Spoiler Policy: All spoilers up to and including the currently discussed episode will be unmarked. Spoilers for episodes beyond the current point will be enclosed in Fast Forward blocks, which will include spoilers for the entire series.
Official Episode Description: Steven helps a Boardie kid with his grueling job by using a magical gem shard.
Actual Episode Description: It’s Steven Universe’s very first townie episode!
To expand on that point, Steven Universe sometimes features episodes with only minor involvement from Gems other than Steven, that deal with the problems of the residents of Beach City. The townie episodes serve as breathers after intense lore-heavy events, as a way of showing what the stakes of Steven’s problems are, and often as a metaphor or “trial run” for a problem that Steven will face later on in the series. While some of the townie episodes are well-liked, others are often considered filler and some of the weakest of the series.
Personally, while the townie episodes in general aren’t my favorites, there’s only a handful that I think are so pointless that they’re fine to skip. I think this one is pretty worthwhile, though.
This episode begins with Steven looking for his pants in a huge pile of laundry, while Pearl, holding a bubble full of gem shards, looks for a missing shard.
This is kind of the Gem equivalent of Pearl carrying around a corpse and looking for that corpse’s missing pinky in the kitchen.
Steven’s mind wanders while Pearl is giving a lengthy explanation of the gem shards she’s holding, only zoning back in halfway through the explanation, realizing he’s completely lost. He hasn’t yet really learned his lesson about taking Gem stuff seriously from the last two episodes — that’s going to take a while still.
It’s hard to make out in the background (thank you, transcripts), but Pearl is saying that the shards are a “powerful partial consciousness” that Gems harnessed to create “semi-sentient drone soldiers.” These soldiers eventually became disobedient and turned on their masters, leading the Gems to discontinue their use.
So, even though Pearl kind of handwaves these shards as something the Gems “created,” given what we know later in the series, this is probably a straight-up dead Gem that was enslaved by Homeworld for this purpose. This situation isn’t all that different from Lapis in the mirror, or the Gems trapped in living walls in Homeworld. Pearl treating this in a fairly casual manner also isn’t that different from the situation with Lapis — and seeing how common this is around Homeworld much, much later in the series, Pearl’s probably desensitized to this kind of thing. In this case, given how badly shattered the Gem is, bubbling it is probably the most humane thing they can do.
As for why the Crystal Gems even have this, it was probably something used to fight them that was collected by them after the war was over, I’d think.
Pearl tells Steven it’s very important to keep the spare gem shard away from any sort of garment, but he isn’t listening.
Pearl says “garment” while pulling on her own skirt, but it’s later pretty much established that Gems’ “clothes” aren’t really clothes in the traditional sense, but parts of their hard light bodies that can’t be changed or removed without shape-shifting or poofing.
Steven’s pants run by in the background just as Pearl leaves to go look for the missing gem shard in town. A few minutes later, Steven spots the pants. He chases them down, wrestles them to the ground and puts them on. They’re still shaking until he finds the gem shard in his pocket, which causes the pants to finally stop moving. Steven vaguely recognizes it as the thing Pearl was looking for, although he didn’t hear why.
Steven drops the gem shard in a sock, which begins punching him in the face until he tells it to stop. He then shoves the sock and the shard into his cheeseburger backpack from the last couple of episodes.
I believe this is Steven’s first outfit change in the show. The hoodie and birdie galoshes are too cute. I like the rainy, overcast palette of this episode. It fits the darker tone and is a nice change from the sunny skies that we usually see.
He runs face first into a somewhat scary mascot costume, currently occupied by Peedee Fryman (voice: Atticus Shaffer). Peedee is one of the two sons of Mr. Fryman, who we met in Laser Light Cannon. He’s a fairly serious kid who is very devoted to helping out his father at the fry shop. Right now, he’s in significant distress because seagulls are attacking his Frybo costume.
Having grown up in an area near the beach, I can attest that seagulls are The Worst.
