Gravity Falls Review: "A Tale of Two Stans" (Season 2, Episode 12)

 

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Weird science!

 

Airdate: July 13th, 2015

Synopsis: After a whole bunch of madness, Stan’s brother has returned from the abyss – uh, portal. He is not thrilled, slapping Stan as his first action outside the portal. With Dipper and Mabel confused as to what the hell is going on, Stan decides to go way back…

…Glass Shard Beach, New Jersey, early 1960s.

Stan and Stanford – referred in this review henceforth as Ford – were the closest of brothers, with the two going on lookouts for mysterious goods, and Stan coming to Ford’s defense – which happened a lot, as Ford had six fingers due to a birth defect. The two plan to grow up, get on a boat they found in a cave, travel the world. However, it all goes to naught when Ford is offered a full ride to West Coast Tech, provided his science project impresses the advisors. In a fit of rage, Stan accidentally breaks the device – a perpetual motion machine – the night before. The family’s chances of financial greatness sullied, Ford sits back as their parents chuck Stan out.

After Ford gets a PhD at a… less prestigious school, he goes on investigating the anomalies of the US. He winds up in Gravity Falls, Roadkill County, Oregon, and constructs a device that could transport him to another dimension, which he believes is the source of the town’s anomalies.

Meanwhile, Stan tries to impress his parents by making a fortune as a traveling salesman. End result? He’s banned from Jersey, chucked out of Pennsylvania, winds up in various prisons, and is almost broke by the time he meets his brother again, in Gravity Falls.

Review: It’s BACK!!!!!! AGAIN!!!! Jeez, being a fan of this show requires you to have a ton of patience. Anyway, enough about that – after all this time waiting, theorizing, fanfic-writing, freaking out about how long each hiatus is, how was the episode?

Gorgeous.

(WARNING: SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON. WATCH THE EPISODE BEFORE READING ON. UNLESS YOU DON’T MIND SPOILERS. THAT’S COOL.)

What else do I have to say? I doubt anything, anything, could be disappointing after a three-month hiatus.

This wasn’t.

Remember during the end of “Scaryoke”, when Dipper and Grunkle Stan crossed behind their backs whilst “promising” to uphold their ends of a deal? I noted at the time that the two were starting to become mirrors of one another. Strangely enough, this episode wound up turning that on his head – when combined with his brother, Stan acts more like Mabel – running far more on impulse rather than intellect, accidentally giving their brothers hell along the way, and trying to repair it.

What happens to Stan through the entire episode is pretty much an “how we got here” moment. That quirky jerkass at the very beginning of the show who might have something going on behind the scammer facade? That’s been fleshed out into one of the most tragic characters in modern TV history. Yes – up there with Walter White, Arnold J Rimmer, and Pearl. Thrown out by his abusive parents, desperate to please his parents by making money, and his relationship with his brother deteriorating to such a vulgar level?

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Character connections and generational similarities are at the heart of the show, and this episode takes a look at the Stan twins. Ford is shown to be far more like Dipper – overtly intellectual, but also quick to ignore emotions, for good or for ill. This is not portrayed as much better than Stan’s impulsiveness – he refuses to act rationally when it comes to the damage to the perpetual motion machine. He has good reason – Stan messed up going to CalTech/West Coast Tech, even if it was by accident. Still, the animosity was and is still quite extreme – Ford still got a PhD (three years ahead of schedule, mind you), got a good cheque for a grant, and was quick to assert his place in the mysteries of the town.

Stan is more like Mabel – impulsive and unable to think more than five seconds into the future, However, most of Mabel’s impulsiveness is portrayed in a positive light, with negative effects coming indirectly. Stan’s impulsiveness not only caused him to smash the machine, it caused him to sell his brother’s legacy out for a quick buck. He was shown as somewhat justified in doing so – he was flat broke and felt like the only way he could impress his parents was via cold hard cash. However, the pure identity theft was still quite a callous maneuver. A necessary evil, but an evil nonetheless. It’s these actions, however, that keeps his moral ambiguity going – he isn’t a saint, nor a sinner. He’s impulsive.

It’s a wonderful contrast, a Xerox-style character development for both of them. But to see how similar these two are – they were the two that really drove the town mad, that caused so many idiosyncrasies in the townsfolk. We see this in a few scenarios, but the big strike would have to involve Fiddleford McGucket.

To think that McGucket could’ve been a trailblazer in the computer industry – the Gravity Falls equivalent of Steve Wozniak! Yet, his last interaction with Ford was so traumatizing, so shocking, that instead, he assembled a device that erased his memory, starting his road into madness. It really is a tragedy – this was a character we once laughed at when he said “donkey spittle”. Oh, boy, the great, great melancholy.

