Due to last week’s scheduling hiccup, there’ll be two recaps this week.
It’s Summerween (Gravity Falls loves Halloween so much it celebrates it twice!) and while Mabel is excited to get an extra chance at trick or treating with her brother, Dipper wants to look grown up and go to a party with Wendy. When Dipper blows off a trick or treater that turns out to be the ghostly Summerween Trickster, he, Mabel, Candy, Grenda, and Soos have only a few hours to come up with 500 pieces of candy and save themselves from getting eaten. Back at home, Stan faces off with a pair of kids unimpressed with his scare tactics.
This episode puts me in mind of watching one of those ever-so-slightly cornball Halloween specials like Goosebumps or The Halloween Tree – like an HD update, “Summerween” is the experience of watching those shows as you remember them, with the rough edges you didn’t notice at the time removed. As a character piece it’s a wonderful one for the twins and their relationship, makes great use of Stan’s pettiness on a less worthy opponent than Gideon, and makes great use of secondary characters (it’s always kind of nice to see Soos play the voice of local lore).
The design of the Trickster itself is a real understated triumph of design (though it does suffer once it takes its mask off, as the candy face design can change and simplify greatly from shot to shot), the simple silhouette allowing the moments where it stretches and warps like Freddy in the first Nightmare on Elm Street to sneak up and unsettle you. The Gravity Falls team is absolutely expert in skirting around the constraints of its network to provide imagery that’s a good deal more horrific than a simple bloodletting would’ve been. And while the Trickster is given some humanizing dignity at death (a point of consideration that nearly always pushes the show above and beyond in its one-off monsters), that doesn’t negate the genuine, primal tension of the chase moments. “I’ve been twaumatized” might be an excellent tagline for the whole series by the end, actually.
This is both a great Halloween episode (which times out great thematically as well, since Halloween is one of the only holidays that really is a holiday for kids, no matter how many sexy trashcan costumes they try to sell) and a great moment for Mabel, who gets to show a maturity Dipper lacks in his hurry to grow up by recognizing the importance of these fleeting milestones of childhood. Her acknowledgement that this might be their last year trick or treating marks as one of the most poignant lines in the first season.
Today in Fandom
Hey, did you notice that the Trickster looks like No-Face (a pun that I’m only now getting ten years later)? Yes, 2012 internet, we noticed. And so did the twenty posts before you. More importantly, I demand to know how Papyrus traveled through time and got into that bowl.
This is it, everybody. This was where the Great Hiatus first got its toes in the door. Now, considering that as I write this Steven Universe is just coming back from a five month hiatus and Adventure Time’s schedule is known only to the most highly inducted actuaries, the four month gap between “Summerween” and “Boss Mabel” (from 10/5/12 to 2/15/13) might seem unimpressive. That’s because Gravity Falls helped start all this nonsense. Back when these episodes aired, a show like Adventure Time could be counted on for a clockwork-like schedule of several months of weekly episodes followed by a one to two month gap for production, vacation, so forth. Of course, there are differences in the production of a 24 minutes script driven show versus an 11 minute board driven one, but the key here is the consistency. Fans were reliably aware of when a show would be airing and when it would return from break.
Disney…I don’t want to say they’re contemptuous of their audience. Aside from the lack of merchandise, poor promotion, and inconsistent scheduling I really don’t have any evidence to prove that. What I can say is that this first four month gap, which as I gather was far more to do with network scheduling than production needs, marked a slow but permanent shift away from GF’s weekly, reliable schedule. A full year passed between the second half of seasons one and two, and the second season, alongside its move from Disney Channel to Disney XD, suffered scheduling issues that went from once a week to once every two weeks to breaks of several months with no indication of when the next episode might air (the poor crew, of course, was as helpless on this matter as we at home).
I suspect that the marketing division caught on to the extremely devoted cultlike following that sprang up around this show during those long breaks, theorizing not incorrectly that they could wring “events” out of these inconsistent airings to drive more impressive looking spikes in ratings, since any frustration in the meanwhile would be meaningless next to the improvement on the charts. This mentality and cult acclaim seems to have been noticed by Cartoon Network of late, leading at least partly to the “Steven Bomb” phenomenon I alluded to before. But I digress.
CREDITS CIPHER: Brought to You by Homework: The Candy
In another, non-plot-relevant reference, the flier for the Summerween party features the line “not S&P approved.” This is a reference to Hirsch’s protracted battle with Standards and Practices over the original line, “bottles will be spun.” Which, y’know, heavens forefend they imply that teenagers are having an unsupervised party and kissing each other. Soos eating the Trickster’s candy heart is a-okay, though.
Thus begins the long tradition of the censorship board on this show having completely inscrutable priorities (wait til I get to the little old ladies, friends).
Hey, look at that, we have Stan looking into a mirror again (and while it was likely chosen for its easy identifiability, the choice of a vampire for Stan’s costume – someone who survives by taking the lives of others – is apropos both for his double identity and status as a con man).
More importantly, the argument between Dipper and Mabel is essentially a reverse of their fight in the finale: Mabel here recognizes that childhood is an important part of life and shouldn’t be rushed through, while Dipper wants to get away from that; when she swings too far to the other side and can’t accept that things are changing, he’s there to help her in turn with the knowledge that the events are less important than getting to grow up with the people you love.
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Jeff Bennett deserves a great amount of credit for making the Trickster so unsettling as well, I’d argue; such a great, silky performance.
Now that I think about it, the wait between “Not What It Seems” and “A Tale of Two Stans” was “only” four months, too.