Well, that happened quickly. When Peridot veered into the show as a potential ally for the Gems last week, it looked like we were in for quite a bit of work on her character before she was willing to turn fully, or even mostly, heroic—but here we are, one week later, and she’s ready to help the Gems stop the Cluster. It’s kind of nice that this happened so soon, since it was already a foregone conclusion (and leave it to Steven Universe to avoid having any obvious story beat play out over too long), and it gives us a quick opportunity to see what Peridot is actually like, rather than what the Gems would ostensibly have turned her into.
Getting Peridot to ’fess up about the Cluster and hand over the information needed to move the plot along could have gone in one of a number of different ways. (Like, imagine a full-episode interrogation in the bathroom.) But Amethyst’s destruction of Peridot’s equipment, which was treated triumphantly and flippantly last week, turns out to have been a mistake—she literally threw away the leverage she had over Peridot, and further antagonized the other Gem. It’s not compassionate, and that’s enough for it to be a bad move in the world of Steven Universe. (It would be nice if not being compassionate was always a tactical mistake, wouldn’t it?) So instead, we get a mostly solo outing with Peridot and Steven.
Though they obviously have independent relationships, the Gems were initially primarily defined by the way they interact with Steven: Garnet is the cool, above-it-all, but still deeply caring matriarch, Pearl the overbearing perfectionist, and Amethyst the rambunctious older sister. For all that she’s been positioned as a villain with access to extraordinary amounts of information and advanced technology, Peridot turns out to be a bit of a scared child when it’s her and Steven against the world, represented in the form of rain. “I don’t know anything without my screen,” she wails. And, for all that we’re inclined to dislike her, it’s still sad to see her reaction the water coming down. (Perhaps this is part of why Peridot is so small—neutralizing her as a plausible threat to Steven makes it far easier to sympathize with her feelings of helplessness.)
Being willing to ask for help, and overcoming some of her hangups, is a huge part of Peridot’s plot this episode. Even saying “thank you”to Steven is a big deal for her, given how controlled she is by her programming, or status in Gem society, or whatever you want to call the kind of conditioning that’s shaped her priorities and her identity. Her reevaluation of Steven’s intelligence, the questioning of her own self-sufficiency, and even her decision to help the Gems, is still filtered through that framework via her instinct for self-preservation, which is ultimately why she wants to destroy the Cluster. (This is interesting—do you think she’s considered what Home World would say if she successfully prevented the emergence of the Cluster?)
Still, there’s a suggestion that there might be something more here, particularly through Steven teaching Peridot about rain. This is not only adorable and an effective form of connection with someone whose whole life is centered around the consumption of information… it’s also a good explanation of rain. (Though wouldn’t you think something similar would happen naturally on at least one Gem planet? No? Has Peridot never left Home World before?) More than that, it suggests a possible motivation for the Gems’ military conquest and violent attitude toward humanity—fear of the unknown. Note that, like her guesses about Steven’s bathroom items, Peridot’s initial assumptions are all about instinctively perceiving rain as a destructive force. (Note, too, that one of Peridot’s sweetest, most obnoxious, and best line deliveries comes from a boast that she read several hundred years’ worth of reports. She just loves information, and is a total dick about it.)
Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff, one of my favorite storyboard teams on the show, absolutely nail this one, and the rain scene in particular. There’s quiet beauty in Peridot starting to encounter the natural world (as there is in Steven’s simple enjoyment of the rain), and the tight angles showing Peridot’s anxiety contrast well with the cleaner, wider shots of Steven expressing happiness and slipping in the mud. Even something as simple as the pan down, then a zoom in on Peridot’s hand as she moves out into the world is a fantastic way of capturing focus and intentionality, the way a physical camera might. Their level of care here extends to moments like Steven putting his hand on Peridot’s after they fall into the gorge that houses the Kindergarten, the kind of thing that, honestly, hasn’t been quite as present for the past few weeks. Aivi and Surasshu also turn in fantastic work, riffing on what I think is one of Rose’s themes to evoke a plain level of awe, and a sense of initiation into mystery.
The speed with which this plot is moving is probably a good thing. It would have been easy to have Peridot trick Steven into taking her to the Kindergarten in order to escape, find a hidden weapon, or contact Malachite or Yellow Diamond, resetting her status with some ambiguity (in the same vein as Zuko and Katara’s plot at the end of the second season of Avatar). Instead, she does genuinely want to show Steven information about the Cluster and, when confronted with her own limitations, agrees to tell the Gems about it. (She even stops calling them clods!)
So now we know what the Cluster is: a giant Gem experiment superweapon composed of an enormous quantity of fusion mutants, producing one large enemy that will destroy the Earth upon its emergence (and probably look super awesome in a fight scene… not that that will happen). Why is it a better weapon than any of the tech we’ve seen on, say, the ship Peridot and Jasper came in? With the admittedly kind of abrupt end of this episode, it’s hard not to get a sense of a longer story being clipped mid-sentence (in a different way than normally self-contained episodes of the show). Something big is coming.
- Garnet stops to tell Steven “I love you” before the Gems leave, and it is adorable.
- Steve: “Ah, I know you used my toothbrush!” Peridot: “N-no… Well, yes.”
- Peridot’s use of genre tropes is great: “No! A catch!”
- “The answer to that is something I like to call The Ballad Of Rose And Greg…” “I don’t care.” The show can still poke fun at the audience without Ronaldo, guys.
- “Let’s run into this corner.” Beat. “Oh no! We’re cornered!”