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Steven Universe Recap: “Historical Friction”

And now, Shakespeare on the Beach.

historical friction
The Recap: Steven helps Jamie put on a play about the founding of Beach City. The script (written by Mayor Dewey) turns out to be a little lacking in the historical accuracy department, so Steven enlists Pearl’s help to tell the real story.

Another breather, this time with added potential foreshadowing for flavor! Given the chance to step out of his hopeless quest for Garnet’s affections, Jamie took no time to establish himself as a charming, earnest ham. The way he and Steven feed off one another’s enthusiasm is downright adorable, and the animators are obviously having an absolute field day with Eugene Cordero’s sometimes Shakespearean, sometimes Shatnerian cadence. It’s a great opportunity for artist jokes, too. The intensely relatable fiery-eyed freak out followed by Very Adult Professional Gratitude is the voice of a million creators, regardless of medium.

Watching Jamie succeed is a small and necessary triumph in the face of all the heavy issues going on this week—and he is doing pretty darn well to have scrims that fancy in a first amateur production, how much budget did they have?—and a nice counterpart to seeing Amethyst confide in Vidalia yesterday. Steven might not be telling Jamie his troubles, but it’s giving him an outlet where he can wholeheartedly enjoy something without having to worry about Important Gem Business, and that’s more important than ever.

It’s nice to see some of the secondary cast again as well. Dewey is a character who works best, for me anyway, in small doses; and accordingly, my favorite beat for his character wasn’t Joel Hodgson’s solid-as-usual comedic delivery but the small shot of Dewey looking warmed to his toes by Buck’s approval. It would seem that Dewey is slowly moving toward awkward dad and away from paper blustering authority figure (though some of that bluster is part of his charm), and that softening could well lead to him being a real reliable leader in his own right when the moment calls for it. Though the sooner we can drop his crush on Pearl into a coffin and bury it a meter deep, the happier I’ll be.

There’s something of an unwritten rule of thumb that any episode about putting on a play will have some element of meta to it. Accordingly, here we have a bit more commentary on the rumbling over our Gems showing weakness and lashing out at or otherwise accidentally hurting their loved ones (Pearl’s bearing the brunt of it now, but don’t think I don’t remember poor Amethyst after “Maximum Capacity”). And while it’s ultimately pretty bald faced—heroes who don’t struggle are boring, and people who never mess up are never pushed to change themselves—it’s the kind of card the show’s sincerity gives it a pass to pull out once in a while. And in-universe (we don’t brook puns here), the blend of quiet love and realizations in Steven’s reassurances and Pearl’s thanks is simply too well-executed and delicate to begrudge.

Meanwhile, Pearl’s very vocal enthusiasm for Steven’s acting talent is a reintroduction of a character trait that’s been in the background of late. While Pearl certainly isn’t over Rose’s death, it’s obvious that she loves Steven as a unique person as well. Let’s not forget that, because it may save her in her darkest hour.

As for the meat of the play itself, it’s the kind of storytelling drip-feeding the show excels at. For example, it would seem from the outline of the giant Gem that the temple is a representation of the fusion between Rose, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl—although, does that mean Steven knows that? Or just that “a fusion” saved the day? The temple itself, in some kind of mech scenario? Regardless, given that it’s a scene of an ultra-powerful fusion saving humanity from a lurking monster in the deep, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get some concrete answers when the time for the confrontation with Malachite comes around.

Although on the other hand, it’s quite possible that William Dewey and his first mate are the men from that glorious picture of the Crystal Gems that involved Garnet punching a shark.


Which, if it is, I can only hope that Rose insisted on them wearing exactly those situation-appropriate costumes and that this is an official and accurate part of Beach City history. It would also suggest that colonization is yet another thing affected by the presence of Gems. Were there indigenous populations who learned to cope with Gem threats? Did having Gems on the coasts drive humans further inland as a general rule (Hollywood being in Kansas seems to suggest so)? The precise socio-geographic makeup of this world is an endless fascination, but I digress. And if originally the Gems were going all the way out to sea to warn off humans, then the fence really was the last, dwindling gasp of the Gems realizing they were stuck sharing the planet up close and personal.

Oh, and Jamie mimicking the Crystal Gems? That may be the comedic highlight of the entire season. The kid really does have talent. I cannot wait to see what he does with a whole community theater program.
Friday’s episode looks like it’ll finally have Pearl and Garnet talking things through, so just go ahead and pre-eviscerate your emotions for convenience’s sake. And then…well, still no word on if we’re going back to weekly episodes or keeping on the Steven Bomb train. Either way, hope to see you there!

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Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; they were unaware that the Crewniverse was chronicling their family’s summertime motel stays so closely, but are glad it helped. 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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