And with that, Gravity Falls came to an end. I can’t believe I’m saying this with a straight face, but it went by far, far too quickly.
As an action-packed conclusion, “Weirdmageddon 3: Take Back The Falls” recalls the series finales of classic animated shows like Justice League Unlimited and Avatar: The Last Airbender. Like JLU’s “Alive!”/“Destroyer,” tonight’s episode goes out of its way to bring back as many characters as possible, with even tertiary supporting characters getting their own little moment to shine. Like the “Sozin’s Comet” arc, this and the other “Weirdmaggedon” entries make it clear just how impossibly powerful an adversary our ragtag heroes face, even while gradually revealing how our heroes could ultimately prevail. That I’m making those connections at all suggests just how vast Gravity Falls can be, as the show offers a finale that is every bit the equal of those classics in terms of action, without ever abandoning the Simpsons (and Futurama and Bob’s Burgers and Parks And Recreation) aspects of its creative DNA. The episode lets its comedic ensemble play at being big damn heroes without ever forgetting how funny these characters all are.
Honestly, this is a finale that defies easy analysis, especially in the immediate aftermath. My impulse is just to point at a whole bunch of things in succession and say, “Wasn’t that awesome?” There’s a creaky element or two in this episode’s construction, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but the real takeaway here is just how well everything works, and how well it all works together. The Gravity Falls creative team is smart enough to know that, even with an hour to play with, there isn’t time for any characters outside of the two sets of Pines twins to get much to do—part of the reason Wendy and Soos already got plenty of attention in the preceding “Weirdmageddon” installments. A few characters get entrusted with delivering more jokes than their typical roles might lead you to expect—if anyone had guessed Pacifica Northwest, Toby Determined, and the wax head of Larry King, come collect your winnings—and the episode crams in some tiny character arcs for the likes of Sheriff Blubs and Lil’ Gideon. Beyond that, though, tonight’s episode mostly limits its characters to a one-liner here and an awesome moment there.
Consider what Wendy does here. She kicks more ass than anybody in the assault on Bill’s pyramid—just like how Justice League always made sure Wonder Woman did the most damage in any group fight scene. She reunites with her family. She gives Robbie some well-earned crap and then holds Dipper’s hand in forming the Zodiac. And last but not least, she offers Dipper a heartfelt farewell and the promise of next summer. Taken together, that’s not an awful lot in absolute terms, yet it’s really all we need to see to wrap up her story on the show. The same is true of Soos: His becoming the new proprietor of the Mystery Shack, with his girlfriend running the register and his abuelita moving in immediately, is a perfect capper for the story on the show, and it doesn’t need any particular setup in tonight’s episode for the moment to land emotionally. This is where Gravity Falls gets to reap the harvest of all the character development its done for the townspeople up to this point. This is something of an iceberg episode, where only 10 percent of the requisite character beats need to happen on-screen for them to work. We’ve already seen the other 90 percent over the preceding 39 episodes.
Since the previous “Weirdmageddon” installment resolved the lingering tensions in Dipper and Mabel’s relationship, the finale has to look elsewhere for its big emotional resolution. And if I have any nit to pick with this finale, here it is. At first, Stan’s reluctance to help out, to the point of actively sabotaging plans that are on the verge of working, feels a tad forced. This is likely because we haven’t seen Ford or Stan in a few episodes (which is the equivalent of several months in real time, give or take), so the episode has to strain a little to hammer home the existence of a grudge that hasn’t been spotlighted in a while. Some of this, I suppose, is down to my own eagerness to see Stan have his big heroic moment, just like has in previous episodes, most awesomely in “Land Before Swine.” (Guy punched a dinosaur to protect Waddles!) And yes, we’re getting to that moment in just a sec, but it’s still a little odd to see Stan, a man who quite explicitly tells us here never to mess with his family, actively impeding Dipper and Mabel’s efforts to save the day. And, in fairness, his actions can all be explained in terms of his general cowardice and selfishness and his specific issues with Ford, whom Dipper and Mabel treat as the desperately needed savior. This all makes sense intellectually. But Gravity Falls has to push this angle stronger than really feels earned.
And yet, the actual resolution of Stan and Ford’s arc is perfect. So perfect, in fact, that I was tearing up from the first moment the two agree to work together, with Stan implicitly agreeing to sacrifice himself to save the world. Stan and Ford’s relationship clicks back into place for me as soon as they start fighting in the zodiac circle—Ford’s peevish correction of Stan’s grammar is a crucial reminder that their stupid destructive rivalry isn’t one-sided—and the episode takes the time to have Ford recognize the ways in which Stan surpasses him, noting Bill could never have swindled a wily operator like Stan. Their plan is thematically perfect, considering it hinges on how alike the two are underneath it all. And considering it’s Stan who has come the furthest over this long summer, it’s only right that he be the one to defeat Bill. I would say his temporary amnesia is a little too temporary, but then I can’t imagine a more perfect way to bring back the old Stan than to remind him of all the memories of this summer. Any more protracted resolution to Stan’s amnesia would likely have involved swapping that emotional beat for a bit of magical technobabble, so I’m fine with how things are.
There is no finer way for Gravity Falls to bow out. The episode exemplifies all Gravity Falls could be at its frequent best: It’s funny, emotional, beautiful, and terrifying in equal measure. I’ve talked in previous reviews about how the world of “Weirdmageddon” is a living nightmare—I’m still debating between whether this is full Lovecraft, full Cronenberg, or full Heironymous Bosch—and the animation here manages to be genuinely horrific without being unnecessarily off-putting. The big fight between the Mecha Mystery Shack and the various unspeakable monsters is good enough to preemptively tip its cap to anime while still very much being its own stylistic thing. And even all that feels like mere prelude for the episode’s closing moments, as things get back to normal—relatively speaking—and Dipper reflects on his magical summer while Mabel and Waddles doze next to him.
Look, there are probably deeper appreciations of this finale and this show waiting to be written more than two hours after the show has concluded, with time for context and distance and all that junk. But here’s what I know: Back when Gravity Falls started out, it was pitched as a kid-friendly cross of The Simpsons, Twin Peaks, and The X-Files. I can think of no finer final tribute than to say it lived up to all the ridiculous potential implicit in that description … and ended up being something even better than that.
- “Larry King’s disembodied wax head needs num-nums.”
- “I listen to a lot of AM radio, so I knew what this meant: the end of the world.”
- “I watch a lot of anime and, trust me, you’re going to want some gun swords.”
- “It’s called … deathball!”
- There might be only one new character in this entire episode, namely the bus driver at the end. The closing credits reveal that character represented a very sweet tip of the cap, as he was voiced by Twin Peaks’ own Kyle MacLachlan.
- I don’t necessarily think we’ll ever get to see that promised next summer—though I guess I could see Disney doing a Gravity Falls TV movie in a couple years—but it’s nice to know the adventure continues, even after this summer ends.
- It’s a random moment, but maybe the most beautiful bit of this episode from an animation standpoint is the amnesiac Stan in the middle of that clearing, just before his family finds him. The animation and general design of the scene felt like something out of Miyazaki.
- Stan and Ford punching monsters on the high seas is maybe the most perfect thing I’ve ever seen. I’m tearing up again just thinking about those two.
- And that wraps it up for Gravity Falls! This show kicked off my AV Club reviewing career nearly four years ago, and this is likely going to be the only show I ever get to review wire-to-wire, so this show will always have a very special place in my heart for reasons that I can’t imagine anyone else cares all that much about. Thanks for coming along on this journey with me.