delivering a bunch of captured crooks to the police, before promptly clarifying how his name is spelled and giving away his photo, establishing that while he is a superhero, he's also an unusually egotistical and fame-hungry one.
- Everyone Knows Morse: When Hammerhead brings up that Bulba's trap for Darkwing won't work if he doesn't know Morse Code, Bulba is not concerned, believing that Darkwing is such a do-gooder he probably keeps a Boy Scout handbook under his pillow. Sure enough, as he's talking, that's where Darkwing is getting it.
- Failed a Spot Check: For some reason, the Warden failed to notice the Ramrod very conspicuously hidden in the jail's laundry room.
- Family-Friendly Firearms: Heavily averted. Hammerhead, the police and Bulba's airship brandish realistic firearms that fire realistic ammunition.
- Fatal Flaw: Darkwing Duck's Pride. Lampshaded by Taurus Bulba, after using it to lure Darkwing into a trap and reveal his hideout.
- Foreshadowing: Upon first meeting Launchpad, Darkwing decides to use his bi-plane to go after Bulba's men, ignoring Launchpad's attempts to explain he had something even better in the next hanger. This turns out to be the Thunderquack.
- Glomp: Gosalyn makes it a habit to tackle people, especially the ones that she loves. She manages to take down Darkwing this way.
- Glory Seeker: Darkwing Duck, more than in subsequent episodes. He's so desperate to be in the headlines that it becomes his main weakness.
- Had the Silly Thing in Reverse: A Running Gag with Launchpad is that he had a tendency to drive whatever vehicle he was on backwards.
- Happily Adopted: Darkwing resurrects his "Drake Mallard" identity so he can adopt Gosalyn.
- Heroic BSoD: Darkwing goes into a major funk while in prison, and only snaps out of it when Launchpad comes to rescue him, thus allowing him a second chance at making things right.
- High-Altitude Interrogation: It works because Bulba uses it, not on the hero, but on the girl the hero cares about.
- Illogical Safe: Darkwing's breakfast Death Course causes his fridge to launch into the air and land on top of him if he forgets the milk. He ends up inside the fridge; amusingly injured, dazed, and holding a jug of milk.
- Inadvertent Entrance Cue:
- In the second half of the episode, Darkwing is locked in prison and laments how he messed up and has no one to ask for help. Then Launchpad breaks in.
- Darkwing, explaining how he got to the orphanage despite his obviously bad condition, says he had help. Cue Launchpad accidentally backing the car through the wall.
- Ineffectual Loner: When in jail, Darkwing eventually comes to see himself as this. He laments that he doesn't have a friend to ask for help. (And is promptly rescued by Launchpad, who is instrumental in rescuing Gosalyn.)
- Innocently Insensitive: Played for Drama. When Darkwing crows about how Taurus Bulba had revealed in Morse Code that he wishes to surrender himself but only to Darkwing, Gosalyn laughs about how it doesn't make sense since Bulba has won every round so far, which pushes Darkwing's Berserk Button and causes a Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure.
- I Work Alone: Darkwing actively refuses help so he can defeat Taurus Bulba alone. He eventually overcomes this attitude (for the duration of the plot anyway).
- Knight of Cerebus: Although it's not a particularly extreme case, Taurus Bulba is not funny. He had Gosalyn's grandfather murdered before the beginning of the episode, and when he was trying to get the code for the Waddlemeyer Ramrod he threatened to drop Gosalyn off a building if Darkwing didn't get the code.
- The Knights Who Say "Squee!": Launchpad, who already had a number of heroic feats under his belt before coming to St. Canard, goes into full-on fanboy mode upon realizing the guy who fell through his roof is Darkwing Duck. In an unusual case, Darkwing (eventually) accepts him as a sidekick, so he winds up working with his hero on a regular basis as opposed to a one-time mission.
- Luxury Prison Suite: Bulba happily lives in one of these during the first part; it's only because he needs to personally go after Darkwing that he reluctantly breaks out (and takes said prison suite with him).
- Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All: There's a reason Bulba laments, "It's a shame to lose a hideout as perfect as a prison" when circumstances force him to break out.
- Motive Rant: While in jail and confronted by one of the guys he put away, Darkwing rants about how he could've had a normal life but chose being a loner superhero instead.
- Near-Villain Victory: Bulba's plan to grab the Ramrod and get the arming command for it goes off perfectly until the last few minutes, even allowing him to trick the police into imprisoning the local superhero. If not for Launchpad, who he was completely unaware of, he presumably would have won.
- Never Say "Die": Zig-Zagged throughout. Taurus Bulba explicitly confirms that Gosalyn's grandfather is dead, but avoids actually saying that his henchmen killed him (he refers to them as "causing an accident" instead).
- Never My Fault: Whenever something goes wrong, Hammerhead will blame Hoof and Mouth and knock them around. Bulba will then proceed to physically abuse Hammerhead.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Bulba's first attempt to get rid of Darkwing ends up introducing him to Launchpad and making him notice the latter's piloting abilities. Later, him going through with attempting to kill Gosalyn gives Darkwing the opening to thwart his plan for good, and ramps up his motivation to seize it.
- Noodle Incident: Gosalyn says she has no knowledge about a pig and was far from the boys' restroom when whatever incident involving the pig occurred.
- Not What It Looks Like: Due to Hoof and Mouth being disguised as the soldiers guarding the Ramrod when Darkwing fought them, Darkwing was believed to be the one who stole the Ramrod.
- No-One Could Have Survived That: As Taurus Bulba's Ramrod, a gravity gun, explodes violently in a gigantic fireball (large enough to engulf the top of Canard Tower, which is taller than the city is wide), both the villain and Darkwing are caught at ground zero. Gosalyn and Launchpad both believe that Darkwing has died, until he appears at the orphanage a few days later, having decided to adopt Gosalyn as his daughter.
- Oh, Crap!: Darkwing has this reaction when Bulba reveals he knows where Gosalyn is and is on his way to kidnap her.
- Or My Name Isn't...: Launchpad beats up Darkwing (who he thinks is an intruder), yelling, "Nobody messes with the airplanes in my hangar, or my name isn't Launchpad McQuack!"
- Papa Wolf: When Bulba's men attempt their kidnapping the first time, Darkwing saves her and takes her to his tower. He then helps her when she sets up the breakfast routine, praises her time on the course, and tucks her into bed when she gets tired. When Bulba threatens her in the climax, while he gives up the code to save her life, he also takes on Bulba when he tries to kill Gosalyn anyway.
- Parental Love Song: Darkwing takes in Gosalyn to prevent her from being snatched by the crime boss who killed her grandfather. She tells him about a lullaby her grandfather always used to sing her, "Little Girl Blue." Darkwing sings it, foreshadowing the father/daughter relationship that they're going to share for the rest of the series.
- Protector Behind Bars: Taurus Bulba has Darkwing captured by the cops just after he kidnaps Gosalyn.
- Reality Ensues:
- While Darkwing's survival from the explosion is improbable, he still has sustained painful injuries from it and needs assistance even to do simple things like drive places.
- After Darkwing rescues Gosalyn from Bulba's henchmen, she naturally assumes that he too is trying to kidnap her, since he just grabbed her off the street without explanation.
- Darkwing is technically a vigilante trespassing on a train carrying a top secret military weapon. Since Hammerhead covered his tracks by having Hoof and Mouth knock out the soldiers guarding it and take their place, the conductor thinking that Darkwing is the real thief is not unreasonable.
- Running Gag:
- No matter who is doing the breakfast routine, everyone forgets the milk. Drake Mallard references it while adopting Gosalyn so that she knows he survived.
- Everyone refers to Gosalyn's spirit and Tomboy nature.
