Halloween isn’t scary—at least, not if you don’t want it to be. The thrill of Halloween is in actively choosing to dress up like a fool and court scares wherever you can find them. Reduced to those basics, Halloween can seem kind of silly, which is probably why most people give up trick-or-treating around the time they hit puberty, recasting Halloween as another excuse to party. That impulse is on prominent display in “Summerween,” but it isn’t just Dipper who refuses to get into the holiday spirit (or the summer equivalent of that holiday spirit). As Stan finds with his annoyingly fearless trick-or-treaters, Halloween is no fun if anyone refuses to participate. This is a lesson Dipper could learn without a terrifying candy monster trying to eat him and his friends, but why would you even want to tell the story without something as awesome as that?
“Summerween” finds Dipper once again torn between chasing after Wendy and being a good brother to Mabel. Because the people of Gravity Falls love Halloween too much just to wait until October, Summerween offers a chance for an extra night of trick-or-treating and ghoulish horrors. In a great observation that I’m guessing creator Alex Hirsch learned from personal experience, twins in matching costumes are a surefire route to tons of candy, so Mabel needs Dipper to come trick-or-treating with her and her friends. But when Wendy invites Dipper to a party—working on the assumption that Dipper is too old for trick-or-treating—he tries to get out of spending time with Mabel by faking indigestion from substandard candy. His sudden apathy invokes the wrath of the Summerween Trickster, a child-eating monster that demands 500 pieces of candy by the end of the night. Mabel, Candy, Grenda, Soos, and a very reluctant Dipper have no choice but to find all that candy—but there’s something they don’t know about the Trickster.
This episode marks the first time that Dipper actively wants no part of the big supernatural adventure. To be sure, he wanted to keep the teens away from danger in “The Inconveniencing,” but he still took the underlying threat seriously. And he might have just been using the town’s weirdness to chase Wendy in “Double Dipper,” but he never saw Tyrone and the gang as things to be ignored. Here, on the other hand, Dipper clearly just wants to forget about the Summerween Trickster and go off to Wendy’s party—after all, nobody else in this town seems to spend all their time battling the forces of the paranormal, so why can’t Dipper take a night off and go have some normal fun for a change? And Summerween is the perfect night for him to make that decision, since Halloween is a holiday for all ages, except children tend to derive their enjoyment in a way distinctly different from teenagers and adults. If there’s any problem with this, it’s that Dipper and the gang still do seem to react too weakly to the threat posed by the Summerween Trickster, what with him eating Gorny and all. That weirdly blasé reaction to the apparent devouring of a child is a minor misstep, but it doesn’t seriously detract from the fun of “Summerween.” And besides, Gorny ends up just fine, give or take a little traumatization.
On some level, the invention of the title holiday in “Summerween” is just a way for Gravity Falls to cram in a Halloween episode without violating the show’s stated summertime setting. Beyond the substitution of melons for pumpkins in the town’s Jack-O-Lanterns, the episode retains all the usual flavor of a Halloween episode, and the episode has a distinctly autumnal atmosphere. That’s probably a smart decision—after all, countless Halloween specials have developed a specific, holiday-centric vocabulary for telling spooky stories, and Gravity Falls would be a fool not to use it. The shift to a more autumnal feel lends the episode some extra atmosphere, adding to the general wistful sense that Mabel and Dipper are fast approaching the end of an era in their trick-or-treating career. Plus, the seasonal color palette makes for a lot of beautiful backgrounds, and when the Gravity Falls animators are asked to make the scenery look extra pretty, they rarely go wrong.
While Dipper and Mabel’s relationship is the focus of “Summerween”, this is also a strong episode for all the supporting characters. In particular, Soos gets his biggest chance to shine since way back in “The Legend Of The Gobblewonker.” Driving his pickup truck straight through the monster and blowing it apart is his big heroic moment, made all the better by the fact that the truck comes out of nowhere. The fact that he isn’t entirely sure whether the monster he just exploded is a regular pedestrian only moderate detracts from his valor. His love of the wisecracking skull is a great gag on both occasions. His shameless non-apology to the frazzled shopkeeper gives me flashbacks to my own service-industry past, but the fact that his love of that stupid skull gets him temporarily devoured probably makes up for any customer obnoxiousness. In commentaries for The Simpsons, longtime writer John Swartzwelder compares writing for Homer to writing for a dog, in that he’s loyal and goodhearted but also stupid and ruled by his basest instincts. That seems like an entirely apt assessment of Soos, and he shares Homer’s ability to get completely consumed by the most pointless distractions—to the point that he, in the episode’s most inspired moment, changes the skull’s batteries while he’s supposed to be fleeing the monster.
Soos is the featured supporting player, but everyone else gets a little moment that shows how well Gravity Falls understands its characters. Wendy, for instance, might still think trick-or-treating is for little kids and might still be dating Robbie, but she’s still going to shoulder-punch her boyfriend if he’s unnecessarily mean to Dipper. Grenda uses her extra frame to hip-check Old Man McGucket and save the last Jack-O-Melon, but she’s quick to apologize for hurting the crazy old coot. And Candy clambering into the candy wheelbarrow and asking Mabel whether she gets the joke is a good reminder that, when in doubt, give the weird non sequitur jokes to the voice of BMO. Stan’s attempt to scare the little kids is a nice runner, a reminder of how much victory matters to the old man, even if it’s just against a couple of little kids. Admittedly, we are talking about two of the more gratuitously rude little tykes in recent TV history, so Stan’s extreme measures are somewhat understandable.
The reveal of the Summerween Trickster as an amalgam of the town’s horrible, inedible candy is a great twist, if only because it provides an excuse for the monster to cry candy corn tears. It also ties into the larger idea of “Summerween,” one that’s seen both in Dipper’s treatment of Mabel and the trick-or-treaters’ behavior toward Stan: Halloween (and Summerween) is about the community uniting to have fun, and the whole thing falls apart if you refuse to include people in your own fun, whether they’re your twin sister, an old man devoted to scaring people, or a gigantic candy monster. The magic of the holiday only ever works if people come together—in this case, as Stan points out, to celebrate pure evil. And that’s the kind of lesson I’m glad Gravity Falls is here to teach.
- The credits sequence, in which we see a pictorial day in the life of businessman Waddles, just seems like shameless meme-baiting. But darn it, it totally works.
- Anyone get a bit of a Miyazaki vibe from the Summerween Trickster? Not so much the final, fully revealed design, but his masked appearance seemed vaguely reminiscent.
- “I ate a man alive tonight.”
- If my understanding of the Gravity Falls schedule is correct, this is the last episode until November 2. See you then for an episode simply entitled, “Boss Mabel.” Yeah, I can’t wait either.