The villain who eventually joins the heroes, however begrudgingly, is a long-standing genre tradition. It’s an easy way to explore new character territory by asking what might make the bad guy (or girl), who is often the coolest and most badass person in a story, flip and become good. And it’s produced some of the best characters in animation, from Dragonball Z’s Vegeta, who is essentially the template from which all further frenemies draw, to the Grinch, to Avatar: The Last Airbender’s Zuko, whose face turn in “The Western Air Temple” makes for the best episode of that already-excellent series. With “Catch And Release,” it looks like Steven Universe is beginning to explore that territory in the figure of Peridot.
When we last saw Peridot in “Friend Ship,” I said that she was becoming a more comedic, consistently inept figure. In this episode, that turns out to have been a half-right description. She’s still comedic (there’s a lot of humor in her revealed appearance, and the way she scampers around the temple like a monkey), but that’s because of how pathetic she is, stemming from her frenzied desire to escape Earth and go home. When we see her with her fingers floating around, increasingly detached from her body, screaming (Shelby Rabara does great work throughout the episode), Peridot becomes downright sympathetic—in fact, her single-minded need to get home is highly reminiscent of Pearl’s actions in “Space Race.” And in her desperation, she pulls off a truly effective plan—kidnapping Steven.
The abduction is a genuinely scary moment, both because there’s no indication that Peridot is going to in the episode, and because ”Jail Break” sets a precedent for an episode focused on Steven without the other Gems. Coming as it does after a delightfully animated sequence depicting Steven getting ready for his day, complete with toothbrush, swab to clean his ears, and a quick polish for his gem, there’s even more tension. (Hilary Florido and Lauren Zuke do excellent work here, as they do throughout the episode.)
Thankfully, the team—fully functional and collaborative in a quiet way—takes Peridot down, using the electric charge that threw off Amethyst back in “Keep It Together” and redirecting it to bring the opposing Gem down to earth. Then, Garnet bubbles her and sends her to the temple where, as the episode goes on, Steven’s long-standing soft spot for Peridot—his soft spot for everyone, really—comes in handy.
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Steven has believed in Peridot’s fundamental kindness since they first met in “Marble Madness,” starting the chain of events that led the other Gems to Earth from Home World. That continues here, when he tells her “Just give me a second. My mouth gets really dry when I’m scared” after being kidnapped, and literally apologizing to her for not being able to fix the warp pad with his healing spit. For all that “Catch And Release” is about getting Peridot to the point where she’d join the Crystal Gems, or at least closer to that point, the episode is mostly a Steven solo adventure, and there is definitely nothing wrong with that.
Think about the zoom in on Steven holding Peridot’s foot, or the way he yells with equal parts determination and joy when he heads to the basement. (“Triple Five-Fifty Deluxe With No Cheese!”) Or, maybe best of all, the way he reacts to seeing Peridot without her limb enhancers: “Aw, you’re like an angry little slice of pie.” These are all really nice, delicate touches that ground the eventual introduction of world-threatening stakes in the form of the mysterious Cluster. We’ve heard Peridot mention the Cluster before, but from what little more she says here, it sounds like some sort of Gem egg—maybe something like the harvesters, doing their work stripping the planet, but on a much larger scale—and when it hatches… everything goes boom.
Potentially destroying the world for the sake of some kind of experiment isn’t that surprising for the Home World Gems. We’ve known for a while that their civilization is highly militaristic (not that Peridot calls Garnet a “filthy war machine,” suggesting that maybe fusion was invented for fighting purposes). Peridot’s role seems largely to facilitate knowledge of war—note the way she thinks everything in Steven’s bathroom might be a weapon—and breaking her of that programming will be a difficult process. But it introduces a character who’s far less harmonious with the main cast (think Spike in Buffy), and gives Steven an opportunity to funnel all of his sweetness into one person. If Peridot becomes Steven’s pet project, I definitely wouldn’t say no.
- Steven’s “World’s Best Stephen” mug is great.
- “Seems I’ve discovered some sort of archaic… think chamber.” Well, you’re not far off, Peridot.
- “These are my banana pajamas.”
- Are the Gems… about to eat pizza when Steven and Peridot emerge from the basement?
- “What? It’s been long enough that we can joke about it, right?” “It’s only been, like, an hour.” Some of Amethyst’s lines feel a little… undeveloped, here? Like, “Just go in the ocean, bro. Like a fish” sounds like something she would have said in the first couple of episodes?
- “Okay, let’s kick her butt.” Oh, how I missed Estelle’s line delivery these past few weeks.
- “What’s with you guys and making me pee outside?” Same.