Gravity Falls Season 1: The Horrors of Adolescence

On June 29, 2012, the Disney Channel premiered one of the finest and most underrated programs in its history. Created by Alex Hirsch, Gravity Falls tells the story of two twins, Dipper and Mabel Pines, who visit their “Grunkle” Stan one summer in Gravity Falls, Oregon. The town is not really normal in any way, and hijinks pretty much immediately ensue. The set-up is simple enough, but right away the show reveals itself to be sort of like if Lost took place in the town of Twin Peaks.

I was and still am a big fan of the series, and at the beginning that was because of the similarities to the two shows just mentioned. However, very quickly I realized why this was such a perfect show for young people (something I would’ve eaten up had this existed when I was Dipper and Mabel’s age). Gravity Falls has a large mythology, yes, but at its core, it’s about growing up. The excitement, the confusion, the fear, the stress, the hormones—all of it tied into episodes that utilize my favorite genre.

There are major elements of sci-fi and fantasy in this show, but whenever horror is featured that is when viewers get a chance to see what Dipper and Mabel are made of, as well as to see them grow as both brother and sister and as individuals.

The opening scene of the pilot episode “Tourist Trapped” has Dipper and Mabel (voiced to perfection by Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal) running from monsters. Right away, we’re put into an environment that is meant to be scary. As the episode continues, comedy and fantasy take root as the two common facets of the show; in the closing scene, sci-fi is introduced.

However, one cannot dispute that no matter how cute and silly things can get, the town of Gravity Falls is a scary place. There is the fantastical, such as monsters and ghosts, and there is the realistic, like corrupt authority figures, bullies, and unwanted advances. As we follow Dipper and Mabel through Season 1, one thing remains constant: they have one another to fall back on when things get intense.

Being young and coming of age can be a scary thing, regardless of where you live, but doing it in Gravity Falls is something else.

Mabel surprises a boy in pilot episode of Gravity Falls.


As noted earlier, though not full-on horror, the pilot episode, in which Mabel accidentally becomes first in line to be the bride of a group of gnomes, has the show’s first elements of horror. Aside from the fact that they’re monsters, complete with razor-sharp teeth, there’s the horrendous idea of Mabel, who is 12, becoming a bride and all that that entails. Kids might not necessarily see that aspect of it, but watching it as an adult it’s disturbing, even while it’s played for laughs. And, yes, it is funny.

Mabel is boy crazy. This is not something introduced in Episode 1 and forgotten. This is kind of a through line in the series. Several episodes are about Mabel being interested in a boy. The reason I bring this up is because she’s actually fooled into dating a boy who turns out to be several gnomes inside ratty old clothes. They have fooled Mabel into thinking they were this guy who would interest her; instead, they’re psychopaths.

This, I’m sure, will not be the last time Mabel is essentially tricked into something like this (albeit, not literally like this), which is a reality that girls her age begin to face at this time in their lives.

This is manifested even further a few episodes later in “The Hand That Rocks the Mabel,” where audiences are introduced to one of the show’s antagonists, Li’l Gideon. He develops a creepy crush on Mabel, who at first takes a liking to him, but strictly as a friend. As he begins to manipulate her into not wanting to turn him down, she begins to question whether she should cut ties with him or not hurt his feelings and keep going out with him. Li’l Gideon is clearly played for laughs (from his hair to his voice), but he is shown almost right away to be a liar and a manipulator.

Mabel and Li'l Gideon on a date in Gravity Falls.

Unfortunately, the town loves him. He’s a celebrity in Gravity Falls, given that he’s a so-called psychic. This makes it even more difficult for Mabel to ward off Li’l Gideon’s unwanted advances. He not only uses small, intimate moments between the two to get what he wants, he also uses moments in public. At one point, he makes a big show at a restaurant in town, and with plenty of townsfolk in attendance, Mabel finds it difficult to reject him.

In these two episodes, Mabel faces a specific kind of horror that goes beyond any genre tropes. Monsters and ghosts can be scary, of course, as we’ll get into shortly, but there are real fears for kids. The gnomes and Li’l Gideon represent the kind of horror that happens every day. Girls and young women face a world where males, boys and men, look at them differently. It is a world where being friends with a boy can put a young woman in a very uncomfortable position (to put it lightly).