Mr. Fryman pops out of the fry shop to encourage Peedee to put the costume’s head back on, because “being part of the Fryman family means you gotta sell fries… and be my son. Which you are.” There’s Ronaldo Fryman texting in the background. We’ll get to him shortly.
Here we come to the central conflict of the episode: Peedee asked to be a part of the family business, but he doesn’t want to be put in a costume he hates.
All townie episodes are a metaphor or parallel to the situation going on in the Gem episodes. This one, as you can guess, is not exactly subtle.
Peedee laments that he wishes there were a way for the costume to do his job without him. There’s a fakeout where you think Steven is going to offer him the gem shard, but…
Steven dons the costume and is immediately attacked by seagulls.
I just like this shot. Poor Peedee.
Now Steven suggests putting the shard into the costume. Given that the last time he put the shard into something it immediately punched him in the face, you’d think he’d know better. The costume comes to life and starts to roll away until they tell it to stop. Steven tells it to do a little dance, and it grows unnerving fry legs.
Mr. Fryman spots the dancing costume and praises what he thinks is his son for his enthusiasm. Peedee cheers that he’s free, and, apparently never having seen a movie with an evil genie or anything like that, tells the costume to “go make people eat fries.” He grabs Steven’s hand and pulls him away, yelling, “Let’s go be kids!”
They head to the Funland Arcade, a boardwalk establishment run by Mr. Smiley. Personally, I have a real soft spot for this kind of old, seedy boardwalk arcade, especially if they happen to have a DDR machine. They hop on a couple of kiddie rides. The seahorse bucks up and down, but the Jelly Jiggler just vibrates.
Peedee smiles for a couple of cycles, but is soon making the above face. The face that signifies he’s realized he’s too old for this and doesn’t enjoy it any more.
Peedee tries to explain this to Steven, and says that he’ll understand when he has a job. Steven says he does have a job, protecting humanity from “magic and monsters and stuff”. Peedee says he means a “real” job that pays money.
The last few episodes have had Steven acting childish, demanding to be included in Gem stuff and not taking it very seriously when he does so. Peedee, on the other hand, has felt pressured to take a job he doesn’t want to impress his dad and feels like he can’t enjoy acting like a kid any more.
Of course, Steven’s days of being carefree are extremely numbered at this point. Soon enough, he’s going to be as stressed out by Gem business as Peedee is by helping his family. The entire crux of this episode is that Steven is soon going to be forced to grow up and actually treat his Gem responsibilities like an actual job, and not just fun “magic adventures.”
“You work away your life, and what does that get you? Cash. Cash that can’t buy back what the job takes.”
First of all, I don’t care if you’re being forced into a fry costume, you are way too young to be that jaded, Peedee.
Secondly, it’d be cool if Steven Universe could stop calling my sad, workaholic ass out. Thanks.
Steven isn’t fully going to come to terms with the actual costs of doing his job as a Crystal Gem until The Return / Jailbreak, when the Gems are captured and nearly dragged off to Homeworld. This causes him to start to swing the other way into taking on way too much responsibility, which generates its own set of problems.
They hear screaming coming from the fry shop, and arrive to see a few cameo characters — Kiki Pizza, Buck Dewey, Sour Cream, and Jenny Pizza — running out. Buck and Sour Cream are dragged back into the shop by yellow fry-tentacles.
Steven and Peedee look through the broken window of the shop to see this monstrosity, which is close to the weirdest this show will ever get. Buck and Sour Cream are there, along with Mr. Smiley and Lars. Frybo, naturally, is stuffing their mouths full of fries, fulfilling his earlier order to “go make people eat fries.”
Steven yells at Frybo to stop, but Frybo just turns with this creepy face. (If Steven had been listening to Pearl, he would have heard the part where the gem shards eventually turned on their masters.) Frybo throws Lars at Steven, who runs off exclaiming that he doesn’t even like fries. (Really, Lars? Who doesn’t like fries?)
