A Look Back at ‘Gravity Falls’

It’s been almost three months since the Gravity Falls series finale, “Weirdmageddon 3: Take Back the Falls” aired, and if you’re anything like me, you’re still not completely over it. For 45 minutes, creator Alex Hirsch gave us a thrilling, yet heart-wrenching ending to cap off one of the greatest animated shows of our time, a perfect send-off for the perfect summer. Let’s take a look back at the entire series to see what made it so incredible.

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Characters and Relationships

If there’s one thing Gravity Falls got right more than anything else, it’s its characters. It’s easy to tell from the first episode that they were developed with extraordinary care and attention to detail. Most prominently are the two main characters, twins Dipper and Mabel Pines, who are based on Hirsch and his real-life twin sister. Hirsch created a set of rules for the twins for the writers to follow, one of which was that the twins would always still like each other at the end of the day, no matter the situation, and it shows. Even when Mabel cost Dipper a chance at winning a stuffed creature for his crush, Wendy Corduroy, so she could win her pig, Waddles, in “The Time Traveler’s Pig,” or when Dipper wanted to go to a party instead of trick-or-treating with Mabel in “Summerween,” their bond always won out in the end. It broke the stereotype that siblings always have to be at odds, and made for a very touching brother-sister dynamic.

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On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s Dipper and Mabel’s great uncle, Grunkle Stan, who the viewers are (subtly) told from the very first episode that he is “not what he seems.” Throughout the first season-and-a-half, Stan plays the money-hungry, “terrible-boss” proprietor of the Mystery Shack who warms up more and more as summer caretaker to his niece and nephew as time goes on. Then, at the end of season one, we learn that he’s been working on a super-secret portal machine in a hidden basement lab, and eleven episodes into season two, the big mystery that’s been building up is revealed: Stan has a twin brother, Ford, who’s spent the past thirty years on the other side of the portal traveling through dimensions.

What it all comes down to is this: Stan Pines cares about his family way more than anyone could have thought at first. When Ford doesn’t thank him for saving him from the portal and gives him until the end of the summer to stay in the Shack, Stan’s first concern is for Ford to stay away from the kids to keep them out of danger. And yet, for the rest of the series, their troubled history puts a strain on the younger twins (who ultimately resolve their differences together), and it takes the kids’ lives being threatened by the triangular demon, Bill Cipher, during the literal end of the world for the two brothers to finally address their differences, and a huge sacrifice on Stan’s part for Ford to finally appreciate him. It’s a compelling relationship, and feels real to viewers because it doesn’t sugarcoat anything; it emphasizes its issues to the breaking point, faces them head-on, and comes out stronger in the end because of it.

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And then, of course, there’s the summer romances or lack thereof, I should say. On one hand, Mabel is swinging and missing from day one as she attempts to flirt with boy after boy, only to have it end in heartbreak one way or another every time. At one point, she has the chance to erase the bad memories from her mind in “Society of the Blind Eye,” but in the end she realizes it’s better to have them and learn from them than to go “all denial-crazy trying to forget,” a shining moment in maturity for her. On the other hand, save for a trial run in practicing talking to other girls in “Roadside Attraction,” Dipper spends most of the series not-so-secretly pining over Wendy, who’s three years older than him (which she coolly explains to him in “Into the Bunker”). What makes this relationship so great is that instead of trying to force an awkward romance, the show creates a natural, easy-going friendship that defies all cliches that would otherwise surround the two. Even their final good-bye has epic friendship written all over it: a fist bump and the switching of hats, and a message of “See you next summer!” signed by Wendy and others for Dipper.

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Mystery and Adventure

After the characters, the major focus of Gravity Falls becomes the mystery surrounding the town, with a good dose of magical creatures or strange happenings injected into every episode. In the first episode, “Tourist Trapped,” Dipper discovers Journal #3 (later revealed to have been written by Ford) buried in the woods, which documents the weirdness of Gravity Falls. He then uses the journal to solve mysteries and go on adventures, from fighting off gnomes and zombies to discovering the author’s hidden bunker.

The really cool part is that the show was specifically designed so the audience would get to join in on the action and look for hidden clues written into the show, come up with theories, and solve some of the greater mysteries on their own. Included in this was Stan’s big secret about having a twin brother, which wis hinted at when Stan grieves over the beheading of a wax replica of himself (”Headhunters”) and the fact that Stan’s license plate says “STNLYMBL” when his first name is presumed to be Stanford (it’s later revealed that he is in fact named Stanley). In addition, at the end of episodes in season two, there are flashes of cards that, when put together, show Stan and Ford’s faces, which led up to the big reveal in “Not What He Seems.”

Besides the end cards, the audience also got to participate by solving coded cryptograms that appeared at the end of the credits and on the end cards and were sprinkled throughout the episodes (such as in the journal or even as backward audio at times) that required different ciphers to solve. Altogether, it made for a truly innovative viewer experience that really set the show apart and above as something special and unique.

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Good Life Lessons…For Everyone

Alex Hirsch was very bold and unafraid in creating the world of Gravity Falls, and even more so in ending it. He had a certain way he wanted to end it, and instead of letting it drag on and on into ruins, Disney let him, a rarity with hit shows on TV today. It was a big experiment, but it worked. It made the show that much more of a success to be celebrated, and, for the fans, it made the finale that much more impactful and real.

Gravity Falls also took big risks within the show itself. Besides breaking character cliches, it also pushed the limits of censorship, such as by implying that Stan swears or that Sheriff Blubs and Deputy Durland are in a homosexual relationship. And of course, there were the creatures and monsters of the show, which at times made some viewers forget that it’s primarily categorized as children’s animation. Some of the most gruesome were the Shape Shifter, the couch made of living human skin, and the Horrifying Sweaty One-Armed Monstrosity. And who could forget when Bill Cipher shuffled around the orifices of Preston Northwest’s face? It was pure nightmare fuel, but (when you get down to it) a good lesson to take chances and be creative and daring, even if it’s not considered acceptable by most standards.

On a lighter note, the heart of Gravity Falls brings us down to three big lessons. One, surround yourself with others who love and support you through thick and thin. Two, be adventurous and curious about the world. And three, no matter how old or “adult” you are, it’s okay to be a kid at heart. It’s easy to forget these things sometimes, but it’s so important to remember them in this day and age where the world seems to be losing itself to the harsh, unfriendly bitter realities of adulthood. But Gravity Falls is a sincere reminder of these lessons, and for that, it will thrive for a long time.


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