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If you’re new to the blog or just want to revisit from the beginning, click HERE to read the review for “Tourist Trapped”.
BE WARNED – THIS IS A MAJOR EPISODE AND THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.
Previously on Gravity Falls:Dipper and Mabel Pines have been spending the summer in Gravity Falls with their Grunkle Stan – or someone who claims to be him. Beneath the tourist trap the Mystery Shack, Stan has opened a portal thirty years in the making, which is almost ruined when Dipper, Mabel and their friend Soos discover and plan on stopping it when it threatens to destroy the universe. After a heated debate between her, Dipper and Stan before it is set to fully activate, Mabel decides to listen to her Grunkle and not abort the machine at the last second. This results in the world being spared and a figure from Stan’s past returning – his long-lost twin brother, the Author of the Journals.
Glass Shard Beach, 48 Years Earlier…
Two boys playfully race each other to a boarded-up old cave near the shore. One punches the rotted wood away while the other looks around carefully with a flashlight. Before continuing their exploring, they leave behind their names so nobody will forget that they were there.
Gravity Falls, Present Day
Stan is overjoyed that after thirty years of planning and waiting, his brother has returned to him at last. He goes to embrace him –
– and gets punched in the face.
The Author (JK Simmons) berates Stan for doing something so risky and refuses to thank him for bringing him back to this dimension, especially after what happened between them thirty years ago. Before things can turn too violent, Mabel asks the question that’s on everyone’s minds; what the hell is going? Stan introduces the Author to the newest members of their family, “Shermie’s” grandkids (OHMIGOD WE NOW HAVE A NAME OF ANOTHER PINES FAMILY MEMBER KEEP BREATHING SHELF, KEEP BREATHING…)
Dipper shares my geeky enthusiasm at finally coming face to face with the Author and Mabel just thinks it’s cool to hare a six-fingered handshake. Stan assures his brother that they’re the only ones who know about all this – and also the agents stationed right outside the Shack searching for them. It seems as though they’ll be trapped down there for a while, so what better way to pass the time than to shed some light a couple of mysterious backstories? Mabel, Soos, Dipper and the two Stans – Stanford and Stanley – settle in as they share their tale.
Glass Shard Beach, 48 Years Earlier…
In the lead paint district of Glass Shard Beach, New Jersey, lives a small family above a pawn shop – the no-nonsense father Filbrick Pines (Jonathan Banks), the pathological liar/phone psychic mother, and the twin boys, nerdy Stanford and devil-may-care Stanley Pines. Stanford was not only highly intelligent, but was also born with an unusual birth defect – a sixth finger on each hand. Both are as different from the other as they can be, but the closest friends and siblings you could hope for. Their days mostly consist of wandering the beach in search of adventure. On one such occasion, they find an old boat in a cave which they begin the years-long task of fixing it up themselves.
Of course their oddball personalities make them a target for bullies, especially Stanford, but Stanley tells him that one day they’re gonna sail away from this small-minded town and be an unstoppable team of treasure hunting babe magnets.
By the time they’re in high school, Stanford is racking up honors while Stanley…well, he coasts by on his brother’s smarts, but they’re still inseparable. Then one day they’re called to the principal’s office. The principal informs Stanford and his family that a high-tech college on the West Coast has taken note of Stanford’s genius and will be visiting the upcoming science fair to check out his experiment. If all goes well, it could mean a scholarship and a ticket to fame and fortune.
Alone on the beach, Stanley reminds Stanford that they’ve nearly got their boat up and running and it’s a thousand times better than some crummy old Ivy League college across the country. Stanford admits that he likes what the college has to offer, though. But if they’re not impressed by what he has to show them, then he’ll take up treasure hunting with Stanley.
Afraid of what’s left for him once the dynamic duo is split up forever, Stanley takes his anger out on Stanford’s perpetual motion machine and accidentally breaks it. He hastily attempts to repair it and flees the scene of the crime. The next day an eager Stanford prepares to show off his machine to the college board, but when he pulls away the sheet he finds it’s busted. The board is unimpressed and leaves before Stanford has a chance to fix it. Stanford is heartbroken, but it turns to rage when he sees an empty bag of his brother’s favorite candy left behind.
