Probably Gravity Falls‘ biggest shortcoming is that it’s too expository. Characters unnaturally remind us where we were before the commercial break, and we’re not really trusted to remember things from episode to episode.
“A Tale of Two Stans” is an instance where this isn’t a bad thing, really. We’re playing catchup the entire time, learning things that we didn’t before, and they’re the things we’ve been dying to know.
The rift between Stanley and Stanford and their tragic reunion are the core, of course, but the best detours along the way are Stanley’s business ventures between: a dude with nothing but a dream and a metal detector, a state- and identity-hopping con salesman, and a scratch lottery player.
Maybe it’s that “Not What He Seems” is one of the best television episodes of the past few years, but it was otherwise disappointing how much “A Tale of Two Stans” felt like a tedious necessity in backstory. The anger and hurt weren’t built up to and displayed very well after Stanley accidentally wrecked Stanford’s chance at his dream college.
But the second encounter packs more heat: “You finally want to see me after ten years, and it’s to tell me to get as far away from you as possible?!”
Stanley gets burned, showing that he doesn’t have a tattoo but a welding mark. The two fight. Stanford disappears into the void for thirty years.
It’s a confusing moment. And luckily, we’re still confused. Where was Stanford for those thirty years? What was he doing on the other side of that portal?
Those questions are at the fore of my mind at the end of this episode. Unlike the show’s best episodes in season two, the drama of Gravity Falls doesn’t quite manage to outweigh our demand for answers.
And near the end, we’re given a hint that Dipper’s relationship with Mabel might move into choppier territory. Mabel, who changed the direction of the series by not pressing the button, lies awake worrying that “Shermy’s grandkids” could become like Stanley and Stanford. But Dipper is fast asleep. It’s a striking image.
The backstory might not have been the ride we wanted, but “A Tale of Two Stans” has great success in opening up promising paths for the rest of season two.