Gravity Falls Review: "Into the Bunker" (Season 2, Episode 2)

“This baby is called the Withstandinator. It can take a six megaton blast. No more. No less.” -Herman, The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror VIII”

Airdate: August 4th, 2014

Synopsis: Dipper is at the end of his wits when it comes to his relationship with Wendy: he needs to confess, yet also refuses to. A botched attempt at a confession drives Wendy into one of Dipper’s investigations: exploring the bunker under the tree where 3 was first found. As Dipper, Wendy, Mabel, and Soos dive down into the bunker, events conspire that drive Dipper closer to the breaking point, the duo to what seems to be a figure of local lore, and the quartet close to their demise.

*WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD: READ AT YOUR OWN RISK*

Review: Last time the writers dedicated an episode to the faux-supercouple of Wendy and Dipper, the relationship between the two bottomed out. For those unawares, after Wendy broke up with Robbie, Dipper tried to get Wendy on the rebound. Wendy responded by blasting Dipper and Robbie’s misogynistic, self-serving maneuvers, before running off distraught.

That episode was “Boyz Crazy”, which was my favorite episode when I first reviewed it. Its dark themes in both its plot and subplot were striking, yet also realistic. They showed a darker side to our favorite characters.

“Into the Bunker” seems to be an attempt to finally put something of a confirmation to where Dipper and Wendy stand. In so doing, they have made an episode that further reaffirmed just how far the writing for the show has gone.

“Bunker” puts forward the question that was posed during season 1: “who wrote the journals?” This episode goes into the first serious investigation into the source of the book. Given that there are 18 other episodes in this season, it was doubtful that the question would be answered in the episode. That’s fine, though: the episode was focused more on character rather than plot.

I must admit, the second half of the episode definitely felt more like a send-up of classic sci-fi films and TV. It sorta reminded me of the Red Dwarf episodes “Polymorph” and “Psirens”, what with the shape-shifter episode and the “spot the impostor”. Now, I think Red Dwarf did both just a bit more cleverly, but that’s not a huge strike against Gravity Falls: its twists were quite creative. Plus, Mark Hamill plays the antagonist. Damn.

But, yet again, what is Gravity Falls’s great strength? Character. And, boy, oh boy, there is a lot of character focus in this episode.

As I mentioned earlier, the main focus in this episode is on Dipper and Wendy, showing the latter getting involved in the investigations that Dipper does for the first time, and the two getting stuck together at the worst possible time for the former. Hopelessly in love, Dipper is also hopelessly petrified to confess his emotions. This, in turn, drags both him and Wendy deeper into the insanity that is the Bunker. Once Wendy is nearly killed, Dipper realizes that his inability to confess drove the two into this madness. It’s a pretty deep moment: a sign where his insensitive maneuvers have almost killed his best friend, his crush.

Probably the greatest feat that this episode did was bring Wendy to the center of the episode. After I first watched the episode, I was sort of conflicted on her character. She manages to nail several things about the bunker on her first try (the entry to the bunker, deducing the disguise of the antagonist, hatching a plan to take out the antagonist). I was actually a bit scared that they were overcompensating for her past absences. However, once you think about it, her plans run on impulse, to mixed results; while she might have gotten lucky with the entry into the bunker, she barely survived the battle between her and the shapeshifter, almost drowning on one occasion. I’m also willing to note a lack of focus on Wendy’s flaws on trying to establish the character. Future episodes, hopefully, will flesh her out, try and make her more of a deep-ish character.

I will admit, though, that the fact that this seemingly lazy character can go on the offensive when it comes to pure danger? That’s pretty cool. Once she and Dipper are attacked, she declares that there is nothing else they can do except “return the favor”.

The relationship between her and Dipper is given a very bittersweet, realistic grounding. With Dipper literally petrified of the relationship with her, he can’t bring himself to tell her. While the way he finally spills the beans may seem a bit cliche, every piece of animation and acting in that scene makes it far more emotional. Knowing Wendy enough to find out what impostor is what was not only brilliant: it was a callback to “The Inconveniencing”. As soon as all is said and done, Dipper and Wendy do what should’ve been done long ago: they talk about the relationship. It’s one of the most bittersweet moments in the show: it settles their relationship for the time being, but also leaves the path open for more adventures with the two… episodes that produce some awesome character development.

