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.
So Many Birthdays
Official Description: Steven learns that the Crystal Gems are thousands of years old and decides to make up for all the thousands of birthdays they’ve missed.
Remember Cat Fingers? Remember how the first half is goofy fun and the second half is an existential crisis? Did you want another episode like that? Steven Universe has got you covered.
The Crystal Gems are in Amethyst’s room, trying to hunt down the source of a horrible smell filling the Temple. Steven finds a wrapped tuna burrito, which Amethyst identifies as coming from Aqua-Mexican, a place that closed five years ago. She eats the burrito.
You might think that Aqua-Mexican is just the name of the restaurant, but Steven later calls the pinata Aqua-Mexican, so it might actually be the name of the country. Later, when we see a map of the Earth, we can see that there are significant differences from the real-world landmasses, and there are a number of large islands around Central America.
Steven finds this amazing painting of the Crystal Gems in colonial times. I just love Garnet’s outfit here, that is fierce. Steven asks if that’s really the Crystal Gems, and Pearl confirms that it is. Garnet: “The hard part was getting the shark to pose.”
Steven asks why they’re dressed like “old-timey people,” and we get the first admission that the Gems are much older than any humans. “We don’t age,” says Pearl, “but we can still get hurt and die.”
Presumably, by “die” Pearl is referring to shattering and not poofing, which is temporary and seems to leave the Gem no worse for wear.
We know that Steven can age, but even heading into the Future series there’s a lot of questions about what that will mean for him. Will he continue to age like a normal human? Will it be slower like Lion and Lars? Can his human half die? Personally, I really hope that Steven doesn’t age and die at normal human speeds, because I don’t want to ever think about the Gems mourning him after only ~70 years.
Amethyst keels over, and Pearl clarifies that they can’t die from food poisoning. This is the only time Amethyst gets visibly sick from eating something that would normally be inedible.
Steven asks how they get all the candles on their birthday cakes, and Garnet says they don’t really celebrate birthdays, prompting this face.
Does this mean that Steven has been living with the Crystal Gems for less than a year? That’s likely the case. He’s known them for longer than that, though, so you’d think the subject of their age would have come up sooner.
Steven decides to give Amethyst her birthday first, dressing her in an outfit that Greg made for Steven years ago.
Steven sings this adorable birthday song: It might as well be your birthday / So why don’t we have a party / Even though your age isn’t real / And your body’s an illusion.
There are a couple of times in this episode where it’s asserted that the Gems don’t have a real age, which is weird. They absolutely do have an actual age, it’s just thousands of years old.
The Gems are all created, so they do have ages they could keep track of if they wanted. However, we don’t have anything more than vague ages for most of the cast.
As stated in Reunited, Garnet first fused 5,750 years ago, so that could be considered her age. Her component parts, Ruby and Sapphire, are obviously older than that, but we have no way of knowing how much.
Pearl is over 6,000 years old (as stated in Last One Out of Beach City and as made evident by the timeline elsewhere), but we have no way of knowing just how much older.
Amethyst emerged from the kindergarten around 500 years “late”. She’s probably between 4-5000 years old.
Lion is hanging around, showing that he wasn’t just a one-off character.
Pearl points out that the Gems are maybe a little too old for a children’s birthday party.
Amethyst responds by putting a party hat on her face and booping her nose. Pearl and Amethyst start fighting. Steven interrupts the fight to hand Amethyst a bat, which she thinks is to use on Pearl; Steven points out the piñata. After accidentally smacking Garnet with the bat, Amethyst, not knowing what a piñata is, bats it all the way into the ocean.
Cut to Pearl’s party, where Steven is dressed as a clown. Amethyst: “Steven, that is a brave look.”
Steven says he’s meant to be funny, but none of the Gems really understand. So he tells a joke:
Steven: Why did Pearl throw butter out the window?
Amethyst: You did what?
Steven: To see a butter fly!
Pearl: I never did that! Steven, are you telling lies?
Changing tactics, Steven asks Pearl if she likes pie, and she says she does.
It’s later established that Pearl can’t stand human food. The creators apparently retconned this to say Pearl meant she liked making pie.
Steven pulls out a pie and attempts to intentionally trip and fall into it, but is stopped by Pearl. He slams the pie into his face anyway.
Pearl is disturbed.
After having failed at his last two attempts, Steven decides to take the Gems “kazoo racing” for Garnet’s birthday. “You get in a car, you play a kazoo, what more could you want?!”
Pearl: I think this is why aging makes humans die!
Garnet politely declines the party, saying they’re too big for the cars. Steven claims they’re not too big, but can barely fit into the car himself.
Amethyst shapeshifts into this kind of creepy baby form to get into one of the cars.
She’ll shapeshift into this form again in Three Gems and a Baby, while trying to understand why Rose Quartz would have wanted to be a baby.