Mr. Fryman shows up, and, thinking his son is in the costume and has apparently snapped, tells Peedee he was a tough kid for putting up with the costume for so long and is a valued part of the business. Peedee seems moved and is about to jump through the window to try to rescue his dad from Frybo, but Steven stops him.
Steven proudly proclaims that he’s going to do “my job!” with a cute chiptune sting. He is then immediately flattened when Frybo chucks Mr. Fryman out the window.
Finally, Pearl shows up.
Pearl: Didn’t you hear what I said about the living armor and infantries and many, many deaths?!
Pearl spears Frybo right in the eye. A gushing torrent of mustard and ketchup emerges from the wound, drenching Pearl, who drops the bubble of gem shards. Steven gets an idea and runs off.
Frybo approaches the incapacitated Mr. Fryman, and Peedee attempts to defend his dad with a broken piece of wood, shouting that he always hated Frybo. Mr. Fryman is surprised.
Steven shows up with all of his clothing occupied by the gem shards and ready to fight Frybo. He even shoots his underwear into Frybo’s eyes. Finally, Steven, now stark naked, reaches into Frybo’s mouth and pulls out the gem shard.
Steven, Pearl, Mr. Fryman, and Peedee hold a Viking-style funeral for the Frybo costume. Mr. Fryman is sad to see it go, despite Pearl pointing out that people were always scared of it.
Peedee asks his dad if he’s going to get another costume, and Mr. Fryman says he doesn’t need a Frybo because he has a Fryman, hugging Peedee.
Final Analysis: This is a solid town episode. The message that Steven should be taking his Crystal Gem job more seriously is pretty obvious, but I really like Peedee’s speech in the middle. Whether or not you enjoy the weirdness and gross-out factor of the Frybo costume stuffing fries in people’s faces is very much a situation where your mileage may vary.
Surprisingly, Peedee shows up very little in the rest of the series, even though he’s a decently fleshed out character and he seems to be good friends with Steven in this episode. Steven could probably relate to the world-weary Peedee much better later in the series. Presumably he’s too busy with the fry shop, or maybe just doesn’t want to get involved with more Gem business after this, which would be understandable.
Official Episode Description: Steven attempts to master the power of shape-shifting.
Actual Episode Description: Hey kids, how would you like some body horror with your cute pastel Cartoon Network show?
Honestly, I forgot how funny this episode is because I really only remembered the climax, which is close to nightmare fuel as Steven Universe ever gets.
For my money, only the Cluster experiments really surpass the cat monstrosity in terms of horrifying weirdness.
This was the very first episode that, after watching it, I went to look up what people were saying about it when it released, mostly because it’s just so out there. That led me to start reading fandom stuff, and now I’m writing thousands of words about Steven Universe. So in a way, I can blame the entire existence of this column on Cat Fingers. Adorable, horrifying cat fingers.
Steven and Greg are at the car wash, washing Mayor Dewey’s van. This van has a giant head on top that continually chants “Ma-yor De-wey” as it drives around town. We get a cute bonding moment here as the two have a water fight with the hoses.
When Mayor Dewey eventually loses his re-election bid to Nanefua, Peedee converts the van into a food truck selling tater tots.
We get the first appearance of Bill Dewey (voice: Joel Hodgson. Yes, the same one whose bosses didn’t like him so they shot him into space.) The mayor of Beach City, he isn’t terribly effective. Although generally not antagonistic, he is generally more concerned with appearances and PR than actually solving problems — and Beach City has a lot of problems, mostly because the Gems’ presence makes the place a weirdness magnet. He yells that he’s “not paying for father-son bonding.”
Mayor Dewey seems to have a somewhat rocky relationship with his own son, Buck, who has been seen in cameos a few times now, including as one of the victims of Frybo.
Steven squirts Mayor Dewey with a hose, and Greg placates him by saying the car wash is on the house.
