Series finales are naturally sad events, cutting you out of the lives of a group of characters you’ve spent so much time with and putting an end to the fictional universe they called home, barring any kind of future revival of course. The series finale of a kids animated series, though, can be especially poignant because it usually marks an end to what has been an adolescent experience. It’s a reminder to all of the kids watching that they are growing up and everything eventually ends.
Well, not so much The Simpsons, which will clearly outlive us all. However, Phineas & Ferb‘s eight year, 222-episode summer vacation finally ended last year, and now so has Dipper and Mabel Pines’ three year, 40-episode summer with their cranky uncle Stan at his tourist trap (the “Mystery Shack”) in the mysterious, rural Oregon town known as Gravity Falls.
Since debuting in the summer of 2012, Gravity Falls has been one of the best animated shows on TV, masterfully telling touching stories of family bonding and rite of passage moments through the use of weekly sci-fi and fantasy shenanigans which not-so-secretly laid out a deceptively deep mythology. However, the show was never built to last, as its creator Alex Hirsch explained on Tumblr, “I wanted Gravity Falls to have a mystery that had a real answer, an adventure that had a real climax, and an ending that had a real conclusion for the characters I care so much about.”
Mabel and Dipper naturally bonded with their uncle Stan (and eventually his twin brother Ford) and encountered all the lighthearted insanity in town, leading them on a journey of discovery which ultimately threatened the entire universe in the form of the inter-dimensional demon Bill Cipher. However, the universe was always going to be saved just as Mabel and Dipper’s epic summer vacation was always meant to end. Their parents back in California were forever on the horizon, and Mabel and Dipper were eventually going to have to grow up. They couldn’t stay 12 forever.
But, of course, they could stay 12 forever. This is animation. Characters don’t actually have to grow up. 58-year-old Nancy Cartwright has been voicing Bart Simpsons since 1987, but Bart is still the same 10-year-old he’s always been. The South Park kids have been stuck in the fourth grade for 15 seasons now.
That’s what made Gravity Falls‘ series finale, “Weirdmageddon Part 3,” so moving. It was clever, action-packed (the Mystery Shack was turned into a Pacific Rim machine, and it was awesome!), surprisingly dark (Bill’s throne as new ruler of the universe was built out of the bodies of the town’s residents, all of whom had been turned into stone) and mystery-shattering (all of the show’s cryptic symbols had actually been foreshadowing for how the characters could defeat Bill). More than that, though, it was about two kids having one last childhood adventure together before heading into the great unknown of their teenage years and, eventually, adulthood.
That’s the arc the show started in the penultimate episode of the season (“Dipper and Mabel vs. The Future”) before jumping into its three-part “Weirdmageddon” finale, and it ended it with the same measure of nuance, fun and optimism that characterized the entire series.
In “Part 1,” Dipper stopped at nothing to save his sister after she was taken hostage, but in “Part 2” her prison turned out to be a fantasy world in which she could stay 12 forever, with stuffed animal trees overlooking giggle creeks (throw a rock across it, you’ll hear a baby’s giggle) and boy bands riding tandem bikes together. He had to convince her to reject fantasy and embrace reality, a seemingly preposterous argument to make since it turned into a court case overseen by a talking cat for a judge and a group of Mabel clones for a jury. However, he succeeded by reminding her that no matter how scary the future might seem he’ll be going on the same journey with her, just as he’s always been and always will be throughout their lives together.
In “Part 3,” Mabel and Dipper’s unbreakable bond is ultimately what inspired Stan and Ford to defeat Bill, and though the series flirted with (sort of) killing off one of its central characters everyone survived. The day is saved, but tomorrow beckons.
Thus it was that the final scene of Gravity Falls featured now-13-year-old Mabel and Dipper Pines standing at a bus stop, saying their goodbyes and preparing to go home. As the bus arrives, Mabel innocently asks his sister, “Ready to head into the unknown?” She honestly, but confidently replies, “Nope. Let’s do it.” After all, when they’ve battled and often times came to love and understand weird monsters and fantasy creatures what could possibly scare them anymore?
That works on a literal and metaphorical level, a point the show hit home with this final eloquent voice-over from Dipper set to a montage of not only their bus ride out of town but also the future magical adventures all of their friends will get into:
If you’ve ever taken a road trip through the Pacific Northwest you’ve probably seen a bumper sticker for a place called Gravity Falls. It’s not on any maps, and most people have never heard of it. Some people think it’s a myth. But if you’re curious, don’t wait. Take a trip. Find it. It’s out there somewhere in the woods, waiting.
Gravity Falls used its final episodes and, indeed, its final moments to tell kids that it’s okay to be scared of growing up, but that you should embrace it just as you should seek out new adventure. Follow your curiosity. Find your own personal Gravity Falls. Pretty heady stuff for a show with a magical multi-headed bear among its characters. However, that message is so universal it need not be applicable only to the show’s youngest viewers, especially after you remember just how many teenagers and adults embraced Gravity Falls (I say that as an adult who adored this show).
Is this truly the end? Hirsch won’t rule out any kind of later revival or one-off special, “[J]ust because I’ve finished the story I wanted to tell doesn’t necessarily mean we will never see Dipper, Mabel, & Stan again. It means that this chapter is closed, and that I, at least for now, am personally done telling their story.” I can’t think of a better way for the show to have gone out.
For now, goodbye Gravity Falls.
Some of the show’s funniest moments:
Some of the show’s best dramatic moments: