Review: Gravity Falls – Season 1, Episode 3

Producer: Disney Television Animation
Director: John Aoshima
Writer: Aury Wallington & Alex Hirsch
Starring: Alex Hirsch, Kristen Schaal, Jason Ritter, Linda Cardellini
Distributor: Disney Channel (later Disney XD)
Genre: Mystery, Fantasy, Comedy, Adventure
Rating: TV-Y7

Gravity Falls is an American animated series created by Alex Hirsh and produced by Disney Television Animation. The series started on June 15, 2012 and ended on February 15, 2016. Gravity Falls has won numerous awards, including Teen Choice Awards, Kid’s Choice Awards, and Annie Awards to name a few. The series ended with only two seasons of 40 episodes, as Hirsh desired to end on a high note and not allow the series to grow stale. Nevertheless, Hirsh commented in interviews about the possibility of revisiting Gravity Falls in future projects.

To the joy of many fans, all 40 episodes have been released on July 24th, 2018, from Shout! Factory. Gravity Falls: The Complete Series [Collector’s Edition] includes audio commentary, deleted scenes, and many extra features. It is available on both Blu-ray and DVD.

CONTENT GUIDE

Violence/Scary Images: A dead body on duck detective. The limbs and heads of wax figures are chopped off. Wax Sherlock Holmes attacks Dipper with a sword, and Dipper fights back with a fireplace poker.

Language/Crude Humor: Wax Sherlock Holmes talks about killing the Pines twins.

Sexual Content: Toby is determined to make out with a cutout of a female reporter.

Drug/Alcohol use: Alcohol is never shown, though a broken beer bottle can be seen on the floor. A character on the floor of the biker bar is unconscious, assuming either by fight or drunkenness, but this is never defined (Mabel says he is resting for comic relief).

Spiritual Content: The wax figures are “cursed” and come to life. The exact nature of this curse is not defined.

Other Negative Themes: The Skull Fracture is obviously a biker bar, although the series never calls it that. Grunkle Stan openly states he will steal from the wax figure owner. Various characters have tattoos and piercings. The Pines twins use fake IDs to enter the biker bar. Grunkle Stan swindles the townsfolk out of admission money, for comic relief.

Positive Content:  The determination of the Pines twins to solve the “murder” mystery, despite the mocking of others.

EPISODE RECAP

Episode 3, Headhunters, begins with the Pines twins watching a show called Duck-tective. Soos enters the scene and tells the kids he found a secret door while cleaning. They cautiously open the passage and find an abandoned wax museum. Among the wax statutes is a Grunkle Stan statue. The statue turns out to be the real Grunkle Stan, which frightens the twins and Soos.

Grunkle Stan explains the forgotten attraction. It was one of the most popular in the Mystery Shack. Grunkle reviews his collected personas, until he sees his Abraham Lincoln statue melted by the sun. Mabel proposes sculpting a Wax Stan. Grunkle Stan agrees and loves the completed product. He then reopens the wax museum.

The following day, the Mystery Shack holds a small press conference for the re-opening of the wax museum, with the promise of pizza. However, when one reporter asks about food, Grunkle Stan claims it was a typo, and escapes (miserably) using a smoke bomb with the admission money. Mabel thinks it went well, despite the complaints from customers about the lack of pizza.

Murder!

Later that day, Grunkle Stan relaxes with his wax double while watching an episode of Duck-tective. However, Grunkle Stan finds Wax Stan decapitated upon returning from a bathroom break. The police are called, only for them to declare the case unsolvable.

Dipper is determined to crack the case, despite the mocking of the police officers. The Pines twins form a list of suspects and Mabel immediately finds a clue. A trail of footprints leads to an ax, with a strange hole in the footsteps. Mabel connects the ax to the lumberjack Manly Dan. They take the item to Soos, who says Manly Dan hangs out at the biker joint called the Skull Fracture. As the twins go into town to confront the suspect, Grunkle Stan prepares a small memorial service for Wax Stan.

The Pines twins use horribly fake IDs to enter the Skull Fracture. Dipper begins interrogating Manly Dan, but the lumberjack proves he wasn’t at the murder scene. He also notes he uses a right-handed ax.

With the new information, they eliminate the right-handed suspects on the list one by one. Finally, only one suspect remains: Toby Determined, who runs the local newspaper, the Gravity Falls Gossiper. But, Toby provides an alibi. He reveals a surveillance video of himself making out with a cardboard cutout of Shandra Jimenez, with a confirmed time stamp. Sheriff Blubs dusts the ax for fingerprints, but finds none. Toby and the policemen then mock the disproven and humiliated Pines twins.

