Gravity Falls Review: "Dipper and Mabel Vs. The Future" (Season 2, Episode 17)

The truth is… surprisingly, not that far out there. (Small note, but building that bridge must’ve required some awesome engineering.)

Airdate: October 12th, 2015

Synopsis: Mabel is ecstatic – the end of August marks her and Dipper’s 13th birthday, and she’s planning a celebration to mark both the occasion and put a massive cap on the summer. Excited for everything, her happiness is slowly quashed as the world she once knew begins to fall apart. Wendy pops her bubble about high school, there can’t be a party at the shack itself, and her best friends can’t come to the party.

Meanwhile, Dipper and Ford go looking for a super-adhesive glue to try and seal a crack in the globe that holds the rift between the universes. To do this, they wind up going under Gravity Falls… a town founded over a UFO. (Arnold Rimmer has been vindicated.) After a series of strange events, Ford offers Dipper a proposal – stay in Gravity Falls after the summer ends, and become his apprentice in mystery solving.

When the two plots intersect… the end results are not good, to say the very least.

Review (WARNING, LONG REVIEW. ALSO, SPOILERS FOR VARIOUS PIECES OF MEDIA): Shortly before the premiere of “Roadside Attraction”, Alex Hirsch tweeted something to the effect that “RA” was a “breather episode” before the epic episode afterward. Reading that, I thought that this episode would change the show’s status quo on a scale unseen since “Not What He Seems.”

Well, it turns out, I was wrong.

For “Dipper and Mabel vs the Future” has less changed the status quo… and more curled the status quo in a ball, flung said ball out the window, and sent it barreling towards the sun at speeds so fast, the Millennium Falcon wouldn’t be able to catch up.

I’m not even sure how else to put it, other than this episode is undeniably the most stunning in the history of the show.

I don’t think I have to elaborate much on the “UFO” and alien aspects of the episode. It gives the fantasy properties of the show more science fiction elements, while simultaneously making the origins of the town’s insanity (and the actions of a certain geometric demon) a bit more ambiguous. However, unlike other shows, where such a twist would be cited as a “jump the shark” moment, science fiction has been a small aspect of Gravity Falls from the early years. “Double Dipper” and “Time Travelers Pig”, anybody?

But where this episode really excels is character development. Simply put, no one is spared.

For one, Dipper and Mabel? Those quirky twins that were sent up to Gravity Falls, Oregon, to get some fresh air. This episode has deconstructed their characters to such an insane level, that a reconstruction the way they used to be would be an impossible task, and audacious if the writers managed to do that. In a way, they both set fire to Gravity Falls, and they didn’t even know it until it was far too late.

Through the season (and the show), we’ve seen a closer analysis of Mabel’s vices and values. She still has the mentality of a child – one that believes that life is High School Musical, that problems, if there are any, can resolve themselves with a quick and easy wrap-up, that the greatest obstacle in life is finding the perfect love. She has no reason not to trust the good judgment of everybody – she trusted Stan, and discovered her second great-uncle. Expanding on from that, luck has come her way – it has blocked her from maturing greatly. This last part drove some fans spare, but I still brought into it, hoping that it would pay off.

Oh, it has paid off.

For Mabel’s attempts to maintain the rose-colored mentality that she has held all summer has backfired spectacularly. Her attempts at an end of year party at the Mystery Shack are scuttled. Her best friend reveals to her that high school is, more likely than not, bound to be hell. (See below for more on that.) Her other best friends won’t be around for the last day of summer, because, well, they have lives. Most damningly, Dipper drops the bomb that Ford wants him to become the apprentice for mystery hunting, and that he might not go back to the Bay Area.

Her entire life appears to be ripping at the seams. Her relative immaturity has left her unprepared on every. Single. Level.

It makes perfect sense, then, that given the option to progress forward in time or keep it still, she chooses the latter. There, the show deconstructs her ability to trust everybody. In the moment of weakness, she takes the risk… and with that, she helps bring about the opening to the nightmare realm.

Strangely, I am reminded of Captain Kirk from Star Trek – a character who normally never had to face his own age, his own mortality. Whatever negative repercussions he faced were few and far between, and didn’t affect his own life too much. Cue The Wrath of Khan – an old enemy that he once thought was neutralized returned with a vengeance, the ship he tried to defend was heavily damaged, and most of all, his best friend had to die to make sure the rest of them didn’t. This, right here, was Mabel’s Battle for the Mutara Nebula – her attempts to maintain a “no-win scenario” have completely blown up in her face.

Tragedy.

Dipper doesn’t get off that much easier, however. Many of the earlier episodes centered around his attempts to prove his maturity. Right from the beginning, he felt like he could be more than his age seemed to limit him to. We saw that in the convenience store, at the search for the wax figures, in the mindscape, he felt like his age, his position as the great-nephew, was a larger liability than it actually was.

Here, Ford gives him the option to achieve something beyond the status quo – an internship in trying to investigate the mysteries of Gravity Falls. With a bit of “aid” from Ford, he takes up on it. In doing so, he presents a complete betrayal of the concept of the “Mystery Twins”. Hell, remember one of the pivotal moments in “A Tale of Two Stans” – Stan learning that Ford was to go to a prestigious tech university while Stan was doomed to Glass Shard Beach, and that Ford was just going to roll with it? Stan’s reaction the first in a series of dominoes that led up to the portal?

Dipper has done pretty much the same thing, and the effects have been far more apocalyptic.

What I find incredibly brilliant is that neither twin is presented completely at fault… and yet, neither twin is let off the hook. Both are sympathetic, but far from faultless. That, my friends, is a mark of great writing.

And it’s not just Dipper and Mabel that get character development. Every single character that gets more than two lines does. Epic.

