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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”.
Previously on Gravity Falls:
You ever have something you liked to watch that became difficult to fully enjoy after an event with highly negative repercussions played out in an eerily similar manner to that bit of entertainment?
Well, that’s this episode for me. And House of Cards. And any episode of a comedy show where an amoral highly unqualified lunatic runs for office and we’re supposed to laugh at it because there’s no way anyone like that could actually win and endanger virtually the entire world for their own selfish gain, am I right people? Don’t get me wrong, there’s things I like about The Stanchurian Candidate that I still like now, but in the aftermath of the 2016 election there’s something about it that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
To put it in perspective, The Stanchurian Candidate came out when Mayor Bellweather’s “human” counterpart was just beginning to make his political aspirations known. Like the very idea of Stan running for mayor, it seemed like a complete joke, a joke you could milk the hell out of ’cause, well, see the above response. No matter how much money or renown you have there’s no way anyone that short-sighted, ridiculously self-absorbed, or capable of spewing that much meme-worthy gibberish could actually win. Then, against all odds, though mostly with PR playing around behind the scenes among other things…well, you know the rest.
And suddenly the idea having a meme generator at the helm of the most powerful nation in the world is not funny anymore. Quite the opposite in fact. You need only look at the news to prove that.
But enough dawdling. Let’s look at The Stanchurian Candidate and see why this innocuous episode of a hit animated show was an ominous foreshadowing of things to come.
Grunkle Stan wakes up one morning feeling extra crotchety, not aided by the fact that Mabel’s used his slippers to carry milk in and there’s no more lightbulbs when the one in the kitchen goes out. Stan goes to the store to pick some up but when he accidentally makes his plans to shoplift them known, his last smoke bomb that normally helps him escape just happens to expire. When Stan finally returns home, Ford has already invented a lightbulb that never needs to be replaced. Needless to say, it’s not a good morning.
Stan plops down to watch some tv and comes across some startling news – Gravity Falls’ ancient Mayor Befufftlefumpter has passed away. Best known for being raised by bears and putting the Pines’ nemesis Gideon Gleeful in adult prison as opposed to juvenile hall, a memorial statue is already being carved out of a cliff side. A big meeting will be held at Town Hall to determine who the next mayor will be.
According to the town charter, anyone who wants to run for mayor must literally throw their hat in the ring. The first one is Bud Gleeful, father of the incarcerated phony psychic Gideon Gleeful and owner of the local used car lot. Bud sidesteps any questions about his association with Gideon and goes Oprah on the crowd by giving everyone present a 50% off coupon for his place of business. Dipper is immediately suspicious about Bud, but Soos tells him there’s not much of a choice since most of the people who might qualify for mayor are just a tad strange – except of course for Tad Strange.
Now, a portion of Gravity Falls’ fanbase are also fans of the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, a mock radio show that chronicles life in a small New Mexico town where the paranormal and abnormal are everyday occurrences much like Gravity Falls (except, you know, more Lovecraftian and full bone-chilling black horror than comedy). When it was revealed that the man behind Night Vale would be lending his voice to a character named Tad Strange, to say everyone flipped out would be an understatement. You couldn’t swing a dead unicorn around the Gravity Falls forums without hitting a theory on who this Tad Strange could be and what role he would play in the show. Another thing that fueled the fire was a Reddit AMA hosted by Bill Cipher on Alex Hirsch’s page; when asked what he thought of Tad Strange, Bill answered “He’s a big square”. Some took that to mean that Tad could be related to Bill a geometric way, that he could be his counterpart or from the same dimension with similar powers, that he could be a good guy or even worse than Bill, the list goes on and on.
So without further adieu, Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the wily and weird anomaly that is Tad Strange.
Just when it seems Bud’s bid will go through unchallenged, Dipper comments how it’s a shame Ford didn’t come since he would win in a heartbeat and be a great mayor. This remark pushes Stan throw his fez in the ring in an effort to no longer feel unappreciated by his family. He immediately begins laying the smackdown on Bud and inspires the rest of the town to start throwing their hats in the ring. Bud smiles for the crowd, but in private he rather uncharacteristically tells Stan he’ll make him and his family pay when he wins.
