Gravity Falls Review: Season 2, Episode 3: "The Golf War"

“We are the Golf Balls, Golf Balls are we!
We work at a golf course right near a few trees!”

Airdate: August 11th, 2014

Synopsis: Driven spare by Pacifica one too many times, Mabel challenges her to a putt-off at the Mini-golf center at midnight. Whilst practicing strategies on victory, the twins come across a bunch of Golf Ball people, the “Lilliputtians”, who control the golf balls. However, each “hole” is in something of a conflict with each other hole. Thus, Mabel offers a deal: whoever helps her the most in defeating Pacifica gets a sticker-trophy. Of course, they take this to extreme lengths.

Review: “Scaryoke” and “Into the Bunker” were ventures into the dark side of Gravity Falls: both of those episodes featured elements that wouldn’t be out of place on, say, The X-Files. So, after reading the premise of this episode, I thought, “Hey, Gravity Falls is taking a turn back into light-hearted speculative comedy! This should be a nice, easy episode.”

I was half right.

Sure, the plot seems light and amusing: a bunch of golf-ball people control the mini-golf courses. Yet, when I looked deeper into the episode, I noticed something about this episode, something that’s a bit more symbolic.

But, I’ll get to that in a second.

The Lilliputtians are (quite clearly) a reference to the nations of Lilliput and Blefuscu from Gulliver’s Travels, considered one of the founding novels of speculative fiction. As their name suggests, they are practically humans (with golf heads) on a 1:12 scale of humans. Yet, why were they sent-up in this episode? The answer lies in one of the center conflicts in Gulliver’s Travels. In that book, the Lilliputians are great mechanists. However, they wind up trapped in the center of two conflicts, one over what the best way to crack an egg is, and the other over what types of shoes one wears. That itself was a mockery of the European wars between the Catholics and the Protestants, especially in 1640’s England, as well as the fighting between the two major British parties, then the Whigs and the Tories, respectively. (Boy, Jonathan Swift was ahead of his time).

Strangely enough, I think the inclusion of the Lilliputtians in this episode is also somewhat timely, given current events. Now, one could make an argument that this episode has a general anti-war message, but I prefer to liken this to events going on in Europe.

For those unaware, elections to the European Parliament were held in 2014. Amongst the election results was a sharp rise in Eurosceptic parties, parties that generally believed that their nation could stand with fewer powers given to a united Europe. These parties ranged from mildly Eurosceptic (Sinn Fein) to borderline neo-nazi (Golden Dawn). I bring this up because each Lilliputtian “hole” seems to be reminiscent of a country: the Dutch, the French, the British, etc.

If we take this episode as an allegory on the European Union and the modern Eurosceptic parties, well, this episode mocks both sides. On one hand, when the Lilliputtians unite, they do so for reasons that are still selfish and neurotic. However, when pitted against each other, their sabotage against each other leads them nowhere. Where is the happy medium?

In fact, why the hell am I talking about European politics when I should be reviewing a cartoon about sentient golf balls? (It was probably a coincidence, anyway).

This episode has slightly less of a focus on character whilst compared to “Into the Bunker”… but that’s not saying a whole lot. Indeed, this episode begins peeling away at the layers of Pacifica Northwest, showing the rather distant relationship she has with her parents, and that her general behavior might not be merely out of malice, but rather out of aloofness brought on by her upbringing. However, as others have brought up, her development was limited by a need to reintroduce the character. Hell, Alex Hirsch actually didn’t intend for her to get a lot of development: the writers just gave in to fan requests. Thus, most of the development that Pacifica received just feels a bit old-hat.

Other characters also got some rather interesting development. Dipper, for one, made several comments that seem to reflect a knowledge of politics. Dipper notes that Pacifica’s wealth, in his own words, helps her “cheat at life”. Once realizing how wealthy Pacifica is, Dipper notes that Mabel should’ve charged Pacifica for a taco they shared. While people could argue that Dipper is a bit young to have a political ideology, previous episodes did tend to show Dipper as very savvy when it comes to intellectual pursuits… which might involve politics and current events. A convincing argument could be made that Dipper is developing a politically center-left ideology. Of course, I could be looking too deep into throwaway comments, and, well, it is Pacifica. Still, it’s interesting to note.

Mabel, strangely enough, was revealed to have been a mini-golf virtuoso when she was younger. This seems to contradict her statement in “Little Dipper”, where Mabel notes that Dipper is normally just a tad bit more of an “ace” when it came to various competitions. Two conclusions could be made from this statement. One is that Mabel tends to excel at athletic/physical “competition”, whilst Dipper tends to excel at more intellectual feats (the activities that Mabel noted that Dipper beat her at in “Little Dipper” included chess and chequers- ping pong notwithstanding). Another interpretation is that, deep down inside, Mabel might have lower self-confidence than originally thought. Again, I might be looking too deep into throwaway comments, but it’s still interesting to note.

The rest of this episode’s aspects are pretty good, if not Gravity Falls at it’s uber-best. The plot is quirky and light, the humor is wide-reaching and timed to hit… this episode even has some dark individual moments. (Big Henry, anybody?) Really, it’s only faults are that some elements from this episode feel a bit too rehashed from other TV shows, specifically the Pacifica scenes.

Still, it’s a nice return to Earth compared to the dark tones of the last two episodes, with nice breezy humor and a light take on the show’s mythology.

 

Tidbits:

  • Gotta give props to the animation, for the most part. The use of color, the “camera” angles, the depth of the sky… it’s fantastic.
  • Well, Robbie is officially seen for the first time in Season 2. He’s just as much of a moron as he was at the end of Season 1, what with spray-painting at a golf course in daylight and flipping off (or making some other obscene hand gesture) the mattress man. His breakup with Wendy last season, in hindsight, was inevitable: it was the way it went down that makes anything that happens to him (so far, at least) utterly cathartic.
  • Well, Xyler and Craz are back in Mabel’s dreams. It really is a testament to the show’s strong sense of continuity that they didn’t just disappear after “Dreamscaperers”.
Favorite Moment: Favorite line? Easily goes to Stan’s comment after he realizes the possibility of a late-night entry into the golf park.

 

“I don’t know. We’d have to break in, and JUST KIDDING! LET’S BREAK IN!”

Least Favorite Scene: More an aspect, but they could’ve used Mr. Northwest’s character a bit more. What a waste of Nathan Fillon. Oh, and by the way, who voices Mrs. Northwest? Anybody?

Score: 8.75

Edit 21/7/15: Score originally 9. Adjusted.

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