It’s no surprise that Disney X.D. is putting out some good content; most of television is these days. Two of my favorite shows from that channel are Star Wars Rebels and Gravity Falls, and the latter show came to an end earlier this month. It’s a kids’ show that pushes the boundaries with plenty of mystery, horror, adult-tinged humor, cynicism, and surprisingly heartwarming family moments. And since the show has come to an end, I’d like to take a moment to discuss how powerful the finale is and what handy tips fans and fellow creators can take away from it.
For clarity’s sake, I’m going to treat the 3 “Weirdmageddon” episodes as the entire finale to Gravity Falls, since they follow a pretty solid 3-act structure. It should also go without saying, but even so, there will be spoilers.
1. Never miss an opportunity to respond (or tease) your fans.
If you’re doing well with your novel, movie, TV show, video game, or other piece of modern media, then it’s safe to assume you’ve got a solid fanbase. They’ll have ideas about your story, from which characters should be paired together to how the story should to which episodes were utterly terrible and should never be mentioned again.
And if you’re paying attention, then prove it. Get to know your fandom’s language and let it slip into the show. Trust me, they’ll recognize it.
Alex Hirsch knew which arcane symbols he’d been dropping across the show would come together in the finale, teasing at all the fan theories about their significance—only to then dash those theories once Bill Cipher and Stan Pines got involved. And he’s a genius when it comes to testing his audience’s expertise with creating tons of codes for them to decipher in each episode. Every code is a new hint and a new way for the audience to feel more connected to the show.
2. Know when to pull out your biggest guns.
A good story builds up the tension inside and out. For the Star Wars saga, that tension was the inevitable victory of the Empire and Luke struggling against the lure of the dark side of the Force. For the Harry Potter series, it was the threat of Lord Voldemort’s return and Harry struggling to face his destiny.
And for Gravity Falls, the real tension was twofold as well. Internally, the Pines family wrestled with a long arc of siblings falling out, from a decades-old misunderstanding between Stan and Ford to the struggle between Dipper and Mabel over getting old and having to face the summer’s end. Externally, they faced the “Weirdmageddon” and the impossible task of defeating the demon Bill Cipher. The first two seasons did an excellent job of setting up the stage for these conflicts, and the finale delivered them both to a robust and satisfying conclusion.
3. Make sure that you’ve accounted for all the main character arcs.
Any ensemble cast has a few plotlines or emotional issues that have to be addressed by the end. Much like dropping hints to your fans’ theories and input, it’s another way to let the audience know that you’re paying attention to how everything’s progressing.
Case in point: the Gravity Falls finale provided a beautiful ending for every major character in the Mystery Shack crew, as well as for recurring side characters like Pacifica Northwest, Lil’ Gideon, and even perpetual butt-of-the-joke Toby Determined. We got to see Soos finally earn Stan’s acceptance as the new “Mr. Mystery,” and Stan himself underwent the ultimate transformation from an aging lovable coward to a crafty hero ready to sacrifice himself for his family. When done right, these developments feel less like a last-minute resolution and more like the culmination of a well-told tale.
4. Leave your series ending on a new status quo.
It’s never a bad idea to leave your story open-ended, but sometimes it helps cement the impact of the plot when you give your readers, viewers, or players a sense of where the story could continue after the end. True, most stories would rather end on everyone celebrating the defeat of the Evil Overlord or the successful Defense of the Town, but why stop there? If you’ve built up a good cast with lots of stories to tell, why not let us in on those future tales?
By the same token, Alex Hirsch and his team could’ve ended Gravity Falls on Dipper and Mabel taking the bus back home. But they went the extra mile, showing us hints of new developments, from McGucket’s newfound career success to Stan and Ford’s adventures at sea. The credits sequence went even further with snapshots of Mabel and Dipper’s future visits to Gravity Falls. Those clips created a sense of homecoming as well as a chance to move forward, and that alone is reason enough for why the finale left such an emotional impact on the fandom.
I hope that this article has been of some use to all you aspiring writers and showrunners out there. At the very least, I hope it’s inspired a few of us to go and give Gravity Falls a viewing or three. Because it really is that good and I’ll miss it.