I miss it all over again.
Mabel and Dipper lead a team of survivors on a mission to rescue Ford, using the newly giant-robotized Mystery Shack. While they’re able to rescue Ford and the townsfolk, their plan to use Bill’s wheel to seal the chaos god are cut short – even in the face of Armageddon, Stan and Ford can’t let go of their fight.
Now free to crush everyone who could pose a threat to him, Bill captures the other members of the wheel and uses the kids as bargaining chips to get into Ford’s mind, which holds the equation that would allow Bill to escape from Gravity Falls’ barrier. The original Pines trick Bill into entering Stan’s mind instead, allowing Ford to destroy him with the memory gun…as well as all of Stan’s memories.
The sadness is brief, as Mabel’s scrapbook and stories help Stan remember who he is.
It is hard to make a satisfying conclusion to a long-running story, particularly a mystery. Hirsch, and his entire team of writers and artists, did it. The two-part finale is paced to address the show’s biggest hanging questions, to be emotionally satisfying while also pulling out some of the best body horror to date (also, Bill threatens and attempts to murder children a lot), and gives a closing beat to every important character. It even takes the time to check in with minor hanging threads like the other paper Dippers, who are apparently still doing just fine out in the woods; or the fact that Durland and Blubs are a couple now, which is both adorable and kind of the best last minute fuck-you to Disney after the whole “Love God” thing.
Dipper and Mabel have already made peace with their fears and each other, so this finale is functionally the original Pines twins’ story. Ford has to learn that he can’t act alone and to be okay with being a supporting player, and Stan goes from wanting praise and acknowledgement to giving up everything in a sacrifice so complete that nobody, even himself, would remember it. Stan’s takedown of Bill is a wonder of a scene, melancholy and resolute in a way that feels uniquely adult, especially when contrasted against Bill’s increasingly petulant franticness. Even Stan getting his memory back doesn’t feel cheap, since the potential recovery of erased memories was established as far back as “Society of the Blind Eye.” And the cast, particularly the Pines, kill it on the delivery. There were tears. Mine.
The animation and art looks top tier as well. The Shaktron’s battle with giant Bill is particularly fluid, and the color scheme using smartly contrasting reds and golds all over the place in keeping with Bill’s influence — monster Bill’s flame-red glows against the red-blacks of the brick interior, his demented penthouse has the shiny finish of attempted class but remains housed in a dark, enclosed and threatening space. All of the dark interiors as the cast struggles to make headway give way to the brightness of the rift closing up. And, of course. there’s that image of the rift reflected in Stan’s eyes; recalling the X Gideon drew over his photo way back in season one as well as the Blind Eye, which might be one of the show’s most striking individual shots.
It’s praise on praise on praise. There are tiny things I could nitpick – Ford’s last bits of closure are mostly left to Journal 3 because it’s really the kids’ story, and seriously I need to know that someone got Pacifica out of her parents’ custody please help that child. But none of those are real detractions from a well told, well-paced, satisfying and sincere conclusion. The way American television and particularly children’s animation is run, not many people get to tell exactly the story they wanted to and then definitely conclude it. There’s a bittersweet quality to saying good bye to these characters, but it comes with an honest admiration for everything the cast and grew achieved.
Today in Fandom
While the series finale aired on February 15th, 2016, Alex Hirsch had one more surprise for the fandom. On July 20th, presumably chosen both so it could be a summer adventure in the vein of the show and so the weather would be nice enough to be outdoors, Hirsch announced the Cipher Hunt. A giant international scavenger hunt that brought out the best of the fandom’s collaborative abilities (I have tried mostly to cover the highlights of the fandom’s existence, but never let that convince you there were not many, many lowlights; the amount of twincest content produced is something we should all be deeply ashamed of as a species).
The Cipher Hunt was a two week adventure involving both digital and on location mystery solving, and those who participated threw themselves in with gusto. You can read a summary of each day’s events here. The short version is that for the first few days fans followed coded inscriptions to clues hidden in Russia, Japan, and Rhode Island, then to Los Angeles where a PO Box held an absolutely enormous Bill Cipher puzzle with the next clue on it (as well as a digital version, so fans who weren’t on-site could participate). People spent about four days on that thing and actually only completed enough to get the clue at first (they later finished it up, and Hirsch released the unaired pilot and some deleted scenes in return).
