Gravity Falls Review: "The Stanchurian Candidate" (Season 2, Episode 14)

 

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The GOP Election Debates were less insane than this!

 

Airdate: August 24th, 2015

Synopsis: With President Barack Obama being constitutionally prohibited from running for a third term, many people apply for the most powerful office in the Western World. These include a social democratic populist, the spouse of a controversial former president, an eccentric right-leaning populist billionaire, and the brother of a controversial former president, among many, many others. “Hilarity” ensues, especially concerning cloths, servers, and hairpieces.

Uh, I mean, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has Governor General David Johnston call elections so he can get a fourth consecutive mandate. However, he faces critiques from the public and his competitors, which include a bearded dude, a hippie, and the handsome son of a former politician, over his controversial justice legislation, his questionable handling of the economy, and his somewhat awkward management of the nation’s institutions and public services. Said handsome son, hippie, and bearded dude, meanwhile, face questions on their leadership and whether they’ll split the vote… again.

Uh, I REALLY mean, Stan decides to run for mayor of Gravity Falls, after the long-serving mayor dies. He does so because of insecurities that have surfaced after Ford came back. He runs against Bud Gleeful… whose son was locked up, thanks to Stan. Unfortunately, he’s more gaffe-prone than his poll numbers (starting at zero and bottoming out in negative numbers) will allow. To try and salvage Stan’s candidacy, they try and commit mind theft via a tie that Ford invented for “Reagan’s Masters”. Bud’s campaign manager, some dude that’s in prison, one-ups Stan by literally overtaking Bud’s mind with a spell.

Oh, that dude in prison? Gideon.

Review (SPOILERS): Politics! Is there a word more thrilling to the human soul? Since the dawn of time, decisions had to be made. One idea of governance is Democracy – allowing for more than just one person to decide. The Ancient Athenians laid the groundwork for (very limited) democracy. The Roman Republic established separate houses to (in theory) balance the wants and needs of the experienced versus those of the common man. The English Parliament (later the Parliament of Great Britain), the American Congress, and the Assembly of the First Republic kick-started the modern democracy we all know and love… even if the latter didn’t last long.

While the system is generally kind – let the average joe and jane send representatives to voice their interests – there are a lot of awkwardnesses in the campaign process, and within the after-effects of said elections. “The Stanchurian Candidate” exploits the idiosyncrasies that are found within the races and campaigns – this time, with the end goal to be the mayor of a small town. How does that go?

Unfortunately, as far as the writing for this episode goes… not the greatest.

“Stanchurian Candidate” utterly mocks the campaign process and idiosyncratic local laws. Here, people literally campaign on a stump, and people vote right after the debate by throwing birdseed at the basket of the candidate they prefer, so that an Eagle picks the winner. (By that logic, Nick Clegg would’ve been covered in birdseed 5 years ago.) If you think this is strange, remember that this town was founded by a man so insane, that the Federal Government tried to scrub his life out of existence. Anything can happen in this town.

 

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“Democracy is so overrated!”

 

Also, current events have made aspects of this episode twice as hilarious. Stan, for all intents and purposes, is very much like Donald Trump – loudmouthed, eccentric, saying things that could be constructed as sexist, and gaining a following either in spite of or because of the (arguable) shock value of his speeches. Strange, because this episode was made at least a year before Donald Trump even thought about running for president. Otherwise, I could’ve made the case that Don saw this episode, thought “I could do that”, and threw a few mill into a Presidential campaign.

However, unlike Trump, who has become a darling of the Populist Right, Stan is quickly rejected by the townsfolk. In fact, if it wasn’t for his press crew (read, the twins… and Ford, by extension), he probably would’ve been chased out of town due to his… frankness. At first glance, this could make Gravity Falls, dark as it is, look less like Yes, Minister and more like The West Wing – even with the eccentric politics of the town, they know not to just follow the loudest candidate.

However, the rest of the episode propels the show straight into House Of Cards territory.

Instead of Stan, the people of Gravity Falls warm up to Bud’s more “kindler, gentler” personality – even if his campaign is just a front. Literally – his plans and campaign just a front to get his son out of prison. Hell, going beyond that, it’s all managed by Gideon Gleeful. It’s here that the show cements – again – that Gideon, despite his imprisonment, still can pull the strings of Gravity Falls. A trick up his sleeve here and there, and he is willing to mind-jack his own father just to get power. What a psychopath.

And yet, the other side… to say they have a touch of grey is a bit of an understatement.

True, the twins had noble goals – they really wanted to cheer up Stan. Let’s face it – Stan has been outclassed in every notable aspect by his brother. Again. Once the summer is over, Stan will be relegated to the life of a drifter, resetting his life, hoping he doesn’t get arrested/chased out/otherwise forced to leave.

But to get these goals, they invade the mind of Stan – which, in effect, undermines democracy, not to mention the autonomy of Stan. When Dipper blows up and confesses the entire charade in front of Stan, they decide to mind-jack Soos. They did it once before to test it out, and either didn’t notice or outright ignored Soos’s disturbed reaction after the first use, because they did it again.

Now, let’s be perfectly clear here – Bud and Gideon are certainly in the wrong, Gideon especially. Their motives are as far from clean as possible – violating laws on the state level, probably federal level, and the laws of common sense. Yet, to combat this, Dipper and Mabel also violate the aforementioned laws. Gideon calling the two of them out on their… less than savory maneuvers serves to show just how similar Dipper is to the evils he fights.

