Monday, June 29, 2015

Recap: Gravity Falls "Tourist Trapped"

Despite my blog's focus on superheroics, I do like to branch into other genres. One of my favorites is pulp fiction. Not to be confused with Pulp Fiction.
Which is not to be confused with made-up stories about juice vesicles.
Pulp fiction stories were named after the cheap-as-dirt material they were printed on: wood pulp paper. The idea was that they could churn out a quick magazine; you'd buy it, read it, and be done with it.

Without getting into too much detail, in the 1900's, there was no YouTube. Shocking, I know. In those days, kids really had three sources of entertainment: radio, print, and like, marbles. So without an endless supply of ten-second clips of cats falling into boxes, you listened to the radio. If you didn't like what was on the radio, you took that ten cents you made from a week of shining shoes and bought yourself a cheap-o magazine with some kind of thrilling story inside.

It could be a detective who guns down an entire crime ring, or a young boy who builds himself an electric rifle, or even a mysterious masked man who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.

Pulp stories knew what their audience wanted. Adventure, mystery, that sort of thing. And we still enjoy the same thrills to this day. Lost is just a post-modernization of the standard shipwreck plot, superhero movies are the modern equivalent of the Blue Beetle radio serials, and the Goosebumps books are what kids these days read instead of Tales From the Crypt.


Do kids these days still read Goosebumps? Am I getting old?

No matter. My point is that I'll be recapping today draws on many elements of classic pulp stories without actually being what you would classify as pulp fiction.

Mystery. Thrills. Science fiction. Fantasy. Horror. All rolled up into one. Not to mention it's one of the cleverest shows out there in terms of writing, plotting, foreshadowing, humor....

Twin Peaks meets The Simpsons, as the show's creator, Alex Hirsch, put it.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Gravity Falls.

You had me at hello, Gravity Falls. You had me at hello.
The episode opens up in the beautiful scenery of Gravity Falls, Oregon. The sun is shining, the locals are barbecuing, and the narrator is telling us what's what.

Narrator: "A time for leisure. Recreation. And taking 'er easy. Unless you're me."

To punctuate that remark, our narrator, a small boy voiced by Jason Ritter, crashes through a billboard in a golf cart with a question mark on it. The small, female occupant, voiced by Kristen Schaal, worriedly remarks that whatever's chasing them is getting closer. Whatever it is, it's big and angry.

Narrator: "My name is Dipper."

I'm sorry for that.

Dipper: "The girl about to puke is my sister Mabel."

Sorry for that, too.

Dipper: "You may be wondering what we're doing in a golf cart, fleeing from a creature of unimaginable horror."

As they swerve to miss a fallen tree, Dipper's voiceover assures us that there's a perfectly logical explanation for everything that's happening.

Abandon your preconceived notions as to what "logical" means."
And with that, we segue into the opening theme. Now... I like theme songs. Anyone who's read through my Recaps of the Marvel Animation Universe should know this. The Gravity Falls theme song is top effing notch. And the title sequence does a good job of summarizing the characters by showing us an average moment in their lives. Dipper's discovering secrets, Mabel's hugging a pig, and... well, I'll get to the other characters as they're introduced.

To top it off, the theme sequence is filled with blink-and-you'll-miss-it references to cryptozoology, the occult, and even a few cameos from upcoming menaces.

And a couple frames of Bigfoot in the Patterson Footage pose.
Top. Notch.

When the episode resumes, Dipper takes it from the top. Mabel and Dipper Pines were spending their summer vacation the way all the kids these days do. Inside. So their parents shipped them off to spend the summer with their Great-Uncle (or "Grunkle") Stan Pines (Alex Hirsch) in Gravity Falls, Oregon in the hopes that they'd get some fresh air. As opposed to their parents getting scared and sending them to live with their aunt and uncle in a town called Bel-Air. The differences are subtle, yet many.

Mabel takes moving in to their new home well.

