Monday, April 4, 2016

Review: Gravity Falls "The Time Traveler's Pig"

NewtCave Warning: The Recap preceding this is filled with a long, possibly confusing rant on time travel. Any time travelers who get confused by temporal mechanics may wish to read something else for the last few minutes.

Gravity Falls, being a hodge-podge of science fiction and fantasy would be sadly incomplete without a time travel episode.

Now, I sort of gave this episode the business when I examined how its time travel isn't exactly flawless. On the one hand, you could argue that those discrepancies are just another paradox that Blendin is clearing up. On the other hand, you could argue that, in the end, it doesn't really matter.

"Uh, it matters to those having to deal with the mess. Blendin changed the date of first contact with the Ferengi."
Time travel is an inherently difficult topic to involve because very few writers can catch every single logical flaw in their own work. I could poke holes in Gravity Falls, Star Trek, Doctor Who, and even the Back to the Future films which I've been holding up as some kind of paragon. Heck, I did heavily criticize the big problem with the time travel in Part II.

But unlike Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Back to the Future, this episode isn't trying to stand up as a well-thought-out time travel story. It's telling the tale of two kids screwing around in history. And at that, this episode succeeds. Of course, that depends on how you react to the plot itself. Or the resolution to it.

Gravity Falls has already established that Dipper has a crush on Wendy. Wooing Wendy is his goal. If you root for Dipper, you naturally want to see him succeed at this. On the other hand, Mabel's obsession with Waddles has just been established. In the audiences mind, Mabel+Waddles does not equate with Dipper+Wendy. And therein lies the problem. The episode is working uphill to convince the audience that having Mabel adopt Waddles is worthy of supplanting Dipper's romantic success with Wendy.

What Mabel wants and what Dipper wants are supposed to be mutually exclusive and pretty much equal. We're not supposed to want to see Waddles end up with Pacifica, but we're also not supposed to want to see Wendy end up with Robbie. But the audience has been at least aware of Dipper's crush on Wendy since "The Inconveniencing." So the audience is probably inclined to agree with Dipper's desires here.

Of course, I'm making broad generalizations regarding the audience here. Some people hate Wendy, some people think Waddles is the best thing ever.

Still, the point remains: This episode's plot is predicated on the audience seeing Mabel ending up with Waddles as a good thing, despite Dipper's loss.

But even if you take away any bias an audience member might feel for one result or another, there's still another problem.

Dipper has a time machine. They can try again. I know that Dipper says that he can't risk screwing up everything he worked so hard for, but that's a crock of crap. It's a time machine. You have infinite chances.

My big problem is that Mabel could easily win her pig before she has to lift up the Mystery Shack gutter to redirect the ball. Either that, or they could travel to earlier that day and set up a stick or something to hold that part of the roof up. My point is that there are untried options here, and that's what bugs me more than any nitpicky time travel minutiae.

Though I understand that contriving a way to teach today's subtle lesson must have been difficult.

Your happiness is not worth taking away someone else's happiness.

The idea is that Dipper is in the wrong during this episode because in order to make himself happy by changing the past, he has to actively ruin Mabel's day.

In theory, this is a great lesson, which could be illustrated well. But it runs into a buttload of snags; the fact that the audience might rather see Dipper end up with Wendy, the fact that it can look like Mabel is just being selfish and overreacting over a pig, or the fact that they don't even try to try again and get both options.

Dipper Pines

Dipper's character development is coming along. Though he's still shy and nervous, he's much less indecisive than he was back when he kept making lists and plans.

Thanks, Tyrone.
Still, his methodical approach to problems is far from gone, as can be seen by his trigonometry.

Mabel Pines
This episode cemented some people's hatred of Mabel because she messed with the one thing that a lot of fans take more seriously than anything.


But I already talked about that.

The big question when all is said and done is whether or not Mabel's month-long head-banging was real, or just a show for her brother, whom she knew would be time traveling to see her in the future. And that can color your view over whether or not Mabel lost her best porcine pal, or if she's just very dedicated to her tantrums.

There's a slug on her. It doesn't get much more dedicated.
Wendy Corduroy
Treated like a prize to be won. Her characterization is slipping, and that's the main problem with the episodes that are about winning her affection. Dipper never considers for one moment that Wendy might actually be happy with Robbie. But since he hates Robbie, this is understandable.

Unfortunately, this isn't the end of Wendy being merely a trophy to be slung over the shoulder like a sack of potatoes and claimed for all the world to see. Fortunately, this issue will be addressed. Eventually.

Blendin Blandin (Justin Roiland)
I like him. I think he works as a counterpart to your typical super-time-agent like Jack Harkness; he's basically an accountant sent out into the field. Justin Roiland's performance is pretty comedically solid, if overly-panicky, and that's no surprise, since he ended up playing the similarly-panicky Morty of his own later show, Rick and Morty.

I didn't originally watch this show from the beginning, so I was never involved in the big mystery of who this mysterious guy in the backgrounds was. Though I can appreciate the detail of adding him into the backgrounds of earlier episodes. That's a stroke of genius.

While everyone was distracted by the sammich....
Usually, revisiting old episodes is done by showing what was going on off-camera during earlier events, not by adding quick Easter eggs to be wondered over until the time travel episode. That shows either a level of respect for the audience, or a knack for trolling. Probably both, combined with an insane amount of planning.

Alex Hirsch, ladies and gentlemen.

And he's about to top that trick....
Waddles (Dee Bradley Baker)
Finally, an explanation for that pig in the opening titles. I like Waddles. Being a fat, lazy, pig, he works as a perfect straight man for Mabel to force her ways onto and/or bounce her particular brand of laziness off of.

Blendin's suit is really cool, if impractical, and time reversing itself is visually interesting, although it raises some questions as to how earlier events involving Dipper and Mabel proceeded without them... backwards.

Other than that, I'd say it was a typical example of Gravity Falls's animation, with lots of energy, good design, and attention to detail.

Okay, most of the time, anyway.
Final Thoughts

Not quite, Stan.
While is has quite a few flaws, this episode is still enjoyable as a goofy time travel romp. So if you can enjoy it a just a bit of fun, as opposed to taking Dipper's love story too seriously, then you'll probably like it.

Next time, Dipper for his most difficult challenge he want to experience the work is still power of the fist of legend Rumble McSkirmish. Fight-o! Challenge again!

Then let's see you then!

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