A Surprising Revelation

Grunkle Stan holds a funeral service for Wax Stan, with the other wax figures as attendees. Dipper, Mabel, and Soos also attend the funeral. After Grunkle Stan runs out in grief, Dipper notices a hole in Wax Stan’s shoe. Dipper quickly connects the lack of fingerprints on the ax, and realizes the murderer a wax figure. Right as Dipper announces his revelation to Mabel, Wax Sherlock Holmes comes to life. Wax Sherlock acknowledges Dipper’s revelation as true, as the other wax figures come to life. He also promises to bury the Pines twins.

Wax Sherlock congratulates Dipper, and proceeds to explain the origin of he and his comrades. The cursed wax figures come to life whenever the moon is waxing. Ten years ago, they were a popular attraction of the Mystery Shack. During the day, they would be a normal wax exhibit. By night, they would come to life and roam about the Mystery Shack.

But, once the wax exhibit stopped making money, Grunkle Stan put the wax figures away. He forgot about the exhibit, until Soos rediscovered the hidden room the figures were stored in. The wax figures waited 10 years to exact revenge for their confinement. But once freed, Wax Sherlock only managed to cut off the head of Wax Stan.

Conclusion

The wax figures corner the Pines twins, but the kids fight back with hot items, such as coffee and decorative candles. The Pines twins manage to defeat most of the wax figures, including Larry King, Groucho Marx, Coolio, and Genghis Khan. The battle ends with a sword fight between Dipper and Wax Sherlock. The fight ends on the roof of the Mystery Shack, with Wax Sherlock gaining the upper hand. Wax Sherlock asks Dipper for any last words, and Dipper asks if Wax Sherlock has any sunscreen. The rising sun shines on the wax figure, who proceeds to melt immediately.

Mabel melts the remnants of the wax figures in the fireplace. Grunkle Stan walks in and the Pines twins explain what happened. He dismisses the explanation as childish imagination (or so he says). Grunkle Stan hugs the kids in celebration for recovering the head of Wax Stan. The policemen also get their comeuppance for teasing Dipper.

Dipper asks if Mabel destroyed all the wax figures, to which she replies she is 99% sure. However, the head of Wax Larry King still exists, and roams in the vents of the Misery Shack. Mabel asks Dipper his opinion on two sweaters during the end credits, only to unknowingly be answered by the wax head of Larry King.

REVIEW

Headhunters is one of the first less-than-stellar episodes. I almost accidentally skipped this episode, thinking The Hand the Rocks the Mabel was episode three. That is how much I forgot about Headhunters. This is not to say this episode is unwatchable; even the lesser episodes still carry entertaining material.

The initial problem is in establishing the conflict in act one. It takes about five minutes (not including commercials) for Wax Stan to have his head chopped off and set the mystery in motion. Five minutes may not seem long, but in terms of a TV episode, that’s a long time. It is enough for a viewer to lose interest. The conflict could have started sooner, with the reopening of the wax museum itself. It is not too far-fetched for a wax museum to appear in a tourist trap automatically in act one.

Some of the jokes didn’t land, the “avenge me” joke from Grunkle Stan being one of them. The interactions of Mabel in the biker joint (a nice euphemism for a bar in a kid’s show) are amusing though. Groucho Marx questioning why there is nothing in his hand is a nice nod to the censorship of kid’s cartoons. Voice acting sounded good and it was fun noticing the hidden image of the impending Bill Cipher. Although the resolution for Dipper moved quick, it still worked along with the comeuppance of the police.

Grunkle Stan seems a little too okay with the destruction of his wax figures. Part of his character is being laid-back, but he is also stingy with money. The loss of the wax figures is a loss of money. I would imagine him being more reprimanding of the Pines twins. But, for the sake of conclusion, Grunkle Stan is okay with it. Similarly, for the sake of the series’ structure, Grunkle Stan must not realize the supernatural nature of the episode events (at least not to the Pines kids).

Other significant parts of Headhunters includes the growth of Dipper’s character. Dipper displays his very keen sense of observation. Also, Manly Dan calling Dipper a “girl” establishes Dipper’s issue with masculinity in future episodes.

The Bottom Line

Episode three emulates murder mysteries or detective series. If you like that genre, this episode is for you. If you don’t (like me), then this episode will not interest you. The celebrity cameos, like Larry King and Coolio, are fun. Plus, the character devolvement for Dipper will pay off in future episodes.

 

8.2

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Armand Azamar

Armand J. Azamar is a freelance writer and artist from the Chicagoland area. Armed with the Word of God (and a love for superheroes, comic books and speculative fiction), he teaches at New Life Assembly Church and Kankakee Trinity Academy.

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