Gravity Falls Rewatch: Into the Bunker

the-hamill-thing

Say, you know what kids love? The Thing!

The Plot

Dipper, Mabel, Wendy, and Soos explore the newly revealed bunker beneath the tree where Dipper first found the journal. There, they meet an escaped shape shifting monster, and Dipper finally fesses up about his feelings for Wendy.

Part of the problem with Gravity Falls being on hiatus for a year is that when it came back, Steven Universe had started airing – and that show blew it out of the water at every turn in regards to showcasing diversity and tackling difficult subjects. As always, not every show needs to set out to Teach A Lesson, but creators should always be aware that the stories they tell and the behaviors they reward (like say, doggedly pursuing a girl who has no interest in you because you’re a “nice guy”) will have an effect on the viewer.

But while GF is often Dipper’s story more than it’s Mabel’s, Wendy is often sidelined (though when she DOES appear in season two it’s always a joy), and Disney waged a noble campaign to keep Gravity Falls straight, there is one issue that I’ve always admired the show’s handling of: the long awaiting death of that interminable crush arc. Dipper and Wendy’s conversation is warm but awkward in a very warm, human sort of way. And while it takes him the rest of the summer to get over his feelings, he never makes it her problem. It’s not HER fault he can’t let go, it’s just that horrible cocktail that is emotions and puberty (that internet search history is mostly “redheads” according to Bill, by the way).

It doesn’t feel forced, but it’s firm in both its insistence that Dipper has to take no for an answer, and that it was downright stupid to assume that Wendy was oblivious to his flailing up til now. Often these crush narratives rely on the device of the object of affection not noticing things to an absurd degree so the hero can pine without actually changing anything. And that’s….dumb. To write things so that she was attempting to let him down gently is a solid tweak on the idea while working with the on-screen content of the first season.

But the relationship stuff is only half this episode – it’s also incredibly effective in its horror, from the eerie setting of the dusty bunker (seriously, all those kids need tetanus shots) to the reveal of the shifter’s identity (with fantastically fluid animation and voice work by the one and only Mark Hamill). This episode was probably the stuff of nightmares for many a kid, and it’s surprisingly violent – no cuts or anything on that axe going into an apparently human torso. Apparently green blood makes it fine, as long as all of the dialogue was very careful never to say “kill” or “dead.” Welcome to the “What the S&P” corner. We’re going to be here all season.

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Today in Fandom

The Author. Ask five Gravity Falls fans who their theory about the Author was and they would give you six different theories. And what’s most interesting of all is that over the break, a fair number of fans actually had figured it out (which I’ve touched on in previous spoiler discussions) – the majority of what you need is present in season one, if you’re paying close attention. This resulted in two things: one, it may have helped nudge the show from three seasons down to two, since the writers’ room realized they couldn’t wait all the way until the season two finale to reveal the Author’s identity; and two, it meant that Hirsch decided to have a little bit of fun with the fanbase.

The picture up above there was originally “leaked” alongside an image of Bill coming out of the active portal. For months this was pointed to as evidence that Old Man McGucket was actually the author of the journals. Alongside the theory that actually turned out to be true, it was probably the most active conspiracy camp.

puzzle-room

Ciphers

CREDITS CIPHER: What Kind of Disaster Indeed (key: SHIFTER)

PAGE CIPHER: Improper Use of Machinery Could Lead to Utter Catastrophe

There’s also quite a bit of Blind Eye imagery on the journal pages (and a few more symbol ciphers, but I’m going to keep these sections down to bits that are especially noteworthy); the brief glimpse of binary on one page references back to the between-season shorts, which also hold a key to the Blind Eye.

It should also be noted that it’s not uncommon for season 2 episodes to face edits (and we saw it in season one as well, with “The Deep End”). Quite a few trims were made on this one in the finished episode (and that’s already barring things that were cut in the storyboards, like a somewhat tiresome gag of Dipper falling into Wendy’s boobs in the decontamination chamber).

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Spoiler Corner

Apocalypse imagery was flying thick and fast by this point, but even in rewatching it’s a bit tough to pinpoint where exactly they thought that fear was coming from. Stan storing meat for the apocalypse and talking about buying gold could just be jokes about preppers (which Stan’s probably met more than a few of) and those persistent ads always marketed to the retiring age set, or it could be that he gleaned some actual warnings from his copy of Journal 1. Ford’s bunker could have come from Bill-induced paranoia, actual knowledge of what Bill planned to do (which he was vague but doomy about), or just a general backup plan in case the portal somehow blew up in spite of his efforts. It’s all pretty vague and clearly meant for atmosphere rather than to provide a cohesive set of answers. The more we go into season 2, the more we’ll run into mysteries deliberately left dangling.

It’s a bit uncanny how the Shifter’s human morph looks like the clothes Ford eventually wears, isn’t it? And speaking of….there’s definitely an argument to be made that Ford created his own mess here. The Shifter “became too dangerous,” but that’s completely vague, and I think we could rather generously say that Ford and ethics are distant cousins. At the very least he took this baby egg and raised it until at a certain point it grew murderously resentful. THERE’S a prompt, right there (and yes, I’m still working on getting hold of Journal 3, so it could well be explained there).

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