Steven Universe: Back to the Barn
October 8, 2015 3:19 PM - Season 2, Episode 23 - Subscribe

When Pearl and Peridot clash over who should build a drill to get to the Cluster, Steven has them compete with giant robots.
posted by Small Dollar (25 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
aaaaaaa I love this episode so much I'm literally drawing fanart right now (called it)

she taught herself to fight and build things!!! how I feel about Pearl rn
posted by glass origami robot at 4:59 PM on October 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I got very indignant at Peridot's attitude, HOW DARE YOU INSULT PEARL but so proud that Pearl came back and gave her what-for.

Also, she mentioned that she was "a Peridot" so that's another confirmation. Pearls=servants, Peridots=techs.

Glad Peridot was able to come around but not be humiliated to do it. She is a tough little munchkin, that's going to come in handy.

Guess we know what upcoming episode "Gem Drill" is about. OR DO WE??
posted by emjaybee at 5:04 PM on October 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Caste stuff always reminds me of Jack Vance's "The Last Castle". But man, what an episode! Loved the absurdity of the robot competition. Good plan, Steven!
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 6:53 PM on October 8, 2015

I just remembered Rose Quartz calling Pearl "my Pearl." (!)
posted by glass origami robot at 6:56 PM on October 8, 2015 [10 favorites]

That was beautiful from start to finish. I knew they had to tie, but the fight at the end and everyone rallying around Pearl was wonderful, as was Peridot backing down and teaming up with Pearl in the end.

Favorite moments:
* 'Tree' and 'Subjective' having tallies in the contest.
* "STOP! Giant robots shouldn't fight!" Even when Steven is clearly wrong, he's great.
* The Cluster puppet.
posted by mordax at 8:44 PM on October 8, 2015 [9 favorites]

I loved Amethyst's modeling for art and the conclusion that it was subjective, and that they went the extra mile to make the impressions we got of their paintings indicative of their general style/outlook. Of course Pearl would be representational and Peridot would be impressionistic. This show is so short and so completely packed with detail!

Also great was how the color story of the episode conveyed the passage of time as well as began to echo Pearl's palette of warm pastels. Using the sunset like that is so clever and deft.

One thing I'm curious about is that since it's canon that Gem society is hierarchical and different Gems have different roles, what does Peridot think Steven is good for, since she knows he's at least partially a Quartz? Quartz is a pretty common stone irl; both amethyst and jasper are types of quartz. Wow, quartz really doesn't seem like a word right now... Anyway, it seems like Rose Quartz might not have been one of a kind either, and that has interesting ramifications - of course if that was a false identity to hide a Diamond, that's even more interesting.
posted by Mizu at 11:20 PM on October 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

To be honest, I'm not super thrilled that there is apparently going to be narrative about racism and slavery and the ownership of individuals in the show. I guess I should have seen things heading this way. But... it's too heavy a topic. If the show doesn't become entirely about that (which no one wants), I don't think it will be able to help making the issue overly simplistic and psychologically unrealistic.

Peridot's colossal racism was portrayed as a kind of personality foible, or a kind of ignorance about what Pearls are capable of and about whether Pearls can exist without being owned and having a specified function. But that in itself already diminishes the topic. It treats racism as something to be corrected purely by education; but the ignorance that leads to racism is typically a willed ignorance, born from conscious or unconscious self-serving intentions to retain one's status as a member of a ruling class.

Maybe I'll be surprised with how Peridot's attitude toward Pearl develops. I like how the show has been handling heavy issues in sexual politics. But that's in large part because fusion is metaphorical, so they don't need to incorporate all the complexities of real attitudes toward sex. Here we have genuine ownership of individuals. So jeez, I'm worried. I don't really my sweet and touching cartoon to tackle slavery. I don't really want to see a story about how personal compassion on its own can topple a system of well-entrenched dehumanization. But that's where I expect the story to go.
posted by painquale at 3:32 AM on October 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

I don't really want to see a story about how personal compassion on its own can topple a system of well-entrenched dehumanization. But that's where I expect the story to go.