By the end, neither twin has the upper hand in terms of morality – both of them refuse to apologize for, or at least acknowledge, their faults, or at least the severity of them, and are just as cold to each other at the end of the episode as they were at the beginning. It’s a testament to this show’s vision of morality – there may be antagonists, but the protagonists, at best, have a few touches of grey to them, and at worst, are barely more “heroic” than the antagonists. Let’s just remind ourselves that this is a Disney X-D show.

The fact that both of them, at least after one episode, are still fantastically developed protagonists, and are still quite sympathetic (even if Ford isn’t exactly lovable), is just a testament to how beautiful this show is in character development and world-building.

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Another troubling part of the episode is the interaction between Dipper and Mabel at the end of the episode. In a way, they are Ford and Stan – an intellectual Superego, and an emotional Id. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive.) Dipper is devoted to uncovering the mysteries of the town, but these actions ultimately come with a risk that others – friends or family – have to encounter. Mabel’s impulsiveness might be well-meaning, at least sometimes, but often causes inconveniences for Dipper in his quest to discover the secrets of the town. Neither twin is portrayed as superior or inferior – Dipper is too emotionally removed and aloof, but an utter genius, whereas Mabel is emotionally invested, but seems to run too much on impulse. We’ve seen it before – “Boyz Crazy” and “Sock Opera” come to mind for the both of them.

However, now the stakes are higher than a jet airliner. The two are now approaching a crossroads that could lead to the demise of the town. Even if the two seem close at the end, the two are further apart now than they were at the start of the series. That end shot, with the two of them in their beds, is tragic. It’s a rare role reversal, but one that will have a ripple effect. This season is not going to end well for the two of them.

That doesn’t even get into the rest of the character development. Mabel’s suggestion that the two older twins “hug it out” showcases her sitcom mindset to such an insane degree – she has no idea of the long-term effects listed above. Dipper’s obsession with the journals blinds him to the shock that the author must be facing. Is Dipper that obsessed with the journals that he ignores the fact that Ford was in another dimension for 30 years?

If there is one problem I have – and this is more of a nitpick than anything-  it’s with the resolution to the “FBI nicks Stan with extreme prejudice” arc… or at least, the execution It feels rushed, suspends disbelief quite a bit, and feels like it’s in there because, as the script was being finished up, the writers realized that they had to resolve that plot from “Not What He Seems”. Surely the town, the President, and the rest of the FBI are aware of the madness.

 

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“They are, and don’t call me Shirley.”

 

Still, what a great episode. A wise man from the State of New Jersey once said, “Ya can’t start a fire without a spark”. This was the spark, and the rest of the season should be a tragic, captivating, and beautiful inferno.

Welcome back.

Tidbits:

  • As I mentioned in my guide to watching the episode on Sunday, this episode aired as a 30-minute block – no commercials. Future airings will probably air as a 45-minute block, followed by 15 minutes of shorts. Hey, DisneyXD needs to make money.
  • Worth noting that JK Simmons isn’t a relative unknown. He did work on Law and Order, as psychiatrist Dr. Skoda, as well as J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man trilogy. As far as animation, some might recognize his voice as that of Tenzin, from Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra.
  • This was written by Hirsch, Matt Chapman, and Josh Weinstein. This marks the third episode for the latter. In my opinion, it is a far, far stronger showing for Weinstein than his debut episode.
  • Oh, and with Weinstein’s former work in mind…

 

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“In this house, we obey the law of thermodynamics!

 

Favorite Scene: Hard to pick, but a good case could be made for anything that involved the early days of the Mystery Shack.

Least Favorite Scene: The scene that featured the FBI Agents being sent away, not because it was unnecessary, but because it’s execution made it seem tacked on.

Score: 9. Before you ask, the execution of the FBI scene keeps it from getting a 9.5, or even a 10. Probably my second-favorite of the season so far, though.
Update 16/7/15: I initially noted that this was Weinstein’s second episode, forgetting that he did work on “Not What He Seems”. Edited. 
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2 thoughts on “Gravity Falls Review: "A Tale of Two Stans" (Season 2, Episode 12)

  1. Anonymous July 16, 2015 / 6:13 AM

    As a slight correction, this is actually not the second episode that Josh Weinstein helped write; he was also one of the writers for “Not What He Seems”.

    Also, for another interesting bit of trivia, J. K. Simmons is also the voice of the Yellow M&M.

    Like

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