Steven Universe Recap: “Kindergarten Kid”

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The Recap: The Crystal Gems finish poofing and bubbling the remainder of Jasper’s failed army, except for one Gem. Convinced it can’t be that hard, Peridot volunteers to catch the monster on her own (with help from Steven) but quickly finds out that she vastly underestimated her opponent.

Of all the places I thought the show might go after the season 3 finale, “extended Road Runner pastiche (with a side of particularly Zim-like Peridot)” did not make the list. “Kindergarten Kid” pushes the laws of the (Steven) universe to their limits in order to pull off some of the comedy (as well as some of the modeling, because Peridot’s hair is downright giant in some of the later scenes)–I suppose the handwaving explanation would be that Peridot was initially easily poofed because she was stressed and worn down?–but it’s by and large a success, and easy to excuse for how necessary it was.

Steven and Peridot are officially the best comedy duo the show has to offer, winning the title with no small amount of competition. They have a warm, earned rapport that’s unique among Peridot’s relationships at the moment, and it still gives Steven someone he can act as mentor to (though they’re close enough to equal footing that I’d lay odds on…Tourmaline? as Steven’s next compatible fusion). As a duo they can take arguably the most juvenile approach to the show’s hard topics, offering an in for younger viewers who might not be ready to grapple with harder questions like the whole “is bubbling Gems really different from caging them or is that another line” thing.

And on a simpler level, Peridot’s got just enough resilience and abrasiveness (she’s “rigid,” in comedic terms) to make her the most suitable target for the show’s rare trip into slapstick. It’s well balanced, the injuries cumulative enough to feel as if it’s all driving things toward an earned conclusion but also not given enough weight to feel cruel. It’s the karmic equivalent of getting….well, hit with a barrage of marshmallows, only half the time the marshmallows are really big rocks. The fact that Garnet and the others were on standby the whole time, acting with the help of future vision, takes whatever sting was left out of the whole arrangement.

Peridot’s continuing character arc is something of a surprise joy. It’s not uncommon for a character, once redeemed, to be checked off the list and shuffled off into the groupthink of the heroes. But Peridot is still kind of a jerk. Or rather, she’s learned to care about a select group of people, but still has difficulty understanding the experiences of others and doesn’t instinctively try to step outside her own box. It’s not just a switch from bad to good, but a whole new way of thinking, and it takes practice and a fair number of missteps to get right.

Some folks have asked why the show’s tendency toward redemption arcs hits such a chord and, for me anyway, this is it. There’s a lot of media quite rightfully exploring the idea that those who’ve been wronged or victimized don’t owe forgiveness to the people who hurt them. There’s emphasis on how far one can go before it’s impossible to come back. But there’s not as often, or at least not in a thoughtful way, portrayals of how to come out of that dark place and be a better person.

If you’ve ever been hurtful or insensitive at some point in your life, and I’m sure we all have to some degree or other, there’s real comfort in seeing a story that says “that was not okay, and you’ll face consequences; but you’re also not eternally irredeemable trash. As long as you understand why you were wrong and work to atone, you can get better.” Which is a really important piece of nuance to have out in the world.

So every time Peridot says something callous, only to learn from it and then make another tentative step forward, it kind of restores a tiny bit of my faith in humanity. But I’d say that’s rather enough digression on the subject for now.

With the final shot sending the bubbled gemrunner back to the barn, different color and all, this season has already taken its first step down what I suspect will be a season-long road: the push and pull of differentiating from Rose while still echoing her past actions. After all, Steven has now recruited a small Gem who failed their original purpose, a trapped Gem who initially relied heavily on him (before beginning to form her own existence) and (if Jasper does fully join the team), a combination of a fighter and a very high status Gem whose life changed after experiencing fusion; meanwhile, Peridot and Lapis have set up in an Earth building with no connections to the Rebellion, but they’ve also now begun storing (different colored) bubbles there. Even in “Bubbled,” Steven was caught between trying to connect by claiming he was Rose, only for that to get him in more trouble. That poor child has a lot of self-reflection before him.

The Steven Nuke caps off tomorrow with a fusion-focused episode, and I would care not one whit if it was entirely fanservice (though I doubt that’ll be the case). If it means we get to see those rare characters and dig out some talented voices from the Hall of Guest Actors, I’m all for it.

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Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; they have a lot of feelings about triangles, alright. 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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