The second of my add-ons, and this one might be the most controversial of them.
Gravity Falls is not the most well-known show, but it deserves to be. It’s only 40 episodes, but, and I say this with total sincerity, it’s one of the only shows where I don’t think there’s a bad episode. With most of the shows on this list, I can think of at least one episode which I either didn’t like, thought didn’t fit within the show, or even absolutely hated. Even the Twilight Zone sometimes had a miss. I’ve even fought over whether or not there is a bad episode of Breaking Bad, and I go with “probably.” But, I don’t actually think the quality of Gravity Falls varied much from a very strong start. If you like the first episode, you’ll like the rest of the series, and it just keeps getting better until it reaches one of the greatest series finales ever, featuring one of the best villains in fiction.
However, this is not that episode. You should watch that too, as well as the rest of this show, but this isn’t it. This is the only episode of the show I thought was more memorable and more touching than the finale.
The show follows two siblings, Dipper and Mabel (Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal), as they spend the summer with their great-uncle “Grunkle” Stan (Alex Hirsch) in the town of Gravity Falls, a place notable for the huge number of dangerous supernatural occurrences which are still mostly kid-friendly. The strength of the series is that, unlike many other shows with similar set-ups, the focus is on the development of the characters, and the over-arching mythos of the series is built at a consistent pace. There’s also a lot of “show, don’t tell,” something that a cartoon can theoretically do better than live-action, but rarely does. This episode is when all that character development pays off.
Dipper is a nerdy kid who is obsessed with the weird. Mabel is the ridiculously upbeat girl who always sees the good in everyone (and has a grappling hook, because she’s awesome). Stan is the epitome of the con-man, whom the audience knows has a huge secret, and the entire season has been building to its reveal. A reveal that we get in this episode, but which has nothing to do with the two things that make this episode amazing.
First of all, this is the only episode of Gravity Falls where gravity actually does fall. Gravity periodically reverses itself throughout the episode. It’s a neat thing to finally see, since it was a part of the show’s opening theme up to this point, and the gimmick is used well throughout the episode. But it’s the second thing that sets it apart. In an episode that is, up to this point, the ultimate culmination of the show’s plotlines, most shows would choose to ramp up the speed and intensity to make the plot climax as intense as possible. But not Gravity Falls.
Instead, the show slows down and focuses on how the stress of the plotlines has affected the relationship between Dipper, Mabel, and Stan. Dipper and Mabel find out that Stan
has been lying to them about what he’s been doing. More than that, they find evidence that he may not even be who he says he is. Now, the audience sees Stan wanting to tell the kids something important, but he gets arrested before he can. However, we also see that he does care for them deeply. Then we see the kids find Stan’s collection of fake IDs and forged documents, and realize that they might have been lied to. More than that, we get to see how two very different people respond to the situation. Dipper, who is all about finding out the truth, is angry because he was deceived by someone close to him. Mabel, who loves everyone and believes in the best in people, is heartbroken that someone she trusted may not be who she thought she was. Anger and questioning, two very human responses portrayed by 12-year-old kids.
When the kids finally find the machine in the basement that Stan has been keeping secret, Dipper comes to the conclusion, based on the show thus far, that the machine is dangerous and going to potentially destroy the world. As he tries to hit the shutdown button, Stan returns and stops him. Stan keeps trying to explain what happened, but Dipper refuses to listen. However, ultimately, Dipper and Stan, along with Stan’s employee Soos (Hirsch), are pinned against a wall and Mabel is the only one who can hit the button. Dipper tells her to hit the button, and Stan begs her not to. Mabel, who always wants to give people a chance, tells him that she doesn’t even know who he is. Dipper points out that if he’s lying, the world might end. Stan responds by saying that, while he’s done some bad things, everything he’s doing now is for his family. Mabel looks him in the eye, and with just a few seconds left, chooses to let herself float away from the button, saying “I trust you.”
It’s impossible not to feel everything they’re feeling in that moment. The music, the pacing, the animation, and Kristen Schaal’s epic voice acting as Mabel all come together to the point that you honestly might forget you’re watching a cartoon, because you will be so drawn in. And despite the significance of the ending, the climax of the episode isn’t the part where they reveal what the machine does, and answer two huge questions from the show, the climax is just Mabel choosing to believe in someone, to put her faith in the goodness of another, despite the fact that she can’t even articulate why. I know that a lot of the world is going to beat you down, and make it hard to think the best of others, but it’s nice to know that at least one show is trying to remind us that sometimes putting your faith in people will reward you. It takes strength to trust another, and Mabel is perhaps the strongest of us all. Be stronger, trust more: It’s a message that needs to be spread.
Also, it has one of my favorite jokes: “It’s the final countdown! Like they were always singing about!!!” Gets me every time.
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Update: So, after writing this, I started watching the Nostalgia Critic and found out he did the “11 best episodes of Gravity Falls” and he not only picked this as the best episode of the series, but also picked it for basically the same reasons. I’m not saying he hacked my computer from the past and published it 2 years before I wrote it, but… I’m not NOT saying that. Either way, check out his channel if you grew up in the 80s. Some of his stuff is really funny.