THIS REVIEW IS MEANT TO BE READ AFTER YOU'VE SEEN THE EPISODE. I WON'T BE GIVING A PLOT SYNOPSIS FOR THE EPISODE AND I WILL BE REFERENCING SPECIFIC EVENTS, SO IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE EPISODE THEN THIS WON"T MAKE MUCH SENSE.
Headhunters is the episode where I believe Gravity Falls hits its stride. If you were to watch just Headhunters and then be asked what the show as a whole was about you could probably tell a pretty accurate amount of information about the show's overall mood and themes. Headhunters has the best of two of the show's three main areas and it makes for a great episode that really displays potential.
First off, the humor is spot on. Headhunters sets up several of the show's running gags, from the free pizza guy to the ever funny Duck-tective and among those set ups are many great one time gags, the standouts of which include Mabel's conversation with wax Shakespeare and basically the entire bar scene. The writers seem to have finally nailed down the show's sense of humor and gone are the occasional awkward gags of the previous two episodes. Not all of the jokes are gut-bustingly funny, that would be near impossible, but there isn't really an unfunny joke to be found. The bedrock of humor that the show is based on seems much more stable throughout, allowing the show's other elements to shine.
And those other elements are great. Stan got a lot of development in the last episode, but here he finally becomes the weird, lovable, sleazeball that we know and love. His constant oddness mixed with the fantastically clever writing mean that everything he says is essentially comedy gold and whenever he's on screen the energy picks up tenfold. This is also the episode where the Mystery Twins finally act like the Mystery Twins. Dipper and Mabel were together for the entirety of The Legend of the Gobblewonker, but Headhunters is really where their dynamic when it comes to solving mysteries starts. Dipper keeps the mystery solving moving, while Mabel keeps things light and fun. The two occasionally play each other's roles, but this dynamic is part of what drives Gravity Falls, and Headhunters is the first episode to really have it. It doesn't hurt that the mystery in this episode is much better than that of the last two. The mystery of who beheaded wax Stan is funny, but the reason it's better than the ones in Gobblewonker and Tourist Trapped is that there are actual clues here. The hole in Toby Determined's shoes was one of the first things I noticed on watching the episode for the first time and like any great mystery it's possible to solve it before Dipper and Mabel do. There isn't a lot of time to think about the mystery before the twist midway through and it's pretty likely that a first time viewer will be focused more on the humor than solving the mystery, but it's great that there are finally clues to find. What's also great is that the eventual solution to the mystery is definitely not the one you'd expect it to be. It would have been so easy to not even have Toby be a suspect and have Dipper and Mabel be led directly to the wax figures as the culprits, but by having a false solution that also fits with the clues it makes the reveal of Toby's innocence that much more surprising and funny when his eventual alibi is revealed.
The wax figures are also great. John Oliver kills it as Sherlock Holmes and Larry King and Coolio both give great mocking impressions of themselves. This funniness doesn't stop the wax figures from achieving something rare for children's television that Gravity Falls excels at, being creepy. As a teenager who's seen his fair share of slasher movies and classic horror films the wax figures aren't truly scary, but unlike the monsters in a show like Scooby-Doo they're actually creepy. Their eye's rolling back into their heads and the image of all of them advancing toward Dipper and Mabel are both creepier than what would be found in most similar kids shows and the reveal of them all being alive comes as quite a shock. The fact that they're all alive would be less surprising later in the show's run, but by now the show is still setting up its universe and that means that nobody is really expecting the wax figures to come to life. When they do is really the moment the Gravity Falls establishes that in it's world anything supernatural can happen, that if the writers have an idea they'll make it, no matter what.
So you might be wondering why after all this praise I only gave Headhunters an 8.5. Well, that mostly comes down to the fact that it lacks anything truly special in the character department. The best episodes of Gravity Falls are the ones that advance its characters, and while this one does a good setting up Stan and Dipper and Mabel's relationship it doesn't really have much to work with yet when it comes to character development. The show can't really be blamed, as it is pretty early in its run, but the lack of development means that there's definitely not much to keep us engaged other than the humor and the mystery. That's still a lot, but like I said in my The Legend of the Gobblewonker review Gravity Falls is at its best when it's trying its hardest in all three of its best areas, the characters, the mystery, and the humor. Headhunters is missing the character, which keeps it from perfection, but not greatness.
-This episode has the first really dramatic climax of the show, something that becomes more common in its second season as the show gets darker. It's not exactly surprising or out of place, but it is new coming off of the relatively relaxed endings of Tourist Trapped and Headhunters.
-That sneeze is hilarious and will never stop being so.