Steven Universe Recap: “Barn Mates”
Apologies Are Hard: The Episode
The Recap: Steven tries to help Peridot apologize to Lapis for forcing her to act as an informant back in season one; the team is discovered by a Roving Eye ship from Homeworld, piloted by a fierce-looking Ruby.
Another Steven Bomb, another truly boggling amount of ball-dropping on the part of Cartoon Network’s scheduling arm. It would be a lot easier to take the seemingly arbitrary gaps between new episodes if they weren’t also habitually precipitated by having the Crewniverse’s hard work leaked ahead of time, y’know? All of which is my gripey way of saying, I don’t blame you if you watched the leaks (or indeed, if you’re living in France and were lucky enough to get the early airing), but do try to be conscientious of the commenters who’re waiting for the US airing of next week’s “Hit the Diamond.”
With that out of the way, let’s get back to “Barn Mates,” which I dearly wish we’d all gotten to see at once. On a basic level this is yet one more “Peridot gets closer to an Earth Gem” episode in the same pattern as the last stretch of season two. The difference here is that Peridot is now the known element for us and Lapis, comparatively, the unknown—a fact the episode uses to create a fascinatingly fraught layering of sympathies. Lapis’ anger and trauma is legitimate, and we can’t deny that Peridot was a part of it—even if she didn’t do anything that wouldn’t have been considered “normal” under her Homeworld conditioning, “interrogate” still holds all kinds of nasty connotations.
In truth, she doesn’t have to forgive Peridot for anything, even if she was “just doing her job.” A trauma victim is under no obligation to forgive their abuser—it’s just that here, in fiction, we’re privy to a wider lens and more complete, rounded understanding of and sympathy for all the characters involved (as well as having the assurance than an author is out there guiding things, making sure apologies are sincere and that things will in fact get better). And so, we can root for wanting to seeing the relationship get better, even if there are perfectly good reasons for it not to.
What’s interesting is that the episode never gives us the specific details of what Peridot did, beyond vague references from both parties (I have to assume, given how much the episode sides with Peridot, that their take on “interrogation” boils down to dragging Lapis along to Earth and keeping her locked up in the meanwhile—still undeniably A Bad Thing, but within the same wheelhouse of what happened to Steven).
I suspect not telling us is a big part of the point, too. This isn’t about quantitatively measuring receipts and deciding from a third party vantage point who “deserves” to be forgiven. Peridot hurt Lapis, and she wants to repair the relationship. The process of seeking forgiveness itself becomes the focus. A lot of the jokes in this episode come from the ways in which Steven and Peridot, though sincere, completely fail to predict Lapis’ wants and reactions; they contribute different bits, but they work as a team.
And that’s key to making Peridot a sympathetic party here: Lapis is willing to forgive Steven for the same missteps she comes down hard on Peridot for. And even more importantly, in the end Peridot doesn’t want Lapis to absolve her—she truly wants to make Lapis happy. And so, when ordered to leave, she does (by contrast, the card makes the common mistake of couching the apology in a self-forgiving explanation, and the gifts don’t really address the problem). The notion that true remorse involves a willingness to not be forgiven is something even adults struggle with, and even if the moment is cut short by the arrival of outside threats it’s still powerful. There’s also the undercurrent of the idea that Lapis isn’t just angry about Peridot’s part in dragging her back to Earth—she wants to make Peridot suffer, because she contributed to the huge weight of helplessness that Lapis has endured. The size of that “contribution” doesn’t matter, only that it exists. That vengeful streak has always been part of Lapis’ character, and something she seems to continually struggle with. There’s little doubt that being part of Malachite was as much about punishing Jasper as it was about “doing something for Steven;” just as taking Earth’s water was about retribution for her time in the mirror, even though the Gems who trapped her were long gone and there was a great deal of collateral damage).
It’s not that Peridot “deserves” kindness from Lapis; rather, this serves as a kind of companion to “Same Old World”—acknowledging Lapis’ legitimate pain, while also pointing out that by shutting out the world and the potential for new experiences, she was doing harm to her own ability to create positive memories in the future.
On a lighter note (please, please let me take a lighter note for a second), the jokes in this episode are absolutely top tier. From the little beat of realization after Steven urges Peridot to “speak from the heart,” only to remember that Gems don’t technically have hearts, to Peridot’s usual tone deaf self-aggrandizing and Lapis’ irritated expressions in the first half of the episode (particular points to the darkening, bitter gloom as she describes being under the ocean, and the very fact that Zuke and Florido successfully played that for laughs). Not to mention the little nods to Peridot’s offscreen time on Earth—it sounds like she did get the rest of Camp Pining Hearts after all, and she’s definitely been picking up speech cues from Amethyst.
And that finale! The fact that Lapis is still so unbelievably powerful even without a large body of water nearby is cause for pause, and another tick in favor of the idea that she might’ve been some kind of Gem nobility. That she makes a gesture to Peridot on her own terms is also incredibly sweet, and lets them move forward toward a potential friendship without forcing her to brush off what she went through coming back to Earth (yeah, I saw the blush, but let’s start with being able to stand each other and go from there). It’s nice to see all five of the present Earth Gems together at last, even if they’re not quite a cohesive team yet. As for the new Ruby … well, the screengrabs I haven’t been able to avoid say we’ll be seeing a lot of her next episode, so let’s leave that off until then.
Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; they still remember when Lapidot was a crack ship. You can read more essays and find out about their fiction at Fashionable Tinfoil Accessories, support their work via Patreon or PayPal, or remind them of the existence of Tweets.
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