I’ve wanted to write about Danny Phantom for a while now. And since I’ve been rewatching season 1 for fun, I thought it would be interesting to tackle one of my favorite early episodes: episode 6, What You Want. This episode is one of my favorites because it tackles envy and jealousy in a really interesting way, and more interestingly, we get to see the episode through the lens of the hero’s sidekick, Tucker, rather than the hero himself, Danny.
Before we dive into analyzing Tucker and his jealousy though, let’s talk about that episode title, and how it pertains to Tucker as a character. Danny Phantom has a habit of relating episode titles to characters or events. For example, Million Dollar Ghost is about a million dollar bounty on Danny’s head, and pertains to both him and the plot of the episode. My Brother’s Keeper, the Jazz-centric episode of season 1, obviously pertains to Jazz, and her being “her brother’s keeper”, which starts with her trying to keep an eye on Danny, and ends with her being his secret keeper.
What You Want ties into Tucker’s wants and desires. Tucker is sick of being the sidekick; he wants to be the one who gets to have cool ghost powers and fly around and do awesome things. He views Danny’s powers in a very positive light, mainly because he doesn’t have to deal with the consequences of them. The episode’s antagonist, Desiree, takes advantage of that and grants his wish to have ghost powers – but at a high cost. It’s interesting, because Desiree’s own back-story ties into envy: she was a harem girl who was promised her heart’s desires by a sultan, only to be banished by his jealous wife. When she died, she started granting people’s desires, but as a great personal cost: probably revenge for the fact that she never really got what she wanted. A lot of Danny’s villains foil him in some way, but Desiree actually foils Tucker here: they’ve both felt victimized and ignored, envious of something they feel that they deserve. And Tucker almost ends up consumed by his envy, just like Desiree.
So let’s take a look at where Tucker starts in this episode, and how his struggle with his envy nearly destroys him in the end.
The Dark Side of Envy
Tucker’s always been an interesting character to me, because he has remarkably high self-esteem. After all, at the beginning of the episode, he quite proudly tells us that he has “charm, good looks, and modesty”. He thinks highly of himself, and even as girls reject him or people tease him, he lets it roll right off his shoulders and doesn’t let it get to him. It’s a nice change to see a character that isn’t drowning in self-esteem, or worried about his self-worth, especially in contrast to Danny, who has an extreme lack of self-esteem. Tucker’s envy of Danny’s ghost powers adds an interesting facet to his character, because part of what empowers Danny as a character is his ghost powers. They’re what allow him to stand up for himself and protect others. Having someone as smug as Tucker obtaining ghost powers…well, it’s a bit of a disaster waiting to happen.
What You Want opens with Tucker’s narration. The first time we notice a waver in his narration is when he admits that he and Danny share everything “except one thing. Danny’s got superpowers.” It’s hard to tell in-story that Tucker is bothered, because he’s more worried about the chaos at the time, but his tone in the narration is a bit flat and shows the start of his envy. Afterwards, he remarks on one of Danny’s new powers: “Man, that’s the cool thing about your powers. There’s no downside.” To him, Danny’s powers are cool: he doesn’t think about the negative aspects Danny himself deals with, because Tucker has never had to deal with that.
Each one of the wishes Desiree grants gives some nice foreshadowing for what ends up happening to Tucker later on in the episode. We had the cotton candy incident at the start, which showed that Desiree goes out of her way to torment people with her wishes (aka, drowning people in cotton candy is pretty extreme). Then there’s Dash – the Flash Thompson of the story – at a football game, who wishes that “[he] could get turned into the kind of monster that could crush these guys single-handed”. His wish is granted, but Dash ends up literally becoming a ghostly monster that Danny has to stop. This shows us that Desiree doesn’t mind being literal in her wish-granting. And when Tucker offers to help, he winds up filling in as mascot to cover for Danny, which leads to him getting beat up by jocks. The resentment grows. “Man, every time Danny goes ghost, I get the short end of the stick,” he complains. He doesn’t get to do the fun parts, like fighting ghosts or capturing them and being the hero. Instead, he covers for his friend and gets beat up. Definitely the short end of the stick for Tucker.
