Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Steven Universe: “Political Power”

Illustration for article titled Steven Universe: “Political Power”

Steven is often a bit of a distraction from the business of Steven Universe. By that I mean that because he’s so unabashedly a kid, he’s usually not privy to what would theoretically be the more engaging, meatier information floating around him—the Gems’ history and epic battles, the blossoming maybe-romance between Lars and Sadie, and so on. That’s been especially apparent over the course of the past couple of episodes, which have found him appearing a bit thick about the coming threat from Peridot. In fact, his general obliviousness here extends to not getting that Mayor Dewey is calling the Gems his “sisters” (something that seems pretty obvious). “Political Power” is all about getting him to a point where he’s ready to take a more active role in the proceedings, with some help from other potential distractions.

The problems of Beach City’s residents are occasionally reminiscent of a different show, one where the stakes are as simple as Ronaldo Fryman continuing to have a purpose in life rather than the fate of Gemkind. But Steven Universe has generally done a very good job fleshing out the town in a way that makes it an environment almost as compelling as Gem mythology, if not more so. (I’m thinking in particular of Sadie calling her mom at the end of “Lion 3,” which might be the single strongest moment of the show so far.) And so many of those people show up here—the Pizza and Fryman families, Onion, and, of course, Greg—that it’s hard not to wish that we were spending time with them instead of Mayor Dewey.

If there’s a problem with the episode, it’s that Mayor Dewey isn’t nearly as interesting as most of the other townspeople, and doesn’t become much more so in what should be his big spotlight. He’s gone from a distant figure and generally bad father (which we learned in “Lars And The Cool Kids”) and panicked public official (“Mirror Gem”) to panicked official whose main distinguishing character trait is now that he thinks Pearl is hot. Sure, he tries to position himself as, essentially a parent to the town, hiding the full scope of disaster from them. But he’s so slick about taking the opportunity to hand out campaign buttons that it’s hard to take him seriously as a benevolent figure. (I guess handing out the glow sticks is kind of helpful?) Almost all of the characters on Steven Universe are, essentially, good people trying to navigate their way around and through the desires of other fundamentally good people, something Mayor Dewey begins to muddle in a way that isn’t necessarily productive for the show. Besides, the important thing is for Steven to discover that the Gems are, essentially, engaged in a more benevolent and loving version of the same deception.

Like “The Test,” “Political Power” ends with Steven continuing to realize that the Gems are people, too—ancient alien warrior people, perhaps, but people nonetheless. They don’t have all the answers, and Steven has to come to accept that Peridot and the home world Gems are posing a substantial threat and the Gems don’t know what to do about it. They’re scared, but stronger as a family. With the exception of Pearl’s spotlight in “Rose’s Scabbard,” the Gems have been a bit distant the past couple of episodes (Garnet’s “No we won’t!” is the most color we get out of them today), but this is a good reason why—we see everything through Steven’s eyes, and they’ve been preoccupied with planning that they haven’t wanted him to see, something storyboarders Katie Mitroff and Hilary Florido capture with the sight of only their feet as Steven begins to peer up into adulthood.

Steven is, of necessity, powerless for most of the episode, as he has been for much of the series. He wants to help Mayor Dewey, but all he does is tag along and hand out buttons before the power, abruptly, comes back on for no real reason. The end of the episode indicates that Steven has more power—emotional power—than we’ve seen. His heartwarming speech to the town actually works, and he seems to have united the Gems in solidarity, as a family. He’s the source of the show’s better, lighter moments, bringing together its mystery, adventure, and lighthearted small-town comedy elements. (I’m thinking in particular of the “pan” that displays Steven somewhat obliviously wandering into Pearl’s experiment, and the subsequent reveal that he’s wearing an identical shirt under his shirt, which is just ridiculous but also obvious in retrospect. Steven has a goofy plan for everything.)

Steven is the uniting force, the link between Beach City and the Gem machinations, and the show’s focus on him allows it to make those cosmic problems localized and funny. (Steven’s frustration with the microwave being unable to nuke his frozen pizza and abject terror at the notion of mass melting, defenseless ice cream recalls his cry of “I’ll save you, television!” from “Coach Steven.”) The pace with which that’s become apparent might have been frustrating if the episodes were airing a week apart, but having them run every day this week is nice. The past few episodes have been the calm before the storm, a regrouping for Steven and the Gems, and for us. Get your ice cream ready, because tomorrow is “The Return.”


Stray observations:

  • “They need their electronic distractions so they won’t notice this town is a magnet for disaster.”
  • “I’ll catch you kids on the side that flips.”
  • “Have you seen that exterminator truck with the head on it? He’s totally copying me.” Okay, as obnoxious a character as Mayor Dewey is, he’s also pretty funny. But why does he have so many glow sticks lying around? Does he go to the rave that Stevonnie crashed in “Alone Together”?
  • Nana Pizza continues to be among the most badass characters on the show, trying to initiate a riot.
  • “Wanna play war? I mean… peace?”
  • So what do you guys think happened to Ocean Town? Gotta be Gem-related, right?