The Recap: Steven convinces Sadie to sing a song in Beachapalooza, but quickly gets caught up in the excitement of planning the show (along with Sadie’s mother, Barb) and takes it way past Sadie’s comfort levels.
When Steven Universe first started airing, it was not uncommon for the prevailing thought I came away with to be “aw, that’s nice.” While they might seem a little lackluster next to the whiz bang space adventures and gut wrenching revelations that have come since, there is a simple sweetness to those earliest episodes that was pretty much guaranteed to act as a breather from life. And while I adore (and feel weirdly proud of – I’m almost never an early adopter, okay? let me have this) what the show’s become and the amount of love its received, it’s always nice to sit back and visit the simple place all those developments grew from.
Because above everything else? This episode is nice. It’s nice that we get to see Sadie’s interests outside of her crush on Lars. It’s nice that her mother’s bad decisions come from a loving, well-meaning place. It’s nice that the whole community really does seem to come together for Beachapalooza, even the Cool Kids and that one adorable lesbian couple from early in season one. It’s nice that Steven has gained such self-awareness and emotional maturity, and also that he looks so adorable and comfortable in Sadie’s outfit. I believe the phrase “cute as fuck” is also applicable, if you are a classy soul like yours truly (be sure to say it with pinky extended). It’s a pleasant grace note that an episode that has the most firm timeline setting so far (this is one year exactly from “Steven and the Stevens,” it seems) is also such a return to deliberate simplicity.
But beyond the show’s trademark genial soul, there’s the fact that it’s just plain well executed. The character beats are balanced well, reading as painfully familiar to kids with overenthusiastic parents (who don’t really listen once they think they’ve got an idea of who their kid is as a static image) and to caretakers who want to awkwardly but enthusiastically share something with kids they genuinely love only to wind up more consumed by their own excitement than said kid’s comfort (because it can be tough to recognize that the little being who depended on you and had simple phases is becoming a complex adult, even if realize it you must). The reconciliation moment between mother and daughter is a relief less for the immediate conflict than for the tense agony of all that well-meaning failure, the awkward pile of stuffed animals in the room.
And the music montages are really something. The lyrics of the pop song might be cheesy and all that by Sadie’s own admission, a very common sort of broad strokes pop ballad with equally broad strokes of ego, but the way they also match up to Sadie’s desire to be heard (not publically, on a stage, but just by the people who love her) rings true to how much meaning even the lightest of songs can have if it comes along at the right moment in life – particularly for teenagers (which, I’m not sure how old Sadie is now? Out of high school, anyway. Maybe 19 or 20). It even changes context pretty seamlessly when Steven takes over singing it, working both as Sadie’s dream of validation and Steven’s exuberant invitation for everyone to celebrate with him as friends.
Barb and Steven’s planning section is quite cleverly boarded, increasing the distance between Sadie and her management and then crowding her out of the frame entirely and making her the camera that watches the “real” performers during the makeup application. Likewise, the meshing of Steven’s glittery stage performance with the quiet ukulele rendition Sadie wanted all along makes the best of both worlds, and stands in as an apology and a renewal of friendship for these two.
And how about Steven’s performance, huh? SU as a show continues to make representation look easy and to repeatedly riverdance gender roles, nay gender itself, in the face. While it isn’t hard to find shows that have “male character wearing dress” somewhere in there, it’s nearly always staged as a punchline for either the characters or the audience. This, though, this is a moment of triumph. Steven looks even better than Sadie in that costume because he was always picking one for himself (she’s a cutie, but that was not her look at all), and the way he’s drawn in it reflects that. It’s the same clothes, the same makeup (kudos on that quick change, by the way), but while it looked uncomfortable and almost clownish on Sadie’s unhappy, nervous face it fits Steven like a dream.
And even more beautifully, there’s not so much as a moment of hesitation from the audience before they begin applauding. Nobody is weirded out by “yup, that is a ten year old boy-child up there in a skirt and heels.” Nobody laughs. There’s no beat of silence with Steven on the stage that invites the audience to feel uncomfortable for or toward him. And I’m half convinced he’s either wearing his mother’s shoes or specifically asked the Gems to make him cute high heels, given the little rose insignia. It’s such a small moment, but for some little kid out there who’s been made fun of for wearing clothes they like? Hell, even for we adults who remember being mocked for not looking or acting like we should? Moments like that have power.
Oh, and also it looks like Ronaldo may have spotted Peridot, and until further notice I will happily take his conspiracy chalkboard as all kinds of foreshadowing.
On a tangential note, have y’all read this article dissecting Matt Burnett’s tweets about the SU cast’s theoretical Magic the Gathering decks? It’s pretty interesting stuff, particularly the bit with Jasper – naturally, given that your analyst wears their redemption goggles all day, every day (motto: I’ll give up when Steven says he does) I keep thinking “trusting one’s innate sense of justice to the strongest power sounds like a setup for a 90s shounen defeat-means-allegiance turn if ever I heard one!” But I’m sure we’ve got the rest of this season at least, if not more, to speculate fruitlessly on that point.
Next week’s episode has one of those worry-inducing short synopses (exploring Steven’s bathroom), so I’d guess we should all prepare for pain preemptively. Hope to see you there!
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Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; they seriously want Sadie and Steven on their karaoke team. 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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