Wendy? That confident teenager who appeared to be the most laid back person in the entire flipping state? So relaxed and lazy that she made Dave Lister look like Rudolf Hess? She’s trapped in the hell that is high school, apparently one of those at the receiving end of mockery. This makes her hangouts with the somewhat miscreant gang of teenagers (and their entire existence, in fact) quite a bit more tragic.

Also fleshed out a bit more are Candy and Grenda. Grenda is still hooked up with that baron from that stupid “Northwest Mansion Mysternoir” subplot, which is somewhat weak development, but hey, continuity’s always cool. (Oh, she does have a phone now.) That, and Candy’s apparently a bit of a musician… or at least, her parents send her to music camp every year. While they are mere pawns in the destruction of Mabel’s viewpoints, their scene is still notable.

However, three other characters get more development, if at all possible. Ford, Blendin, and a certain third character.

When Ford first made his way back to the Shack, fans weren’t sure what to make of him. He was abrasive, insensitive, and was far from quick to forgive Stan for his misdeeds. However, the following few episodes fleshed him out into a more relatable, sympathetic character. His bond with Dipper humanized the scientist we once saw as callous, and in turn, proved just how great this show is at character development.

In one episode, we got a reality check… Ford is a bit of a jackass. We’re talking about somebody that believes that Dipper is ready to abandon Mabel – which “Carpet Diem” already looked at (or foreshadowed… boy, the first season has really gotten darker), who wants to prematurely separate the two with little real concern for Mabel’s thoughts on the matter and in fact, tries too well to convince Dipper that the two are better off apart.

Never mind that the girl tried to save the shack with the unicorn hair, but she was never let in on the power that the orb had, thus leaving her unaware of the ill-effects. (He was probably unaware that Mabel’s refusal to push the button helped bring him back in the first place.) End result? Upset Mabel, smashed orb, and most horrifyingly, toasted universe.

Nice going, Ford.

And oh, Blendin Blandin. The last time we saw him, he actually had pure happiness in his life. The twins helped him, rescued him from time jail. In a sense, he was perfect to be the vessel for the climax of the episode – between Mabel’s mind full of TV cliches, and the perfect tone “Blendin” set up, it was obvious. Still, tragic.

But who else could mindjack Blendin?

Bill. Cipher. The one most involved with creating the end of the episode, because, well, that was his goal, and he pulled the strings. (Not saying the others weren’t responsible in some way or another, but jeez, Fallers!)

He sees it all. Bill had been waiting to make his move. He knew the perfect person – the goggle-wearing time traveler who managed to repair his relationship with the twins. The perfect time – after the most naive character had been emotionally sunk. The perfect method – appealing to her id. All I can say is, Frank Underwood, eat your heart out.

My question, knowing Bill, is this – what in the world did he offer Blendin to get access to his mind? In turn, this sets the episode up for more Blendin development.

Even if you figured out (or guessed) that Bill would get involved in the episode, and/or that the universe would go to hell in a handbasket (granted, these past two are far from mutually exclusive), that Dipper and Mabel’s relationship would be damaged… how the writers executed the ending – no, the episode itself – is beautifully gut-wrenching. Between the animation, the music, the dialogue, the voice acting… all of it combined to the point where I actually felt dread when the rift opened.

And that still doesn’t stand up to the closing credits. Just a party invitation, floating away, as a near apocalyptic mixture of sirens and screams is heard from the distance. This show has done some pretty freaky stuff in the past. That one scene is the most terrifying in the history of the show, and among the most terrifying of any show I’ve ever seen. It sealed it in my brain… this is armageddon the show faces. In fact, I would go so far as to call it among my favorite scenes in the show.

Let’s be real here – this screengrab doesn’t do the scene justice.

This ending is what the entire season – and, to an extent, the series proper – has been building up to. It was worth every minute.

Let’s put this in perspective – Josh Weinstein’s first episode was among the weakest in the show’s history. The past four episodes (barring “The Last Mabelcorn”) were also comparatively weak. So, what about this episode?

“Dipper and Mabel Vs. The Future” is an absolutely brilliant episode. Every character is developed in some small yet significant way. The animation is gorgeous. The comedy connects. And the ending… my god, it is beautifully apocalyptic. That’s not even getting into the plot, but knowing how long this review already is, I’m just going to say that it was gripping.

Undoubtedly, it’s one of the best episodes of the show. At the very least, it’s in the top 5.

Tidbits:

  • There was a minor note that McGucket toured the UFO with Ford. Look what happened to him. Had the universe not begun its devastation, the risk that something similar could’ve happened to Dipper is terrifyingly high.
  • The moment when Bill reveals himself is easily the second-most terrifying moment in this episode.
  • Honestly, I thought the High School Musical joke was actually a snipe at Glee. Remember that was a thing once? Ah, who cares – both have left the public consciousness.
  • Stan comforting Mabel is actually pretty sobering. Besides the heartwarming element to it, you also have to remember that, come the end of summer, Ford was going to turf Stan from the shack. So, Mabel and Stan were going to have a pretty pathetic autumn. Were being the operative word.

Favorite Scene: From Dipper’s acceptance of the apprenticeship on, the show is beyond flawless. Special note goes to the aforementioned post-credits scene… haunting.

Least Favorite Scene: If anything, it’s the “Pre-teen magazine” joke. It’s so minor, though, that a less neurotic man would’ve forgiven the line.

Score: 9.75. I seriously considered giving this the 10 score, but I didn’t for two reasons:

  1. I still think “Not What He Seems” was a very slightly better episode, and
  2. I have a feeling that the 10 is going to go to the next few episodes.

I might change my mind, but 9.75 is good, for now. I think.

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