“Thank you for being my people.”
Gravity Falls, after two seasons of the best-looking backgrounds, liveliest characters, and all-out most infuriating production schedules of all time, is off the air. It isn’t a perfect finale, nor is it a particularly daring one, but it has heart, horror, and an end-of-summer bittersweetness that gives its many indulgences just enough edge. Full of unforgettable images and riding a wave of character development that’s been building since the series’ pilot, it plays to its fan base without abandoning central ideas, like the consequences of deferring childhood’s end, that have always energized the show.
Stan is the episode’s weak point, his actions difficult to believe even with all the work this season has done to explain his feud with Ford, his final sacrifice waved away in the interest of a happy ending. Sure, Mabel and Dipper leaving behind their brain-wiped uncle in the ruins of the Mystery Shack would have been a little dark for a show (ostensibly) for children, but the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too approach ‘Weirdmageddon’ pursues falls a little flat. The scene in which Bill discovers he’s been duped into Stan’s brain rather than Ford’s is electrifying and devastating, a powerful sendoff for a man who spent most of his life on the run from a deep-down fear of the idea that he might be worthless. To close that arc with literal, liminal proof that Stan is willing in his heart of hearts to die for his niece and nephew is some heavy stuff.
That he regains his memory seconds later is as rushed and sloppy as it sounds. I hate to play the “what-if” game, but wouldn’t Ford taking memory-less Stan on a voyage around the world have had a pretty hefty impact? It’s just hard to swallow the two endings when one necessitates the undermining of the other. Still, the emotional reward of watching the brothers Pines sail away into the unknown is a great payoff for the beautiful mid-season premiere. I started my coverage with ‘A Tale of Two Stans’, easily one of the series’ best episodes, and its dense interpersonal myth-making cut through all the feverish fan theories and code-obsessed chatter to illustrate the idea that Gravity Falls is about family, loss, and the pain of growing up not just from a child into an adult, but from an adult into later life.
The episode’s slew of cameos, everyone from Alfred Molina as the Multibear to Larry King as his own disembodied wax head, are a visual feast. If the mecha fight between Bill and the Mystery Shack mech looks a little flat, Red Bill chasing the twins through the incomparably alien interior of the Fearamid more than makes up for it. Bill’s death scene, too, is a rapid-fire bonanza of creepy-cool animation. The twins’ vacated bedroom gave me a literal pang of melancholy. The episode lives as much in its backgrounds and stills as it does in its action, and if its emotional beats are simplistic, well, it’s earned that reprieve. Even Stan’s underwritten behavior can’t derail the sheer emotional momentum Gravity Falls has built up over its modest run.
“A party that never ends,” Bill cackles to Ford while explaining his evil plan, “with a host that never dies.” It isn’t hard to draw parallels between what Bill longs for and what Mabel so recently borked everything up by trying to get her hands on. Summer without end. Childhood running on and on without the looming threat of adulthood and the unknown to leach the joy and adventure out of life. Bill talking about his hatred for life as a two-dimensional being, his desire to do and be whatever he wants to be, and the dreary, violent banality of those desires is surprisingly effective as an emotional sequence. It’s hard not to feel a little something for the evil pyramid as he recounts a life of agonizing limitation and constant struggle, and it’s hard not to feel the sting of self-rebuke for every time you’ve ever wanted things to just stay the way you want them.
Bill’s desires are all about control. Not necessarily the dominion he’s always hollering about, but the simple certainty that whatever happens, it’ll be because he wanted it to happen. That’s what Mabel and Dipper have been growing away from over these past two seasons, and it’s what impels them on into a life they happily admit they aren’t ready for as the series draws to a close. Childhood ends. We all have to grow up, and Gravity Falls makes a strong case for this process being one without an end. Stan and Ford are just as caught up in the throes of growth and sacrifice as the twins, their stubbornly set old age surprisingly close to the willful denial of youth. Sometimes, though, there’s something to help you take that crucial step into the uncertainty of life in flux, of life with the possibility of change.
The final pleasure the series has to offer is the sight of the landscape gliding by outside Dipper and Mabel’s window on the bus out of town. It’s a scene that captures everything weary, exciting, and melancholy about leaving somewhere we’ve learned to love.