Mabel: "This attic is amazing! Check out all my splinters!"

Dipper, meanwhile, is a bit miffed that there's a goat on his bed.

On an unrelated note, goats are one of my favorite animals. So, yes, I'll be almost unreasonably excited whenever he appears. The goat, Gompers, starts making friends with Mabel, who reacts the same way I would.

Mabel: "Yes, you can keep chewing on my sweater!"

Gompers is now my favorite ungulate to be named after the first president of the American Federation of Labor.
But Dipper spends most of his time grumping about things, whether it be a goat on his bed, a woodpecker pecking at his head, or Grunkle Stan sneaking up on him and scaring him with a mask of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

I'm actually impressed with how he fit his fez underneath that thing.
Dipper's voiceover explains that Grunkle Stan transformed his house into a tourist trap full of oddities and tchotchkes called "the Mystery Shack." For example...
The magic of Disney, ladies and gentlemen. Or possibly the magic of Mike.
And Dipper and Mabel were being put to work in the Shack without pay, keeping with the 6th and 111th Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. For some odd reason, Dipper isn't a fan of the borderline child labor. But Mabel, ever the optimist, has taken to boy hunting. Yeah, she's at that age. Could be worse, though.

She'll grow out of it. Hopefully.
Mabel's current random target has picked up her "Do you like me?" note and is going through his options.
Boy: "'Yes,' 'Definitely'... 'Absolutely'?"
Mabel: "I rigged it!"

Dipper, cleaning a jar of eyeballs, tells her to tone down the crazy, but Mabel insists that this is a prime opportunity for her to have a summer romance, what with it being summer and all. We get some clips of her previous attempts at flirting, which... well, she's confident. I'll give her that.

Still, she needs to develop some standards.
But if there's one thing you can say about Mabel, she doesn't give up easily. 

Mabel: "I wouldn't be surprised if the man of my dreams walked through that door right now."

Cue Grunkle Stan entering, making some grody old man noises. He's got a bunch of signs that he needs somebody to take into the spooky woods to nail to trees.

Dipper: "Not it."
Mabel: "Not it!"
Soos: "Also not it."
Grunkle Stan: "Nobody asked you, Soos."
Soos: "I know, and I'm comfortable with that."

Ladies and gentlemen, Soos.

Voiced by Alex Hirsch, he is not only the resident handyman of the Shack, but he's also the number one source of solid one-liners in the show.

Also the number one source of the phrase "'Sup, dude."
Instead, Grunkle Stan gives the task to his teenage cashier, Wendy. She declines on the grounds that she can't reach the signs from her chair. Well, you can't argue with that logic, so by merit of "eeny-meeny-miney-you" the job goes to Dipper. Dipper takes this moment to complain about this town and how unsettlingly weird it is.

Dipper: "Just today, my mosquito bites spelled out 'BEWARE.'"
Grunkle Stan: "That says 'BEWARB.'"

Well, can't argue with that logic, either.
Grunkle Stan insists that all the creepy local legends were cooked up by conmen like himself to peddle crappy merchandise to tourists. Speaking of tourists, they need signs to follow, so Dipper ends up nailing them to trees outside in no time. But one of the trees is too hard for the nail. It also echoes. And if a simple metal tree wasn't strange enough for you, Dipper finds a secret door with a strange machine inside, as opposed to a door to Christmastown like one would expect. Dipper fiddles with the machine, and ends up triggering another secret panel in the ground, scaring away Gompers.

Inside the panel are two millipedes, some cobwebs, and a book. On the cover is a golden hand with six fingers and a number 3. A cursory glance through the book reveals a record of all the strange happenings of Gravity Falls. Floating eyes, giant vampire bats, gnomes, cursed doors.... and a message.

Dipper: "Unfortunately, my suspicions have been confirmed. I'm being watched. I must hide this book before He finds it. Remember, in Gravity Falls, there is no one you can trust."