After Mayor Dewey drives away, Greg and Steven are soaked from a hose carried by this adorable kitty of mysterious origin. It’s Amethyst, of course. Her shape-shifting ability was first seen in Together Breakfast.
Greg seems really uncomfortable with Amethyst’s shape-shifting. As Laser Light Cannon established, he generally tries to stay clear of any “magic” Gem business.
This in particular doesn’t seem to be Greg’s general uneasiness with Gem stuff – he has an aversion to Amethyst shape-shifting in particular. While we never get the whole story, in Maximum Capacity Amethyst torments Greg by shape-shifting into Rose, which gives a pretty solid hint as to what could be bothering him so much about this.
Steven tells Amethyst he wishes he could shape-shift too. Amethyst tells him he probably can, since he has a Gem, while casually tying a hose into a knot.
Greg: Magic stuff! Should I get out of here? Is there going to be an explosion?
Greg will eventually get more comfortable with “magic stuff,” basically as Steven gets more and more involved, but here he seems to be recalling the huge explosion in his first appearance a couple episodes back, when the Red Eye rained debris all over Beach City.
Amethyst shape-shifts into Steven, disturbing both Steven and Greg.
Back at the beach house, Amethyst amuses Steven and distracts Pearl by shape-shifting into a bunch of different animal forms.
What’s Pearl doing there with the microscope and beakers, anyway?
The above form is an early cameo of something we’ll see just a few episodes from now — Amethyst’s wrestling persona, Purple Puma!
Pearl is mildly annoyed: “Just because you can shape-shift, doesn’t mean you should.”
Amethyst shape-shifts a lot, far more than any of the other Gems we see. This probably has mostly to do with her love of pranks and silliness, but there are a couple of other things that could factor into it.
First, we’ll learn later on that Amethyst came out of the Kindergarten late and was “overcooked.” As a result, she has all of the strength that’s usually associated with her type of Gem, but in a body roughly half the size. Shape-shifting generally takes a lot of energy to do. It’s possible that her smaller size in conjunction with disproportionate energy allows Amethyst to shape-shift and hold forms more easily than other gems.
Secondly, Amethyst is very self-conscious about her origins and often seems insecure about her size and appearance. It’s quite possible that this is part of why she enjoys shape-shifting so much. In particular, she enjoys shape-shifting into the large, imposing Tiger Millionaire to be part of an underground wrestling league, which allows her to be someone else for a while — someone larger and more imposing, like she was “supposed” to be.
Steven asks Pearl if she can shape-shift, and she starts to respond that of course she can when she’s interrupted by Amethyst imitating her.
Pearl says here she can shape-shift, but it’s notable that, to my knowledge, we never actually see her do it throughout the series — with one glaring, obvious exception. That would be the time she shape-shifted into Rose to help Pink fake her own death. Although it’s never actually said, it’s probable that Pearl doesn’t like shape-shifting because it reminds her of that moment.
Pearl pushes Amethyst aside and explains that all Gems have shape-shift powers.
As it turns out, this isn’t true. In Too Short to Ride, we learn that Peridot can’t shape-shift because she is an Era 2 Gem, made without most Gem powers due to a resource shortage. Era 2 only started after the Crystal Gems were cut off from Homeworld at the end of the Gem War, so they have no way of knowing about any of that until a more recent Gem joins the group.
Pearl explains that with shape-shifting, Gems can turn into objects, alter parts of their bodies, or “do that” (see above). Steven is enthusiastic, but as usual, Pearl is the voice of caution, warning Steven not to bite off more than he can chew before leaving the house.
Amethyst agrees with Pearl for once, telling Steven he should start with something easy. They decide that the cat Amethyst shape-shifted into earlier would be a good choice.
In Gem Glow, we saw that Amethyst wasn’t great at teaching Steven how she summons her weapon, saying it “just happens.” They run into the same issue here, as Amethyst’s advice on how to shape-shift is to picture what he wants to be and then “shake it out.”
