WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Gravity Falls
‘Not What He Seems’ is undoubtedly one of Gravity Falls‘ best episodes; possibly the best. After spending so much time with the unscrupulous yet kindhearted Grunkle Stan, this episode managed to make myself and many others seriously question whether we really knew him. We’re essentially in the same positions as Dipper and Mabel.
By the climax of the episode, it feels like everything Stan has said and done was another con. Even though we’ve seen Stan swindle, cheat and deceive before, it was always played for comedic effect, and he still had those few moments of genuine sincerity towards his family. The idea of it all being a trick seems almost ridiculous now (especially considering it’s still a Disney cartoon) but, at the time, it felt like a real possibility.
When Dipper and Mabel find the secret lab and realise that Stan knew more about the Journals than he led on, their reactions, while harsh, are believable and understandable. Dipper is angered by how much Stan has lied and kept hidden from them, whereas Mabel is just confused and hurt, desperately trying to make sense of it all.
But the real crowning moment is right towards the end, when the portal is beginning to shake the entire town and messing with gravity itself. Mabel finds herself in the position of whether she should leave the portal open or close it, with Dipper demanding she shut it and Stan pleading with her not to and to just trust him.
We’ve seen Mabel get upset and be in horrible situations before but she always had the support of her family to help her through. Here, though, she’s torn between the two closest members of her family. Her facial animation does a fantastic job of capturing her internal struggle.
In a way, Mabel also represents the audience. Logically, we should want to see the portal get shut. But when we hear Stan practically begging Mabel not to shut it, the possibility that he’s been playing everyone becomes hard to believe. He even says “Please,” a word which a previous episode jokingly suggested he didn’t properly understand.
Ultimately, Mabel chooses to listen to her heart and puts her faith in Stan, by lifting her hand away from the button and raising her hands in the air as she slowly falls upward – easily the most iconic image in the whole show (seriously, look up how much fan-art people have made of this scene). It’s amazing how a simple action can be so powerful.
While things worked out in the end and Mabel’s trust in Stan was well-placed, this moment remains as one of Gravity Falls‘ strongest. I always love it when stories surprise me, and this episode had me on an emotional roller-coaster and left me guessing right up until the end.