It's possible Sugar and co. will flub this somehow, but they have a pretty good track record of not taking the easy narrative option with other issues. I don't expect Steven to heal the Homeworld with the Power of Love. His dad and Rose in flashbacks have hinted at dark truths about what Gems are and do and have done. It would be surprising if there was some sort of series ending that tied everything up with a bow. I imagine whatever the resolution is will not be 100% It's All Good Now.
posted by emjaybee at 10:29 AM on October 9, 2015

Preview for next week: TOUCH STUMPS
posted by emjaybee at 1:18 PM on October 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

I feel that, Painquale. I really want them to pull this off, but while I thought caste might be part of what came between Rose and Pearl, I really wasn't expecting slavery. That's just so heavy that it threatens to warp the fabric of the show -- it introduces all these issues of consent into Pearl and Rose's relationship. Pearl's obsessive love always had a sweetness that kept things from feeling too dark, but what becomes of that sweetness if Pearl is literally custom-made to serve and care for Rose? What do we even call a relationship like that?

It frustrated me that the plot required Pearl to prove that she can transcend her station before Peridot could accept her help. Peridot's racism is Peridot's problem, not Pearl's.

Having said that, I liked how this episode showed the Gems being brought fully together again in opposition to Peridot, and I like that Pearl has somehow become even more like C-3P0.
posted by thesmallmachine at 3:20 PM on October 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

People, you're judging Steven Universe by how closely it hews to reality. Wrong: you judge reality by how closely it follows SU.
posted by signal at 6:09 PM on October 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

I don't know if slavery is the right concept here. It's pretty clear that gems are created by those huge machines in the kindergarten. If they're created, then it's reasonable that they're created for a purpose. Which is a different idea and one I thought was quite effective at contextualizing things. Back in Lion 3 Rose talked about how earth was special because: "Each living thing has an entirely unique experience". At the time I thought it was odd, because it heavily implied gem's didn't. Or the fact that the both the Crystal and Homeworld gems have been shown to be disturbingly comfortable treating each other as objects. If your experience of life is that you have been mass produced for a purpose and are identical to thousands like you it explains a lot of why Gem behavior can be so inhuman, and why they might be so dedicated to the idea of protecting earth.

I also suspect this is how Peridot is going to become an actual member of the team, rather than someone grudgingly working with them out of self preservation. The line about "A Peridot with a Pearl" implied two things: Peridot thinks of herself as 'a Peridot' and Peridots are not high status. We haven't seen a lot of Peridot's interactions with other home-world Gems, but Jasper treated her with something bordering on contempt. If Peridot is a typical example, then on homeworld they don't learn to use their gem abilities, but rely on those enhancers. It would also kind of follow with the 'parallel team' that they seem to be hinting at around Steven.
posted by Grimgrin at 10:03 PM on October 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Hey, check it out. There seem to be a couple of comic books on the table when Peridot breaks the phone apart. One of them seems to be titled "PUG DAVIS," the name of Rebecca Sugar's graphic novel....
posted by JHarris at 1:47 AM on October 10, 2015

From Iron Giant to Hellboy, "you are who you choose to be" is one of my most beloved themes, and it takes on additional power when framed in a caste system.

Pearl may not have been "built for fighting" but she has chosen to be that and more. So good to be reminded that she's not just her emotional damage.
posted by whuppy at 7:18 AM on October 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't know if slavery is the right concept here. It's pretty clear that gems are created by those huge machines in the kindergarten. If they're created, then it's reasonable that they're created for a purpose. Which is a different idea and one I thought was quite effective at contextualizing things.

I agree with your interpretation of how gems are made, but I don't think that implies that slavery is the wrong concept to use. Slavery involves the ownership of individuals within a system in which individuals can be held as property. It sounds like that's exactly what is happening on the Homeworld.

It seems like there are two reasons you think the concept of slavery is inappropriate here. The first is that the gems self-conceive of themselves as having the purposes to which they are put: they can hardly imagine having different experiences. But this kind of brainwashing is a typical part of actual slavery. Enslaved peoples are psychologically forced to self-conceive of themselves as necessarily enslaved and given no options to have other sorts of experiences. That's a powerful mechanism for upholding a system of slavery.

The second reason is that gems are made for a particular purpose. This is true of many actual people as well! There's a gamut that runs from relatively benign purposes (parents having children in order to have someone to take over the farm, care for them in old age, or secure a legacy) to much darker purposes. But we cannot move from the fact people are made for a purpose to the claim that those people are for that purpose. You can tell a person, "here is why we made you," but that doesn't imply "this is all you are for." I don't see why anything would be different for gems. Our Pearl was made for a purpose. Does that imply that she could not be enslaved to fulfill that purpose? Of course not.

