When you’re a child, one summer can make all the difference. Sometimes, during those few months, children can discover new parts of themselves, change themselves completely, thrive or fail when thrust into unfamiliar situations, build or destroy relationships and even grow up quite a bit. But no matter how monumental or life changing, all summers end. And so, fittingly, does Gravity Falls.
Alex Hirsch’s Gravity Falls could have gone on eternally with the twins Dipper and Mabel never aging and their summer with their Great-Uncle Stan in the weird, magical town of Gravity Falls never ending. Hirsch made it clear that it wasn’t the network canning him that made the show end and that would be obvious even if he hadn’t said anything. Gravity Falls was a phenomenon if you looked across the internet.
It gained a hugely devoted fanbase of both children and adults, who were willing to weather hiatus after hiatus (It’s hard to believe that despite only being two seasons, the show’s been going since 2012) and come back to each new episode with just as much enthusiasm. The fans embraced the mystery aspect of the show with all their might, eagerly analyzing each clue dropped and weaving huge conspiracy theories.
They fell in love with the characters as well. Mabel was loved for her creativity, quirkiness and can-do cheerful attitude. She delightfully embraced silliness and saved the day in her own special way many times, but she was not without her insecurities and struggles. She constantly feared being alone and considered herself less smart and talented than her brother.
Dipper, meanwhile, was the incredibly awkward kid all of us remember being, constantly feeling isolated and mocked, wishing he could be as socially intelligent as his sister. But his brains, willingness to work hard and sacrifice and deep loyalty to those he cared about always carried the day.
Then there was Stan, who at first seemed merely to be a crusty old man, but beneath the rough exterior was someone who cared deeply for his family and worked in secret to pull off a miracle. The cast changed up in Season 2 and Stan’s troubled childhood and tortured relationship with his brother was bought to the forefront.
With this much to work with and so many fans, Gravity Falls could have easily gone on indefinitely, but one thing that made this show different from lesser cartoons was that it had a story to tell, from start to finish. It refused to just stay in one place and become meaningless. It chose to make its characters truly grow up and it chose to make its summer truly end.
The finale of Gravity Falls was a near-perfect cap on the series that represented a lot of what made the show as a whole enjoyable. We saw the little town completely consumed with horrifying, mindbending weirdness that pushes past what we expect to be shown on kid’s TV- who would expect we’d ever see someone’s face turned inside out on a Disney show? Or episodes back, ghostly dead animals with bleeding eyeballs?
But more importantly than that, we saw the relationships and conflicts the show has been building up to so carefully come to a head. Much like the fans of the show, Mabel had a hard time accepting that this summer would end. The fear of losing her brother who’s always been there for her and fear of leaving childhood behind made her wish she could stay in Gravity Falls eternally. But things have to change and with her brother’s support, she realized that. In the same vein, Dipper in turn realized he was able to face everything because of his sister and it would be a mistake to part from her. The show sends the message to viewers that you can’t force things to stay the same forever, but letting go and moving on doesn’t mean letting go of those you love.
In fact, the Gravity Falls finale did what’s very hard for finales to pull off- it bought the entirety of its cast together and showed how much they had grown and what made them special and it celebrated the best aspects of the story gleefully and unrestrainedly, while still delivering a clear conclusion and emotional punch.
The sheer amazingness of seeing the whole town come together to turn the Mystery Shack into a giant anime-style fighting robot to battle an interdimensional demon completely got it across to viewers why this show is awesome. Everyone in the show-from weird living video characters to three headed monsters to the snotty rich girl- got to shine for the finale. We got to see that characters like Pacifica and Gideon were starting to grow into better people, while realistically still retaining some brattiness.
gif by tumblr user doafhat
The real star of the finale was Stan. Truly heart wrenching sacrifices are hard to pull off in fiction, but seeing Stan give up his mind to save his family was among the best ones I’ve seen. It was a perfect resolution to his character arc- in one act he proved all those throughout his childhood who’d called him the “good-for-nothing” twin wrong, finally impressed on his brother how selfless he truly was and resolved the conflict between them and echoed back the words that defined his character- “everything I’ve done, I’ve done for this family”. You wanted to cheer when he punched Bill out and wanted to cry when he faded away saying “I guess I was finally good for something.”
My one complaint about the finale was that the fact simply showing Stan the scrapbook to get his memories back felt a little too easy. I certainly didn’t want it to be a sad ending, but I was expecting Dipper and Mabel to have to pull off some sort of feat to get him back, rather than “oh hey I found this in the living room”. But it’s a very small thing in the end, and the scrapbook does call back to the importance of these relationships and show how worthwhile it was that Mabel was so careful about preserving them.
gif by tumblr user stariousfalls
All in all, the happy ending to Gravity Falls perfectly puts a cap on everything. There’s a bittersweetness as Mabel and Dipper have to leave everyone, but they leave on a good note. Stan proves his worth as Soos’s surrogate father by officially making him his successor and he and Ford move forward to repair their relationship. The “see you next summer” note shows it isn’t a goodbye forever between the characters, just as the fans will probably never truly say goodbye to the show in their hearts.
Alex Hirsch’s innovative experiment was a success in the end- by sticking to telling a complete story and moving on at the right time rather than milking it forever, he created as summer to remember. As Dipper says at the end, Gravity Falls is not on any maps, but we’ll always know where to find it.
gif by doafhat