Why the Mysteries of Gravity Falls Set It Apart
Alex Hirschthe animated series Gravity Falls premiered a decade ago with its pilot “Tourist Trapped”, beginning with a voice-over monologue by Dipper Pines (Jason Ritter) explaining why their summer isn’t a “quiet” break when he and his twin sister, Mabel (Kristen Schal) get away from a “creature of unimaginable horror”. It ends with another voiceover with Dipper explaining why he could trust Mabel. He also mentions that his great-uncle/”Grunkle” Stanley/Stan (Hirsch) said there were no mysteries in the town of Gravity Falls, Oregon – just as Stan himself opens a secret door behind the vending machine.
This episode kicked off a four-year series with mysteries and theories surrounding the writer of a journal found in the woods and uncovering the anomalies present in the town. gravity falls the charming characters and sense of humor gave the series a solid foundation. The series has made its way into this current series of animated excellence with compelling puzzles through individual storylines and the overriding issues surrounding the Pines family.
Several aspects of the pilot add to the nature of the story. Not just involving the newspaper, but the jokes. The main one is Dipper’s suspicion that Mabel’s boyfriend, Norman, is a zombie. When confronting Mabel about this, Dipper accidentally turns the page to the Gnomes page. Norman is a group of gnomes piled on top of each other pretending to be a teenager for Mabel to become their gnome queen and marry all 1,000 of them. And then they transform into “unimaginable horror creature” to try to catch Mabel and Dipper driving away in a golf cart. The gag is funny, but it also sets the direction of the series, mixing humor with surprises and shades of darkness.
This is also the first time Dipper and Mabel have supported each other on the show. Dipper does everything possible to protect his sister. Mabel later convinces Dipper to trust her, and it works to defeat the gnomes. This goes against the warning sign in Dipper’s diary: “TRUST NOBODY!” This line is brought up repeatedly, with Dipper and Mabel’s mutual trust shining through each time. The uncertainty and challenges presented to showcase the couple’s family bond, which grows with the friends they meet over the summer.
The cryptograms are also featured in the pilot and continued throughout the series. Essentially, the show places different combinations of words or numbers at the end of each episode’s credits with translations for the show. The first code is displayed quickly in a flash frame in the theme song along with a photo of main antagonist Bill Cyper (Hirsch). The majority of clues in the first season are in-jokes referencing the episode, but they get more serials as the series goes on. Additionally, the codes gave fans reason to stick around to watch the credits, allowing them to see the names of people who worked on the show while setting up the credits as something important. Gravity Falls began featuring more plot-based credit scenes in the second season, filling each episode with rooms to find the story. It also allows fans and viewers to engage with the series when watching episodes. This led to a final search for a actual statue of series antagonist Bill Cipher (Hirsch) hiding in the woods.
The question of the identity of the author is constantly raised but Hirsch and his team leave several breadcrumbs along the way. Background elements like the painting of the ship above Dipper’s bed are reminiscent of Stan and Stanford/Ford (JK Simmons) dreams of sailing around the world fighting monsters. The fact that the boat is specifically above Dipper’s bed ties into the bonds between the two generations of Pines twins. Dipper matches Ford’s interests in science and ego, while Mabel resembles Stan’s carefree and playful nature.
There are a few more direct visuals that highlight Ford’s existence throughout the show. In the Season 1 episode “The Time Traveler’s Pig”, Dipper and Mabel battle through time and return to an early version of Stan’s pre-mystery cabin. A person who appears to be Stan briefly walks out of the house. It’s probably Ford since he began his exploration of Gravity Falls, as he wears the same type of glasses as Ford.
Stan also finds a similar pair of glasses in the hidden room discovered by Soos the Builder (again Hirsch, who wears a ton of hats on his show) in “Carpet Diem.” It’s called “Carpet Diem” because of a rug in the room that allows body switching, which is labeled as an “experiment”. This episode in particular shows his hands on Stan and Ford’s fractured relationship. Stan is uncomfortable in the room, acting like he wants to forget her. He calls it “just another room I have to clean now” as he picks up the glasses from a dusty shelf. He also responds to Mabel calling the play “amazing” by saying “Yah, if you like terrible things”. He later calls the rug “ugly” after being asked to get rid of it. Offhand negative lines show how fractured their relationship has become, the opposite of Dipper and Mabel’s bond. Being back in Ford’s old bedroom brings back haunting memories of seeing Ford drift into another dimension with their tense years gone with him.
Another scene from this episode that appears to be just a passing joke deserves more attention. Stan sits in front of the television watching Baby Fights while staring at the glasses as Dipper, Mabel, and several other friends fight to try and get back into the right body. As he hears the fighting intensifying, Stan puts the glasses in his pocket, grunts and turns up the volume on the television as he looks dismayed. The sound of his nephew’s fights reminds Stan of his rocky family relationship growing up and his failure to save Ford after accidentally trapping him in another dimension. Stan’s quiet little reactions as he tries to deal with them in secret adds a textual example of his fate outside of his descent into the room behind the candy machine.
Another aspect of this episode: conflict erupts over Dipper and Mabel fighting over the room. They had shared a bedroom in the attic, but Dipper got angry that Mabel had invited her friends over every night, and then they had a fight. It’s a moment that could shatter their relationship like Stan and Ford’s. However, they may realize that neither of them wanted the room and both just wanted to have an easier living situation. Mabel even uses something she learned in Dipper’s body to relate to her twin. This conflict subtly showcases how the twins can but lead and disagree in a way that both Stans were as they got older. But the young Pines twins find each other works best when they grow up side by side. They have a trust factor that Stan and Ford have lost.
The series’ main villain, Bill Cipher, makes his first real appearance at the end of the first season, but his fingerprints are all over the show. Several episodes have visual cameos about the triangle with an eye, one being in a quick shot of a deck of cards. It is also hinted at in the logs, most notably in the pilot when Dipper reads the part about being watched. The first person to discuss the Diaries and the Mystery Shack itself in terms of powers is Gideon (Thurop Van Orman). Of course, he uses newspapers for power and greed. His first tool is the gem which gives him powers of telepathy to control Dipper. He later uses it to summon Bill for the first time, so he can steal Stan’s deed. This bond is the first disturbing instance of someone acting out of control, with Gideon sharing Bill’s need for power.
Bill’s startling and horrifying power drove Fiddleford town hick “Old Man” McGucket (Hirsh again) to create a memory-erasing device that drove him down the path of madness. McGucket’s ties to Ford are also hidden in breadcrumbs throughout the first part of the series. He is first seen as a crazy homeless man who talks about a monster called the Gobblewalker living in a lake near Gravity Falls. While searching for the monster to get his picture, Dipper and Mabel realize that he made the Gobblewalker out of metal just to get his son to watch out for him. He was then seen tossing between creating inventions in the junkyard he lives in and talking to animals and trying to use his bear as an appendage. Still, the episode puts that scenario in motion with a somewhat comedic adventure.
This Season 1 episode also ties into Dipper and Mabel’s attempts to avoid fishing with their Grunkle as their quest to find mysteries takes them away from their family bonding time. They almost spent so much time looking for a photo to make them famous that they left their great-uncle behind, just like Ford left his brother. This is the power of mysteries Gravity Falls creates. Hirsh and his team have always wanted to bring people to dark times, but also to realize the importance of the family bond. The deliberate parts and pieces left in the early episodes all lead to a path that brings people together. Gravity Falls created a puzzle that comes together when a team works to put the pieces together.