Image from Gravity Falls Wiki.

Mabel’s character takes something of a darker turn: her actions intended to be well-meaning almost kill Wendy and Dipper. This shows the disadvantages of Mabel’s view of romance, which is very much grounded in teenage romantic comedies and 80s/90s sitcoms: tactics used in that movie possess the potential of real danger (granted, real life doesn’t have sci-fi monsters, but still). You could feel just how sick she was when she realised what her actions almost did to Dipper.

Soos is really the only thing close to a liability in character: he just seemed there for comic relief. It’s not an entirely bad thing, and his interactions with Mabel are pretty damn funny. (“You know Dipper’s jokes are terrible!”) Still, it’s pretty obvious that he’s there to crack a few jokes. The same could be said for the Cat from Red Dwarf, although in “Polymorph” and “Psirens”, he was versatile enough to dodge heat-seeking bullets and fly around asteroid belts, respectively. Here, Soos barely does anything important: he’s there to help confirm that neither Mabel or Soos’s images were used by the shape-shifter. He could be taken out of the episode, and there would be relatively little taken away.

I do think, however, that there was a reason why Mabel and Soos provided a comic relief team. It’s a hell of a dark episode. This episode has the main characters almost getting crushed, Dipper and Wendy getting trapped in a dark closet, the near death of pretty much the entire main cast at least one other time each, Dipper having to swing the ax at the monster, and damn near everything the shape-shifter does. And I loved it all. You see, every dark moment is there to reflect on character, to shift the plot in meaningful ways, or is done in a way that’s classy enough to give a thumbs-up. Plus, it really adds to the atmosphere of the episode.

Need I mention the technical aspects of the episode? I’ll just sum it up in one word: pretty damn good. (Sorry- one wasn’t enough). The use of darker colors sets the mood perfectly, the backgrounds are incredibly detailed, the character designs are wickedly creative, character movement is fluid… it’s just fantastic. For example, take a long, long look at this scene (image taken from the Gravity Falls Wiki):

I believe that this is the most moving image of the episode. Dipper looking heartbroken, all alone in the forest, as the sun appears to set on him, as the fireflies just keep moving. (Sure, fireflies aren’t native to Oregon, according to the Gravity Falls Wiki, but I’ll give this episode the benefit of the doubt). It’s amazing.
If the plot was maybe a bit more original, if Wendy was a bit more well-rounded, this episode would have met the impossible in my eyes; it would be perfect. However, even with those flaws, this episode is still pretty damn awesome. It’s not my new favorite- “Boyz Crazy” was a bit more original- but it’s still a fantastic episode.
Tidbits:
  • Once Wendy reveals her take on Dipper’s crush on her, pretty much every episode in the past that showcased her in some way (barring “Boss Mabel”, probably) takes on a new aura. You begin noticing little things, such as facial expressions and minor lines of dialogue.
    • That being said, this episode just makes “Boyz Crazy” that much more tragic. Once Dipper gets the nerve to ask Wendy out after her pretty bad split with Robbie, you realize that she’s thinking that Dipper’s just going to use her. Sure, her disgust is short term (relations between the two warmed up considerably within three episodes), but looking back… yeah.
  • Joe Pitt’s direction is, yet again, fantastic. He deserves an Annie, a Nebula, anything for the effort put into the art.
  • “Isn’t that sweater a fire hazard?” “No. It’s a fun hazard.” That line is just awesome, from the delivery to the context. As much as I viewed Soos’s comic relief role as a bit less of an asset, his interactions with Mabel are still awesome.
  • In hindsight, looking back at Wendy’s comment that her father made her compete in lumberjack games… why did he do that? Yes, her father is macho incarnate, but could there be a deeper reason? Alex Hirsch has said that Wendy’s mother is “no longer with her”. Could her father have been trying to take the family’s mind off of a divorce, or death?
  • This episode is being re-run on August 8th on Disney Channel. If you have time to watch the episode… watch it. Let’s keep the momentum going!
Favorite Scene: Again, the scene with Wendy and Dipper after their, well, ordeal in the Bunker. For a show so immersed in sci-fi and horror, it’s a pretty realistic scene. Probably my favorite scene of the series.
Least Favourite Scene: Again, I can’t really pick one particular scene that stands out for being bad. Most of the “weak” scenes really didn’t stand out for being weak.
Score: 9.5.
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