Airdate: August 3rd, 2015
Synopsis: Dipper gets a board game in the mail – “Diggity Dungeons and All That” “Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons”. With Mabel and Stan refusing to play due to its complicated rules (and because the two are focused on the Duck-Tective season finale), Dipper winds up striking up a playing partner in Ford. Despite Ford’s somewhat wary attitude in letting him close to the secrets, the two become close confidantes in the Tabletop madness. They play such a good game, that when a dispute between Stan and Ford (surprise, surprise) unleashed Probilitor the Annoying, the wizard decides to eat Ford and Dipper’s brains to gain their smarts.
Review (SPOILERS AHEAD): Anything with Weird Al Yankovich is among the American National Treasures, alongside cheeseburgers, Taco Bell, and “Two Cathedrals”. This episode, while a small step below the likes of “A Tale of Two Stans”, is still a really great episode.
Hell, I think it works because, compared to “Not What He Seems” and “A Tale of Two Stans”, the comedy is the focus of the episode, rather than the drama. That’s not to say there’s no drama or character development – it’s just that they chose to use a lot of comedy to both mock and celebrate this episode’s target – RPGs.
If “Blendin’s Game” sent up gladiatorial sports and Olympiads, and “Northwest Mansion Disco” spit on the power of the elite, this episode does both with tabletop RPGs.
Full disclosure – I don’t play RPGs. The reasons are cited in this episode – they’ve always seem complicated, which seems a bit intimidating to me. There’s the various rules, the strangeness, the etc. I personally like playing games with a form of structure – stuff like “Dungeons and Dragons’ is not really up my alley. Therefore, I might get a few things off in my analysis – I apologize in advance. (If I do get something wrong, bring it up in the comments section.) Still, this episode has me interested, mainly because it’s use of RPG tropes (I assume) is beautiful.
Every aspect of it is parodied, analyzed, or both. The marketing, the complex rules, the long game times, the mathematical aspects, the eccentric game pieces, the seemingly unlimited power given to the player, and the plots that take you to another world are all put under a lens, or through the looking glass.
Probabilitor the Annoying, in particular, is (again, probably) a pretty good sendup of the antagonists of these games, as well as a stab at the fans of the genre. He is a stereotype of the typical antagonist in the RPG and the player – a nerd who wants to rule the world, uses ridiculous math to prove or disprove his power, and wants to eat Dipper and Stan’s brains. The use of these stereotypes is mixed up enough to make him a fun character, rather than be derivative or offensive. That, and he’s voiced by one of the geek gods, “Weird Al”.
Surprisingly enough, what also makes this episode even better is its use of character parallels – Mabel and Stan, and Dipper and Ford.
I mentioned these parallels in my review of “A Tale of Two Stans”, how there seemed to be some parallels between the Pines Twins and the Uncle Pines Twins. This episode takes it further – Ford entrusts Dipper with one of the greater secrets that he picked up in his dimension-hopping days – the multi-sided dice. While the tabletop gameplay does humanize Ford, it also shows just how foolish he can be – he has kept aspects of the supernatural in somewhat flimsy cupboards.
Ironically, Dipper himself has made some decisions or opinions that almost destroyed the town or his relationships this season. Trying to contact the feds? Temporary zombie invasion. Failing to confess to Wendy? Almost got her and the crew killed. Trying to convince Mabel to stop the portal? Almost left Ford trapped in limbo. At this rate, the end of the season could probably see him make a mistake that forever alters the course of the series.
Mabel and Stan, meanwhile, are both paired together through the course of the episode. It makes a bit of sense – Mabel did trust Stan the most at the end of “Not What He Seems”. However, this episode shows these two opposites (the somewhat cold Stan and the warm and affable Mabel) bond over Duck-Tective. The two ride on the simpler pleasures in life – TV, junk food, and lowbrow comedy revolving around puns. There’s also a lot of impulse in between them, often setting up short-term and long-term disasters.
One thing that is awesome is the two teaming up in their attempts to defeat Probabilitor. It not only shows just how close the two have gotten over the season, but it also showcases that, as silly and/or callous as they might be, they both have the capacity to save the day, even if Stan’s methods and Mabel’s concepts are… unorthodox. However, the two are also prone to mistakes – their impulses have also created “monsters of the week”, or set up longer arcs. While this episode chose to focus on their virtues rather than their vices, that doesn’t mean that the two will be getting off easy for the rest of the season.
The divide that is forming between the twins, and the consequences thereof, is also prominent in this episode. It was Stan’s bickering with Ford that sent Probabilitor out in the first place. Through no fault of their own, it was Mabel’s love of (seemingly) cheesy TV and Dipper’s love of mathematical tabletop RPGs that set the stage for the episode, and the Grunkles that the twin’s befriended. This was even noted in a scene that is eerily reminiscent of the last scene in “A Tale of Two Stans”.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it in probably every other Gravity Falls review until the end of the season – the season finale is going to be dark for the Mystery Twins.
Honestly, the big – if not the only – problem with this episode is that it wasn’t as memorable as it’s two predecessors. Which is fine – those two shook the foundation of the show. If anything, this episode might be remembered for its odd bits of comedy – and Weird Al – rather than the plot.
I can’t complain too much, though. Honestly, if your episode has Weird Al, it’s hard to fail it. If it has send-ups to tabletop RPGs, decent character development, and several great jokes, it’s easy to see why this is a good episode of a great show… if not the best of a great season.
- The “Diggity Dungeons and All That” commercial is something of a throwback to the first few episodes of Gravity Falls – it marks one of the first times since then that GF used a Family Guy style cutaway gag, especially one that had little impact on character development. It does, however, provide a great satire on marketing strategies.
- There’s a lot I like about the Duck-Tective gags – mainly because they send up the tropes seen in Gravity Falls, with the execution in Duck-Tective seeming more hackneyed than the execution in Gravity Falls – probably because of it’s status as a parody. It reminds me of Crying Breakfast Friends in Steven Universe, especially in the episode “Cry for Help”.
- Seriously, I would like to see a full-length episode of Duck-tective – just as an April Fools episode, or a breather during a really dramatic series of episodes.
(Edit 3:45: emphasized some of my points.)