Once Peridot revealed the threat posed by the Cluster, pretty much everything else ought to have fallen by the wayside. With a literal planetary, existential threat, how could the Gems justify doing anything else? How could they throw a birthday party for Steven, or make time for a series of robot fights?
Because for them to drop everything would be boring. It would be easy to tell this kind of story and flatten into a series of purely functional, broadly motivated action setpieces. (Think endlessly drawn-out Dragonball Z fights, in that they would still be cool but also say very little.) In that kind of storytelling, there’s always a theoretical reason characters should do things, but it never really makes their actions individually compelling, and it doesn’t connect to any aesthetic quality that actually make stories good. (Scientists call this problem the “Marvel conundrum.”)
So the ostensible motivation problem of the Gems sitting and watching the sunset falls away—Peridot’s explicitly voiced complaint—falls by the wayside. Simply living is more important for the Gems, and for Steven Universe. As Steven puts it in the most abstract, silly, and vaguely self-help way imaginable, “Working hard is important, but feeling good is important too.” Without even the possibility of feeling good, where’s the value in working hard?
This is the lesson that Steven hopes Peridot will learn—that life, with all its attendant emotions, experiences, and relationships, is valuable and beautiful in itself. So, in the centerpiece of the episode, he tries to teach her about art. The closest Peridot comes to grasping that value is in thinking you would sing a song “For the satisfaction of bringing it to completion,” which isn’t so far off the mark in a sort of hyper-compulsive way. (You could imagine someone just finishing a Netflix binge saying the same thing.) Like life itself, art exists for its own sake.
And the attendant song, “Peace And Love (On The Planet Earth)” is maybe the Platonic Steven Universe. “Life and death and love and birth and peace and war on the planet Earth.” That’s the show in a nutshell, folks: quiet, beautiful, moving.
I don’t talk much about Zach Callison’s voice acting here. That’s a huge omission from these reviews, but in part I think it’s a compliment, by which I mean that I identify his work so strongly with Steven, that’s often tough to identify good line readings or bad—he’s just Steven, and it’s impossible to imagine it any other way. Callison’s singing voice especially great here. I’ll single out the way he sings “If it’s a pattern, if it’s a pattern,” which feels earnest, confident, and just a little amateurish—everything we love about Steven, all caught up in the repetition of a couple of words.
Steven finds all sorts of things worth protecting, from the existence of the Earth to napping, which he uses to convince Lion to take the Gems to the moon. It’s been a while since we had a solid Lion showcase. The animation of the special warp (which gives us our header image) is quite beautiful, and the highlight of Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu’s excellent work with this episode. Lion has definitely earned his nap.
The Gems, on the other hand, probably don’t have a good opportunity to nap, considering our increasing awareness of the threat facing them. Peridot confirms quite a few ideas about the Gems, including actually using the words “Diamond Authority” and clarifying that the four Diamonds do, in fact, run Gem society. She also describes Gems as “a space-faring race designed to conquer other worlds.” Designed by who, exactly? (This is a nice way of setting up possible antagonists if the Gems succeed in defeating or reforming Home Wold.)
Peridot’s excitement at getting to reveal this information is an excellent way of humanizing her, even in advance of her betrayal at the end of the episode. She giggles when she gets to sit in the big chair, she reverently describes Yellow Diamond (who, after all, is basically her god), and she utters the title phrase describe the hyper-efficient Earth colony that never was. The Gems’ rage in response to her blaming Rose for the Earth’s destruction makes sense—Peridot is literally insulting everything they stand for—but it also displays a partial lack of empathy regarding Peridot’s background, and what she perceives as valuable. (Something Steven understands, at least in part.)
The biggest problem with “It Could’ve Been Great” is that it doesn’t really have an ending, because it has to set up a cliffhanger for tomorrow’s episode. The Peridemption is really only a few episodes in, but Peridot landing on the side of good still feels like a foregone conclusion—to me. The show is too sweet and too kind toward Peridot, and has done too much to demonstrate that she’s mostly just a nerdy and emotionally stunted child, to really let her get away with going back to Jasper and Yellow Diamond. So it’s hard for me to take this as a big, scary thing. Mostly, I’m concerned about what Steven and the Gems will do when they find out, not about Peridot’s ultimate loyalty.
Not that that means her taking the Diamond crystal is any less troubling. We’re in for some trouble tomorrow. And besides, the tension it creates is, in a sense, valuable for its own sake.
- “She’s come so far. It feels like yesterday she was trying to kill us.”
- In case you haven’t seen anything about it, Cartoon Network U.K. apparently censored “We Need To Talk” to cut out the erotic subtext of Pearl and Rose’s dancing. The reasons why this is bad seem pretty obvious, but I’ll have a piece up about it tomorrow. (I’ll probably link it in the strays for the next episode, if anyone wants to read that.)
- Sorry for the delay on today’s review! Hope the placeholder text gave everyone some room to talk about the episode. We should be good to go for tomorrow and Friday.