Gravity Falls Review: "Not What He Seems" (Season 2, Episode 11)

Who sits at the center of this screengrab: Lapis Lazuli, or Heisenberg?

Airdate: March 9th, 2015

Synopsis: The FBI is coming! It’s the apocalypse! We’re all gonna die!!!

Oh… you want a real synopsis. Fine, whatever.

Stan’s wacky underground device is activated overnight… just hours before the FBI finally moves in and nicks him. The kids are taken to Child Services, yet they manage to escape the Humvee transporting them. As they run back to the Mystery Shack, they realize that Stan wasn’t what he seemed, but rather, may have lied across the nation. Now, they have to question: do they continue trusting this man who formed a strong bond with them all summer?

Review: Alright, I think it’s time you got a quick look at my reaction to this episode.

Note: image here so I can do some shameless self-promotion of my Futurama blog.

Indeed. The shock was incredible. I hope it lasts.

OK, you want a real review? I’ll give you one. Spoilers from here on out.

Last chance to avoid spoilers – go watch the episode, or go to a review that’s probably spoiler free and probably better than mine.

Alright, don’t be sorry when you’re screaming at me for ruining the episode.

Wow.

The fanboys were right. I thought they were just obsessing over minute details… can’t complain, but still. However, we’ll take a look at how right they were a bit later.

“Not What He Seems” is the ultimate “hammer comes down” episode – one where the buildup through the season’s tenser episodes (see: “Scaryoke”, “Into the Bunker”, and “Society of the Blindeye”) finally explode in such an amazing frenzy. Simply put, this throws so many questions down on the table to answer them:

  • Who is Stan Pines?
  • Is the FBI going to nick Stan?
  • What’s with his portal-thingy?
  • Does Stan have a brother?
  • WHO WROTE THE DAMN JOURNALS?

The answers are as follows:

  • The man in the shack… unless the FBI is to be believed.
  • With extreme prejudice.
  • Portal to another dimension, possibly.
  • Yes.
  • Refer to question 4.

What makes this episode impressive is that it could’ve just listed all of these questions off quickly, boom, episode over. However, what makes this stand out is the real human impact that every single situation in this episode has.

You see… Stan is a fraud. He is, and is not, Stan. He went under many a pseudonym in order to escape potential capture. Fake IDs. Fake deaths. The rumors were true – Stan has committed so many felonies, I’m amazed the FBI didn’t get him sooner. He swiped toxic waste, for the love of god.

And what was it for?

He wanted to see his long-lost sibling… the author of the journals.

Anything like that was gonna be epic. It’s how the show handled it – the buildup, the emotional impact, the scene afterwards, that makes it a thing of beauty. I have to admit – I almost shed a few tears at the closing credits scene. Who knew that one scene, barely animated, could be so beautiful, so fantastically constructed? These writers could.

Through the reveal of Stan’s brother as the author, rewatching the series takes on a darker tone. Is Stan’s stinginess, selfishness, and abrasive behaviour a result of his brother entering the other dimension, or a cause? Did he drive his brother away and want to make amends? Or did he sink further and further into a pattern of aloof actions afterwards?

At this point, Stan is as complex and tragic a character as I’ve ever seen in an animated show… hell, in a TV show.

It’s how he was revealed, though, that might make an impact in the structure of the show as marked as the reveal of Stan’s brother.

Remember at the beginning of “Tourist Trapped”:

“Remember, in Gravity Falls, there is no one you can trust.

Oh, has the concept of trust been violated. In so many ways.

First, the obvious – Stan is a fraud. He lied to Soos, somebody who considered him a damn father figure; to Mabel and Dipper, who considered him “the greatest uncle”; to Wendy, possibly; to the town; to the nation… and to what extent? At the very least, he committed theft of government services. Who knows what else he did to keep his secret?

Was it all worth it?

Far more damaging, though, is the relationship between Dipper and Mabel. In “Tourist Trapped” and “The Hand that Rocks the Mabel”, we saw Dipper and Mabel pretty much come to each other’s defense. Beyond that, “Legend of the Gobblewonker” and “Headhunters” showed them as egalitarian partners in their adventures – both of them being close and trusting each other with practically everything.

When forced to choose between Stan, who has been living the past 30 years as a fraud, and Dipper, who’s basically spent the entire summer helping her out and vice versa (as pointed out in “Sock Opera”)… it’s an utter shock when Mabel chose to confide in Stan.

It’s hard for me to see how their characters won’t be reunited. On one hand, Dipper might recognize that Mabel, whether through a genuine hunch or through sheer luck, managed to get this one right. On the other, Dipper has his own neuroses. Being proven wrong? You bet that’s going to drive him spare for the rest of the season. He might even take his frustrations out on Mabel – becoming more confrontational and aloof.

At the beginning of this season, we saw the “generation xerox” theory play out with Stan and Dipper crossing the fingers behind their backs. Could history repeat itself with Dipper and Mabel the way it did with Stan and his brother? That would be a tragedy on par with Walter White’s foray into the black market.

What about Mabel? I just have a question – is her trust in Stan merely because of her optimism? Does she see where he’s coming from? Soos’s idolization of Stan is also thrown into question – seeing that Stan hid something so wicked probably hurt him quite a bit.

What else is there to say about this episode? The animation? Perfect. The comedy? Appropriately placed. The tension? Passionate. The acting? The buildup? The climax? Again, the end smegging credits?

This episode, this show, deserves a damn Emmy. Anything less is an insult to American art… no, it will be an insult to art, full stop.

Is it my new favorite? Not sure yet. Is it objectively the best episode? Hell yes.

Tidbits:

  • Given that my past two posts were tributes, I am aware that the geek world suffered another blow, with the death of Sir Terry Pratchett this past Thursday. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the Discworld series, so I can’t give an appropriate eulogy. All I feel I can say are that my thoughts are with his family, friends, and many fans.
  • I want your honest opinions, in the comment section- if Stan’s brother is played by a guest star, who should it be? Limit yourself to three. I’ll start: John Barrowman, John de Lancie, Chris Barrie.
  • The gravity displacement is a bit funny- you would suspect the townspeople would suspect something bad was up. However, given what happened with the Society of the Blindeye, I think the townspeople’ve gotten used to whatever strangeness has occurred in the past few days.

Favorite Scene: How do I put the last few minutes of the episode… oh, right- SEND IT TO THE EMMY COMMITTEE! The Nebulas, the Annies… all of them would, could, and should consider this episode.

Least Favorite Scene: Again, Wendy gets two damn lines – a brief foray into comic relief. Damn it- don’t tell me she was just there to get a quota of Wendy lines. Why even give Linda Cardellini the paycheque for the episode if that’s all she’s gonna say?

Score: …no.

There is no score for this episode.

Giving this episode a score would undervalue its essential-ness. You have to see it. I’m just gonna say this- for three days after the episode premiered, this episode held a perfect 10 score on IMDB, and is still at a 9.9.

The only other TV episode I’m aware of to do something like that? “Ozymandias”.

Yes, that episode of Breaking Bad widely considered the best episode of anything in the history of ever.

…well, thanks to the fine folks in charge of scheduling at Disney XD, looks like we’re going into another hiatus until around the summertime. Yup, looks like this blog might not be so active for the next few months.

Fortunately, and I mentioned this above, I have another place to waste your time. 

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