Steven Universe Recap: Friend Ship
In case you weren’t sure Peridot was a Zim analogue before.
The Recap: The Gems finally track down Peridot, but Pearl’s desperate desire to prove herself and earn back Garnet’s trust leads to them getting trapped in an old Gem spaceship.
We end this Steven Bomb not with a whimper but with a very contented exhale. This finale had a touch of everything: solid emotional resolution, comedy, creative fight choreography, and almost enough Shelby Rabara to set my heart overflowing with glee. It’s clear the Crewniverse have the swing of the Steven Bomb thing down at this point, as this run of episodes more or less coalesces together into a neatly tied mini-arc. The major conflict grows and is addressed at a realistic rate, and the threads that are left over feel true to life in the way that we can now just call expected.
One might be forgiven for calling the actual Box of Conveniently Slow Murder where Pearl and Garnet are finally forced to talk a little too on the nose, but it would seem the writers knew this too: the whole rest of the episode takes pains to emotionally justify that forced confrontation as the only possible solution, with Amethyst trying and failing to get the feuding Gems to talk between missions and pointing out that capturing Peridot would do exactly nothing to make things better. Likewise, the fact that the entire week thusfar has dealt with each party reacting to Pearl’s betrayal of trust keeps “Friend Ship” from feeling like a quick fix meant to rush past the dull or inconvenient aspects of this conflict.
In other words, it is definitely a formulaic choice of conflict resolution. But it’s cleverly executed formula, addressing the downfalls of the device in question while playing up the strengths that made is popular in the first place: Amethyst’s brief decision to leave them in there to talk it out is just shy of becoming a stand-in for the audience while also making absolute sense for the character; the visual claustrophobia of the shrunken box heightens the intensity of the conversation at hand, allowing the camera’s tight headshots to speak not just for the characters’ emotions but also the sense of time running out on a literal and figurative level.
While the revelation about the “Pearls as worker class Gem” theory (as well as a few interesting implications about the connection between Pearl and Peridot, since they’re the only ones who seem to be able to “plug in” to Gem tech) apparently being true added an extra raw element to Pearl’s apology, even it took a back seat to the critical conversation about agency and illness. Garnet’s dialogue is dense with some very heady concepts, all of them no more solved in a day than the trust Pearl is working to win back.
Because discussion of mental illness is so rarely had in media, there’s almost no precursor for what happens here: the acknowledgement that Pearl does have worth, that Garnet too has doubts and inner struggles (and the implication therein that one’s own burdens do not exist in a vacuum), and that part of creating a mutually supportive and loving environment is working one’s hardest not to let your own difficulties hurt others. It is okay to have problems, to need help from others, in other words – but it’s equally important to remember to recognize your own struggles and take control of addressing them (put in an example, I can check a door lock once or a hundred times before I leave the house; but if I’m meeting a friend for a concert, it is then my responsibility to plan in my own extra time for rituals before they arrive, not expect them to be okay with being late).
A community of support takes recognition on all sides, after all – Pearl trying to “win Garnet’s trust” by catching Peridot is a well-meaning but selfish approach to solving the problem, since it focuses on what Pearl thinks should make Garnet happy without recognizing the source of Garnet’s anger. Her small, serious statement that they should only fuse if Garnet is willing (even when their lives are on the line) shows true understanding on Pearl’s part of what she did and how she needs to change moving forward. And while it doesn’t (it shouldn’t!) mean that all is immediately forgotten, the recognition of bad behavior and showing signs of fixing it is what good conflict resolution is all about. Which, let’s face it, is as good a lesson for us adults as it is for the kids in the audience.
With Pearl’s current arc resolved, for the moment at least, we can take a brief turn over to discussing the other resident point haired Gem. There are few characters on the show at present who I find so thoroughly delightful as Peridot. She lets a few alarming tidbits slip this episode, foremost the fact that the Earth has an “expiration date” – probably meaning some non-Gem invading force (since otherwise Peridot wouldn’t need to call for help); the creation of her hand laser also seems to be a new adaptation, since it knocks her off her feet and leaves her looking downright shocked that it worked at all (watching her continual surprise at finding new uses for her surveying skills, I find myself wondering at what the Crystal Gems were like in the first few months outside of Homeworld’s influence). And, oh yeah, she cut off her own foot. That’s not coming back unless she can safely find a place to “poof” herself, and she can no longer use the warp pads without the Crystal Gems immediately zeroing in on her. Peridot’s well and truly cornered, and her days of freedom are clearly limited. It’s almost kind of… sad.
Because while Peridot is unquestionably a villain of sorts, well in need of an ass kicking and a solid heap of atonement, it’s pretty hard to hate her as a real threat. The framing of her appearances almost always has a comical edge to it (even “Keeping it Together,” which separates neatly into halves featuring first Peridot and then the very old experiments she was checking up on), and Peridot is always getting away by the skin of her teeth while voicing the most 90s of insults. Even today, when she set up a hall of death traps, the threat of them is almost entirely secondary to the conflict it’s forcing forward. Her petty, childish frustration and bewildered panic; the energetic creativity of her various contortions – it’s almost joyful in a way that confrontations with Malachite, Jasper, or even Lapis’ first appearance simply weren’t.
Nothing represents that more clearly than Steven, who’s clearly having the time of his life bantering with Peridot while also happily wishing her good morning. And in a world as Miyazaki-like in its approach to its antagonists as Steven Universe is, I’ve made it my firm position that I’ll only give up on the possibility of a character’s redemption when Steven does. It seems almost certain that Peridot’s next appearance will mark the end of her freedom, so I can only hope that she’s kept around as an information source rather than being stuck in a bubble. Rabara is too much fun to think about losing for whole seasons, and I yearn for the possibility of a future Peridot and Steven bonding episode. Their rapport is simply too good to pass up (I, for one, cannot believe the Crewniverse waited this long to bring in the eyelid pull, and seeing Peridot seem to pick it up from Steven was icing on the cake).
For that matter, it’s clear something nastier will be threatening Earth at some point. And if Peridot doesn’t change her tune, she’s exactly the kind of minor annoyance-level villain who would be killed off to establish the severity of the incoming threat. And that would be a dreadful loss – she’s a sour little brat, but an endearing one.
And that’s Steven Bomb 3.0! What happens from here is a little bit unclear: we’ll definitely have a hiatus at some point in the future, since Matt Burnett’s said that they’ve aired almost all of the finished episodes; at the same time, at least three more episode titles have been announced, and there’s no concrete scheduling news for or against whether those are for upcoming weekly airings or the next Steven Bomb.
Well, whatever happens, you can trust I’ll be there to geek out about it with y’all. If you find yourself missing me before then, you can always come check out the Rick & Morty recaps I’ll be doing around here, or the recaps of Disney classic Gargoyles that I’ll be starting on my own site next week. Or hey, maybe we’ll meet again for the next Gem adventure. You take care of yourselves out there, readers. See you next time!
Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; they’re at least semi-certain their internal deluge of sad Peridot headcanons will subside by the next episode. Maybe. 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.