At home he confronts Stanley and things quickly spiral out of control when their father gets involved and HOLY CRAP IS THAT BABY “SHERMIE”?!
Well, saying things go pear-shaped for Stanley is putting it nicely as his brother insists that he intentionally sabotaged his project because he couldn’t handle being separated, and – somewhat understandably – doesn’t take Stanley’s optimistic spin on the situation as well as Stanley hoped. Filbrick takes Stanford’s side, mainly because he’s furious that Stanley cost the family a million-dollar future. He kicks him out and tells him not to come back until he makes a fortune. Stanley begs Stanford to not leave him hanging, but by this point Stanford is past all anger yet can’t take back how he feels. All he can do is take one last sad look at the brother he believed ruined his life and close the curtains on him.
With no home, no money, and his treasure hunting not panning out as expected, Stan gets a job as a salesman peddling cheap products that cause more messes than they fix. When Stan refuses to give refunds, he’s pursued to the state border by an angry mob. In nearly every state (and sometimes outside the country), Stanley forges a new identity, attempts to sell his junky merchandise, and is chased out by the law, hence the box full of fake IDs. He tells the kids he was living the dream of being his own independent person, but what we see tells a different story – a lonely, broken young man living out of his car, calling his family but hanging up before he can find the courage to say anything.
Gravity Falls, 36 Years Ago…
After parting ways with Stanley, Stanford goes to the nation’s second choice of college, Backupsmore University. He works twice as hard with what he was given, graduates early, and earns a substantial grant for his scientific research. Since he was a child Stanford was always drawn to anomalies, mostly due to having one of his own, so he decides to do some studies on the subject in a little backwoods town where they seem to occur daily: Gravity Falls, Oregon. No sooner does he arrive there than a giant tree steals his car, so he knows he’s in the right place. To keep track of all his findings, Stanford decides to keep a series of Journals.
Everywhere Stanford turns he finds new anomalies, new strange and paranormal discoveries, and he’s in hog heaven. The one question that remains is where is the source of it all? To that effect he designs a portal that can open up a gateway to a dimension beyond his own where the strangeness seems to originate from, but he can’t build it on his own. He calls his roommate and college friend Fiddleford McGucket away from a garage where he’s working on the foolish notion of mobile computers with his buddy Steve and asks him to join him in Gravity Falls to help complete his work.
After weeks of labor, Fiddleford and Stanford run their first test on the portal. Unfortunately Fiddleford gets caught in the test dummy’s lifeline and is dragged headfirst into the portal. Stanford rescues his friend just in time, but something’s not right. Once Fiddleford snaps out of his catatonic state, he speaks in agitated tongues.
Fiddleford cries that this portal is too dangerous and it must be shut down before it destroys the world. When Stanford refuses to turn his back on his life’s work, Fiddleford quits and starts his downward journey of looking to forget what he saw. Stanford declares he can continue just fine on his own. Once he’s alone though, he hears ominous whispers in his head…
Fearing for his sanity, Stanford realizes there’s only one person he can trust to help him.
Stanley finds Stanford irritable and overly paranoid; the cabin Stanford has called home looks more like a sci-fi version of a house seen on Hoarders. After dragging his brother in and checking his eyes for something he won’t elaborate on, Stanford says he made a big mistake and shows him the portal he made. He explains that this gateway could be used for terrible destruction in the wrong hands, which is why he turned it off and hid the Journals that hold the instructions on operating it. The only one he has left is the very first one he wrote, which he gives to Stanley with very specific instructions –
Take it somewhere far, far away from here and bury it where it won’t be found.
Having come all this way for his brother hoping for a reconciliation only to be told to leave again doesn’t sit well with Stanley.
Stanford won’t go into detail about what he’s been through, but Stanley’s pissed off enough to rant about what his life’s been like since they last saw each other. “I’ve been to prison in three different countries! I once had to chew my out of the trunk of a car! You think YOU’VE got problems? I’ve got a mullet, Stanford!!”
The two fight over who’s been the more selfish sibling and who ruined the other’s life and it collapses into fisticuffs when Stanley almost succeeds burning the Journal. As the two tussle over the book, they bump into the equipment which turns on the Portal. Stanford kicks Stanley on to a light which painfully burns into his back.
