Gravity Falls is the best cartoon series on TV today. That’s not an opinion; I am stating a damn fact. It’s better than Archer, American Dad!, South Park, Regular Show, The Simpsons, The Legend Of Korra and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Some of those shows are hysterical, some are feel good, some have excellent plots, but none have all three or, at least, are able to combine all three in as expert a manner as Gravity Falls has. Throughout this extended first season, the show has been capable of making utterly hysterical half-hours combined with clever plots and an extremely deep heart; “The Time Traveller’s Pig” and “Summerween” being the best examples of this, prior to the two-part finale; in a way that few other shows on TV nowadays can do, period. And even when the show isn’t operating at full-pelt emotionally or in terms of the show’s surprisingly dense mythology, it can still turn in year-best half hours based on jokes alone (“The Inconveniencing” and “Boyz Crazy” especially). There has only been one episode in this entire first season that didn’t excel in at least one of these areas, “Carpet Diem”, the rest of the season walked and talked at a level that takes most shows three seasons to reach.
“Gideon Rises”, the first season finale, then, was Gravity Falls operating at full power on every single possible level. What could have simply been an extended victory lap for everyone involved, seeing as all the ingredients for an extended self-congratulatory pat on the back were in place (call-backs to almost every episode! Cameos from background characters! Answers to mysteries that hadn’t really been at the forefront of many people’s minds up to this point! Teases to future mysteries!), was instead a hugely satisfying finale that paid off season long running gags, mysteries and characters, structured together a third act that was almost nothing but involuntary fist pump moment after involuntary fist pump moment, and excitedly teased as to where the show could go next… all without ever coming off as the smug, self-congratulatory back-pat it could have gone. I actually would not have minded the first option, the show has absolutely earned the chance to take a nice, easy victory lap, in my mind, but what we actually got was far more preferable and just firmly cements Gravity Falls as one of the best shows on television.
So, what worked? Well, I could just say “EVERYTHING” and then head on down to the Stray Thoughts part and list pretty much every other line (like I want to do), but let’s start with a frank conversation about Gideon. I despise the guy. Hate him with a vengeance, but not because he’s a terrible character. No, I hate him because he’s a villain who I really want to see get his comeuppance. He’s not poorly written, or badly acted, or inconsistently motivated, or over-exposed or any of the traits that usually accompany characters I hate. I hate him for the reasons that the show wants me to hate him for, namely that he’s an evil little tossbag, and, as someone who often loves a show’s villain just as much as its heroes, that is a testament to just how good the writing on this show is. If Gideon were just a bad character, seeing Dipper finally get to beat the crap out of him wouldn’t be anywhere near as satisfying as it turned out to be, because I wanted to see Dipper beat Gideon for exactly the reasons that the show wanted.
Then there’s the Pines’ relationship with each other. The show has been trading on the brother/sister dynamic since day one and, once again, it is a testament to the writing that, whenever the show goes back to that well, it’s yet to feel stale or manipulative. The dynamic between Dipper and Mabel feels real and three-dimensional and honest; capable of injecting genuine pathos whenever it comes up because of those things. It’s the little moments, like when Mabel tries reassuring Dipper that he doesn’t need the book and that they can still win because he’s Dipper Pines, that help make the bigger moments land even harder, such as Dipper leaping into a the eye of a giant Gideon-bot in order to save Mabel which, again, is a moment that would be satisfying on its own, but I doubt that I’d be involuntary shouting “YES!” at it if the show hadn’t spent the past 19 episodes building up that relationship.
On a similar note, Grunkle Stan’s slow defrosting towards the kids has been one of the most satisfying developments of this season. It’s been so gradual that most won’t have noticed it, but there’s clearly been a massive difference between the Grunkle Stan of “The Legend Of The Gobblewonker” that had Dipper and Mabel counterfeiting money and the Grunkle Stan of “Gideon Rises” who actually sends the kids home at the halfway point because he doesn’t feel he can look after them adequately enough anymore. He’s still recognisably Grunkle Stan, but he’s a much softer Grunkle Stan than we’ve seen as late as “Boss Mabel” and as his true feelings for the kids became clear, he became a far more lovable character than he was originally. That shot of him with Dipper and Mabel after Gideon is sent to jail is just all the feels. In fact, hang on, let me get that image below this paragraph for you.
Outside of the always stellar character work, which is always stellar, “Gideon Rises” also paid off all of the running gags and season long subplots that it could in the remainder of its run time. In 19 episodes, Gravity Falls has managed to build a large collection of side characters and background characters that it can drop into any situation for a good laugh but in a way that’s logical and consistent. For example, crazy cook Old Man McGucket is the one responsible for building Gideon’s giant death robot (which screams Pacific Rim so much that it could only have been unintentional, thanks to animation lead times) and it works beyond “Hey, it’s Old Man McGucket!” because we already know that he’s a crazed psychopath who is an incredibly poor judge of character and a mechanical genius. It makes perfect sense for him to be the one doing it! Or when the town is ganging up on Gideon and everyone is waiting on Tyler (now the canon name of Cute Biker) to utter his catchphrase “Git ‘em! Git ‘em!” Yes, it’s funny because we’re returning to a great running gag, but it becomes hysterical because Tyler, like the rest of the town, is upset by Gideon’s betrayal and he says his line whilst fighting back tears. These characters are not just one-joke machines, they’re characters and that’s what pushes them above, say, Family Guy’s ancillary cast. They’re characters just like the main cast, not to the same extent depth-wise but enough to transcend their joke status.