The problem revealing itself is that gems are treated kinda like individuals with autonomy, and kinda like objects. But as much as we're told they're objects, they're clearly not mere objects. They have wills and they have autonomy and they have emotions. Every gem we've seen is like this, whether from Earth or Homeworld. And that means that when they are owned, they're enslaved.

In retrospect, something like this was clearly bound to happen. The show often presents gems as really alien, barely human, and we're told they're just rocks... but none of that is really true. The show tells us this, but shows us something different. The gems have autonomy and emotion... they're not objects, they're just oddball characters. So when they show starts treating the gems like property or objects, it's going to turn really awful.

Maybe this is all part of the plan. I'm sure they want the Homeworld to be dark. But I slightly suspect they don't realize just how dark this is. I'm very curious to see what Pearls on the Homeworld are like. (Are those Pearls going to say that they like their servile roles? Will they essentially be Holopearls incapable of free action? Is our Pearl the only one capable of having her eyes opened? Etc.)
posted by painquale at 10:03 AM on October 10, 2015

I kind of want to see Pearl interacting with other Pearls now. For all that she can be bundle of neurosis and clinginess from our point of view, the other Pearls have probably never seen another of their own kind who's so free-spirited, capable, and independent. Would they find her horrifying? Inspirational? Excitingly scandalous?
posted by baf at 11:24 AM on October 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm actually getting a kind of "First Men on the Moon" vibe from Gem society, with purpose-created gems assigned to lifetime roles. Which in the novel itself was intended to be alien and horrifying.
posted by happyroach at 12:50 PM on October 10, 2015

I think it's important to note that despite the influence living with Rose Quartz (and Steven) and humanity has had on the Crystal Gems none of them have shown the slightest interest in bringing human morality into gem society. The Crystal Gems live on earth to help undo the damage they caused, but also because all three of them have no place in Gem Culture. Furthermore, if the "pink diamond" theory is true, Rose Quartz's only option was to fight for freedom from Homeworld rather than try to use her position to change the status quo (although she probably tried).

Pearl, especially, lives in the knowledge that countless life forms exactly like her live in in servitude every day, and yet the only interest she shows in it is going back to Homeworld to see the glory of the civilization whose only place for her is slavery.

As for gems like Lapis Lazuli, I imagine either gems are designated from "birth" as power sources for gem technology, or any gem that defies its role is put to "good use" as such. You'd think that if the latter were true the Crystal Gems would have been more interested in Lapis Lazuli as a potential ally, but I still think human compassion is not something that comes naturally to them, ever Garnet who knows the most about Love.

Still, slavery is in fact a pretty heady topic for this cartoon, even when it has already hit home runs for consent and sexual politics. Anyway, next week is the last episode for the rest of 2015, so my question is does Cartoon Network understand that you aren't required to drive away interest from shows that have a cult following online?
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:55 PM on October 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think maybe the Crystal Gems had to demonize Homeworld in their minds in order to successfully wage war against them. And yet, don't forget: not only is Homeworld a society that treats its members like things, but even when a colony successfully broke away from them, they decided to sabotage it to incubate a planet-destroying weapon. The Gems had good reason to demonize them, for their own survival.

yet the only interest she shows in it is going back to Homeworld to see the glory of the civilization whose only place for her is slavery.

It's worth noting that this could be like Douglas Adams' animal-who-wants-to-be-eaten, a case where a being is created explicitly to be exploited, and created so that it doesn't mind, and even given the ability to talk so that it can plainly say it's okay with the transaction. That would make Pearl's efforts to overcome that programming even more admirable, but also that she would see her sisters and their attitudes as something to escape from.
posted by JHarris at 3:26 PM on October 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

The fact that Malachite has been kept waiting in the wings so long, with only the merest hint of where she might be (though we can assume she's still fused, otherwise Jasper would be back and looking for revenge?), at the same time that we're getting all the Cluster information, makes me think the two storylines are going to converge in an interesting way. I'm not sure what that will be, or how Malachite's existence/dissolution could affect something like the Cluster, but I can't imagine we just have a one-off "Malachite separated into Lapis and Jasper, the end" stuck into the "Steven and the Gems stop the Apocalypse" plot.