Steven’s snack of choice is usually Chaaaaps brand chips, but here Amethyst is eating from a bag that is obviously real-world brand Utz.
Steven isn’t having much success, and Amethyst’s “advice” of “biorhythms, yo” isn’t really helping. While Amethyst is generally supportive of Steven trying new things, she also tends to get impatient very quickly.
Steven tries one more time, but instead of turning himself into a cat, he turns just his finger into a tiny cat. Weirdly, that cat seems to be pretty autonomous.
Apart from Steven’s cat fingers, there’s no real time in the series where shape-shifting works quite like this — creating what seems to be a semi-sentient creature, instead of simply altering the Gem’s body. You could chalk it up to early installment weirdness, except that cat fingers are referenced and even show up again much later in the series.
Steven goes to show his dad, who understandably freaks. He accidentally beans Steven with his water bottle, and the cat finger recoils at the splashing water.
Greg tries to be supportive: “Is that a thing you can do now? That’s pretty… cool…”
Next, Steven takes it to show Sadie and Lars at the Big Donut. Sadie is much less fazed than you’d expect, petting the cat finger. When Lars puts his hand near it, it bites him. Sadie thinks it just wants to play, and Steven realizes it doesn’t have any friends (Lars: “Just like you, Steven!”). He shape-shifts the rest of the fingers on his hand into cats.
Next, Steven takes his cat fingers to show Peedee at the fry shop. Peedee is working the deep fryer now, presumably as a result of asking for a job at the shop that doesn’t involve a costume in Frybo. Steven demands fry bits, but Peedee says he takes his job seriously and Steven needs to order from the menu. Just like in Laser Light Cannon, Mr. Fryman tells Peedee to just give him what he wants because it’ll be easier.
Steven lets the cat fingers chow down on the fry bits, and the two Frymen are intrigued and horrified.
Mr. Fryman: I can’t look away.
Peedee: Steven, that is freakish.
Steven demonstrates by turning the fingers on his other hand into cats. Once again, he really should have listened to Pearl’s warning about overdoing it.
Mr. Fryman calls over his son Ronaldo to look, and we have the first speaking appearance of Ronaldo Fryman (voice: Zachary Steel). He’s a nerdy loner who is extremely interested in strange happenings and conspiracy theories, and one of the most divisive characters on the show, to say the least.
He takes a picture of Steven’s cat fingers for his blog, Keep Beach City Weird. This blog is referenced in several episodes, and is also a real blog you can visit on Tumblr: Keep Beach City Weird. (I wouldn’t recommend looking at it if you’re not caught up with the show, as it has spoilers up to the fourth season on it.)
Steven experiences the first negative consequences of having turned all his fingers into cats when he can’t pick up the phone Ronaldo hands to him: “I guess cat fingers don’t function well as… fingers.”
Back at the beach house, Steven is having some difficulty getting a sandwich out of the fridge. Amethyst pops in and asks him if he needs some help, and when Steven says no, she tells him the Gems are heading out to sea on the Gem Sloop to fight a living island. Predictably, Steven wants to come too, and runs after her.
Thanks to the Steven POV rule, we never get to see the living island the gems fight. Is it a corrupted Gem the size of an island? While a lot of the corrupted Gems are large, none of them are really that large. Realistically this is just because they haven’t worked out the exact nature of the corrupted Gems yet, but it’s fun to think about.
The Gem Sloop is tiny! Apart from a quick cameo later, it never appears after this episode. Steven tries swimming after the sloop, but the cats on his hands start meowing like crazy.
Pearl: Steven, what’s going on?
Steven: It’s nothing! I just turned all my fingers into cats!
As per their usual roles, Pearl wants to stop immediately and help Steven, Garnet is focused on the mission and thinks Steven will be fine until they get back, and Amethyst thinks the whole situation is funny.
In a microcosm of their early and somewhat rocky relationship:
Pearl: Amethyst, I blame you for this.