Alone Dipper and Mabel are upfront about how ridiculous the idea of Stan running for mayor is. Stan opens up and says that he wants to be remembered for something more than being a crooked grifter when he’s finally gone since he knows Ford’s smarts will leave him with a lifetime of achievements to be admired over. Dipper can’t shake the feeling that Bud is up to something and the only way to stop him is to ensure Stan wins. Stan is already committed to winning any way he can, the more illegal the better.
The whole of the Pines family and friends get in on running a successful election, starting by going over the traditions set in Gravity Falls’ charter. They’re so silly and out there that they could be featured in a Homestar Runner short and sure enough, my man Matt Chapman was one of the writers on this episode. Following a stump speech taking place on an actual stump, a debate is held where the crowd showers their favorite candidate with birdseed; then a bald eagle is released and gives a kiss to the person it deems worthy of being Mayor, which frankly makes as much sense as how elections are run in the real world. Hell, I’ll take the bird method over the electoral college any day. I mean, come on, Trump tried to take a publicity photo with a bald eagle and it tried to attack him. The symbol of our fucking country. HOW COULD ANYONE NOT TELL THAT MEANT HE WAS THE ABSOLUTE WORST –
Stan gets his first chance to win over the people in a radio interview and promptly succeeds in pissing off nearly everyone with his off-the-cuff and completely horrible answers. But hey, he’s honest unlike other candidates and can totally make up a flawless plan to run the town once he has the seat that doesn’t screw over anyone but himself, am I right?
Memes aside, the interview sinks Stan’s approval ratings to a new number that exists below zero, meaning they have a lot of ground to cover before the stump speech. Dipper and Mabel suggest maybe sticking to the speeches they prepared for him, but Stan doesn’t play by the rules. He’s a loner. A rebel. He doesn’t do things the way the 99-percenters do, he does things bigly. And no amount of godforsaken common sense is gonna shut his trap.
Desperate, Dipper turns to Ford for help. Ford wishes there was a way he could control other people from a distance, then he remembers he invented one for the Regan administration (that explains a lot…) It’s a snazzy tie that can control Stan if he’s wearing it while Dipper has on its twin, making him do and say whatever Dipper does. Grateful that Ford has no qualms about leaving such a morally ambiguous device in the hands of a twelve year-old, Dipper and Mabel try it out on Soos before tricking Stan into putting it on before the speech. Soon they have him saying all the general noncommittal things that get a politician’s points up (with some breakdancing thrown in for good measure) and the town is eating from his hand. Stan is confused by his sudden popularity after blanking out, but rolls with it.
As Stan’s number of fans skyrockets, Bud grows more impatient. With nowhere else to turn he goes to speak to his campaign manager.
Yes, Bud’s campaign is all a ploy by Gideon to get him out of jail and seek vengeance on the Pines. But Bud’s uproar at Stan’s rising approval was a tantrum compared to Gideon’s fury. When Bud claims that Stan’s ridiculous polls are like magic, Gideon remembers a little spell he ripped out of his Journal and saved for a rainy day…
Election Day rolls around and by now the popularity has gone to Stan’s head and back again. Mabel and Dipper try to get him to put on the tie before the debate meet, but Stan is convinced that he doesn’t need their help since everything he’s said has been met with nothing but applause. Dipper blurts out that they were controlling him the whole time and from there the charade falls apart. Stan tells him several things Ford can do with his magic tie and marches off, intending to prove he can win the debate on his own. Quickly Dipper and Mabel force the tie on Soos and have him be a last-minute entry.
The candidates are now down to Bud, Stan, Tyler Cutebiker and Soos. Unsurprisingly, Stan does terrible in the debate but Bud seems awfully chipper and cutesy and starts winning over the crowd with a little song and dance. Mabel realizes that Bud’s acting more like Gideon than himself and puts two and two together just in time for Gideon – who’s controlling Bud through a powerful (but one time per caster) possession spell – to capture them. He ties them up inside of the Mount Rushmore-esque statue of Mayor Befufftlefumpter which is near completion; once he claims victory, fireworks will be set off the same time as the last of the construction explosives, trapping them inside forever.
