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Steven Universe Recap: Doug Out

doug out

The Recap: Connie’s dad comes to Beach City to investigate reports of trespassing in Funland, and Steven and Connie tag along to help him out.

“Have we really not hung out with Connie’s dad yet?” I wondered as this episode got started, and then spent yet more time wondering if they’d had another case of changing voice actors a la Mr. Smiley … and then wondering if we’d actually heard him speak at all up to this point. The answers are yes, no, and yes, if you’re wondering (his first appearance was in “Fusion Cuisine,” but he’s mostly been pretty backseat to Connie’s mom).

Given that it’s been a long time since we’ve seen him at all, and that we’ve never done much character exploration, it’s perhaps permissible that the episode is trying to have one over on us. Nothing’s exactly lost in taking a sudden left with Doug’s character, since most of what we knew before was just part of him acting as a unit with his wife. If anything, it was nice to see famed “That Guy” actor Crispin Freeman get something a bit meatier and more distinct to work with. While it might not be as natural as some of the other minor character check-ins, it ends up working for the best.

Oh, and on the subject of character tweaks… someone desperately needs to have a communal crew talk, because the Squashed Peridot Problem is spreading. While Doug looks younger and better than in any of his previous appearances, Connie and Steven are squat and boxy in a way that makes them look around the same age as Onion, which makes for a weird visual dynamic in the moments where Steven is acting as a reassuring older brother. The almost chibified off-model days can get by in lighter episodes like this one, which is sweet despite not reaching the heights of Maheswaran family bonding in “Nightmare Hospital,” but it runs the risk of undercutting more serious moments while making it even harder to believe that Steven’s actually supposed to be fourteen.

Doug makes for a great dad character, right up there with Greg as he happily buys into the kids’ disguise games and shares his daughter’s quiet longing for an exciting life. Abrams and Mitroff’s style is perfect for helping Doug come off as warm, trustworthy, and memorable, with a bonus heartwarming callback to Steven and Onion’s now-cemented friendship. Like an actual stakeout, this episode is mostly about killing time until the big moment at the very end, but if the time until then feels less than monumental, it doesn’t feel wasteful either.

Still, the “wait for it” sense that pervades the episode as a whole is finally paid off in the last seconds: slow, effective transition for an episode that’s about the crossing of borders in various ways: Doug coming to Beach City, being in an amusement park after dark (Steven and Connie both get great one liners in this one), and the tearing of the fence in a brutal, ominous fashion. And sure enough, we have silhouettes of two new Gem antagonists to chew on.

It’s difficult to discuss the tension with any real depth given how easily one can simply go on and find out all the rest (even if you’ve been avoiding spoilers, their names are already ubiquitous, as well as the fact that this conflict will be bleeding over into the next season). Still, even on its own it makes a great teaser. The designs are clearly made to be distinctive from Gems who’ve come before and set off curiosity as to what that difference signifies–are they some manner of new model Gems, like Peridot? Ones made specifically to deal with the Crystal Gems in the wake of what happened during the trip to space? Rogue agents?

Yes, I’m aware that the conjecture is even more pointless than usual. The point is that this is a case of what the show’s always done well: giving a sliver of information that slots into a collected puzzle collage of other doled out hints, opening the way for theorizing while also being perfectly enjoyable to a casual viewer. It also speaks well to the show’s pacing. As frustrating as CN’s scheduling can be, the episodes themselves work well together in units, coming into its own with the Bomb formula (season 1 had more elements of Adventure Time’s pacing, dropping very distant backstory and visual cues behind the goofy shenanigans) to set up concentrated plot arcs and then relaxing into character stretches. It knows when to breathe and when to focus.

We actually have one more character episode before diving fully into Gem issues. Hopefully “The Good Lars” will indeed build on the fairly promising last look we got at the character (finally, at last). Hope to see you there!

Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; they’re their own self-sufficient salt mine. You can read more essays and find out about their fiction at Fashionable Tinfoil Accessories, listen to them podcasting on Soundcloud, support their work via Patreon or PayPal, or remind them of the existence of Tweets

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