This is big. This is heavy. Looks like Dipper's going to have to keep this secret from everyone.

Mabel: "Hello! Whatcha reading, some nerd thing?"

Of course, he'll make an exception for his sister.

Dipper: "Uh... let's go somewhere private."

What, you don't trust Gompers?
Back in the Shack, Dipper fills Mabel in on the weird book filled with all sorts of oddities.

Dipper: "And get this: after a certain point, the pages just stop, like the guy who was writing it mysteriously disappeared."

Well, isn't it obvious? Guy with six fingers? Suddenly disappeared?

Case closed.
But before Dipper can start wondering about things, the doorbell rings. As it turns out, Mabel has a date. She runs to the door and let's her new boytoy in as Grunkle Stan asks what Dipper's reading. Thinking quickly, Dipper switches the Journal out for a copy of...

Dipper: "...Gold Chains for Old Men Magazine?"
Grunkle Stan: "That's a good issue."

Mabel soon returns with her new boyfriend.

Moral: Don't meet people on Craig's List.
Mabel: "We met at the cemetery."

Everybody apparently ignores the fact that Mabel was hanging out at the cemetery and we learn this guy's real name.

Guy: "Uhh.... Normal... Man?"
Mabel: "He means 'Norman.'"
Dipper: "Are you bleeding, Norman?"
Norman: "...It's jam."

Grunkle Stan seems to be okay with them going off to hold hands, but Dipper's a bit suspicious of the pale, lanky teen with mysterious substances on his face who moves like parts of him don't work. In the attic, he consults the Journal. As it turns out, there's a local monster that bears a striking resemblance to teenagers with their bad attitudes and pale skin. The Undead.

Dipper watches from the attic as Norman lunges at Mabel... only to put a necklace of daisies around her neck.

Dipper: "Is my sister really dating a zombie, or am I just going nuts?"
Soos: "It's a dilemma to be sure."
Dipper: "Ahh!"
Soos: "I couldn't help but overhear you talking aloud to yourself in this empty room."

Dipper asks for Soos' expert opinion on whether or not Norman is or is not an undead.

Soos: "Hmm... How many brains did you see the guy eat?"

Soos tells Dipper that all he needs is evidence. Otherwise, he'll look crazy. Of course, this is coming from the guy who thinks the mailman's a werewolf.

I mean, come on, where's the oiled-up six pack? "Werewolf" my foot.
Dipper: "As always, Soos, you're right."
Soos: "My wisdom is both a blessing... and a curse."
Grunkle Stan: "Soos! The portable toilets are clogged again!"
Soos: "I am needed elsewhere."

So Dipper takes it upon himself to film Mabel's date with Norman. He finds a lot of circumstantial evidence, the type of stuff that could fill a humorous montage, but nothing concrete. Instead, he goes to confront Mabel before she can go out with Norman again. Mabel proudly shows of a hickey on her cheek, alarming Dipper until she laughs and reveals that it's not a hickey, just a harmless result from practicing kissing on a leaf blower. Hey, it wouldn't be the most painful thing a leaf blower has ever done to lovelorn souls. Specifically male ones. You're welcome for that mental image.

Dipper: "No, Mabel, listen. I'm trying to tell you that Norman is not what he seems!"
Mabel: "You think he might be a vampire? That would be so awesome!"

I want to warn all you vampire fetishists out there that the Law of Averages still applies. Odds are, the object of your fantasies would look less like Cedric Diggory and more like....

"'Til the cock crows," indeed....
Dipper opens the Journal and shows his sister... the page on Gnomes on accident. Then he flips to the page on the undead. Because Gnomes just aren't villain material.

Orcs? Yes. Elves? Definitely. Dwarves? Absolutely. Gnomes? Hell no.

A year or so back, when I ran my D&D campaign, I had a Gnome villain. Talbot the Mad, they called him. Within half an hour, the players had killed him, looted his body (taking the obscenely powerful magic items he never had the chance to use), and thrown him down a bottomless pit.

