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Steven Universe Recap: “Mr. Greg”

Can't talk, busy crying

mr. greg

via Cartoon Network

The Recap: Greg decides to use his newfound fortune to take his son on a vacation to Empire City, and Steven invites Pearl along in order to force the two to talk about the rift between them.

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Almost no Greg episode is really about Greg. The only real exception, “House Guest,” was way back in season one, and since then it’s been clear that Mr. Universe pretty much has his life together. He’s mourning his wife but in a healthy way, he loves and provides for his son, and he seems content with his place in Beach City and his quality of life. He has troubles, but there’s not really a deep internal rift to fix. So a Greg episode usually ends up a “Greg and” story (see “We Need to Talk”/“Maximum Capacity”). And for their musical episode, they pulled out the big gun: the strained relationship between Greg and Pearl.

Despite being advertised as the big full-on musical episode, only two of the songs really have the usual length and weight of the show’s best stuff. Everything up to then is pleasant but not breakout sung-through style stuff, with the not-quite-leitmotif “Don’t Cost Nothin’” a particularly fine representation of Greg’s approach to life. The hotel where the trio settles is designed with a throwback early 20th century style that encompasses not just the building but the simplified designs of the staff. And it gives us “Mr. Greg,” which is the most throwback of all, complete with its 42nd Street-esque rhythmic speaking and tap segment (it also gave off some Hello Dolly vibes; or rather, that time Freakazoid did that fantastic parody, which is always nice to think on).

The blowout number is Pearl’s heartfelt ballad “It’s Over (Isn’t It), and it’s no surprise to see that it’s already become the most talked-about element of the episode. It’s an exquisite sequence, with the blurry, nostalgic backdrop of Empire City’s lights, the bold and emotive choreography (look at Pearl’s past songs, and how stiff and straight-backed she normally is), and special attention to matching complex facial animation throughout the entirety of the song.

It’s clear that Joe Johnston (who stepped down as a boarder to become the show’s director after this episode) poured all of his heart and soul into it. And, it almost goes without saying, DeeDee Magno Hall absolutely kills it. The song’s style plays perfectly to her Broadway background, and she infuses the music with longing, loss, and a directionless anger that can’t bear to acknowledge that Pearl feels hurt by Rose’s actions more than Greg himself. It’s an easy contender for my new favorite song of the series.

Like I said, it all stands to reason. But softer, simpler, and just as impressive is Steven’s piano number “Both of You.” The song itself is sweet and gentle, a counterpoint to the rawness of Pearl’s ballad (and I’m fascinated by how frequently this episode reinforces the fact that all the singing is actually happening in-universe), but the imagery is the star of the show. The colors, particularly: putting Greg and Pearl in Death Note-style monochrome palettes, oppositional primaries at that, is a good way to frame their coming to a truce without invoking the melding aspect of fusion (I also suspect that part of the reasoning behind Pearl’s swanky tux in this episode was to help visually nudge their dance away from a romantic reading; y’know, for the “gosh, Pearl and Rose are such good friends” crowd); more importantly, it draws the eye to the vivid pink wash that suffuses the background and, eventually, almost everything.

Here we have two people whose lives were utterly subsumed by Rose, who are on inarguably different life paths than if they hadn’t met her, and now they’re adrift in that sea. And when Steven is swapped from his usual model to a pink hued version, it starts to seem as though it’s not him at all doing the singing.

Steven shows strong shades of Rose in this episode, willing to use Pearl and Greg’s assumptions of his naiveté to engineer the situation he thinks is for the “greater good.” His ability to empathize sets him somewhat apart from her to an extent (seriously, everything we find out about Pearl and Rose’s relationship makes it seem more and more like an object lesson in “how not to do polyamory”), but between this episode and “Steven Floats” there’s definitely been a blurring of lines.

The question of how much of Rose is still alive in Steven, and to what extent that’s a metaphor, has been hanging out in the background for a while; Steven’s powers are still read as things Rose could do, and his personality as a leader is still muddled with comparisons to how Rose led the Crystal Gems. It almost needs to come to a head before the next big conflict, to identify a clean break in identity between Steven and his mother – for the sake of his own confidence in addition to how the Gems see him.

As usual with a big emotional event episode, things aren’t solved – Steven’s sleepy refrain at the end is proof enough of that. But Pearl’s tentative friendship with Greg is a much-needed outlet, and it means she can begin moving beyond the emotional rut of her unresolved grief.

Next up is the return of Peridot – let’s see how her relationship with Amethyst has changed since she became a full member of the Crystal Gems. See you then!

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Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; they’re still crying over their emotionally maladjusted fave, thanks. 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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