Wax Lizzie Borden is the best completely uncommented on joke ever.
Soos uncovers a room full of wax figures that were once a Mystery Shack attraction. When Mabel makes a wax tribute to her Grunkle out of a ruined figure, Stan decides to reopen the exhibit. But a beheading most foul leads the twins to a Whodunnit mystery.
Like last week’s episode, this one is still trapped by trying to find the show’s footing. Here it’s less to do with character writing – the script has tentatively figured out who its three main players are, and as a result boasts some of the show’s most amazing one-liners (GOOD THING I’M AN UNCLE is the anthem of my life, really); the townsfolk are still a little more sketchily defined, but work well enough as devices that it’s hard to mind (and core elements, like Toby’s showmanship and the Blubs/Durland rapport are already coming into place).
The far tougher thing that the episode has to contend with is that it’s still defining its mythos. It knows it wants to be weird, not just by having supernatural occurrences but unexpected ones – of the three episodes we’ve covered so far, the pilot is the best at covering this ground of playing to an expected plotline and then subverting it with a new take on a different legend. And figuring out how to play that is naturally going to take some time. Hirsch’s cowriter on this episode was Aury Wallington, who contributed only one other episode to the series – the exceptional “Time Traveler’s Pig.”
That this one feels like another odd one out is one of those things that can only really be diagnosed in hindsight. Like the Gobblewonker, it features only a token usage of the journal, but that’s not it either. It’s more down to the fact that the wax figures just kinda…ARE. While the show loves unsolved mysteries and has its share of invented creatures, this is the only time they ever intersect in quite this way. From here on out the oddities Dipper and Mabel encounter will either be documented to some extent in the journal, play off of an existing piece of lore, or take time out to tell the stories of how they came to be. The wax figures just kind of….are. Cursed, vengeful, kind of jerks. Which works fine for the episode’s purposes, but doesn’t really give anything to stick in the viewer’s mind afterward (even the Gobblewonker ties into a character arc).
But at the end of the day they’re cursed, vengeful jerks led by John Oliver. And that is worth an awful lot. Like pretty much every celebrity guest spot on the show, Oliver is clearly having a grand time, playing the Senior British Correspondent stereotype he’d perfected over at The Daily Show to the hilt as wax Sherlock Holmes. “What a kerfuffle” is one of those lines that’s hysterical almost purely on the strength of the delivery, and he even manages to put some solid menace into the pomp. I think we can all agree that the terrifying, white-eyed figures are worth a nightmare or two. They’re also NOTHING compared to what the show has coming.
The other thing worth noting, in every episode but particularly here, is Mabel. Her role on the show is always a little hard to pin down. The script always tries to give her equal moments to shine as well as emphasize how important the twins are as a team in the big, eventful episodes, but in more episodic turns she’s not always given as much to do. Part of that is its own brand of refreshing – if you grew up in the 90s I’m sure you were sick unto death of the serious, introvert girl/goofy, extrovert boy matchup (Hirsch himself nods to that dynamic, making this a deliberate reversal).
I bring up that balancing act, which you can bet we’ll come back to in later episodes (particularly “Irrational Treasure”) because Mabel is incredible this episode. Yes, she helps Dipper solve the mystery, but the very creation of Wax Stan is something way, way outside your average 12-year-old’s skill set. Her abilities in practical creation and creative thinking are on a genius level comparable to Dipper’s cryptographic problem-solving skills. But it’s something I rarely see mentioned – partly because Dipper’s abilities, tied as they are to practical plot actions, more often get the chance to be spotlighted. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t suspect it to be partially part of a cultural dismissal of the hard work and difficulty that goes into the arts, along with a devaluing of skills without immediate “practical” application. But that’s one of those squishy, vaguely defined things to put away for another day’s thoughts.
Today in Fandom
The MOST important thing to remember is that as of this week we officially have our Mystery Twins – a sweet character growth setup in-show, but easily the most used moniker by the fandom (with added permutations as we go along).
While we’re skating through these early episodes, I might as well bring up the Gravity Falls Gossiper, an early adopter podcast that chatted about the show pretty much from the get-go. They had enough momentum, in fact, that they even managed to get the Hirschlord himself to stop by to give an in-character interview as Grunkle Stan. It’s ridiculously cute. While the show eventually ran into scheduling difficulties because of the hosts’ real-life commitments (as tends to happen with adulthood and all), it was one of the earliest really prominent fan-shows. Certainly not the last, though. Hoo boy, not the last.
This week’s closing credits is “He’s Still in the Vents,” referencing the head of wax Larry King.
The closing credit scene also features the introduction of Mabel’s llama-hair sweater, one of the more thematically important sweaters (though certainly not the only one) from her cavalcade of costumes. Which ties into one of the greatest mysteries of all: how this iron-willed child has not suffered heatstroke from wearing a bunch of pretty plush sweaters in the dead of summer.
Oh, and yes, returning readers. I know about the man in the background. And so do you. Which is why I’m waiting to talk about all those little cameos until there’s some context to hang it on. Don’t worry, we’ll get there.
The triangles are back – you can see them built into the window of the parlor. The parlor we never really come back to, though it does provide setup for the OTHER secret rooms that will eventually be uncovered in the Shack.
The biggest part of this episode, of course, is that it’s one of the foundational stones of The Theory. You know the one. The one which I won’t be able to document at the time it became prominent in the fandom, because it turned out to be right. This episode and the last also paint a sad picture of Stan’s idea of family: on the one hand very stuck in the time he grew up (fishing), while also surprisingly quiet and determined to break away from the home life he actually experienced (something we’ll touch on again in “Dipper vs. Manliness”).
Likewise, we have the first instance of him blatantly lying in an attempt to protect the kids. A gambit that really only gets them in more trouble, but Stan’s doing his best. It’s also worth noting that Dipper makes quite the foil to the Author in this episode: more specifically, the need to model oneself after fictional heroes as a means of garnering respect to the point of being completely left floundering when the narrative doesn’t follow the script it’s supposed to (with the false accusation of Toby). The difference being, as it will always be, that Dipper has Mabel to pull him back and put him on track.
And Ducktective is introduced in the very same episode as the first big chunk of evidence. They planted that theory deep.