The back half of the search all took place in Oregon, and included the tourist trap where Alex once took a photo dressed as Stan. The final clue wound up stumping people, leaving them wandering around the Oregon woods for a few days like a West Coast Blair Witch waiting to happen, so Hirsch gave a supplementary clue over Twitter. The life-sized Bill statue was finally uncovered in Reedsport (though it later had to be moved due to property disputes). They hunters were actually the second ones to find the statue – someone else had found it on their own over a month before, but had agreed to keep its location secret.
And that was it. Alex Hirsch’s last love letter to his creation and the fans who loved it. As creator/fan interactions go, it was a pretty fine one.
The finale, “Take Back the Falls,” is technically a two parter (part 4 is called “Somewhere in the Woods,” but that doesn’t tend to make the marquee), so there are two sets of credit/page ciphers.
CREDITS CIPHER ONE: Soos Later Forced MGucket To Watch All 900 Hours Of Neon Crisis Mechabot Boy: Revelations (KEYWORD: shaktron)
PAGE CIPHER ONE: Ten Symbols Placed Around A Wheel. Hand In Hand They’ll Bond The Seal. But Break The Chain, And Pay The Cost. The Prophecy Will All Be Lost.
CREDITS CIPHER TWO: Goodbye Gravity Falls (KEYWORD: Axolotl)
PAGE CIPHER TWO: Faded Pictures Bleached By Sun. The Tale’s Told, The Summer’s Done. In Memories The Pines Still Play On A Sunny Summer’s Day
A note on the first Credit Cipher: Journal 3 mentions that Shacktron is based on Soos’ favorite anime, Neon Crisis Revelations Cute Angry Girl: Annihilation. So, either continuity error or Soos STARTED with his favorite series and forced Fiddleford to watch its very long sequel later.
The final opening credit sequence, a mix of the original and Bill-ified versions, changes the backward mention to “Goodbye Gravity Falls.”
And in one last bit of hook (aside of the brief encoded hint that would later lead to the Cipher Hunt), fans decoded Bill’s dying message: A-X-O-L-O-T-L MY TIME HAS CCOME TO BURN. I INVOKE THE ANCIENT POWER THAT I MAY RETURN.” The axolotl is both the Vigenere for the final episode and the pet Stan keeps in his fish tank. It’s known for its regenerative properties.
Maybe the greatest value of Journal 3 is in how it fills out Ford’s character, something that was always a constraint on the show – one gets the feeling they didn’t have enough to fill out an entire other season, but still could’ve used four or five more episodes post-“Not What He Seems” that the season runtime didn’t allow for. In addition to chronicling the building of the portal and Bill’s trickery, it also includes some post-canon information that gives additional closure to Ford’s arc. It’s possible I teared up just a little bit.
Because Ford’s such a stubborn character as well as being quite secretive and paranoid, there wasn’t much time in-episode to dig into what made him tick. Most of what we saw of him was through the lens of Dipper’s hero worship or as a cautionary tale about the folly of being the lone hero. Through Journal 3, there’s a direct pipeline allowing Ford to ruminate on his failings in private and thus be more honest with himself than he was with the twins or his brother. He admits his hubris and desire not just for knowledge but glory, that his is indeed a cautionary tale and not a hero’s journey, and that Stan was the selfless hero in the end. And he makes peace with that.
Moreover, we’re told he was tireless in helping with Stan’s recovery, finding old videos of them as kids, recounting their adventures, and tearfully apologizing for mistakes – including shunning Stan for years for what he admits was “one dumb mistake.” The memory gun and Stan’s sacrifice, in a way, also gave Ford a chance to atone by devoting himself to someone else honestly. He also made amends with Fiddleford, and was the one responsible for patenting Fiddleford’s old blueprints (which is probably how he got the money to buy the Northwest Mansion). It’s an extra satisfying bow on top of what there was only time to suggest in the finale.
There are additional secrets and facts in Journal 3 that I haven’t covered here; specifically, in the limited special edition with blacklight text. Now, these cost a pretty penny ($150 USD) and were individually numbered, so access is obviously limited. Fortunately for those cash-strapped souls who still want to know the contents of the book, there are some very helpful compilation posts detailing the additional text. One thing that can always be said for Gravity Falls fans: they know how to compile.