On top of that, Mabel also faces bullying in the form of Pacifica Northwest, the daughter of the oldest family in Gravity Falls. She’s rich, popular, and mean. When she’s introduced in the episode “Double Dipper,” two characters who will become Mabel’s best friends are as well. They are Grenda and Candy, two outsiders just like Mabel, who bear the brunt of Pacifica’s taunts whenever she shows up on the screen.

Mabel and Pacifica face off in Double Dipper episode of Gravity Falls.

Try as she might to win Pacifica’s friendship, Mabel constantly faces cruel rejection and dismissal from her. And to be clear: Mabel does nothing to deserve this other than existing, which just might be reason enough for Pacifica to be mean to her. On the surface, I suppose the existence of this relationship in the show is pretty straightforward. However, in a kids’ show rife with the fantastic, seeing such a relatable situation is important. In life, for kids and adults, bullies exist and they should be treated the same way the fictional horror elements are.

While Mabel is not necessarily scared of Pacifica and her bullying, Pacifica represents a threat to Mabel’s way of life in the way all bullies do. Mabel just wants a good time, and Pacifica won’t let her have it.

Of course, Mabel isn’t the only one to experience real-life horrors in the town of Gravity Falls. Her twin brother faces issues of inadequacy and a different kind of fear of the opposite sex.


Mabel and Dipper are twins, but taking a step back and looking at the series as a whole, it appears that the latter is more of the protagonist. After all, he narrates the pilot episode and does most of the work in pushing the show’s mythology along. I bring this up because, like Mabel, Dipper is an outsider and definitely not the traditional kind of hero.

He’s awkward, shorter than his twin, makes a lot of mistakes, and unfortunately has a crush on an older girl, Wendy. This last part actually takes up a few episodes in Season 1: “The Inconveniencing,” “Double Dipper,” and “Fight Fighters.” Let’s start there.

Deep down, it’s pretty clear that Dipper knows he doesn’t have a shot with Wendy. First, there’s the age gap, which makes quite a bit of difference at this point in their lives. When they first meet, Dipper is 12 going on 13 while Wendy is 15. Having a crush on someone can be great but also very scary because anything could go wrong at any moment.

You want to be with that person, but you’re afraid that wanting more will ruin what you already have. Dipper, being a kid, seems to be fine with taking that leap. Or, at least, he wants to. It takes quite a bit for him to actually talk to Wendy about such things. In fact, he doesn’t actually say something to her about this until the start of Season 2.

It’s interesting that the first straight-up horror episode of the series is also the first Dipper and Wendy episode.

Mabel gets possessed in The Inconveniencing episode of Gravity Falls.

In “The Inconveniencing,” Dipper lies about his age to pose as a teenager. It’s a bit pathetic, but it works, and he’s able to hang out with Wendy and her friends at a haunted convenience store; you know, before everything goes wrong. In the episode’s climax, his youth is pushed to the forefront when he admits his real age to the store’s ghosts and ends up donning a lamb costume and performing the “Lamby Lamby Dance” to save the day.

He’s embarrassed, of course, but Wendy lies for him, rather than tell the truth. This is when they become friends. However, Dipper still wants more out of the relationship, so in “Double Dipper” he uses a magical copy machine to duplicate multiple versions of himself so that he can have the perfect night with Wendy. Of course, things go wrong, and he learns that all he needed to do was be himself in order to hang out with Wendy one on one. Still, they’re friends.

There’s also Wendy’s boyfriend Robbie, who knows Dipper’s motives, and in “Fight Fighters” he’s had enough. He has to show Dipper that he can’t be making moves on his girlfriend. Fair enough, but lo and behold, Dipper conjures a character from an arcade game to fight Robbie for him. Things, unsurprisingly, do not turn out well, though Dipper and Robbie eventually agree to a truce.

Dipper still has a thing for Wendy, but he stops pursuing her. Hormones can be a scary thing, and in Gravity Falls, they can be life or death.

Dipper and his copy in the Double Dipper episode of Gravity Falls.

This is also why Dipper has an internal fight as well. He’s a pretty confident kid, but he also sees himself as most certainly uncool. Again, his awkwardness and height do him no favors, not to mention that he’s sensitive. Despite him doing heroic things, he’s not seen as some badass. The episode “Dipper vs. Manliness,” which features a bear-type monster with eight heads called Multi-Bear (voiced by a totally game Alfred Molina), offers a critique of masculinity. In the episode, Dipper has enough of the embarrassment that comes with not being strong or into what society would deem masculine interests.

