08th Sep2015

‘Gravity Falls 2×15: The Last Mabelcorn’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“All our dumb horns can do is glow, point toward the nearest rainbow, and play rave music.”

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‘The Last Mabelcorn’ takes a long, hard look at how mistakes can shape us without destroying our essential goodness while also giving us a scene in which Mabel, Wendy, Candy, and Grenda double-cross a gnome in a crooked sting operation dragging for illegal butterflies. Things kick off with everyone snug in their beds, Mabel squeezing a stuffed unicorn so hard that capitalism oozes out of it while Ford dreams of a bleak, grey Wood Between the Worlds and of the sinister Bill Cipher, Gravity Falls‘ most believable and disconcerting villain. The animation, both in that interstitial space and in the psychedelic visions that coincide with Bill’s gloating, is starkly immersive. The storyboards isolate Ford in a field that is at once achingly empty and dotted with relics of his failures and regrets, leaving him not only alone but dogged by reminders of his inadequacy. The stills of his hand and eye are likewise arresting, static images of horror in a mutable landscape.

Bill is both the looming threat that gets things rolling and the insidious, lurking menace that sustains tension throughout the episode. Ford, nervous after his apocalyptic dream, sends Mabel on a quest to journey far and wide (or about an hour) to find a unicorn and get some of its hair as a countermeasure to keep Bill out of the shack. The unicorn Celestabellebethabelle, a Lisa Frank abomination voiced with loathsomely squealing judginess by Sam Marin, denounces Mabel as impure and refuses to part with any of her technicolor hair. Mabel, who defines herself by all things bright, shiny, and pure of heart, is devastated. The unicorn plot gives the show a chance to dig into a vein of feminist thought in which it typically does well, the idea that women are held to impossible standards, and it provides a fun showcase for Linda Cardellini’s wonderful performance as Wendy, sadly absent for long stretches of season 2.

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It also produces every one of the episode’s best jokes, combining airbrushed van art and a gonzo criminal underworld to pay homage to girlhood even as they call out selling young women on destructive ideas. Grenda’s double-cross with the sleazy gnome fairy dust dealer (“Everybody loves sausage, but nobody likes knowing how it’s made”), Wendy’s plan to drug and shave a unicorn, and the whole bizarre setup attack first the notion that women are valuable for their purity and second the idea that others have the right and the ability to assess that purity and to withhold in its perceived absence. Mabel, a girl so nice she helps snails off the sidewalk, might be batty and obsessive, but she’s her own person. “We’re not unicorns,” Wendy growls. “We’re women, and we take what we want.” It’s a point made lightly and very much to the benefit of the episode’s flow. There aren’t many shows that walk the line between winking at adult audiences and actually providing a strong, accessible, and amusing kid’s show as well as Gravity Falls does.

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The show’s increasingly dense mythology never seems to clog up the works, and the B-plot in which Ford and Dipper race to keep Bill Cipher out of the Shack delivers a huge amount of information without slowing down the action. Kudos are due to Jason Ritter and J. K. Simmons for really selling the tension between Dipper and Ford as the former learns that the latter once allowed Bill to come and go from his mind at will. The idea that Bill might still be in possession of Ford doesn’t scan, but in the moment, the secret lab bathed in the cheap green light of hidden thoughts, Ford’s habitual secrecy and obsessive loner-ism make it all too believable.

Ford and Dipper have both let Bill into their heads, one willingly and the other by accident, and the moment they share at the table is sweet. “We’re not the first idiots to be tricked by Bill, but if we work together we could be the last.” J. K. Simmons lends Ford’s admission that vanity led him to accept Bill into his mind a wry, weary quality that highlights what a solid job this show has done creating a cast of imperfect people trying hard to be the best they can. The only question left is whether it will be enough.

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