Gravity Falls – A Tale of Two Stans Review
Back in March, Gravity Falls aired what is probably one of the best episodes of the series, Not What He Seems. The mystery of the Journals and the Author finally came to a head in a fucking awesome episode with some amazing character moments and an ending that floored me and made a lot of sense when I went back through the previous episodes and really started paying attention. Then the show disappeared into another hiatus for four goddamn months. But now it’s back, and we finally got some answers. And they were kind of underwhelming, if I’m being honest. Good, sure, but I was expecting more.
SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT FOR NOT WHAT HE SEEMS AND A TALE OF TWO STANS, TOO. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.
So Stan’s twin brother is the Author. He comes out of the universe portal, grabs Journal 1, and punches Stan in the face. Turns out, on top of actually being named Stanley (his brother is Stanford), Grunkle Stan and Stanford have some major baggage with each other. Everybody demands to know what the deal is, and that’s basically the rest of the episode; Stan recounting everybody on the events that led to Stanford being sucked into the universe portal.
As it turns out, Stan and Ford (as he likes to be called) were really close as kids growing up in New Jersey. Ford had six fingers on each hand and was a genius, Stan had five fingers and was okay at punching things. The two discovered a boat, named it the Stan o’ War, and promised each other to fix it up and sail away from Jersey to become treasure hunters. But then high school happened and Ford, being a genius and all, created something for a science fair that would have guaranteed his admittance into any college in the world, securing his future and his father’s dream of being really rich. Stan screwed it all up and they both went their separate ways, not speaking to each other for 10 years.
Ford became obsessed with anomalies because of his sixth fingers, so starts researching them, eventually leading him to Gravity Falls, Oregon. There he sets up a shack in the woods to study the weird goings on, eventually building the portal with his college roommate Fiddleford McGucket in order to find out where all this weird crap was coming from. Once they activate it, though, Fiddleford almost gets sucked in. Ford saves him, but Fiddleford spouts a prophecy sounding thing and quits. Ford starts hearing whispers, and decides to finally get a hold of Stan. He gives him Journal 1 and tells him to get as far away from Gravity Falls as possible. They fight, leading to the portal being activated and Ford being sucked in. Stan tries to reactivate it but can’t. He heads into town and everyone assumes he’s the scientists living out in the woods. They want to know what goes on in the mysterious shack, and Stan, being the grifter that he is, turns the place into the Mystery Shack in order to pay the rent and keep working on the portal. He faked his death and assumed his brother’s identity.
In terms of answering questions the brought up in Not What He Seems, this episode does a fairly good job of it. It wraps up the fake IDs, the newspaper headline, and the Journals over the course of the episode, even having Mabel or Dipper chime in to say, “Oh, that explains that thing we found.” It’s pretty efficient in dealing out the information, but that might be why I’m not so hot on it. These were fairly big questions, with the Journals and the Author being the big mystery from the start of the show, and they get entirely explained in a fraction of a flashback from a single episode. This is more on me than on the show itself, but I had a certain amount of expectations going into this episode. And they weren’t even concrete expectations, like my own pet theories about what all of this would mean in the end. I just had a bar set in my head for where I thought this episode would be, but it ultimately fell short in that regard.
It also didn’t really do much for following through on the stuff that happened in Not What He Seems. By the end of the episode, Dipper had seemingly lost all trust in Stan. He found out that this person he loved had been lying to him from the second Dipper found that Journal and started looking into the mysteries of the town. But that is never really brought up or even hinted at in the episode. It is entirely owned by the flashback and the Stans, which is probably how it should be given the title of the episode and all, but they could have addressed in some way. A look Dipper gives to Stan, the way they interact in between the story bits, something. The only parts of the episode like that are at the very end, with a question brought up by Mabel in light of what she now knows about Grunkle Stan. The ending is set up for what will be the status quo moving forward, but they could have spread that out a bit more evenly throughout the episode. As it is it felt a little tacked on.
But the episode does still have its strengths. It’s great to see this animation again and hear all the characters speaking new dialogue. I rewatched old episodes over and over again in anticipation of this so hearing the actors saying things I hadn’t heard before was great, even if some of the dialogue did come off as clichéd or just weirdly delivered. Plus, JK Simmons is now a recurring cast member as Ford, so that’s fucking great. A lot of the jokes, while not the best of the show, still connect, and it’s cool seeing the mainstays of Gravity Falls 30 years younger as well as getting the answers we did.
In A Tale of Two Stans, Soos says, “I’m hoping all this aligns exactly with my fanfic, Stan. If not, I will be very disappointed.” I know this is intentional, but this is kind of how I feel about the episode. I went into this with a vague of idea of what I wanted, and while it did meet some of the expectations, it ultimately fell short. Not so short that I didn’t like the episode, but just short enough to sour some of the episode for me. It’s not a bad episode. I’m not even sure there is a bad episode of this show. But as the followup to Not What He Seems, it doesn’t really measure up.
With absolutely no chance of meeting anybody's expectations, A Tale of Two Stans does a fairly efficient job of answering some of the questions raised throughout the series. It gives some backstory for Grunkle Stan, continues to foreshadow the upcoming events we've been teased about for the past few episodes, and introduces JK Simmons to the cast. But with the efficiency, it also loses the chance to build on what happened in Not What He Seems and mostly feels like set up for what's to come.