Hello, Gravity Falls fandom! My name is Katapultman! I'm a long-time fan of the show and I’ve recently picked up writing about my all of my favourite series, so I decided to pay my respects to “Gravity Falls,” a show that needs not explaining as to why it’s so beloved, but I desire to reaffirm this mutual love in the form of “An Episode in Review.” As the title suggests, this will hopefully turn out to be a series of articles covering each of the episodes in the show and the characters along the way. I’ll try my best to delve into every intricacy of the episode in order to bring you a well-thought out and finished analysis, so without further ado, let us begin!
Is there any better way to kick off the supernatural feel of a show than by sending the protagonists to an isolated town that just screams “MYSTERIES” to live with their creepy relative? Not sure, but in this case, let’s say that’s true. “Tourist Trapped” opens up with narration over imagery from one of our main protagonists, Dipper. He ponders with us, the audience, on what he sees fit as the typical summer vacation, and then, in a surprising turn in storytelling, he directs us to the action-packed climax of the episode. Along with providing well-placed exposition to clue in the audience, this segue is also extremely important to setting up the general theme of adventure in the show and points at its soon to be confirmed extreme variety of supernatural oddities. After Dipper reassures us of his "perfectly logical" explanation for the giant monster chasing them, the show's intro (which is a beautiful one that deserves its own article) plays, enthicing an adventurous, yet mysterious athmosphere due to the amount of clues hidden in it. We then retread back a little along with Dipper and we get our first (proper) introductions to our major characters, with one of them being Grunkle Stan, a character I'll tackle a lot in the more poignant episodes, but as of this episode he's only prominent for one obvious thing, which I'll go off on at the end. As of right now, though, let us delve into the actual plot of “Tourist Trapped.”
The plot revolves around two major devices and the two subsequent (mis)adventures that stem from them, those being the Journal and, in this episode's case, Norman (or NORMAL MAN,) with the discovery of the former attributed to Dipper and the latter to Mabel. The Journal itself is a nice way for the writers to link their ideas with the characters’ understandings of the world around them, and the mysterious circumstances surrounding its discovery, along with its contents, instantly ignites interest from both the characters and the viewers. What makes the episodes in the show work is when you see these two plot devices intertwine with one another to create conflict between the major characters. We see that after Dipper discovers the Journal and instantly starts being infatuated with the supernatural beings described in the said journal, along with starting to adhere to the author's message of “TRUST NO ONE” which makes him wary of Norman and his suspicious demeanor right off the bat. After Dipper starts to feel paranoid, he confides with the Journal and this is when we get our first glimpse of one of the most prominent side characters of the show: Soos, the go-to nerdy comedic relief for the show that doesn’t really shine here, along with Stan, but nonetheless his short inclusion outlines most of his charming characteristics, successfully setting him up for future episodes. What transpires next is a humorous montage of Dipper filming Norman's every move in order to catch him in the act, which is comically shoved back into his face by putting Norman's innocuous gestures under the guise of suspicious ones and in the process proving their complete innocence.
After gathering what he perceives is a sufficient amount of evidence, he confronts Mabel about the whole affair. This scene is our first taste of the constant conflicts that revolve around the two, whether they be for mundane things such as this, or.. the world. Nonetheless, it succeeds in raising the stakes for what is an otherwise comedic episode and putting the theme of distrust in their current relationship. After the argument, we shift to Dipper reviewing the evidence, when, in a moment of desperation, he begins to doubt himself and the Journal's tellings, but as he proceeds to give up, he sees Norman’s hand falling off in some of the footage and that's Dipper’s go signal. I’d like to stop and mention that this is a great and early little character moment for Dipper where his seemed neurosis gets the best of him. Anyway, for a first episode, the stakes are surprisingly high, albeit the overall tone of the episode and the music suggest otherwise. With that, we again enter the grand resolution of the episode (that is accompanied with the shocking reveal of the gnomes’ scheme,) which brings out the first documented (by the Journal) paranormal creature in the show. During the fluid chase scene, we get a nice exchange of jabs amongst Dipper and Mabel while they barely manage to run away from the Gnome Colossus. As they reach the Mystery Shack and notice that Grunkle Stan is up to his usual shenanigans, they find themselves in a conundrum in regards to said colossus that gave chase after them only seconds before.
Now here is where the element of distrust that was built up previously in their strained relationship makes a reappearance - Mabel urges Dipper to trust her at least this one time and he reluctantly agrees, betting everything - the Shack, his life, his sister’s life itself on her sheer competence alone and, fortunately for us, Mabel does execute her quite creative plan and comes out on top, beating the gnomes with the most unexpected enemy of all: leaf blowers. After the hard-fought battle concludes and Dipper goes back to the Shack, Mabel stops him in his tracks, and here is where we get our heartwarming ending. What is so beautiful is that this sequence, although brief, expresses an array of different emotional overtones - at first, we have both of our protagonists experiencing a fair share of blame for what has occurred, which puts them in an awkward position amongst themselves. Then, it quickly progresses into them apologising to each other for the harm they caused to each other, which is shown in Mabel stopping Dipper, and finally it reverts back to mutual appreciation, which is finally cemented by the “Awkward Sibling Hug.”
This quick change in their dynamic is a masterful way to enthrall the viewer in your characters. You first see that they have a seemingly (or above-average) brother-sister relationship, with both parties appreciating each other, but then it regresses to them being divided and in seemingly constant turmoil, and only now, at the end do you see that they’re as strong as they can ever be if they work together. Throughout the show, especially in Season 1, they overcome every barrier that is ahead of them, making their special bond be retained and even strengthened throughout the series. All of that is all accomplished by utilising a single element of their relationship, in the case of this episode that being distrust, and twisting it to create conflict.
As the ending kicks in, we see Dipper and Mabel pick out their signature items from Stan’s gift shop - items that will have a symbolic meaning later on (well, one of them, at least,) but now only serve to reinforce their defining physical characteristics (and merch.) As we sit back from this wild adventure, we listen to the narration that first introduced us into the episode yet again, but this
time we hear it from a much more confident and certain person, or one that has grown, per se. Dipper writes us off by dismissing the Author’s message - that not all people are untrustworthy and that when you’ve fought side-by-side with a person your whole life, whether that be metaphorically or literally, he could never stab you in the back. This is especially well tied in after the entire conclusion is contradicted by Stan with his cliffhanger at the very end, all the while the show uses this opportunity to set up intrigue for the viewer to, at the very least, have some incentive to surely watch more.
Overall, “Tourist Trapped” is an amazing episode that details every one of our important characters, puts forth a good message and leaves us wanting more. It incorporates all of the elements that the show will carry later on in its lifespan; from the creatures, to the characters, visuals and the music, this is obviously the best episode to present to a newcomer of the show.
Holy moley! This was really hard to write and I experienced a lot of delays. If you want to really know, the entire article took me about three weeks, so that’s something. I hit a lot of writer’s blocks, which stalled the entire process. Anyway, if you liked my work and have some thoughts on the matter of hand, be sure to leave a comment down there! Cheers!