Thing I Liked About The Finale, #816: everyone got what they needed, and what they wanted.
I mean, do you know how rare that is in a happy ending? In order for a happy ending to work in fiction, you can’t just give the characters everything they want - they have to earn it, and usually, in the process of earning it, they grow as people. This means that they often discover that what they thought they wanted is not what will really make them happy. This often manifests as the ‘maybe the real treasure was the friends we made along the way!’ ending, or the 'got what they wanted only to find it was hollow without companionship and gives it up for love’ plotline. There’s nothing actually wrong with that, but it also means that, often, people in stories don’t get what they want. Oh, they find something that’s much better for them in the end, but in the same way broccoli can supply a vitamin the lack of which causes a craving for chocolate, it isn’t what they want.
Not in Gravity Falls.
I expected Stan to have to give up work on the portal, destroy everything he’d worked thirty years for, in order to save Dipper and Mabel, and in doing so find that the family he’d found was more important than his former goal (the family who didn’t appreciate him). When NWHS went down, I expected Stan’s happy ending to be hard-won, by realising that Ford was bad for him, that Ford was wrong about him, that Ford was never going to change and Stan was clinging to the memory of a person who no longer existed, that he had to let go of the hope of getting his brother back if he ever wanted to be happy.
I expected Mabel’s arc to look a lot more like the one so many people seemed to think it should be - that she’d just have to grow up and learn to deal with disappointment (though frankly it’s still sexist and ridiculous to expect her to just bite her tongue and be sad about not getting what she wants so that Dipper doesn’t have to compromise anything he wants), be content with the friends she has and learn to just be grateful for the things she has while she has them, while learning to let them go without a fight.
I expected an ironic comedown for Ford, the fact that his own actions had doomed the world he was trying to protect rubbed in his face, before giving him a chance to redeem himself through exactly the kind of heroic self-sacrifice he’d been trying to make for the last thirty-odd years. Best case scenario, I expected him to realise that his obsession with anomalies had caused every problem that had threatened his family, to realise that his family was what was really important and to give up chasing the weird altogether for them.
I expected Dipper to have to realise that the Journals - and his hero - were dangerous and mostly useless, and to grow up and mature, he’d have to turn his back on adventure.
Any of these would have been good, solid endings to the arcs that these characters were on. Any of these would have been fine endings for another show.
But Gravity Falls didn’t just give its characters broccoli. It gave them chocolate too.
Ford was forced to confront his own mistakes, and see that his family was more important than his ego - and he learned from it, but he didn’t have to give up his passion to better appreciate his family, just learn to include them in the things he cares about and to respect and appreciate the things they care about. Stan got to stand up to his brother, and to prove him wrong, and found family who actually appreciated and cared about him - but he also got his brother back, and had his childhood dream come true. Mabel had to learn to face the disappointment of reality and not let it break her - but not alone; with the people she cares about, and who care about her, at her side. And Dipper, from the impression I got, is going to seek out - and find - adventure anywhere he goes - and he’s not going to do it alone.