Amethyst: Eh, that’s fair.
Pearl has a point here, since Amethyst probably should have at least taught Steven how to change back.
The Gems sail away, and Steven tries to revert his fingers back: “No more cat fingers! I want Steven fingers! …and I don’t mean little me-heads on fingers, I mean my real fingers!” Unfortunately, this causes cat heads to start appearing all over his body.
Eventually it becomes obvious that all of Steven’s powers are controlled by his emotions, something which often causes him significant frustration. It’s never said, but I think this is the first clear instance of that — the cat heads suddenly start appearing as soon as he starts panicking, and get worse and worse until he finally finds a solution.
With the Gems gone, Steven decides to go to the only person he knows of who could help, his dad. Greg is in front of the car wash, listening to what looks like an old cassette Walkman. We get this great shot of cat-infested Steven emerging from the shadows, and now we’re fully into the Akira-body-horror part of the episode.
Steven’s body has become a constantly shifting mass of cat heads. Distressing piano music plays as he screams for his dad. If I had watched this as a kid, I would be hiding behind a blanket at about this point.
Steven laments that his life is over, that he can’t go on magic adventures or even open the fridge any more, as his dad looks on in horror. Finally, Steven remembers that the cats hate water.
Greg turns the hose on the cats, but this just causes the cats to lunge for him and attack him, only held back by Steven grabbing the side of the car wash. Steven realizes that he may be able to drive out the cats by going through the car wash himself. Greg is reluctant to turn the car wash on his son, but Steven screams that he has to. “I’m an adorable cat monster!”
I really have to hand it to the artists, this is a brilliant way to get some pretty high-octane body horror into a G-rated kids’ show. The way the otherwise cute cats pulsate and shift is unsettling. At this point, there’s more cat heads than Steven.
Greg turns on the car wash, and Steven drags his cat body into it. This finally seems to be enough to drive away the cat infestation, as Steven emerges from the other side with just a single cat finger, which Greg quickly douses with a hose.
I really like that Greg got to help save the day in this episode. He deals surprisingly well with the fact that his son is turning into a freakish cat mutant, and their relationship in this episode is otherwise really nice.
The next morning, the Gem Sloop returns and Pearl immediately jumps out and goes to help Steven. She’s surprised that he got the cat fingers to go away on his own.
Pearl: It just goes to show, always listen to me and never listen to Amethyst.
Amethyst: That’s fair.
It’s a funny bit, but we’re starting to see Pearl and Amethyst’s issues on display a little more here.
Garnet: It goes to show that you should have had a little more faith in Steven.
This is the first time we’ve seen Garnet be particularly encouraging to Steven. Compared to the overprotective Pearl, she tends to have more trust in him to handle problems, and sees it as a way for him to grow. She often strikes a balance between Pearl’s protectiveness and Amethyst’s carefree attitude.
At least part of Garnet’s faith in Steven stems from her future vision abilities, which allow her to see likely outcomes of actions Steven takes. In this case, it’s probable that she saw that Steven would solve the cat fingers problem on his own if the Gems left.
Steven regales the Gems with all of the cat puns he’s been thinking of all morning, causing them to walk away and leave him behind on the dock.
Final Verdict: All I really remembered from this episode was the surprisingly creepy cat monster, so I had forgotten how solid it is. This is the first episode that really shows off Amethyst and Steven’s wholesome sibling-esque relationship, something that will be explored a lot more later. It has a lot of funny moments, too. The way the cat monster is animated is impressive and they really don’t pull punches with the nightmare fuel.
You would think Steven wouldn’t want to see the cat fingers ever again, but he actually does it two more times. The first is in Too Short to Ride, when he’s trying to teach Peridot how to shape-shift; the second is in Rocknaldo, when he shows Ronaldo how a Gem can change form.
Next Time on Steven Universe Future! Connie Maheswaran! It’s Bubble Buddies / Serious Steven.