Actually – I sorta like that the twins are becoming more morally ambiguous. Some of my favorite protagonists actually do have traits parallel to the antagonist, albeit with usually different motives, and a reflection that they might be able to pull away from the path of evil.

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Ford’s involvement also makes him even more morally ambiguous. Designing the mind-jack tie for “Ronald Reagan’s Masters” shows just how powerful his… morally questionable actions can be. His invention may have helped swing the country dramatically to the political right. Now, whether that’s good or bad depends on your own political viewpoints, but still. Even without the political implications, the fact that he doesn’t care too much about his great-nephew using the device shows just how cold he can be to his brother… and to other people, in fact.

I did feel, however, that they could’ve expanded on the moral consequences of the mind-jack a bit more. I mean, it’s not like the status quo was completely restored at the end of the episode – the old mayor (obviously) isn’t returned, amongst other things. So, why was everything wrapped up as well as it was here?

Personally, I think Steven Universe handled the moral fallout of manipulation better, with an arc starting from “Cry for Help”. In that episode, Pearl gets an emotional high from fusing with Garnet to form Sardonyx. After that first time, Pearl recreates the scenario that brought out Sardonyx in the first place. Once Garnet finds out… well, let’s just say it took the entire Week of Sardonyx to come to some sort of resolution.

In “The Stanchurian Candidate”, we don’t seem to get any long-term anger from Stan to the twins. The end scene with them is cute and all, but it seems a bit too perfectly wrapped up – a missed opportunity for future conflict between the four if I ever saw one. Granted, they’re the only family he has left, so I wouldn’t put it past future episodes to include this in future conflicts.

There are a few other problems I have with this episode – many of them minor, but still. I know the folks of Gravity Falls are, by and large, idiots, but the concept of nobody noticing that something is up with the election stretches belief a bit. There’s also the fact that nobody noticed Stan had a criminal record until after the election, how Soos made it in after the nomination period at the beginning, Stan stuffing a ballot box (pictured above) despite it not being the method of voting, a lack of a private ballot (not illegal, but I would assume a bit uncommon nowadays), too-fast polling, the meme joke, etc.

They’re relatively minor plot holes and questions, many of them done for comedy, but they shouldn’t necessarily be ignored. We shouldn’t just write flaws off as jokes – the writers should improve on them, make smarter comedy.

Oh, and the ending… I have mixed feelings about it. In fact, it arguably renders the entire episode unnecessary.

Look, I know Gideon is the most eccentric character on the show – or at least, in the top three. Still, I find it hard to believe that Gideon wanted something as complicated as having his father become mayor in an attempt to escape, when he has the power of a demon at his disposal. Granted, the demon didn’t work out too well for him last time – maybe he sorta learned from that experience and saved said demon as a means of last resort. That, and believe it – I’m already hyped for September 7th. Still…

In fact, the (as of the posting of this review) pointlessness of this episode makes me wonder what else they could’ve done if this idea wasn’t approved. Maybe they could’ve fleshed out characters not named Stan, Dipper, and Mabel a bit more. Flesh out the town in other areas.

A decent episode, if not Gravity Falls’s most memorable (let alone best). It was alright for what it was, but again, I feel like they could’ve skipped it, and little would’ve been lost. Except for a preview from Alex Hirsch that went along the lines of “one character will not survive the season.” As far as I know, the old Mayor’s dead.

Tidbits:

  • There’s something I noticed about Ford’s reveal of “the tie used by Reagan’s masters”. For those who don’t know, during Ronald Reagan’s time as an actor in the 30s, he was actually a left-wing Democrat. During the 50s, however, he was hired by General Electric as a motivational speaker. His speeches carried a pro-business message. That, plus his relationship with conservative Nancy Davis, led him to join the Republican Party in 1962. Nowadays, for good or for ill, he’s considered the man who revived (or at least gave a fresh set of legs to) the conservative movement in the United States. Connecting this to the continuity of Gravity Falls, I could argue that Ford went back in time to the 50s during his time in the alternate dimension (or something to that effect), or invented the tie in the late 70s, as a means to get a down payment on the Mystery Shack. Of course, that’s just my fan theory.
  • I do find it interesting that Gideon still escaped with election fraud. Yeah, he gets off without any consequences other than losing the election. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – sometimes, you can’t capture an antagonist. Still, it furthers my opinion that this episode is pointless.
  • Chances are, we aren’t going to see too much of the new mayor in action. Prove me wrong, Gravity Falls!
  • I hope “The Last Mabelcorn” is better. It should be – the preview looks good.
  • Oh, by the way… Gravity Falls was cited by a Forbes.com writer as the best show on TV. That… is pretty cool. Strange that it was published after the show aired one of it’s weaker episodes, but still, pretty cool.
Favorite Scene: One word. “Amerifreedom”. Second prize goes to Stan jumping from a rock that explodes. Implausible that might be, it’s still pretty awesome.
Least Favorite Scene: The reveal of Bill Cipher, awesome as it was, also arguably rendered the entire episode pointless. (For now, at least.) Second place goes to the “meme” joke. Never has Gravity Falls fallen so flat on its face in an attempt at pop culture satire. Stick to the 90s, writers.
Score: 6.75. This episode’s comedy gave it an extra 1/4 of a point.
(Note: if you comment, I’d prefer you stick to commenting on the episode itself. Please don’t turn the comment section into a political debate. There is a time and place for that stuff, and this isn’t exactly it.)
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