Gravity Falls is, in many ways, one of my favorite shows. It’s funny, it’s spooky, it’s weird without losing its kid-friendliness, and it often offers worthwhile commentary on persistently shitty tropes.
I think that’s why I was so disappointed with the episode “The Love God”. I expected so much more from you, Gravity Falls.
Spoilers for the episode follow the jump!
In “The Love God”, Mabel and Dipper have finally attained entry into Wendy’s wider group of friends, and Dipper is rejoicing at their upward social mobility. They’re just in time; the Woodstick Music Festival is rolling into town, and they’re going to get to attend their first concert with their new older friends. Mabel, however, can’t be fully happy, because Wendy’s ex-boyfriend Robbie is still really upset and sad about Wendy breaking up with him. Flush from her victory at finding Soos a girlfriend, Mabel makes it her mission to find Robbie a new girlfriend so that he can be happy again.
After sorting the entire population of the town into “yes”, “no”, and “maybe” categories, Mabel decides on the perfect candidate: Wendy’s friend Tambry. Mabel sets the two of them up on a blind date that goes disastrously—until one of the Woodstick musical acts shows up. The Love God, as he calls himself, turns out to be an actual cherub who can make people (or animals) fall in love with each other with just a splash of love potion. Mabel steals his love potion and douses Robbie and Tambry’s chili fries in it, and rejoices when the tides of the terrible date immediately turn.
So now the drugged-up Robbie and Tambry are happy together, but there’s an unintended consequence: Wendy and her friends are super mad about it. With her new friend group crumbling around their ears (and her happiness chart in ruins), Mabel decides that she has to un-love-drug the new couple. She tries to steal the antidote back from the Love God, but he catches her and refuses to give it up. After a long fight, she and Dipper finally manage to snag the anti-love potion, but when she sees how happy Robbie and Tambry are together, she’s unable to follow through with the cure. The episode ends like that, with the implication that Mabel’s in the right and all is well with the world.
This episode offered Gravity Falls a twofold opportunity. First, they could have taken a strong stand on the side of consent, and pushed home the message that it’s definitely never okay to drug people into liking each other, even if it seems to turn out alright in the end. But the Love God himself is portrayed as sort of a loveable skeezebag; the show never explicitly shows us that it’s wrong for him to throw couples together as a way of showing off his powers. And because he uses them irresponsibly, there’s no way for him to pass any effective moral judgment on Mabel for doing the same. If he took his powers seriously, he wouldn’t have kept the anti-love potion from her when she admitted what happened; instead, he’s just mad that someone else has used his stuff.
The episode could have shown there being an unpleasant undertone to the love potion, as the similarly-premised My Little Pony episode “Hearts and Hooves Day” did, as a way to telegraph in a kid-friendly way that drugging your friends is nonconsensual and wrong. Instead, we’re shown that Robbie and Tambry are genuinely happier together, and don’t seem to have any sort of unpleasant side effects from the potion. Mabel had the opportunity to learn an important lesson about administering mind-altering drugs to your friends without their consent, and instead she comes out vindicated for doing so.
The show also could have pushed the message that it’s okay to be single. Mabel is boy-crazy, and it’s her downfall in this episode—the Love God is able to trick her during their climactic fight by wooing her with shades of all her past crushes. And earlier on, she doesn’t go to Robbie to help him find another way to be happy; she already has the way, and that’s by finding a new relationship. Mabel could have learned from this as well if the episode had gone there: being in a new relationship is not the paramount or only way to be happy or recover from a breakup. I do generally appreciate Mabel’s boy-crazyness; she shows us that you don’t have to hate on stereotypical girliness to be a fun and engaging character. But I think it also would have been good for her to realize that not everyone has the same relationship priorities.
“The Love God” definitely had some funny and relatable moments, but the overall message it sent left me deeply concerned. Gravity Falls, no matter how often I and my other adult friends watch it, is a show aimed at kids, and the lesson this episode seemed to teach was not one I’m comfortable with being passed on.