For however long Great-Uncle Ford is going to be on the show—and, accomplished voice actor though he absolutely is, a newly minted Oscar winner like J.K. Simmons doesn’t seem likely to stick around the show indefinitely—the show’s task is to sketch out just what the character means to the rest of the Mystery Shack. There’s a plot component to this, which we get a pretty good sense of when Ford talks about the inter-dimensional rift at the end, and the Ducktective finale at least raises the possibility that Ford is, well, “Not What He Seems.” That’s all well and good, and there are questions worth answering in that area; I’m fairly up-front about not caring all that much about the big overarching mystery plot, because that almost always seems to lead to some manner of disappointment when one’s own theories don’t accord to the show’s solutions—or they’re just too obvious, as the gang’s reaction to the Ducktective reveal suggests—but I’ll admit that I’m pretty curious to know just what Ford was up to during his decades wandering the inter-dimensional plane. There’s definitely a story worth telling in Ford’s situation, and I suspect it’s going to make for a hell of a crescendo to the character’s time on the show.

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But that’s a little ways off, and Gravity Falls is nothing if not patient, even before one adjusts for its sloth-like airing schedule. In the meantime, there’s much to explore in how the presence of a second great-uncle alters the dynamics of the house. While the last episode focused on building up, shattering, and hinting at the possibility of rebuilding the relationship between Stan and Ford (all the while keeping Dipper and Mabel at arm’s length), this week’s episode examines how the two sets of twins interact with each other. I wouldn’t say it’s any great revelation that Stan has always related more easily to Mabel than to Dipper, but this episode throws that into high relief, with the pair of cool Pines siblings mercilessly mocking their nerdy counterparts. The steadily changing look on Mabel’s face as Dipper describes Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons says a lot about what’s going on here, at least for the younger siblings. Mabel absolutely wants to play with and support her brother, but she’s got her limits; there’s a point where the gap in their interests is just too wide to bridge. She’s comfortable with that fact—Mabel is nothing if not completely comfortable with who she is—but Dipper isn’t quite so secure, and that makes it all the worse when his sister and his great-uncle make fun of him.

What’s great about all this is that it provides a strong reason for Dipper to bond with Ford. Sure, it could certainly be interesting if the two just sat down and the older Pines expounded at great length about his inter-dimensional exploits, but it would be a little dry, relying heavily on a whole bunch of details instead of something more intrinsic to the characters. The sheer joy that Dipper and Ford both experience when each realizes the other knows about their favorite game is such a lovely moment, recalling nothing less than Lisa Simpson bonding with her grandmother in “Mother Simpson.” I could absolutely see Dipper observing that he suddenly makes a lot of sense after that game with Ford.

And yet, through all this, there’s that growing sense of just why Stan is wary of his brother. For all the ways in which Stan is untrustworthy, unreliable, and unpredictable in his dealings with everyone else on this planet, he has made it damn clear over the show’s run that he can be depended on to look after Dipper and Mabel, that they—and Waddles that one time with the dinosaur—bring out his best instincts. Not to say that Ford is incapable of that, because he’s only just met them, but the man we see in this episode is a reckless character, one who lets his desire to play the game and have some company override the fact that he has no business placing a child in such close proximity to the dangers of the multiverse. Again, that’s understandable, given what Ford has experienced ever since he fell through that portal: His first move when confronted by the wizard is to pull a gun on him, after all. Ford’s essential decency is a lot more immediately obvious than that of his brother, yet his irresponsibility is all the more dangerous for its relative subtlety. Their shared obsessiveness makes Dipper and Ford a potentially destructive pairing. We’ve seen enough of some of the other permutations to know that Dipper and Mabel, Stan and Mabel, and even Dipper and Stan can bring out the best in each other; but this episode, without at all belaboring the point, does a nice job sketching out why Ford is going to need time to integrate into the rest of the family.

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Oh, also, noted national treasure Weird Al Yankovic is on board as a wizard, which is just great. Gravity Falls has never shied away from silliness, but the wizard and his retinue reach a level of high-energy ridiculousness that the show can rarely match, and Yankovic is a big part of the success of that; his wizard is too risible a character to be properly threatening, but his line readings are manic enough to at least hint at how deeply unhinged this math-based wizard is. This episode is co-written by creator Alex Hirsch, Matt Chapman, and Josh Weinstein, and it’s Weinstein’s influence that feels particularly strong here, given his past credits include—besides co-showrunning seasons 7 and 8 of The Simpsons and co-creating Mission Hill—a lengthy involvement with Futurama. Gravity Falls has always made plain its debt to Matt Groening’s oeuvre, and this episode in particular feels like the supernatural-tinged kindred spirit of Futurama. The episode’s willingness to lean heavily on the fourth wall, the characters’ tendency to make jokes and then immediately explain and deconstruct them, and particularly Ford’s hushed explanation of just what an infinity-sided die actually mean all feel like moves right out of the Futurama playbook, and if the presence of Ford helps tilt the show a little more in that direction, I’m all for it.

“Dungeons, Dungeons, And More Dungeons” is a silly episode, but then I’d say we’ve all needed a silly episode for a while now, and the jokes are easily funny enough to make the episode work without me having to trot out euphemistic descriptors like “zany” or “wacky.” Besides, silliness can be a fine way to convey emotional points, and it’s pretty damn rousing to have Mabel and Stan come so spectacularly to the rescue of their siblings, with Mabel unleashing the full powers of her boundless imagination and Stan revealing there’s no game he can’t rig, even one against an inter-dimensional wizard with a brain-eating fixation. Every indication suggests that we’re headed to dark places with Ford, and that he inadvertently or by design will put his family in harm’s way. That just makes it all the more important that the Pines twins have these moments of triumph and happiness, both because we’ve earned such positive moments and because the connections we’re seeing forged now are only going to lend more meaning to the times when they are tested most.

Stray observations:

  • Hey, the show just acknowledged that Dipper and Mabel’s parents exist, and are even people Mabel might choose to communicate with! Also, her letter is just ludicrously adorable. That drawing of her great-uncles should be hanging in the Louvre.
  • Waddles is maybe the greatest background character ever. We’re overdue for another Waddles spotlight episode, but I always love him lazing about on the seat and then just happily wandering off.
  • Sorry this is only going up the next morning! Life is kind of crazy busy at the moment, and I ended up overextending myself last night. I’ll try to be more on top of things going forward.

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