“Little Dipper” S1 / E11
- B+ Community Grade
Dipper and ‘Lil Gideon are, in their way, two sides of the same coin. Both of them are quick to cast themselves as victims, blinding themselves to their own misdeeds. Of course, there’s the little matter of scale to consider here—whereas Dipper doesn’t realize his incessant boasting is what drives Mabel to tease him about their height difference, Gideon is an unhinged, budding psychopath who considers everyone either his enemy, his inferior, or both. Dipper realizes here how his own thoughtless actions are at the root of his own misery and insecurity. That’s a lesson Gideon desperately needs to learn, but he appears entirely incapable of such an insight. There’s little reason to sympathize with Gideon in “Little Dipper”—he terrorizes his father and especially his poor mother, he seriously considers crushing the miniaturized Dipper, and his ultimate aim is gaining the secrets of the Mystery Shack, which is a rather more stereotypically evil motivation than, say, wanting to rekindle his delusion-fueled romance with Mabel. Gideon is a fractured, unnerving presence, and eventually Gravity Falls likely needs to dig into what underlies his considerable damage. But for now, “Little Dipper” is simply concerned with establishing him as the Pines’ most determined adversary, and that effort is an unqualified success.
While the episode is bookended by Gideon plotting to steal the Mystery Shack away from Grunkle Stan, the story really kicks off when Dipper learns Mabel is now a millimeter taller than him. Though he tries to dismiss this discovery, pointing out that a mere millimeter’s difference only makes Mabel taller in Canada, Mabel and Stan tease him mercilessly, trotting out every little-related pun in their repertoire—and when he runs out of ideas, Stan is content to simply restate that Dipper is, in fact, short. Dipper consults his book for the secret to magically increase his height, and in the woods he discovers a crystal that can shrink or enlarge anything, depending on how the light hits it. When Dipper uses it to give himself a sudden growth spurt, Mabel smells a rat—or, more accurately, an invisible wizard in the closet—and their fight for the flashlight accidentally leaves it in Gideon’s hands. With the twins miniaturized and completely at his mercy, Gideon heads off to the shack to get his final revenge on Stan.
After sidelining Mabel somewhat in the previous “Fight Fighters”, Gravity Falls shines a spotlight back on her relationship with Dipper. Much like last week, Dipper resorts to the paranormal when he can’t deal with the normal world. Although Mabel and Stan’s teasing isn’t as terrifying a prospect as being beaten up by Robbie, Dipper still needs the leg up offered by the paranormal. His use of the crystals is “cheating” just as much as his use of Rumble McSkirmish was, but here he’s not properly aware of what’s actually being contested. He figures it’s a simple matter of which sibling is taller, and so his paranormal growth spurt will stop Mabel’s teasing. But for Mabel, this is about, on some level, which sibling is better, and how she feels she’s the perpetual runner-up in that race. She probably wouldn’t be so quick to declare herself the Alpha Twin if she weren’t worried deep down that the opposite is true. To Dipper, that millimeter irritates him, but he assumes it’s trivial to anyone but himself—hence why he almost ruins everything on the Mystery Shack porch when he demands Mabel restore them to the exact same height, and he can’t understand why she refuses.
The reveal that Dipper is the jerk rather than Mabel works better than Dipper’s similar realization in “Fight Fighters.” Partially, that’s because Mabel is far more sympathetic a character than Robbie or Rumble ever were, so it carries more weight when she points out how quick he is to rub his own superiorities in her face. This turn is also better set up at the beginning of the episode, with Dipper’s victory notebook the innocuous, uncommented-upon detail that ties the entire emotional story together later.
Beyond that, the show did such a good job of establishing in its first few episodes just how happy and healthy Dipper and Mabel’s relationship is. After some initial bickering over Norman way back in “Tourist Trapped”, the show largely avoided any sibling conflict until “The Time Traveler’s Pig.” Mabel and Dipper’s fights have more meaning when they do happen because we know firsthand how much that behavior breaks from the norm. And when they do make peace, it’s a legitimately heartwarming moment because we know this isn’t a temporary respite before the next quarrel starts—they really do get along, and both have the maturity and compassion to recognize how they’re hurting the other and fix it. Too many shows forget to build that loving foundation, which is why the resolution of so many TV fights ring hollow. Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal’s deliveries are also vital to making these moments work—they both hit just the right notes of weary contentment as he good-naturedly admits he walked into Mabel’s latest short joke and she includes Soos in the declarations of coolness.
Meanwhile, “Little Dipper” has a tricky narrative needle to thread in terms of Stan. While we still don’t know what he’s hiding behind that vending machine—though there’s a very real possibility that Gideon does, and that’s what’s driving his craziness in the episode—Stan still appears to be resolutely oblivious to the paranormal side of Gravity Falls. Gideon, of course, doesn’t care about protecting Stan’s ignorance, and the episode has to carefully handle both characters to maintain Stan’s plausible deniability. In theory, going to such great lengths to keep Stan exactly where he already is might be frustrating, but in practice it’s some of the episode’s funniest material.
Stan’s initial reactions to Gideon’s revenge attempts are simply to dismiss and humiliate the little twerp—the fact that he sees right through Gideon’s initial sweepstakes gambit is an amusing confirmation that Stan is nobody’s fool. Indeed, the writers don’t depict Stan as an idiot who misses what’s right in front of him. Ultimately though, the show maintains Stan’s obliviousness by making him a surprisingly kindhearted old grouch who wants nothing to do with Gideon’s apparent mental breakdown. He readily admits that he has no idea how to respond to Gideon’s antics, and so offers some weirdly sweet advice on how Gideon might want to workshop his evil schemes next time, throws in the amusingly self-serving declaration that it’s perfectly understandable Gideon would want to take on an adversary as formidable as him, and then quite literally (and repeatedly) kicks Gideon out of the Mystery Shack.
Finally, let’s briefly talk about the animation, as Gravity Falls is making a very real play to be the most beautifully animated show on TV. Much like Futurama, another perennial contender for that title, a lot of that is down to opportunity. Few other shows would get to play around with scale as much as “Little Dipper” does, and Mabel and Dipper riding the relatively giant balloon back home is a particularly gorgeous sequence. The animation doesn’t need jokes to be worthwhile, but more often than not the visuals help bring out the humor, as when the miniaturized Mabel and Soos both decide to eat disgustingly oversized food. The show just keeps on challenging itself both in terms of its storytelling and its animation, and it hasn’t taken a misstep yet.
- If you haven’t had a chance yet, go check out Erik Adams’ excellent interview with Gravity Falls creator and showrunner Alex Hirsch.
- I realize I didn’t talk so much about the jokes tonight, which is more just a reflection of how packed the episode is than anything else. Mabel was in particularly fine form tonight—seriously, dudes, she high-fives hard.
- I kind of love that they brought in Jennifer Coolidge to do a three-line cameo as Lazy Susan. There’s no real reason why the person waiting for the bus has to be Lazy Susan, but it makes the show’s universe feel that much more interconnected.
- “Oh, hi Gideon. I’ve been looking for someone to try out my new mirror maze—then again, you’re an idiot. That’s the end of the sentence.”
- “My favorite part’s the theme song.” Truer words, Mabel, have seldom been spoken.