In the world of Gravity Falls, Disney XD’s deliriously entertaining animated series (returning tonight at 8:30 p.m.), virtually everything is a tantalizing mystery. (This includes, but is not limited to, the guy who does sock puppet shows at your local library, the kid who never seems to be outside of the community pool and the spooky abandoned convenience store.) But nothing could have prepared fans of the series for the midseason finale on March 9; not only did it re-contextualize the entire series in some pretty fundamental ways but it was also a cliffhanger that was so shocking that it has made the time in between episodes incredibly difficult. Thankfully, tonight’s episodes will satisfy long-term fans and provide a fresh point for those just beginning their journey with this fiendishly clever series.
First, some background: Gravity Falls is the brainchild of animator Alex Hirsch and is best described as being like Twin Peaks but for kids. It takes place in the fictional hamlet of Gravity Falls, Oregon. It’s here that young twins Dipper (Jason Ritter) and Mabel (Kristen Schaal) are sent to spend the summer under the supervision of their shifty great uncle (grunkle) Stan (Hirsch). Stan owns and operations a roadside tourist trap called the Mystery Shack, but unbeknownst to him, real mysteries are flooding the small town around him (everything from giant robotic sea monsters to kleptomaniac gnomes and everything in between).
In the electrifying midseason finale back in March (!), Stan was revealed to know everything that has been going on in Gravity Falls. And what’s more, he’s been building some kind of teleportation device in the basement of the Mystery Shack. The machine made Stan a target for government agents and played havoc with the town’s gravity (there would be periods of prolonged weightlessness that were insanely striking). In the closing moments of the episode, the machine Stan had been building finally worked and the portal opened and out stepped … Stan’s twin brother. This was a shocking conclusion, indeed, and one that made us positively itchy for the series’ return.
Well, it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Tonight’s episode, entitled “A Tale of Two Stans,” does a deep dive into the relationship of Stan and his twin brother (also named Stan, hence the title), played by recent Academy Award-winner J.K. Simmons. Gravity Falls has never really done an episode like this one, before, told almost exclusively as a narrated flashback, which speaks to the series’ infectious creative restlessness. Grunkle Stan’s brother is revealed to be the six-fingered author of the journals that Dipper has been obsessing over in nearly every episode of the series (chronicling all the bizarre happenings around Gravity Falls); and the episode does a great job of illuminating their relationship. There are some amazing reveals, too, like how Stan got his weird tattoo, his history as a hustler and how Lazy Susan’s eye got to be lazy. Gravity Falls is known for its rich mythology and huge cast of warm, wonderful characters, and the episode really plays up both of those elements.
But if you’re a Gravity Falls newcomer, you won’t be totally lost, out in the Pacific Northwest wilderness. In fact, this episode is a perfect jumping in point for anybody who has somehow let this weird and wonderful show pass you by. (And there’s still time: tonight’s premiere is preceded by a marathon of episodes.) This is the kind of episode that exemplifies what makes the series so amazing to begin with, with plenty of visual gags, wordplay (say hello to Backupsmore University) and killer jokes (Grunkle Stan narrates: “And so the Murder Hut was born, later renamed the Mystery Shack”). But the density and sharpness of the humor isn’t just what sets Gravity Falls apart, as it’s one of the more emotionally resonant animated series on television today. And this is one of the sweeter installments yet (seriously, seeing the two Stans interact as little kids is one of those things that make you go awwww).
Gravity Falls has always been about twins: Mabel and Dipper, the real world and the paranormal realm just beyond sight, the future and the past. But tonight’s episode introduces us to a new set of twins: the two Stans. How this will affect the town of Gravity Falls and all of its inhabitants remains to be seen. All we can say is that it gives a fresh burst of energy to the series and makes us love it even more than we ever did before (which is really saying something). The next episode (“Dungeons, Dungeons and More Dungeons”) doesn’t air until August 3 (we know, we know) but that is another very special episode and hints at how the new Stan’s arrival will impact the rest of the series. As a series, Gravity Falls has always delighted thanks to its unpredictability and assertion that even humdrum everyday life is full of mystery and wonder. If tonight’s episode is any indication, there’s plenty of mystery and wonder right around the corner for the townsfolk of Gravity Falls. And we couldn’t be more excited.