There are two sides to Steven Universe‘s addictive brilliance: One is its deft, deep character-driven storytelling and masterful slow burn approach to its worldbuilding and lore. The other is its adorable goofy charm, its laidback slice-of-life-style comedic atmosphere. This most recent run of episodes has given us a huge dose of both.
Over the past few weeks Steven Universe has been running the months (thanks to its extended programming schedule), but the vast majority of it has been… uneventful.
And I don’t mean that as a critique, but perhaps instead as a subversion of what fans expected: a huge climax, the world of Steven Universe being blown wide open with mindbending fan theory confirmations or a new slice of backstory about the Crystal Gems to pick apart and analyse. We got a climax, but instead of really blowing the story up in epic scale, the show’s focus has been ratcheted back down to the Crystal Gems and its new additions (more on them later) and simply life carrying on in the face of an almost-cataclysm.
Let’s focus on that epic conclusion first, namely the show closing the book on the threat of the nefarious Cluster weapon blowing the Earth to pieces. While the build-up to this story, angled through the lens of Peridot’s evolution from foe to friend, has been exciting, it’s been an arc that hasn’t really felt comfortably Steven Universe. It’s bigger than anything the show has ever done, threat wise. The stakes are much more dire than its usual fare (even if its usual fare is sometimes a monster to fight). But above, it’s been about resolving a conflict with violence: before the cluster can weaponise itself and extinguish all life on Earth, Steven and the Gems had to take the fight to it and destroy it.
This is a show that champions the strength in bonds, acceptance, and diversity in the face of violence and hate. “Kill it before it kills us,” for want of a better word, is not what Steven Universe is about. So it’s completely acceptable — if not as groundbreaking as fans might have expected about the Gems finally hatching their plan to drill down through Earth into the Cluster to stop it — that Steven solved the conflict by simply asking the gem shards that made up the cluster to basically simmer the hell down and not panic.
Instead of destroying them, Steven offers them a helping hand, a reassurance of safety. It’s a huge moment of character for him, and not just because it shows the expansion of his powers as a superhero (not even his mother Rose could bubble something as volatile and huge as the cluster).
And then it’s even more typical that the show has spent the few episodes after that being breezy, lighthearted fun. I mean, they spent the most recent episode doing a goofy as hell baseball game skit — another subversion of its approach to conflict, as the game was held against an expeditionary Gem force looking to track down Peridot for betraying Homeworld. Oh, and the Gems were pretending to be humans to throw them off, complete with secret identities like Pearl becoming “Earl” and Lapis… becoming “Bob.”
It was hilarious! Much of this fun has been thanks to the fact that the show has been spending less time focusing on Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl recently and instead on the dazzling newcomer Peridot (and to a lesser extent, Lapis Lazuli, now that she’s begrudgingly entered the fold as the excellent straight-gem to Peridot’s goofy hijinks). Now that she’s truly part of the team, Peridot has been the humorous heart of the series lately.
She gets the focus a good chunk of the time, even compared to Steven. She definitely gets the best jokes. But above all she’s essentially taken Steven’s previous position in the show’s dynamic. He’s still a loveable goofball, but he’s grown as a person and learned to accept the scale and demand of the world of Gems and superpowers he’s found himself in. While Peridot’s experienced in the “gem side” of Steven Universe, she’s not experienced in the simplicity of living a life in Beach City. Given her frequent moments of hilarity in this run (it’s hard to pick a favourite, but pretty much the entirety of her attempting to get Lapis to like her in “Barn Mates” had me in stitches), it’s going to be a glorious sight to behold.
And that seems what we’re in store for when the show returns for some more episodes — a refocusing down to the humdrum of life in a post-Cluster world. There can’t be monsters and epic Gem empires to piss off every week, after all. As a show, Steven Universe has come in leaps and bounds in its storytelling approach and its deft handling of its fascinatingly flawed central characters. It’s time to kick back a little and enjoy a relaxing summer of fun for a bit.