Steven Universe Recap: “Catch and Release”
I smell a REDEMPTION ARC!
The Recap: The Gems finally manage to catch and bubble Peridot but Steven, convinced she’s scared and in possession of a secret, sets her free. Stripped of her weapons, Peridot can’t do much but hole up in Steven’s bathroom, muttering about something called the “cluster” that’s set to emerge and destroy the planet.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so delighted to do a write-up, readers. And mostly not because I get to stand atop mighty Mount Peridemption and proclaim the sacred cry of TOL’YAHSO (though between this episode and certain revelations involving a certain radio host some weeks back, I do believe I’m developing a skill). It’s because this episode is such an all-around star effort, made with the clear enthusiasm of a crew that knows a big shift is coming. We edge around most of the actual plot details, avoided with minimal annoyance through the use of Peridot’s established pettiness, but the way the main cast moves around what can be called nothing less than a core shakeup of the show’s dynamic is thoughtful and every bit as strong as that anticipated main event.
Take Pearl’s over-exaggerated sneaking movements during Peridot’s capture, which are the height of theatricality and yet now have come back into sync as part of the team; Amethyst’s comfort with openly expressing worry for Steven and offering herself as emotional support while still taking every opportunity to tease him; Garnet’s usual compassion hardening more quickly than usual when dealing with the Gem who unearthed the kindergarten experiments (also notable? Garnet doesn’t snatch Peridot’s Gem out to poof her, she squeezes Peridot’s torso so hard that Peridot disintegrates). While it’s largely Steven and Peridot’s show, the episode fills out its edges with stellar evidence of how our heroes have grown.
Even the technical work gets some nice moments to shine. While the camera is mostly still to give full focus to Peridot’s frenetic energy, there are some really nice angles and color palettes—take the tactical overview shot during the capture scene, which then gets repeated for a “bug in a jar” effect when Peridot locks herself in the bathroom. And somehow, the higher quantity of slapstick Peridot seems to inevitably bring to the table works not to overwhelm but to heighten the usual sight gags and deadpan quips. This episode seems to have been boarder Lauren Zuke’s baby, and it absolutely shows in all the loving touches.
While there was a major bit of plot foreshadowing going on this episode, it almost feels beside the point. The “cluster” is certain to be a looming threat through the rest of the season, and given that the title of the season finale is tentatively “Last One Out of Beach City,” I’d say the apocalypse countdown is pretty nigh. But even then, I’m more interested in how the cast will react to it. Will Lapis, when or if she’s freed from Malachite, be willing to help save the planet she’s shown nothing but contempt for? Will Jasper be as horrified by the fusion experiments—which I assume are merely side effects of the cluster proper—as Garnet was, enough to turn loyalties? Is the cluster entirely made of fallen Gems from Rose’s rebellion, or were there transplants? Either way, what will that be like for Garnet when the reveal comes?
And so on. At the rate this show doles out forward plot action, it may well be near those last dozen episodes that we fully confront this idea. Certainly that’s what the Gems want Peridot for, but for us, it’s an exciting opportunity to learn the finer details of current Homeworld society. There’s a bit there already, courtesy of the show’s skill at subtle worldbuilding: Peridot calls Garnet a “war machine,” nodding to that cultural disdain for fusion but from a different perspective—they’re pure tools of violence, since for Homeworld fusion only exists “to make weak Gems strong” (are fused Homeworld Gems ever forcibly fused? Can they be expected to retain sentience when they do?).
Likewise, Peridot looks up at the bubbled Gems and immediately goes to “harvesting,” suggesting that a) the Earth clusters are far from the only time Homeworld’s attempted this, b) that Peridot is quite horrified at the concept but c) is above all concerned for her own safety and damn the rest. And of course there are the “limb enhancers” (kudos to those that called that weeks ago), a nifty bit of rhetoric that further suggests that Homeworld under Yellow Diamond’s rule seems to value an ubermensch sort of mentality. Particularly of note is that, in a stunning hint of hypocrisy, the arguable natural augmentation process of fusion is demonized as unnatural while a small Gem like Peridot doesn’t seem to know how to function once stripped of her (likely mandated) mechanical enhancements. That the purloined foot already represents a complicated web of antagonism, peace offering, teddy bear-totem, and painful memory certainly suggests there’s a lot to mine from Peridot’s psyche.
Speaking of Peridot, grab a chair. There’re words to be had. None of what we heard here today was entirely out of left field—the broad strokes could all be extrapolated from Peridot’s earlier appearances—but something about getting to watch her in a long context that isn’t a desperate fight or a clinical moment of bureaucracy does an amazing amount to humanize her (so to speak). There’s no doubt now that Peridot is extremely young. It’s not so much in her size alone, since Ruby and Sapphire both seem to be shorter than her (relative to Steven).
But while those characters move with intent and an aura of control, even Ruby, Peridot resembles nothing so much as a cornered animal—she runs on all fours, gnaws at foreign objects, touches everything she can get her hands on in order to experience it viscerally, and completely ignores tactical options like the warp pad in the living room. Once she’s cornered in the beach house any semblance of the cool, clinical character we met in “Warp Tour” melts away entirely (given that her sole goal is and seems to have long been getting off planet, I think we can also safely conclude that the fusion monsters have been escaping and acting on their own).
The picture of Peridot we’re given here is that of a paranoid survivor, someone who’s seen horrific things happen to others and determined that she’ll take any measures to avoid the same fate. It makes her the sort who’s willfully cut off empathy in the name of not angering Gems stronger than her, keeping her head down, and always having an exit strategy in mind. And the frustration at that constant self-abasement lends itself to her contemptuous tone and thrill at the opportunity of having power over someone else for a change (check out the gleeful expression that starts the slap fight). Homeworld doesn’t seem a conducive atmosphere for loving relationships even among strong Gems, so it’s no wonder Peridot developed a cruel streak in her attempts to stay under the radar.
At the same time, this episode gives the impression that that cruelty is quite surface level. She slaps Steven when she’s in a fit of spite, but most times her instinct is to run away. Even when she kidnaps him, her threats seem like empty gesturing. And then, of course, there’s the final bathroom scene. Not only does Peridot let Steven in when he offers her a goodwill gesture, suggesting part of her does want to make emotional connections, but her constant assault of “is that a weapon” leads not to her trying to snatch one for her own use but anticipating what blows are coming at her. She’s always prepared for everyone she meets to kick her around, and part of her seems distressingly resigned to that fact.
The point of this episode seems to be to shift our perception of Peridot from “antagonist” to “(relative) child.” Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that she doesn’t have any regeneration forms when she comes out of her Gem, and in fact never seems to have been poofed before—she carries on with her line right where she left off, as if she had no awareness of being inside her gem at all. There’s the height factor as well, but more important than that is her immaturity relative to every other Gem we’ve seen.
This will certainly mark the beginning of a bond between Steven and Peridot (given her outlook, I imagine her arc will involve gaining a willingness to put herself at risk for someone else), and it seems almost as likely that this will give Steven to take the next logical step in his emotional development by becoming a true guide for someone else. The way they play off of each other is already fantastic, after all. And did I mention how amazing Shelby Rabara continues to be on every level? Is there some way in which I can propose to her excellent performance?
This is the start of big things for that adorable triangular brat. The originally released summary for next week’s episode is “Steven helps a friend who’s scared of thunderstorms.” I cannot wait, y’all. And if there’s not at least one Ouran homage I will be incredibly surprised. Hope to see you there!
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Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; lounging Kaworu 3.0-cat plush might be their new favorite tiny weird reference on the show. 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.