As Stan’s numbers plummet and he regrets not listening to his grandniece and nephew, Stan overhears their cries for help from inside the mountain. He ditches the debate to go rescue them, which immediately turns the tide in his favor. Stan saves them from falling through the mayor’s nose and they all apologize to each other. Gideon attempts to set off the fireworks himself, but it results in Stan and the kids making a badass escape. Amidst the chaos Bud is knocked out, Gideon loses control over him, the eagle is released and it bestows its kiss of approval upon Stan. Stan Pines is now the beloved mayor of Gravity Falls…
…until his lengthy criminal record is brought to light and he’s kicked out after five minutes (because, you know, having a history of tax evasion, a long list of felonies, and other disgusting qualities worth being sued over should automatically disqualify you from running for any kind of office instead of propelling you even further to the top). The new Mayor of Gravity Falls is the only candidate who submitted the paperwork correctly.
Dipper and Mabel feel bad for Stan not getting elected though he says he was happy just getting close to the dream. Mabel shows their love and gratitude through something she knitted just for him.
All right, I admit it. All unnerving parallels to the 2016 election aside, I actually enjoyed revisiting this episode more than I thought I would. It’s a neat little satire on political campaigns and the pros and cons of being brutally honest or letting the people in charge mold you into something you aren’t to please the masses. Though Stan’s rise to the top regardless of the thoughtless garbage he spews does seem a mite uncomfortable, it’s so outlandish that you can’t help but laugh. And at the very least a character like Stan has something that Trump certainly doesn’t; unconditional love for his own family that is paid back in kind. I’m sure that if he was picked to be Mayor any decisions he’d make would have been impacted by how much it would affect those he cared about more than just how he himself would benefit from it. Also his rescue of Dipper and Mabel is one of the most badass things we’ve seen him do for family since taking on a horde of zombies in “Scary-oke” (I never thought I’d be cheering on a man who’s punching out bald eagles, but, yeah). Stan holding a political office would be terrible, but that would push me to vote for him over…well, you know.
Other than that, it’s good to see Gideon up to his scary tricks again; the scene where Gideon takes possession of Bud is genuinely freaky. It’s downright eerie how even from his prison cell he still commands so much power (though I didn’t get to mention them we find he has his own group of violent inmate buddies who do his every bidding, he’s that charismatic). All in all, a funny episode if you can overlook everything that happened in the real world.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m gonna go check if Ford has an extra set of those ties lying around. I’ve got a last-minute Christmas gift I need to send to DC…
And the Internet Went:
End Credits Craziness: One of Gideon’s prison friends, Ghost Eyes, tries to comfort him over his loss and invites him to a good old-fashioned riot to cheer him up. But Gideon declines. That night as the riot rages on outside his cell, Gideon finds comfort in a poster on his wall…which hides the key to his freedom.
Callbacks: The mayor’s death and Bud Gleeful’s political aspirations were noted in cryptograms in “Dipper & Mabel’s Guide to Mystery and Nonstop Fun”. Robbie and Tambry are still in a relationship. Bud’s distaste for Gideon’s penchant for using evil magic to further his goals, the reason why he joined the Society of the Blind Eye, is brought up again here. Stan’s attempts to teach a bear to drive in “Bottomless Pit!” are referenced. Mabel’s note is written on some paper shaped like Twinkleheart, the claymation star from “Little Gift Shop of Horrors”.
Crowning Line of Hilawesomeness: You could probably put any of Stan’s insane responses here, but I want to go with something more heartwarming to offset the craziness: “I’m sorry I was being stubborn. I guess being the town’s hero wasn’t enough. I wanted to be yours, too.”
Mabel SWatch (Sweater Watch): Peach with a monkey and bananas on the sleeves, red and white stripes with a blue collar meant to resemble the American flag
Dear Princess Celestabelleabethabelle: I’ve learned the electoral college is a crock and populism is the way of the future. Viva la corporación!
Where’s that wacky triangle at?
Next time on Gravity Falls, look and see her, how she sparkles, it’s The Last Mabelcorn! I’m aliiiiiiiiiiive, I’m ALIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE…
Uh, see you then.