It's exciting to follow and show and really not have any idea how a resolution is going to happen. Such a rare experience.
posted by emjaybee at 8:32 PM on October 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've been thinking about how Rose said to Greg "I really want to play with you", and how Peridot has said Pearls were made to order accessories, and how Pearl said Greg was Roses "favorite" and how Garnet said that Rose really loved people and cried real tears when they were hurt.

It makes me wonder if Rose and Pearl's relationship was originally like the relationship between a child and her favorite toy. I feel like maybe there's some kind of Velveteen Rabbit parallel here with toys coming alive when loved by a child?

In any case, maybe that colors all of the other relationships Rose had. Like Rose initially seeing Greg as a new favorite toy but then Greg eventually convincing her that he was a fully realized independent entity.
posted by delicious-luncheon at 7:34 AM on October 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

Yes, I think gem culture is one where very few members are treated as independent entities. I think gem culture is a bit like an insect colony, where there are different gems with specialized adaptations and if you're that sort of gem you're expected to do your job, and you are probably happy to.

This really paints the Crystal Gems as outcasts. An amethyst, who I'm willing to bet either doesn't exist at all on homeworld or else exists in a very different (likely Jasper-like) form. A pearl who refuses to live as the pretty accessory. A ruby and sapphire that rejected their designated roles so completely that they live perpetually fused into a being with no place in Gem culture. A member of Gem aristocracy that realized what they were doing to the planets they harvested was wrong and through her dealings with humans realized that Gems can-and should-treat each other humanely.

Further musings, now that it's safe to assume there are multiples of every gem:

Sapphires are probably valued as seers and are likely kept high up in Gem culture, while rubies are probably grunt soldiers or workers. This makes their love even more tragically poetic.

Jasper's initial assessment of the Crystal Gems only identified Pearl by name. Amethyst was "a runt" and Garnet was "A shameless display". Since Jasper didn't notice Stephen having Rose's gem until he used Rose's shield (with Rose's emblem) I doubt gems have any innate ability to identify the type of other gems. This is what fuels my suspicion that Amethyst either has no counterparts on Homeworld, or is unrecognizably different from them. This would, of course, make amethyst's feelings of isolation even more tragically poetic.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:49 PM on October 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

An amethyst, who I'm willing to bet either doesn't exist at all on homeworld or else exists in a very different (likely Jasper-like) form.

I'm pretty sure this is an Amethyst who hasn't been overcooked. (Or maybe a bunch of Amethysts fused together.)
posted by painquale at 7:16 AM on October 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

I rewatched this and I've been thinking about the closing bit where Steven attacks himself with the sock-puppet Cluster. I get the feeling this is just like in the future-vision episode where Cookie Cat returns to blast Steve and he says "I never considered that you might be evil!". That was basically foreshadowing the return of the home world gems. So I wonder if the closing socket puppet bit is foreshadowing that the Crystal Gems will try to stop the Cluster on their own but just won't be able to stop it.

Already, we've seen a lot of stuff where in other cartoons the hero uses his new found powers to fix everything, while in Steven Universe it never quite works out like that. For instance, Steven can't just use his healing powers to fix the storm sphere, his dad has to duct-tape it. So I suspect it might be the same with the Cluster. They aren't just going to be able to drill down and fix it or bubble it or something. They are going fail and then have to come up with an unexpected Plan B.
posted by delicious-luncheon at 3:41 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

An interesting thing....

Remember when, to show Steven about the cluster, Peridot had to take Steven to the Kindergarten and boot it up to show him the illustration? Apparently Peridot doesn't have Pearl's projection powers, which in a way gives Pearl a leg up on her.

In fact... throughout the show so far, Peridot has yet to exhibit any gem powers that don't involve her enhancements. I am given to wonder if maybe....

A. Peridot is a very young gem and powers are something that gems discover as they get older, which seems unlikely considering we've been told that gems are made fully-formed, or
B. Peridots are not made to have abilities other than their technical knowledge, which is why they are equipped with limb enhancers, or
C. developing powers is something that gems only do on Earth, due to the planet's unique properties.
posted by JHarris at 10:52 PM on January 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

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