But where did the brains come from
Tired of being teased now that Mabel’s grown taller than him, Dipper searches for a quick-growth solution in the pages of the Journal. He finds the answer in the form of some crystals and fashions a makeshift shrink ray using a flashlight. When Mabel catches wise a fight breaks out, allowing the flashlight to fall into Gideon’s possession – the perfect tool now that the child psychic’s decided to steal the Mystery Shack as part of his revenge scheme.
There are no bad Gideon episodes. He’s the best possible antagonist for this show’s first season: ridiculous but also menacing, with more answers than the Pines but not enough to be all knowing, just as he’s dangerous enough to be threatening but also goofy enough not to worry about when the show isn’t centered on him. He strikes a perfect balance between the show’s two tonal extremes, and it’s obvious that the storyboarders and animators have an absolute field day with his expressions (in fact this episode is generally a great one for visuals, with a lot of opportunities to play with perspective and framing by way of the flashlight). An episode with Gideon is a good, good time.
As if that weren’t enough, this episode is also really solid at giving both twins an opportunity to be both the injured and injuring party throughout (a skill that’s going to be really important in the second season, when the audience will start throwing unilateral blame regardless). Mabel went too far in teasing Dipper, but he was thoughtless in rubbing his victories in her face (while also not, it seems, agreeing to any games which played to her strengths). It’s not just a more interesting road to take in terms of storytelling, but also a useful trick in helping them get over it in a believable time frame without sidelining the larger threat at play.
It’s also a great Stan episode, but the reasons why are better visited on a rewatch. In fact, this episode in general is almost entirely setup for the payoff of Gideon’s next appearance, but it executes its own stakes so well that it’s hard to care even when you know what’s coming.
Today in Fandom
As the owner of Journal 2, it’s probably natural that Gideon would be at the center of a whole truckload of fan theories. Many centered around the idea of how he got the journal in the first place (the actual answer, as nearly as I can gather, is that he found it in a similar manner to Dipper but decided to use it more explicitly for personal gain), and most offered some kind of supernatural explanation. On the one hand you had many ideas centering around the idea that Gideon had compacted with a demon of some kind, personified by the star on his tent and showman’s cape – thus offering an explanation for how Gideon has such a leg up on controlling the town as well as why he’s still “magic” after the loss of his amulet.
On the other hand, there was the extremely popular “Gideon is secretly a vampire” theory – which addressed everything from his white hair, exceptional pallor, and faux-gentlemanly southern accent to his rivalry with the much older Stan (and a few things involving future instances of time travel as well). Of course, a lot of these things in the character’s conception can probably be chalked up to what the crew thought was funny, but in-universe-wise is probably down to immigrating and then playing it up for the sake of the stage persona, horrific toddler beauty pageant style.
CREDITS CIPHER: The Invisible Wizard is Watching
On the one hand, this cipher works as a sort of meta wink – when Mabel opens the closet there’s a flannel shirt inside, and Hirsch has since become pretty famous for wearing said shirt (it’s lucky, apparently). On the other hand, the idea of an invisible wizard skulking around and watching everyone, particularly considering the establishing shot that zooms us in through that spooky attic window, also doubles as more serious foreshadowing.
Ducktective strikes again. It’s impressive, in hindsight, how often they snuck that show into episodes that include some kind of clue about the Author mystery. The foreshadowing is thick and fast in this one, from Gideon mentioning the zombie attacks that’ll become relevant in “Scary-oke” to showing off Stan’s knowledge of the Shack’s many hidden rooms and passageways.
Most heartbreaking of all, though, is the small glimpse it gives us into Stan’s character. The crew never passes up an opportunity to show images of Stan in double, whether it’s Wax Stan or mirrors (or in this case, a whole hall of mirrors – and the very concept that Gideon is shooting at a fake Stanford is very apt). And then there’s Stan’s “lifelong dream.” Which on the one hand is a lie, since his current singular goal is to get his brother back…but it’s also utterly true. Money, in Stan’s mind, is the key to overcoming every problem he’s ever had. It pays the bills. It wins back his father’s approval. It gets the shady mobsters off his back. And it pays for the supplies needed to get the portal up and running again (getting the components was probably as big a factor in this project taking thirty years as the missing journals).
Likewise, Stan gets to show off his canniness and give eagle-eyed viewers an idea of the gap between his front and his inner workings. Stan’s a con artist, after all. It’s one thing to say that the kids are outside and he’s not worried, as if he’s just clueless – but saying that causes Gideon to leave Dipper and Mabel and come after Stan himself. And when he does, the old man is dressed and ready for him in the mirror maze (he might not know what Gideon’s planning, but he knows that the element of surprise is the best advantage one can have). Stan’s ability to feint and downplay himself as a threat are two of his most underrated skills, and have no doubt helped keep him and the people he cares about alive in the past. He’s truly our hero.