Moral of the story, Gnomes will never be a credible threat. And if that ever happens, I'll eat my hat.

Back in the episode, Dipper is trying to convince Mabel of Norman's undeadery.

Dipper: "He never blinks! Have you noticed that?"
Mabel: "Maybe he's blinking when you're blinking."

But Mabel adamantly insists on going on her date at 5 o'clock. And soon enough, the clock hits five and the two are off on their latest date. Dipper reviews his footage, and laments that Norman's probably just a normal teenager who likes to do normal things with Mabel. Hopscotch, walks in the park, reattaching his hand after it falls off....

His left hand. That fell off his right arm.
Dipper: "Wait, what?!"

He rushes to get Grunkle Stan, but he's busy with a group of tourists.

Grunkle Stan: "And here we have 'Rock That Looks Like a Face Rock: The Rock That Looks Like a Face.'"
Tourist: "Does it look like a rock?"
Grunkle Stan: "No, it looks like a face."
Tourist 2: "Is it a face?"
Grunkle Stan: "It's a rock that looks like a face!"

Man, I'm having flashbacks of the time I used to work at that gas station. How hard is it to understand that we don't carry Vernors?

With no other choice, Dipper tries to persuade Wendy to let him borrow the keys to the Mystery Shack's golf cart. Now, she's a responsible employee, so it's going to be tough going trying to convince her to let him operate a piece of equipment he's not cleared for.

Dipper: "I need to borrow the golf cart so I can save my sister from a zombie!"
Wendy: "Try not to hit any pedestrians."

And that, dear readers, is the reason why Wendy is awesome.

One of the reasons. One of the many reasons.
Before Dipper sets off, Soos has some gear for him. A shovel...

Soos: "This is for the zombies."

And a bat.

Soos: "And this is in case you see a piƱata."

Meanwhile, Norman and Mabel are alone in the woods. And he has a terrible secret he wants to share with her. As "Please be a vampire" plays on a loop through Mabel's head, Norman unzips, revealing....


Gnome: "Is this weird? Is this too weird?"

No, I think this is the regular amount of weird.
The gnome goes on to explain the dealio.

Gnome: "So. We're gnomes. First off. Get that one out of the way."
Mabel: "Uhhhh..."
Gnome: "I'm Jeff, and here we have Carson, Steve, Jason, and... I'm sorry, I always forget your name."
Shmebulock: "Shmebulock!"
Jeff: "Shmebulock, yes."

Yes, these majestic forest denizens (mostly) have mundane names, following in the tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien, who named the three Trolls from The Hobbit Tom, Bert, and Bill Huggins.

Jeff explains that the gnomes need a new queen. And I really hope that queens don't serve the same function for gnomes as they do for bees. I'm not seeing a lot of female gnomes is all I'm saying....  And let's not even get started on what might have happened to the old queen.

Mabel lets them down as eloquently as we've come to expect from her.

Mabel: "You're really sweet, but, I'm a girl, you're gnomes... and it's like, 'What?' Yikes."
Jeff: "We understand. We'll never forget you Mabel. ...Because we're gonna kidnap you."

Well, looks like I'm going to have to buy a hat and eat it.

They take her to the deep, dark part of the forest. You can tell it's magical because the mushrooms there are huge. Dipper soon pulls up as the gnomes are busy trying to tie his sister down.

Jeff: "The more you struggle, the more awkward this is going to be for everybody!"

Let's, uh, not read too much into a Gulliver's Travels homage. For the love of Odin.
Luckily, Mabel's fighting back. She kicks one in the stomach so hard that he needs to take a second and throw up a rainbow in the corner.

Oooh, the rainbow only tastes good going down, not up....
Dipper quickly checks the book for help, but the Author never discovered a weakness for the gnomes. And when the gnomes succeed in tying Mabel down, he puts the book away and rushes in without a plan to demand his sister back.

