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Gravity Falls: “Society Of The Blind Eye”

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At its most basic, “Society Of The Blind Eye” is an attempt to undo a continuity error, or at least to explain an area where the show had previously fudged its own logic. Outside of the five core characters, Gravity Falls has always played fast and loose about just how much anyone else in the town actually knows about the paranormal phenomena unfolding around them. It’s a small moment in tonight’s episode, but the tape of Robbie detailing his experience in “Fight Fighters” just before he receives a memory wipe goes a long way toward explaining why that experience didn’t warp him forever. (Well, any more warped than he already was.) With this episode, Gravity Falls gives itself one hell of a trump card, because it manages to make every apparent incongruity in past episodes appear part of some infinitely more complex master plan. And maybe the show’s creative team really is that intricate and assiduous in its world-building! I suspect “Society Of The Blind Eye” is rather more retroactive in its approach to continuity, but who cares? What’s so impressive about this episode is that it makes even a skeptic like me think this might all have been planned out from day one.

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But forget how impressive this episode is, because impressive isn’t much by itself. What allow viewers to connect with the episode are all the show’s core strengths, its emphasis on character and its sharp sense of humor. As character beats go, Mabel’s sudden desire to forget all her failed summer crushes isn’t all that richly developed. It’s a functional, workmanlike plot, something that allows “Society Of The Blind Eye” to connect the latest kooky gizmo with the private lives of the main characters. The episode even essentially acknowledges the silliness of this plot by having Wendy elect to join Mabel in wiping her memory because she just happens to really hate getting a song stuck in her head.

The key here isn’t the storytelling, although the episode is deft in developing what it knows is a relatively undercooked character story; there’s an art to not overselling every character beat as some epoch-shattering event. Really though, the secret of the plot’s success lies not in what the characters do but rather which characters get to do it. Mabel and Wendy remain an underexplored pairing for the show, and it’s refreshing to have Wendy chat with a Pines twin about romance from something other than a place of plot-mandated obliviousness. Not to harp on the season’s one major misstep, but episodes like this throw into high relief the mistakes of “Soos And The Real Girl,” as this episode foregrounds the kind, accepting ethos that defines the show at its best. Decades of ingrained television clichés tell us that Wendy should recoil in horror when Mabel shows her absurdly over-the-top pickup approach, but Wendy just laughs affectionately and says that was perfect. Heck, we even see the two of them come to Lazy Susan’s vociferous defense after Soos’ mildly mean one-liner.

“Society Of The Blind Eye” sustains the standard of humor we’ve come to expect from Gravity Falls. There’s nothing particularly revelatory about the humor here, as this is an episode that derives childish glee from telling the most obvious, most childish joke: the teens writing “McSuckit” after an hour’s brainstorming, Soos fighting off the society members with a plaque about dysentery, one of said society members revealing he doesn’t like wearing clothes under his robes, and Mabel writing “Butt” on Blind Ivan’s forehead. As our main characters so accurately put it, that joke and the others are pretty much just objectively funny. Where this episode gains extra comedic power is in the integration of Wendy into the main ensemble. This is the first episode to really capitalize on the new character dynamics that “Into The Bunker” established, and beyond how darn refreshing it is to see Dipper act like a person around Wendy, the episode benefits from having a fourth distinct comedic perspective. Wendy brings a more sardonic sense of humor than the others, and that plays particularly well against Mabel’s innocent goofiness.

It’s hard not to think of “Society Of The Blind Eye” as a big mythology episode, but I must say that’s the part I find least interesting. That’s not exactly meant as a knock: The other elements of this episode are so strong that the latest incremental step forward in the show’s overarching narrative can feel minor by comparison. Old Man McGucket has been such a heavy focus of fan speculation that the revelation here almost feels like a fait accompli. There’s the promise of still further revelations down the road, and the cut to Stan’s latest enigmatic experiments over the end credits suggests that McGucket’s mysterious partner is indeed Stan, or at least closely connected to Stan.

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If I have any particular issue here, it’s that the McGucket reveal is so focused on furthering the plot that it doesn’t really land the pathos. The story of McGucket mind-wiping himself into mental oblivion could be its own mini-tragedy—it’s more or less the same concept as the Ice King’s original descent into insanity in Adventure Time’s “Holly Jolly Secrets”—and the wide shot and the music cue that come at the end of McGucket watching the video gestures in that direction, as does Mabel’s pained reaction. The video itself aims for humor, except the audience’s knowledge of what McGucket will transform himself into means the video has to really go for broke to provoke a laugh, and it doesn’t quite manage that. The episode does better by McGucket in the preceding sequence, in which the old coot reveals his mind is so thoroughly scrambled that there’s nothing left to wipe. Basically, Old Man McGucket is such a joke of a character that the show must strain to put him to any other use; “Society Of The Blind Eye” suggests he can work as a deeply offbeat action here, but it doesn’t work quite as well to build an emotional story around him.

But enough nitpicks! “Society Of The Blind Eye” is a terrific episode, one whose full importance to the series as a whole likely won’t become clear for a little while yet. This episode feels like a vital next step in a longer journey, and the confidence on display tonight offers a good indication that the creative team knows exactly where it wants to go. But, as ever, the real joy isn’t in the gradual—my goodness, is it ever gradual—unraveling of the central mystery, but rather in the deeper exploration of the characters. After all, you don’t really know characters until they’re about to be mind-wiped, and it will change my view of Wendy forever to know that she isn’t really the laidback goof-off that we once took her for. But then, she’s totally right: Have you seen her family? That little line is the genius of Gravity Falls in a microcosm, really. After all, we have indeed seen enough of her family to know exactly why it doesn’t really make sense for her to be so relaxed all the time, and the show has reached a point in its maturation where all these potential contradictions and incongruities can be refashioned into new narrative strengths. Gravity Falls isn’t messing around.

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Stray observations:

  • Sorry this is going up so late. I had assumed the episode was airing at the customary 9 p.m. time, without realizing Star Wars Rebels had pushed this a half-hour later. So yeah … there was some scrambling involved.
  • “Coyotes are coming for our sweetbreads.” Oh yes, that’s some fine hamboning right there.
  • Anyone else freaked out by a hatless Soos?
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