The gnomes from the pilot made a triumphant return (re-introduced on screen with a gag, and later a return gag, that I cannot believe made it to air) and, once again, their inclusion felt natural instead of forced. Wendy found out about Dipper’s crush on her thanks to Soos spilling the beans (despite his very late last second word swap) and it was treated as precisely the non-event it needed to be. It’s the kind of thing that the season finale needed to address, but it’s not relevant enough to the main plot to justify chewing up too much of the run time; so the secret could have been outed here and left for season 2 to explore, which is what they did (but if everyone just went on in season 2 and didn’t treat it like a major event then I’d be even happier because, guess what, that’d actually be rather realistic). The return of the grappling hook, however, initially seemed too much like blatant fanservice, the kind of call-back scientifically engineered to get as many fans creaming their pants as possible. But then they kept going back to it enough to make it work! So much so that, when it made its inevitable working appearance in the finale (saving the Pines twins’ lives), it felt awesome even though you knew it was coming!
You know, I could go on about character intricacies and call-backs and emotional maturity with this episode until the cows come home, but “Gideon Rises” also worked on far more simpler terms. Specifically: being really f*cking awesome. This was a finale that had gnomes being used as arrows for a bow, Soos driving a bus away from a chasing mecha-Gideon, Dipper beating the crap out of Gideon inside said mecha-Gideon, Mabel’s grappling hook, Grunkle Stan managing to expose Gideon’s psychic fraud all by himself, the town turning on Gideon, the Pines’ and Soos and Wendy fixing up the Mystery Shack together… when the first two acts weren’t being hilarious (though I really shouldn’t have to tell you that, at this point), they piled on the hopelessness and the despair just enough to make that third act one, nine-minute long “Hell yes!” of epic proportions. You may claim it to be too manipulative; I’ll tell you to get stuffed. I was eating out of Gravity Falls’ palms and loving every single second of it.
And then there’s the final reveal. Folks, when people talk about how Gravity Falls is better than almost every single animated programme on television today, that’s what they’re talking about. That’s the kind of scene I would have expected out of something like Buffy. FINALLY paying off a mystery from the show’s inception in a manner that’s ultra-satisfying in the moment yet leaves you with even more questions, but is also a reveal that is built on information that we only just recently discovered, couldn’t have been done without said information and becomes even more satisfying with it now (instead of if they’d revealed it back in, say, episode 7). Alex Hirsch was phenomenal as Grunkle Stan during there, as a man barely able to contain his glee at finally getting journals 2 and 3 yet also very cautious about what happens next. Stan is now firmly involved in the not-normal of Gravity Falls and I can’t wait to see how the show deals with this come next season.
Quite frankly, “Gideon Rises” is not only the best half hour Gravity Falls has ever turned in (to such an extent that I have absolutely no idea how they can ever top it), but it may end up being my favourite episode of television all year. Everything about this episode worked; being funny, smart, heart-breaking, heart-warming and involuntary-sky-punching-screaming-“YES!”-to the heavens, excelling in every area (and frequently multiple areas at once) and providing the perfect capper to, in my mind, one of the best debut seasons in television history. This is the kind of show where I just don’t understand how people could not love it. In fact, I am adamant that if Disney could schedule it half-decently, Gravity Falls could become the next The Simpsons. By which I mean that kind of mainstream cross-over appeal because there really is something for everybody here. Congratulations on an incredible first season, Alex Hirsch. Good luck topping it with season 2; you are definitely going to need it.
“Gideon Rises” Grade: A+
Gravity Falls Season 1 Grade: A
- I need to thank @obscurefan for turning me on to this show, though. If it weren’t for his blog on this back when it was just coming out of the starting gates, it may have slipped right past my radar and I wouldn’t be such a devoted fan (Disney’s constant scheduling circle-jerking is what makes or breaks your being a Gravity Falls’ fan, really). He doesn’t visit Screened anymore, but you can send him a message of appreciation on Twitter (@theobscurefan) or by listening to The Pupcast which… I honestly don’t even know, anymore. We have way too many podcasts. Tell him I said thanks anyway, though!
- OK, no more wasting space. I’m just going to list as many quotes from this episode as I can think of and get out of here. It’s all I really want to do, anyway. Feel free to leave any I missed in the comments.
- “I go vacuum my face now.”
- Robbie trying to get Wendy back was hilariously pathetic. “Wendy! Take me back, Wendy! My arms are too skinny to keep holding this boombox forever! Did you get my texts? Wendy? Wendy? Did you check your phone? Do I need to leave you more texts? Wendy?”
- Grunkle Stan: “The lower half of your body is on fire.” Soos: “Shush. We’re having a moment.”
- Gideon’s file photo is of him surrounded by puppies whilst smiling adorably. Stan’s is of him dressed as the devil, dancing in flames and cackling maniacally. “That picture is taken out of context.”
- “Especially Dipper. Because of his huge crush on you. … …calyptus trees.” Smooth cover-up, Soos. Wendy is none the wiser.
- Old Man McGucket is a really bad judge of character. Regarding Gideon, after the latter storms off in mecha-Gideon: “I got a good feeling about that kid!”
- “Are you sick of piles of owls littering your driveway? Well then you gotta try Owl Trowel!” I’m so glad that we got one last check-in with Gravity Falls’ ridiculous TV programming.
- Goosebumps, ladies and gentlemen, the size of Mount Rushmore at the final line of the season: “Here we go.”