Of all the episodes of Gravity Falls, I identify with Dipper the most here, mainly because I understand the feeling of not being man enough for something (not so much hanging out with a bunch of “Manotaurs”). We have another episode, in a series full of them, where the hero faces off with a monster. This time, though, the monster is Multi-Bear, who we find out is the way he is because the Manotaurs bullied him for liking a certain feminine song (which, perhaps not so coincidentally, is what Dipper gets made fun of for listening to earlier in the episode).

By the end, Multi-Bear teaches Dipper that he needs to be okay with who he is and to like what he likes, societal norms be damned.

For Mabel and Dipper, a lot of Season 1 sees them on individual journeys, confronting their own personal horrors alone. However, there are plenty of episodes that prove that their strong bond truly exists. Two stand out, though, and one just so happens to be the most overtly horror-themed episode of the series.

Dipper and Mabel join forces in Irrational Treasure episode of Gravity Falls.

The Mystery Twins

In my favorite episode of the first season, “Irrational Treasure,” Dipper and Mabel join forces to uncover a town secret that involves political and law enforcement corruption. Though pretty much an adventure episode, there’s the notion that these two kids are in way over their heads. The adults in charge are keeping the truth from the world, and it’s up to the kids to uncover it. In a way, this is representative of the horror a lot of kids face as they grow older and start to understand the way the world works.

Childhood can be a peaceful time for most because we lack specific knowledge. The more we grow, though, the more we learn, and the more we learn, the scarier life can be. They say that we fear what we don’t understand. I say that we can fear what we do understand just as much because sometimes we just can’t change things. By the end of the episode, Dipper and Mabel have uncovered the truth, but they can really only reveal so much.

Thankfully, what they do let the world know is that Pacifica’s family is built on a lie. She is not the descendant of the founder of Gravity Falls. As Dipper says to Mabel after he reveals this to Pacifica:

Man. Revenge is underrated. That felt great.

He knows Mabel would never want to hurt anyone, even her bully. But he’s got her back. Even after all the teasing she gives him, Dipper loves his sister. And she loves him, too, as we see a few episodes later in “Summerween.” In Gravity Falls, the town loves Halloween so much they celebrate it twice, hence Summerween. At first, this excites both Dipper and Mabel, but once again Dipper finds the fear of not being seen as cool or older than he is too much to fight off.

Mabel hugs Dipper in the Summerween episode of Gravity Falls.

After planning a fun night out, Dipper has second thoughts, especially over wearing matching costumes with Mabel (they were supposed to go as bottles of peanut butter and jam), and after the episode’s monster reveals Dipper’s feelings about the night to Mabel, she’s both physically and emotionally hurt.

Mabel may make fun of Dipper from time to time and refer to herself as the “alpha twin,” but she loves her brother so much. In “Summerween,” Mabel could have easily just spent the night trick-or-treating with Grenda and Candy, but she wanted to do something special with her brother. (I mean, she didn’t even ask her friends to wear matching costumes with her.)

Dipper’s fear of being judged by others puts his family and friends in danger. The episode’s monster, the Summerween Trickster, who eats children who do not have the Summerween spirit, exists whether or not Dipper bailed on Mabel. However, Dipper messes things up when he destroys their chances to appease the monster.

Earlier in the episode, Dipper faked sick so he could go to a party that Wendy and her friends were attending. However, he joined Mabel and company in trick-or-treating in order to get 500 pieces of candy for the Summerween Trickster. And yet, he tosses the candy when he sees Wendy later that night, losing the chance to help save his family and friends.

As mentioned, Mabel is hurt, and Dipper finally comes to the realization that his sister needs him just as much as he needs her. Standing up for her against bullies is not enough. He cannot be ashamed of who he is, and therefore he cannot be ashamed to be Mabel’s brother. By the episode’s end, he dons the costume and afterward tells Wendy he went trick-or-treating. He finds out that she doesn’t think it’s much of a deal. In fact, she tells him that the party she went to was lame.

Dipper and Mabel proudly celebrate Summerween in Gravity Falls.

The wonderful thing about the first season of Gravity Falls is that it embraces the weird aspects of horror and fantasy to tell stories that reflect real-life horrors. And although the second season moves into more overt sci-fi storytelling, the horrors of being young do not subside. In fact, things get worse.

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Written by Michael Suarez

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