There’s also the Paulina incident, in which she wishes to be more popular, like a movie character, which in an interesting way, ties into Tucker’s wish. Both wishes are directly tied to envy, and it’s the fallout of Paulina’s wish that leads to Tucker sitting in the theater by himself, feeling lonely.
“I’m tired of being left out all the time,” he grumbles. His wish isn’t only tied to envy, it’s also tied to loneliness. He wishes he could be doing the cool things his best friend does with him. “Man, I wish I had ghost powers too.”
And oh boy, does he get them. But you know what they say: be careful what you wish for. Tucker’s new-found ghost powers are cool, but unlike Danny, he doesn’t really understand the gravity of them, and he’d prefer to play around with them instead of doing something responsible, like, oh, I don’t know, saving the world. He pranks people in the theater, laughing over their reactions. Basically, he acts like an average immature teenage boy would after getting superpowers. But when an opportunity does come in to save the day, he pops in, hoping to impress Danny, and tells him he’ll handle it.
It’s when Danny steps in to save the day that Tucker first vocalizes his envy. “Oh sure, phase the car through the building. You had to save the day, didn’t you?” and “You’re just jealous, because there’s someone else to grab the spotlight now.”
Danny’s bewildered reaction adds an interesting facet to the story. It’s a Harry/Ron situation, where one character gets a lot of notoriety and the other is jealous, but the character getting the attention doesn’t really understand why their friend is jealous. Danny’s never really gotten much good public reception, and considering all the downsides that come with his ghost fighting, he doesn’t understand why Tucker would be envious, or even want his spotlight in the first place. Danny never fought ghosts for the attention: he always did it to protect people. The fact that Tucker thinks of him that way says a lot about who Tucker is as a character, and how his envy is blinding his judgment. It’s very true to life: when we’re envious, we often don’t see another person’s struggles. We only see the good parts and wish that we had that. When Tucker gets the powers, he doesn’t see the downsides at first: he just wants to use them for his own fun, like pranking teachers, getting to the front of the lunch line, and boosting his popularity. And when Danny intervenes, Tucker sees it as Danny trying to ruin his fun. Why does Danny get to have all of the fun with his ghost power? Why can’t Tucker do that too? His envy doesn’t allow him to see that Danny is worried about his shifting personality, and the fact that his fun has turned mean-spirited.
It’s during Danny’s confrontation with Desiree that Danny understands what we the audience already knows the depth of Tucker’s envy. “He’s not that jealous…is he?” he asks, for a minute unsure. It’s here where Danny starts to understand Tucker, and his side of the story.
“More than you know,” Desiree responds; “his jealousy and frustration will cement into rage and rebellion.” That transformation is what leads to the Tucker/Danny fight near the end of the episode. Tucker at this point has let his ego and jealousy take over him, to the point where he wants to get rid of Danny. Pretty drastic change from the Tucker we meet at the start of the episode, the one who calls Danny his best friend since forever and speaks of him so warmly. When Danny manages to separate Tucker from his ghost self, Tucker’s even taken aback by what he became.
“Is that me?” he asks, his voice shaky as he stares up at the growling monstrous Tucker-ghost.
He ends up apologizing to Danny, admitting he couldn’t control himself, literally: his jealousy and envy took control of him. There’s some especially dialogue when they come to terms with what happened: Tucker admits this wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been jealous, and Danny admits that him showing off around Tucker didn’t help matters. Here, we have two friends coming to an understanding now that they’ve seen each other’s perspective, and get why each friend felt the way that they did. Tucker realizes that ghost powers aren’t always the best thing, and that his jealousy was blinding him to Danny’s struggles, while Danny realizes the depths of his friend’s envy, and that he triggered it a bit with his showing off. The episode has a fantastic view on envy, and how it can literally consume a person if they let it. In the end, Tucker is left humbled and with a stronger understanding of Danny as a character – and vice versa, because Danny understands Tucker and his inner workings. Tucker’s lens adds some great perspective to his character, and as the episode ends, we can all walk away with a bit more appreciation for Tucker Foley and his own struggles.
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