26th Aug2015

‘Gravity Falls 2×14: The Stanchurian Candidate’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“HOLD ON TO THAT BRANCH OR DIE, CAT!”

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Every place-setter episode risks biting off more than it can chew on the way to setting up future adventures. ‘The Stanchurian Candidate’ is fun and lively for the most part, but it never quite has time to land any of its threads in a satisfying place. The opening suggests a Day In the Life plot exploring Stan’s feelings of inadequacy, Dipper’s and Mabel’s adventures with the mind control tie seems like a rehash of the moral question at the center of ‘The Love God’ but without much of a resolution, and the mayoral campaign provides a mix of kooky citizenry, obscure laws, and Stan being Stan that nets most of the episode’s laughs, but the whole mixture fails to synthesize into any kind of point or arc.

The death of the decrepit Mayor Befumblefumpter, raised by bears and possibly responsible for World War I, kicks off a scramble among the townsfolk to replace him. The incomparable Steven Root returns as Bud Gleeful, angling with bumptious charm for an unopposed campaign that will enable his son Gideon to rule through him. Some of the episode’s biggest laughs come after Bud is possessed by his son and Root adopts Thurop Van Orman’s (yes, that is the real human name of the person who voices Lil’ Gideon) saccharine sweetness, Bud batting his eyes and donning a glittery lycra ensemble for a bizarre song and dance number. The campaign itself is labyrinthine, dictated by laws that include mandating all candidates have the ability to cast a shadow, selecting the winner via eagle kisses, and stump speeches on actual stumps. The satire of American political corruption and corporate buyouts of public morality read as pretty limp, especially in a nation cracking apart under the strain of political division, but townsfolk like the constantly enraged Manly Dan and Tyler Cutebiker (whose heartfelt “Got it,” when he’s anointed the election’s winner is great payoff on seasons of Will Forte’s excited exhortations) at least ensure it’s enjoyable to watch.

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Getting the kids and Stan together as a family is something that’s been done much more effectively in earlier episodes. ‘Not What He Seems’ and ‘Jurassic Pork’ present clear, compelling plots that strengthen the bonds between Stan and his grand-niece and nephew. ‘The Stanchurian Candidate’ relies on a long stream of “list of bizarre things” jokes to gloss over the gaps between its various elements, landing in less satisfying territory and deflating most of the third act’s grab for tension when Gideon, possessing Bud, ties up the twins in the explosives-packed nose of Befumblefumpter’s frankly incredible personal Mount Rushmore. The slapdash nature of Gideon’s reintroduction does make his willingness to deal with Bill Cypher in the post-credits runner a lot more believable, but that doesn’t do a lot to salvage the experience of actually watching it.

That the episode never fully pulls together the parallel between Gideon possessing Bud and the twins using the mind control tie on Stan is a baffling choice. Gideon does chuckle about it and congratulate Dipper on becoming more evil, but it would have been interesting and profitable to dig into the parallel actions of the twins and their nemesis. It also would have given some oomph to their reconciliation with Stan, which doesn’t exactly feel earned. ‘The Stanchurian’ candidate is a lesser effort for the show, but it promises big things to come.

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