GRAVITY FALLS Season 2, Episode 11 Review: ‘Not What He Seems’

Because it walks the line deftly between mythology and comedy, it’s easy to forget that Gravity Falls has a deep, serious mythos behind it all. That’s deliberate of course, as Alex Hirsch hasn’t exactly hidden that his key influences were The X-Files and The Simpsons. It’s the X-Files part that dominates today, in an episode that ties all the story threads we’ve been seeing all season and finally reveals what Stan has been up to underneath the Shack since the start of the series.

The Plot

Stan, working intensely, manages to finally complete whatever he’s been doing with the mysterious Stargate-like contraption in his underground laboratory. One of the journals reads that what he’s doing is dangerous and could lead to gravitational anomalies (and actually does before the opening), but he ignores it. He sets a huge countdown clock and his wristwatch to an 18-hour countdown because “today’s the day.”

The next day, Mabel wakes up Dipper at 7 AM to show him a batch of clearly illegal fireworks that she found in a closet (one’s even named “the lawsuit maker”). Stan comes up behind them, saying that there’s no way they’re setting off illegal fireworks…”without me!” They proceed to light up the fireworks in broad daylight, then put out the resulting small fires with epic water balloon fights.

Stan suddenly gets somber and tries to tell the kids something, but backs down and walks off. He’s suddenly tackled and the Shack swarmed by government agents including Trigger (Brad Abernell[sic]) and Powers (Nick Offerman), who’ve been lurking in the background all season.

Powers explains to the twins that not only did he and Trigger survive being attacked by zombies in the season premiere, but that Stan has a doomsday device hidden in the basement and that he’s been lying to everyone all along. Stan is hauled off for interrogation, while Dipper and Mabel are taken to Child Services. Can the kids break out and figure out the truth? Are the agents right? And what is that thing in the basement? The answers flip the entire show on its head; as the title says, Stan really is “not what he seems.”

The Execution

My jaw was wide open for about the last two minutes of this episode. Before then, I was in complete suspense. This is the show at its best. In fact, this reminded me a lot of Season 1’s penultimate episode, “Dreamscaperers.” Like that episode, a whole slew of call backs show up and every story-based thread from this season (the agents, the laptop) is tied together. Here though, it’s compounded by the revelations about Stan, which cause the twins (who, for all their capability and heroics, are only 12 years old) to go through a wave of emotions.

That emotion shines through wonderfully in their performances. Jason Ritter makes Dipper seriously unnerved, and the anger and frustration he displays is simply incredible. Again, Kristen Schaal (currently being very funny on-camera in Fox’s The Last Man On Earth) shows just why she won that Annie Award. After being kinda sidelined last episode, Mabel goes through some very tough stuff. And the heartbreak and anguish Schaal is asked to deliver is accomplished with aplomb. Alex Hirsch, this show’s not-so-secret weapon, is absolutely on fire as Stan and Soos.

All this wonderful acting is underscored by some brilliant animation and direction. The tense nature of the script (credited to Hirsch, Matt Chapman, Jeff Rowe, Josh Weinstein and Shion Takeuchi) is underscored fantastically by director Stephen Sandoval, who takes some of the really dynamic action sequences delivered by the storyboard team of Sabrina Cotugno, Alonso Ramirez Ramos, Dana Terrace and Luke Weber–including a spectacular one involving a midair fight between Stan and government agents that’s kinda like that one scene from Inception–and renders them masterfully.

Final Verdict

I don’t want to spoil anything because that’s how I do these reviews, but suffice it to say, a major fan theory is confirmed by the end of this episode. After a shorter but still exciting second season that opened up the show’s universe, everything seems to be shifting in a brand new direction. I can’t wait to see what it is.

4.5 out of 5 stars

4.5 out of 5 stars


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Categories: TV

Author:Tom Speelman

A lifetime of reading comics and watching television has left Tom with an inexhaustible supply of pop culture knowledge from the obvious to the obscure. Rather than keep it all in his brain for use at parties, Tom turned to writing a few years ago to help him share that knowledge with as many people as are remotely interested. Tom writes for several websites including The Mary Sue, Strange Horizons, Loser City and others. For even further rambling, follow him on Twitter @tomtificate.

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