13th Oct2015

‘Gravity Falls 2×17: Dipper And Mabel Versus The Future’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“TV lied, man. If you can avoid growing up: do it.”

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Gravity Falls took one of the final episodes in what might be its final season to speak directly to both the children and the young at heart who love it. When we cling to the dream of eternal youth, we sacrifice our futures on an altar that can never grant our wishes. From the episode’s opening moments Mabel lays out her vision of adolescence and adulthood as childhood with fancy clothes and musical numbers. The pictures of her face and Dipper’s pasted over business-casual paper dolls is as ridiculous and charming as everything Mabel loves, but it’s also a reminder that, like Stan in ‘A Tale of Two Stans,’ Mabel isn’t ready to grow up.

The season’s back half has flowed so naturally from that jam-packed episode in the wake of Ford’s return that the events of ‘Dipper and Mabel Vs. The Future’ feel almost inevitable. The habitual secrecy and mistrust Ford and Dipper have reinforced in one another and Mabel’s justified anxieties that she and Dipper with repeat Stan and Ford’s mistakes make the chain of events leading to the destruction of the rift believable, avoiding contrivance by laying solid potboiler groundwork. ‘Gravity Falls’ has seldom felt so successful at being what it’s often touted as, a rework of ‘The X-Files’ geared toward a younger audience. Its dense mythology, equally goofy and baroque, has become some of the best pulp fiction for kids on television.

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Part of what makes Gravity Falls special is its growing awareness of what it is to the people who watch it. Creator Alex Hirsch’s love for his viewers is evident in the care he takes in his work, but the show also displays a keen self-awareness as to its own place as escapism and wish fulfillment. Another show might simply have stretched Dipper and Mabel’s summer on forever, suspending their adventures and ages in limbo. Gravity Falls presents the literal possibility of doing so as the apple that lures Mabel into ruin. When Blendin Blandin, secretly possessed by Bill, appears to offer Mabel a new lease on her childhood it’s a moment palpably loaded with wrongness, with the sense that clinging to childhood deforms the soul.

Which isn’t to say Mabel’s fears aren’t handled deftly and with sympathy. What she feels is what we all feel as the years tick by, a slow realization that loss exists and that it is inevitable. Lashing out and hiding are a child’s reactions, and Mabel is a child. Her flight into the woods is part of a long tradition of heroes in doubt or extremis retreating to the wilderness. Max in Where the Wild Things Are, the Pevensie children in The Chronicles of Narnia, and countless others. Mabel’s enchanted journey, though, is brief, and her Mr. Tumnus is as faithless as Lucy’s and far less remorseful. The show gives Mabel the full weight of its sympathy even as it asks its older viewers if perhaps they aren’t doing the same, staving off adulthood with the warm glow of cartoons.

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“The future is coming for us all, dudes,” Soos says after Mabel and Dipper try to book the Gravity Falls High School gym for their 13th birthday party and wind up seeing cool, unshakable Wendy frustrated and embarrassed by her peers. It’s a crack in their dream of growing up, especially for Mabel. “Classes get wicked hard, your body totally betrays you, and everyone hates you,” Wendy tells her. It’s a context which to Mabel’s vision of the future is almost as alien as the derelict spacecraft Ford shows Dipper. The episode’s other half unfolds as the pair search for an alien adhesive in the ship’s gorgeous wreckage, descending through rusting engines and past impromptu alien biomes homegrown in the wreck’s innards during the millions of years since its crash. The backgrounds are equal parts inscrutable and melancholy.

Narnia taught us that the adventure always ends, that a return to real life is inevitable. The allure of cheating this rule, of eating ice cream for breakfast and having an adventure every day, is great, but it’s just snake oil. There is no cure for growing up. Christopher Robin always forgets about Winnie the Pooh. Calvin always grows out of Hobbes. Even Lucy has to grow up and go home.

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