This episode was a brilliant trip through the past, present and future of Gravity Falls.
Gravity Falls has always been a show that played to the balance of drama, humour and scares. The scares are the least of the potion, coming when you least expect it and usually just giving you the jibblies. The humour is everywhere and what drives it as a kids show for Disney. We like these characters because they all can make us laugh. But it’s the drama that elevates the material and makes them characters we love. Some episodes break the balance, and that’s not a bad thing when it could be for other shows.
My first impression coming out of A Tale of Two Stans was that breaking the balance and focusing so much on the drama was a bad thing. Then I remembered how long I waited for this episode. The previous episode aired March 9 on Disney XD. To wait four months for this episode is compounded by the fact we’ve been waiting to find the answer to who wrote the journals and why back on June 12, 2012 (I believe I started watching in July of 2012, so I’ve been watching for three years now). That wait in real time is re-created on the show, with Grunkle Stan waiting so long for answers and the kids waiting a whole summer as well (for a kid, a whole summer feels like a lifetime). It made sense for this to be heavier on the drama than Soos family situation in “Blendin’s Game” or Dipper finally recognizing the fruitlessness of his attraction to Wendy from “Into the Bunker”.
This episode is all about a character we don’t know but it feels like we always have, interacting with a character we’ve always known but it feels like we never did.
When you mix the comedy, drama and scares of Gravity Falls, you tend to always get a formula that contains far more heart than any other show. While as I said this episode is mostly the drama, it also contains bits of episodes from the past two seasons. Littered throughout the backstory of Stanley and Stanford are moments in the growth of Gravity Falls. Seeing the origins of Old Man McGucket, Lazy Susan and even Sheriff Blubs brings joy to your Gravity Falls loving heart. While a strength of Gravity Falls is that many episodes can be watched out of order and be enjoyed even by those who don’t know what’s going on in the journals narrative, this is an episode you have to watch with knowledge of the Gravity Falls archive. There are just so many details to cover. It was brilliant that the Pines father was low on love and high on gruff, an image of whenever Grunkle Stan has to put his foot down with the kids. The mother of the Pines Twins shows where Grunkle Stan got his sense of being a Mystery Shack huckster, getting it from a mother running palm readings and psychic telephone scams.
At some point it got me thinking what Mabel and Dipper’s father and mother must be like, since they get so much from their great uncles (I guess some question the age gap thing but I could care less on that. I always thought they called him a “great uncle” because he was older than their parents, similar to how I used to call one of my cousins an uncle because he was a decade older) in being twins and being so united together. Or at least they used to be. A major portion of the “future” and what keeps Mabel up at night is the fact that Stanley and Stanford were once just as close as Mabel and Dipper are. They loved each other, they were best friends first and siblings second. For all of their differences, they might have fights, arguments and disagreements but in the end they enjoy each other’s company. But the initial reason for the breakup between Stanley and Stanford was Stanford’s intelligence meaning he had to leave Stanley behind to become the genius he was destined to be. It took the protection of his tougher brother to get through adolescence but at some point it felt like he had to leave him behind. It reminded me of the Dragonlance series between Caramon and Raistlin, but that’s probably a reference only few will understand. Dipper is following in the footsteps of Stanford. He’s already tried to leave his childhood behind to chase the approval of Wendy and Mabel has commented on Dipper’s intelligence over Mabel. When Waddles became a Neil DeGrasse Tyson voiced super genius, it meant Dipper was now hanging out with her favourite pig. Mabel lies awake at night knowing she might end up like Stanley, the one who doesn’t get into the great schools and has to rely on cunning to get through life. Mabel doesn’t have the same trouble making friends that the Stan twins did, but when life becomes more than just making friends and having adventures, she recognizes she’ll struggle and maybe Dipper won’t when he’s winning science fair awards.
This all brings us to the present, which is that Stanford, brilliantly voiced by J.K. Simmons, has come through an inter-dimensional time portal (that likely once housed Bill Cipher) and has planted himself back in Gravity Falls. He has given Grunkle Stan until the end of the summer before he has to get out of the Mystery Shack (once known as the Murder Hut), and once again leave his twin brothers life. That means the rest of the season will likely focus on how to warm Stanford and Stanley into once again remembering why they are brothers and what made them close in the first place. More importantly, to see how much they accomplished together early in life, and how it reflects on Dipper and Mabel. This has been one long summer, and there’s still a lot of time. It also presents what should be a recognizable problem, one that could have also been on Mabel’s mind. Mabel and Dipper have done a lot of bonding when it comes to Grunkle Stan, though Dipper at one point had lost all trust in him. Now comes in Stanford Pines, the creator of the journals and the man who can answer all his questions. It’s more likely for Dipper to connect to Stanford and maybe lose connection to Grunkle Stan because it quenches his thirst for knowledge and wonder. That could leave two sets of twins separated instead of bringing them closer together. That said, we could maybe see Mabel try to warm up to Stanford Pines in the hopes he can teach her how to not fall behind, while Dipper gets advice from Grunkle Stan on how to survive in the world. Or at least why never to grow a mullet.
(I will comment here that the way they dropped the Secret Service was… convenient and probably not the greatest story caper they’ve pulled. It’ll be disappointing if that’s the last we hear of Agent Trigger and Powers, getting beat in a two minute clean up to just tie the loose story end. The only real weak point of the episode for me, aside from a lack of Waddles. Soos made up for it with his fan theory line and trying to explain to Wendy at three in the morning what happened in the worst way possible.)
There are few shows on television that could get me so excited for what’s already happened, what’s going to happen and what’s happening right now. Gravity Falls proves to be the masters of past, present and future. I’m glad kids have this show to grow up to. I’m glad I have this show to enjoy.