Realizing he’s hurt his brother, Stanford tries to apologize, but this injury heaped on top of the insults is the last straw for Stanley. He shouts that if he cares more about his bloody work than his own brother, he can keep it, and shoves the Journal into Stanford’s face – which pushes him into the path of the Portal’s vacuum. Stanford is dragged inside screaming, and it’s too late for Stanley to save him. As soon as Stanford has disappeared from view, the Portal goes kaboom, and no amount of Stanley’s remorseful screaming and pounding on it can bring his brother back.
Stanley spends many a sleepless night trying to repair and work the Portal, but without the other two Journals it’s useless. All he has is the one Journal, the one key to returning his brother dead or alive from wherever he went.
He’s forced to go into town when he runs out of food, though it’s not until it’s time to pay that he realizes he’s broke. Then one of the townsfolk recognizes him as the stranger who’s set up shop near the woods. This attracts a lot of unwanted attention until Stan overhears them saying they’d pay to see what kind of weird spooky things he’s got up there.
And with a little renovation and some good showmanship, the Mystery Shack is born.
Stanley takes Stanford’s name and the moniker Mr. Mystery, fakes a car crash to kill off “Stanley” so no one will raise any questions, and uses the Mystery Shack’s profits to pay the mortgage and make sure he keeps the house to himself while he figures out how to reactivate the portal. For the first time he’s successful at being a cheat and is happy with himself – except for his biggest regret, losing his sibling again. All the lies he told to everyone were to make sure his plans of bringing the real Stanford home wouldn’t be put at risk.
Gravity Falls, Present Day
With his story done, Dipper apologizes to Grunkle Stan for not believing in him. But all their talking has alerted the agents to their whereabouts and reminded everyone of their presence (let’s face it, you forgot all about them too, didn’t you?) Dipper remembers he has the memory ray from the Society of the Blind Eye in his bag which Stanford hooks up to a device that amplifies its power through the totem pole outside the Mystery Shack. The agents are directly hit and Stanford, posing as an official from Washington, tells them that their mission was a bust and it’s time for them to return home – once they surrender all the data they’ve gathered in the Falls, of course.
After leaving the data drive in Gompers’ capable hooves, Mabel and Dipper congratulate Stanford – who insists on them calling him “Ford” – over his tactful deceit. Stan sends the kids to bed before Dipper can ask Ford all the questions he has about the Journal, and a bewildered Soos goes home.
Once alone, Stan and Ford come to an agreement – Stan can stay for the rest of the summer to take care of Dipper and Mabel while Ford cleans up any remaining problems the Portal may have left. But once summer’s ended Stan must leave, give him back his name, and close down the Mystery Shack. Stan, still angry and hurt that Ford never even thanked him for rescuing him, agrees on the condition that Ford stays away from the kids, since he doesn’t want him endangering the only family he’s got now.
Dipper and Mabel have been listening to the conversation upstairs, and what they hear worries them. Things seem so much more complicated now that Stan and the Author’s pasts have been brought to light. Mabel fears that one day even they might turn out as Ford and Stan did. Dipper promises that it would never happen and goes to sleep right away, but Mabel lies wide awake long into the night.
In keeping with the previous episode, “A Tale of Two Stans” provides answers to questions that have plagued fans since the series began, once again proving that some mysteries don’t have to always be kept in the dark. While there are some tantalizing teases towards other things in the the past that may come into play in the future, there’s plenty of new information here that will satisfy any fan of Gravity Falls; the writers themselves were well aware of how much they had to live up to after the outcome of “Not What He Seems”, hell, they use Soos to perfectly lampshade that fact by having him hope that Stan’s past matches with the fanfictions he wrote about him, a statement anyone who’s gotten that deep into the fandom can relate to.
The real draw here, however, is the drama between the original set of Pines twins. It plays out like a Greek tragedy with no real villains or evil schemes, just the human flaws of two close brothers that wind up driving the other away. It’s fascinating to see how Stan turned out the way he did from his obsession with making money to why he holds his family so close. And of course, it introduces the real and dangerous possibility that Dipper and Mabel could go the same way as Stan and Ford. It’s easy to see which twin is similar to in the first generation, but who or what could cause that ultimate rift between them is anyone’s guess. I forgot how many laughs there are in this episode since I expected nothing but drama when I went to rewatch it for this review, but once again the humor doesn’t disappoint in spite of how heavy the emotions can be at times. Fascinating from beginning to end, “A Tale of Two Stans” is a cautionary tale about ambition and family that shouldn’t be forgotten or will be any time soon.
