I suspect the episode titles are deliberately trolling me now.
The recap: A hard-hitting webumentary by Ronaldo Fryman about the lurking danger that lives on the very shore of Beach City – the Crystal Gems. A nice check in with our local townsfolk after the crash of Peridot’s ship in which the plot temporarily grinds to a halt.
Alright, so after Monday night’s hardcore gut punching session pretty much anything short of bringing back Jasper or Peridot was inevitably going to be a massive letdown. This is an episode that I suspect is going to look better as an aside in hindsight (like “Political Power” after we got to see “Shirt Club”) – something to look back on as a touchstone for how Ronaldo’s improved since this moment. But right now this current Ronaldo is the only one we have… and well, I can’t help looking at it as filler. By the time Ronaldo has his camera pointed away from the crash landing of the ship, it’s out and out become an episode about missing the point.
Part of the problem, I suspect, is Ronaldo. While the other inhabitants of Beach City have mostly gotten chances to show off some lovely moments of humanity, Ronaldo’s almost gotten flatter in his last few appearances – I was really endeared by the lonely, sweetly overzealous kid we saw back in “Horror Club” (in fact I think there’s some depth to be plumbed in Lars and Ronaldo’s old friendship), but that well-meaning characterization has been far out of the spotlight of late.
It’s tough, of course, when you have a character who has “denial in the face of all reasonable objection” as a primary character trait, but Ronaldo’s main function in his last few appearances has been to function more or less as a harmless egoist – a little bit Alex Jones, a lot a very particular type of internet commentator (he’s a few hat tips short of a m’lady at times). And while that can lend itself well to jokes, it feels incongruous to the loving care Steven Universe is known for applying to its cast. And honestly, we’re at the point where the inherent joke runs the risk of wearing a bit thin.
All that being said, this is pretty darn funny as a stand-alone episode. As someone who had to sit through a lot of high school film project, let me tell you how perfectly this episode nails that jarring train-of-thought editing and weird camera angles and iMovie editing, mixed in with the weird over-intensity of a Youtube conspiracy video (I about cried when it got to Ronaldo’s credits page, I was laughing so hard). Little touches like the descriptors for each interviewee or Ronaldo’s half pseudo-Illuminati, half college graduation banner setup are great as well – I would not be surprised if the writer’s room had a well of good jokes about internet videos that they poured into this opportunity. That, and more than a few riffs on some good-old History Channel clickbait narration (the answer may surprise you being my other favorite moment).
So it’s… it’s. I’ll be honest, folks, there’s not a lot I’ve found to plumb out of this one. It’s nice that the citizens of Beach City don’t suffer from Marvel syndrome and seem pretty content to let the Gems be so long as they keep trouble out of everyone’s places, and there are enough nice beats between Ronaldo and Peedee that I sort of want to spend a whole day having a proper adventure with them. And of course, closing on Steven clicking the “like” button is the sort of sweet little touch that represents both him and the show as a whole.
Since we’ve run a bit short and I didn’t have time for it yesterday, a few words on the new opening. It’s great! People have already beaten me to the punch in going over the basics, of course, since a day on the internet is more or less an eternity. But a few extra notes: not only is Steven now a proper member of the team in the first shot, but his voice can actually be heard in the sound mix where it couldn’t before (he also reads the Gems tussling his hair as a gesture of affection now where he looked peeved at being treated like a child in the first opening); and while the Gems were shot in shadow and looking to the side of the camera in the first opening, they’re now looking directly at us (having both renewed their promise to protect humanity and having opened up to us as characters).
Speaking of sound, you can also hear Greg’s electric guitar in the music as the camera cuts to him, showing his contribution to the Gems in recent adventures (I believe in the past I’ve touched on how much music plays a part in communication and bonding in the show). And finally, last and maybe best, instead of the Gems be introduced in their own shots they’re all coming together around Steven. Pearl might still be grappling with some serious issues (I’ll owe somebody a dollar if they don’t come up again during a potentially deadly situation), but there’s a sense that they’re finally making small steps to heal after losing Rose and come together as a new family. And looking out into space, of course. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of that.
Wednesday’s episode is taking us back to the kindergarten, so prepare for the next dive in this rollercoaster of emotions (place your bets on Peridot hiding out there now). I’m not ready so much as I’m on the verge of bursting out of my skin with excitement. Hope to see you there!
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Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; they wanted to go with “Keep Beach City Queer” but realized that was gloriously redundant. 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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