Jeff: "This is all really just a big misunderstanding, you see? Your sister's not in danger. She's just marrying all one-thousand of us and becoming our gnome queen for all eternity. Isn't that right, honey?"
Mabel: "You guys are butt-faces!"

Whoa, harsh language, Disney.

As Jeff waxes on about the ancient power of the gnomes, Dipper remembers that he has a shovel and the advantage of height. Within seconds, Mabel is free and the Pines twins are escaping. But Jeff has a trick up his sleeve. He summons all the gnomes to him, and they all merge like Constructicons into Devastator. A gigantic gnomeish shape emerges from the forest and chases after the twins, bringing us back to where we were at the beginning.

The chase takes them through the forest until they return to the Mystery Shack. The cart is wrecked. The shovel is useless.

And for some reason, there's a bald guy over in the bushes. I'm sure he's not important.
With their only chance of help busy showing tourists "The Most Distracting Object in the World," Mabel has no choice. She surrenders to the gnomes. Dipper objects, but Mabel insists.

Mabel: "Just this once. Trust me."

Dipper obliges and stands back while Mabel tells Jeff that she'll go with them. Jeff exists the gnomes' gestalt form and slips the ring on her finger.

Mabel: "You may now kiss the bride."

As Jeff puckers up for a little sugar, Mabel whips out the leaf blower she had out here earlier and sucks him up like this was Ratchet and Clank. And just like in Ratchet and Clank, she aims her sucked-up smaller enemy at a larger enemy, namely the gnome-colossus. It bursts into hundreds of smaller gnomes, which are all blown away. Except for the one that gets stuck in some litter and is taken away by Gompers, the true hero of the day.

This night, Gompers dines on gnome-flesh.
Mabel apologizes for ignoring Dipper's advice, and Dipper tells her that there's nothing to apologize for.

Yep. That's accurate.
As they re-enter the Shack, the miserly Grunkle Stan greets them as only he can.
Grunkle Stan: "Yeesh, you two get hit by a bus or something?"

As they head to their room, Grunkle Stan calls them back. He badly lies about having overstocked inventory and tells them that they can each have something from the store for free. Dipper grabs the hat that he was wearing in the show's intro, and Mabel does a Legend of Zelda-style spin before holding her new grappling hook above her head.

You got the Grappling Hook! Set it to and use it with Y, Z, or X.
That night, Dipper writes in the Journal about his feelings for the first and last time in the series. It's your basic "Today I learned about trust" summary that honestly feels more at home in an episode of Doug. But the hour grows late, and Mabel turns off the light as only she can.

Huh. Mabel's putting out the light and putting out the light.
As Dipper's voiceover wonders about what other secrets the town of Gravity Falls may hold, Grunkle Stan, clad only in boxers and undershirt, presses some buttons on the gift shop's vending machine. The machine swings out, revealing a secret staircase. Grunkle Stan heads down the stairs to who-knows-where.

His vending machine is full of secrets. And Snickers bars.
And so, the episode ends. But not before a reprise of the vomiting gnome distracts us from the secret code in the credits. That's right, a secret code.

Yeah, yeah, Kltpzyxm.
The clue to solve the code is actually in the theme song. At the very end, there's a mysterious whisper. If you reverse it, it says "Three letters back." This is known as an Atbash cypher. If you apply the solution to today's random credits gibberish, the message is "Welcome to Gravity Falls."

And that's just scratching the surface of the tip of the iceberg. Today, we've seen subtle foreshadowing for things not only in the first season, but also the second. And the as-of-yet-to-be-produced third season, probably.

But for now, let's review the first episode and see what it tells us of things to come.


  1. Still cant believe that not only Alex Hirsch created great show but he also does amazing work voicing some of the best characters in it, few didn't even showed up yet!

    Now, I'm really curious what other non-comic shows you picked.

    1. Well, I know for a fact that I'll be adding one of them to the blog this Fall, but the third one might have to wait a little bit.