- It doesn't matter if he's in a plane, on a bicycle, on the Ratcatcher, or in a car, Launchpad seems to spend more time going backwards than forwards. His struggles with reverse gear lead to several Car Meets House situations.
- Secret Identity Identity: As we discover in later episodes, Darkwing was in fact Drake Mallard in high school before he (likely) gave up his identity to be a hero. He takes up the identity again just to facilitate the adoption but he's still unfamiliar with normal, day-to-day life.
- Skewed Priorities:
- Upon learning about a newspaper story that he was the one who robbed the train, Darkwing is shocked...but he does think the picture of him beating up Bulba's men disguised as guards isn't bad.
- In Part 2, the police ignore escaped criminal mastermind with at least one life sentence Taurus Bulba... to nab Darkwing Duck, whom they believe to be responsible for robbing a train.
- Something Only They Would Say: When explaining to Mrs. Cavanaugh about why he's wrapped up in bandages, Drake makes a point to lock eyes with Gosalyn as she watches from the door:Drake Mallard: Oh, the bandages, right. (chuckles) That's just a little kitchen accident. (looks at Gosalyn) I have trouble making breakfast? (pulls one of his bandages over his face) I-I always forget the milk? (wink)
- Stalker Without A Crush: From the moment he crashes through Launchpad's ceiling during an opening chase with Bulba, Darkwing cannot get rid of the pilot. Launchpad isn't in love with Darkwing; he's just a fanboy who wants to make a good impression on his favorite real-life superhero. Darkwing ultimately finds this to be a positive thing as Launchpad proves to be the only source of help he has, given that he's alienated everybody else.
- The Stoic: Clovis, Taurus Bulba's secretary, is a consummate professional, and displays almost no emotion as she carries out her boss' various instructions. The only time she displays any sort of emotion is when the Thunderquack is bearing down on Taurus Bulba's airship. Even when the airship is destroyed and she is forced to bail out, her reaction is an understated "Hm. Mom was right. I should have been a dental hygienist."
- Taking You with Me: When Darkwing causes the Ramrod to overload and reach the point of exploding, an angry Taurus Bulba decides to do this to Darkwing. Luckily, it doesn't take.
- Techno Babble: How Gosalyn describes the functions of the ramrod device. DW is naturally confused, so Gosalyn confesses she doesn't know what that means and surmises that it probably makes things float.
- This Is Gonna Suck: As the Ramrod starts overloading, Darkwing remarks now would be a really good time to run away.
- Trust Password: While adopting Gosalyn, Drake Mallard explains his injuries as a breakfast injury where he "forgot the milk". Gosalyn realizes what this means and leaps into his arms.
- Underestimating Badassery: An enraged Taurus Bulba admits as much after Darkwing foils his plan.
- Unhand Them, Villain!: During the climax, Gosalyn is being held high in the air by the villain's condor to force Darkwing to give up the code for a weapon. Once Darkwing caves to the demand, it drops her. Launchpad, who is following the events and reacts appropriately, saves her.
- What Does This Button Do?: Gosalyn has a tendency to do this with Darkwing's gadgets: launching his Ejection Seat, firing a laser at him, and starting his breakfast training course.
- Would Hurt a Child: Taurus Bulba is perfectly fine with having Gosalyn fall to her death.
- Xanatos Speed Chess: Bulba shows off he's a master at this at the certain points, particularly when he takes advantage of the police thinking Darkwing was behind the theft of the ramrod to get him captured and out of the way.
- You Can't Thwart Stage One: Can't stop Taurus Bulba from successfully stealing the Ramrod from the train, nor escaping prison, nor getting Darkwing thrown in prison and Gosalyn into custody... nor strong-arming Darkwing into revealing the code and allowing Bulba to rob the city bank... Really, Bulba's plan doesn't fall apart until the last two minutes of the two-part episode, when Launchpad is able to rescue Gosalyn and Darkwing is able to overload the Ramrod... which blows up in Darkwing's face.