Gravity Falls Review: "Little Gift Shop of Horrors" (Season 2, Episode 6)


Airdate: 4 October, 2014

Well, another year, another trilogy! This time, a tourist gets trapped in the clutches of Grunkle Stan and his salesman tactics. Trying to convince him to buy something at the shack, he tells three tales concerning the items he finds.

Note Ahead of Time: For the purposes of this review, I am considering everything encompassing this episode not even remotely close to canon. However, I will analyze the segments, first on their own merits, and how they fit into the overall scheme of the episode.

First Segment: Hands Off


At the local swap meet, Grunkle Stan swipes a watch from a creepy looking witch. Said witch proceeds to curse Stan’s hands away. After his attempts to live without hands fails epically, he and the twins make a trek to the mountain where she lives… surrounded by hands. And pathetically lonely.

Gravity Falls has a knack for making it’s antagonists mysterious, multi-facaded characters. We had the cute yet disturbing Gideon, the mocking yet pathetic Robbie, the cruel yet tragic Pacifica, and the ambiguous yet powerful Bill Cypher. This segment continues with that trend, with the desperate loneliness of the witch compromised with the mysterious origin of the many, many, many hands she holds. Do we feel for her loneliness, and give her slack because Stan stole a bracelet? Or do we blast her for her blatant, somewhat hypocritical hand theft? Oh, and the rest of the characterization is pretty damn good. That, and the scene in the cave was one of the freakiest things ever in a Gravity Falls episode.

Still, I can’t help but think that the reveal of the witch was a bit of a low-ball for Gravity Falls. There seemed to be no buildup to the great reveal of her lonely status. Thus, it does seem a bit cop-out-ish for her to suddenly be lonely.

Ultimately, this is my favorite of the three segments… not perfect, but still great.

Score: 8 (Edit 21/7/15: originally 8.5.)

Second Segment: Abaconings (SPOILERS FOR REVIEW PURPOSES)

In his attempt to complete a 3D puzzle, and thus prove Mabel’s questioning of his intelligence wrong, Dipper grinds up magical “percepshrooms”, and attempts to apply them to his forehead, in an attempt to increase his IQ. Problem? Waddles eats it. Waddles rapidly constructs a voice box (with the voice of Neil DeGrasse Tyson), and rapidly goes on to make mind-bending inventions. However, these inventions leave Mabel in the dust. Ultimately, when Waddles tries to create a device to give him god-like intelligence, Mabel convinces him to abandon his intellectual pursuits in favor of a life of leisure.

OK, let’s get this out of the way right now. This is my least favorite segment of the three, by a decent amount. Before I say why, note that I don’t totally hate this one. The premise of this episode, while somewhat simple, is actually pretty damn creative. Waddles, through the series, has been little more than a prop. At best, he’s a plot device, used to move the centre characters to the mystery of the day. To see Waddles actually interact with Dipper and Mabel is actually pretty damn creative. To see him “voiced” by Neil DeGrasse Tyson is brilliant. The lines he delivers showcase an awesome character, one with a vibrant personality.

Then the ending happened.

OK, I won’t deny – “Status Quo is God”, even with the three-act structure. This, however, suffers from the same problem that brought down “The Time Travelers Pig”. This entire segment showcased Waddles out to make discoveries that could alter the world as people knew it, to give him limitless knowledge. Yet, he throws it all away. Why? Because Mabel acted like a jealous, selfish idiot. Look, I know Mabel’s character is really the id personified. However, we saw in plenty of episodes that Mabel had virtues, that she has a sense of intelligence and flashes of pure brilliance. Here? She’s as multi-dimensional as the Cat. On a bad day. Oh, and the universe bends to her whim. And there’s a tacked-on message that barely connects to the rest of the episode. Screw the pursuit of life-changing information! I have to make fart noises while acting like Smashie and Nicey!

“This episode is split into three segments, into trilogy-type stuff, and hopefully it will help us with our charity!”
“Three-tastic, mate!”

Oh, thank god none of this is canon. Unlike “The Time Travelers Pig”. God, that ending still infuriates me.

Score: 5.5 (Edit: originally a 6.)

Third Segment: Clay Day

After watching Mabel’s wretched movie of choice, Stan puts in a western-style movie that he guarantees will be far better. (Newsflash, Stan: a test pattern would be better!) The instant Claymation appears, Mabel goes into hiding (in a laundry basket). Apparently, the fear was instilled in her during childhood. With Stan finding the fear irrational, he takes Mabel to the inventor of Claymation… where one of his clay figurines attacks the gang.

Well, this segment infuriated me less than the Waddles one. The use of pseudo-clay animation in a show known for it’s “traditional” animation style is pretty damn quirky, and the buildup to it is actually executed well. The creativity in the clay designs present is pretty damn awesome, and the send-up to the price tag of the clay designs? Brilliant. I also liked the twist on the “conquer your fears” trope- as in, use them to your advantage.

But… I still can’t say I loved this segment. Why? Well, a few things that make me want to nitpick.

  • Why the hell did Mabel watch a film meant for pre-schoolers? That’s a trend I’m hating this season- the first season showcased Mabel as the id of the show, a quirk, yet she still had virtues, a sense of maturity. This season has seen several gags indicating that she is on the same emotional level as a six-year old. Come on, Gravity Falls writers! Don’t go the Homer Simpson route!
  • Dipper kicks himself for not warning Stan about Mabel’s fear of claymation. No more than two sentences later, Dipper is blaming Stan for showing the video. Again, Dipper’s moral “goodness” has occasionally been put into question. Hell, my favorite Gravity Falls episode, “Boyz Crazy”, focused on Dipper’s sense of moral superiority being destroyed. Still, this is pretty inconsistent.
  • “Get ready for references we don’t understand, and words we can’t repeat.” Again, I know Mabel often leans on the fourth wall. Still, that’s a bit over-expository and unnatural. That’s something I’d expect to see in a modern episode of The Simpsons.
Ultimately… it’s better than Abaconings… not saying a lot, though.
Score: 7 (Edit: originally 7.5)
 
Overall Review: This episode actually confused me in how I should analyze it. Here’s the deal…
On one hand, nothing in this episode is canon, unlike the wrap-around of “Bottomless Pit”. While this gives the writers more liberties in terms of plot, it could also lead to inconsistencies when it comes to character, as well as plots that tend to lean more toward one side compared to the other.
On the other hand, within the episode, these stories were told by Stan. Despite living with the kids for around a month at this point, Stan still seems to be “off” when it comes to family bonding. He doesn’t really process the depth of the characters- what he sees is what he gets. That, and he takes a very cynical outlook on life as a whole. The exaggeration and simplification of character traits suggests that Stan, in some ways, still hasn’t gelled with the twins.
That is, if the story was canon.
And it wasn’t. Thank god, as the ending is dark, even by the standards of Stan.
Overall, it’s a bit of a slip up after a nonstop awesome streak stretching past to “Carpet Diem”. Thankfully, the next episode will be a step up. Why? Well, in “The Society of the Blind Eye”, we find out…
…who…
…wrote…

…the journals?

Well, in the words of the mysterious Bachman-Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothing yet! Still guessing, though! LET’S ROCK!

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