And the Internet Went:
End Credits Craziness: Soos waking up a tired Wendy with a phone call trying to inform her of everything that happened in the past 24 hours, and in the process perfectly reenacting GF fans trying to explain the series thus far to people who have never watched it and have no clue what’s going on.
Callbacks: “BLENDIN WAS HERE” can be seen on a board in Glass Shard Beach, meaning the neurotic time-traveler has been to places other than Gravity Falls. The “Pines! Pines! Pines!” chant from the climax of Scary-oke originates from this episode. The line about Soos writing fanfics about Stan’s life is hinted in a cryptogram in “Dipper & Mabel’s Guide to Mystery and Nonstop Fun!” A restaurant called Hot Belgian Waffles is next to the Pines family residence and is used by Stan in lieu of a swear in “Headhunters” and “Not What It Seems”. The mask Stan used to scare Dipper in “Tourist Trapped” can be seen in his childhood bedroom. Fun fact: the high-five wasn’t widespread until the 1970’s so Ford and Stan’s “high-six” should be anachronistic until you remember Mabel introduced the high-five to pioneers in “The Time-Traveler’s Pig”. The science project next to Ford’s is a Football 1000, a reference to the football machine Stan made up in his short story in “Bottomless Pit!” Octavia the eight-legged cow Mabel rescues in the petting zoo short of “Mabel’s Scrapbook” appears in a book of anomalies Ford is studying in college. A photograph of Stan and Ford boxing is taped inside Stan’s car, a reference to their boxing lessons in “Dreamscaperers”. The Shapeshifter from “Into the Bunker” is seen hatching from an egg. Ford studies a gnome that’s the father of Schmebulock the gnome from “Tourist Trapped”. The mark burned on Stan’s back is the same Dipper assumed to be a tattoo and attempted to learn more about in one of the “Dipper’s Guide to the Unknown” shorts. We learn how Lazy Susan got her lazy eye after one of Ford’s experiments zaps it when she’s part of the first tourist group to visit Stan’s impromptu Mystery Shack. The room where Ford does most of his research and Stan spends his first sleepless nights is the same one from “Carpet Diem”. The postcard Ford sends Stan telling him to come to Gravity Falls is the same one closing out the opening titles of the show. Pictures of Dipper and Mabel taken from “Legend of the Gobblewonker” are seen on Stan’s desk. A young Tyler Cutebiker can be seen cycling with his mom, whom he got his famous catchphrase from. Manly Dan, the teenagers responsible for the ghosts in the Dusk-2-Dawn convenience store, said convenience store and the couple that would become the ghosts, a young Blubs, Tats, Robbie’s dad, Toby Determined, Shandra Jimenez, and the Pizza Guy all lived in Gravity Falls at the time Stan and Ford came to live there. On the “very real report” Ford reads to the agents, Mabel has drawn a “snadger” a possible hybrid of a snake and a badger that was paired up by magic in “The Love God”.
And here’s an emotional one to end on – Wanna know where Stan’s junky boat in “Legend of the Gobblewonker” got the name “Stan-O-War”? It originally belonged to the boat the brothers were sprucing up.
You may recommence your tears now.
Crowning Line of Hilawesomeness: While Stan’s product pitches and his mullet rant come close, I have to give it to Mabel’s heartfelt if forced attempt at reconciliation halfway through the episode –
“Oh! This is SO Sad!! I know what you two little broken teacups need – to hug it out…Hug it out…Hug train’s comin’ in the station…Hug-a-palooza, 2000!”
Mabel SWatch (Sweater Watch): The same key sweater from the previous episode.
Dear Princess Celestabelleabethabelle: Go make up your own lesson. I need to go buy some more Kleenex.
Have You Seen the Agents?
The agents are, alas, gone for good, so we can say farewell to this category for the rest of the series. I know, I’ll miss it too.
Where’s that wacky triangle at?
Next time on Gravity Falls, grab your twelve-sided dice and stock up on +12 swords, we’re exploring Dungeons, Dungeons & More Dungeons! See you then!