I’m about as new to Gravity Falls as The Young Folks is to reviewing it. I just watch it all over the weekend, unaware of that face that me catching up would almost perfectly align with a new episode airing. And oh my, I seem to have wandered into the middle of a landmark series of television.
The ending of last episode (“Northwest Mansion Noir”), which was a totally separate sort of wonderful, teased us by showing that Stan’s machine was a little less than a day from completion.
Gravity Falls delivered so fiercely on that tease that I’m left amazed that we have at least nine episodes from here for things to speed up even further.
Ever since the ending sequence of season one, when we see what goes on behind Grunkle Stan’s vending machine, this show has become a different sort of creature. Up until then, maybe our only recurring emotional investment was in Dipper’s infatuation with Wendy. Now, the show has the sort of urgency that cause Netflix watchers to stay up all night to watch an entire season of Breaking Bad.
One of the things that makes “Not What He Seems” such a beautiful piece of television is that it refuses us answers and swarms us with questions. After Dipper and Mabel find fake IDs and newspaper clippings detailing the death of one Stan Pines and wonder if the man they’ve been spending the summer with is even their great uncle, we, alongside Dipper and Mabel, effectively know less than we ever have.
The whole episode is masterful, but like a solar mass defines its system, its climax dominates, altering the way we might talk about any of the rest of the episode.
Mabel has her hand on the button to abort. Stan begs her not to press it, to trust him. Dipper tells her to press it and avoid risking the fate of the entire universe.
And the most remarkable thing is, I had no idea what she was gonna do. She had seen Stan’s fake IDs. She had seen the video tape of him stealing nuclear waste. Her twin brother and best friend clearly didn’t trust him. The universe was on the line.
And it says a lot that overcoming that wasn’t narrative imperative – after all, a frustrated Stan could explain everything next episode and we’d still have lots of time left for the season to develop – but the nature of Mabel Pines.
The universe hangs in the balance, and you don’t know what’s going to happen. And this is midseason.
What other show has that?