Steven is saddened by the fact that he no longer fits in the cars, and walks off, wondering if he’s too old.
The fog rolls in as Steven contemplates that birthdays mean leaving things behind. This part of the episode reminds me a lot of Frybo, where we had a similar gloomy atmosphere in Beach City as Peedee talked about growing up and having a job. As Steven walks, he shapeshifts into an acne-spotted teenager.
Thankfully, actual teenager Steven doesn’t look quite like this!
Steven walks into the arcade, where “innocent child” Onion is breaking into the skee-ball machines to steal the tickets. Steven thinks he’s too old for childish games like Whacker Man, Jr., and should stick to playing “sophisticated” games, like regular Whacker Man.
But a boy on the cusp of manhood can’t spend all day whackering, so as he passes a t-shirt shop with a Help Wanted sign, he thinks about getting a job, and ages into an adult. He peruses a row of novelty t-shirts with goofy jobs on them, settling on Professional Beach Hunk.
Steven walks to the Big Donut, aging further along the way until he’s basically Danny DeVito. He asks Lars for “the usual,” but of course Lars doesn’t recognize him. Steven lectures Lars on how he needs to act like an adult, because “if you don’t, everyone you know is gonna grow up without you.” Steven’s fear of being left behind is surfacing again here.
Sadie asks him his name, and he declares “Steven Quartz Universe!” which is the first time he’s had his middle(?) name confirmed.
Steven finally sees his face in the reflection of the donut case and realizes what’s happening to him: “I’m old! I’m gonna have to eat fiber cereal, and all my teeth will fall out, and I’ll have to eat oatmeal and it’ll be sugar free!”
To reverse the aging, Steven decides he’ll need a “reverse birthday,” and asks Sadie if she can help him into his birthday suit, which results in him getting chased out of the donut shop.
Steven ages further as he runs down the beach. He trips, and is picked up by Lion and taken to the Gems, who are cleaning up the birthday parties. Pearl is finally enjoying herself, and Garnet is still wearing the birthday suit because it makes her feel important.
The Gems are shocked to see an extremely old Steven. “Gems can’t die from aging, but he’s half human!” said Pearl.
Steven asks for his birthday suit, thinking more birthdays are the answer. Garnet gives him the suit, and Amethyst shapeshifts into a tiny kazoo car, followed by a piñata, trying to recreate the parties from before.
Finally, a distraught and weeping Pearl dresses up in Steven’s clown outfit from earlier, smashing a pie into her face and producing this amazing gif.
It’s so sweet how Pearl is so worried about Steven, but at the same time, this is kind of amazing.
Finally, Garnet picks up Steven and starts shaking him until the other Gems stop her. “I thought violence would be the answer,” she says, clearly upset.
Garnet should be able to see in her future vision that Steven will be okay, but her tone here seems to indicate that this is upsetting enough that she’s starting to separate a bit. Coming up with shaking Steven as a solution is 100% Ruby’s doing.
A dying Steven watches as the Gems bicker, then shapeshifts back into an adult as he calls them out, then into a teenager as he becomes embarrassed about calling them out. The Gems realize that Steven’s age is tied to his emotions (here’s those pesky emotion-based powers again) and try to make him feel like himself again: “Sweet and considerate and only occasionally obnoxious!” That’s a pretty good summation of S1 Steven.
Times Steven stops inter-Gem conflict with a heartfelt speech: 2
Steven finally shifts back into himself, but with horrifying adult legs.
Overall, this episode is not all that essential, but it is really funny with a lot of great lines and hilarious faces. In particular, Pearl gets some of the best moments here. Thematically, it’s mostly treading over ground that other episodes also cover: Steven’s struggle with maturing and his fear of being left behind.
The idea of Steven’s age fluctuating in response to his emotional state will come back in Steven’s Birthday, an episode which I think is just a worse rehash of this plot.
Lars and the Cool Kids
Official Description: Steven and Lars get to hang out with the cool kids in town.
…and nearly get them killed.
This is the first Lars-centric episode and the first episode that introduces us to the gang of Cool Kids. Lars is one of the less popular characters, but I more or less like him and the group of cool kids, so I think this is a pretty solid townie episode, considering.
The Crystal Gems are looking at this lake filled with moss. Steven goes to touch the moss, but is stopped by Garnet chucking a boulder near him and launching him upwards into Pearl’s arms. A second later, it’s revealed why: the moss consumes anything it touches.
Garnet and Pearl explain that the moss was raised by Rose Quartz on the nearby hill. (This hill shows up in many episodes when a character wants somewhere to brood.) Without Rose to take care of the moss, it’s moved to the lake. Pearl explains, “[Rose] saw the beauty in everything, no matter how gross.”
This is basically what Pearl thinks of Greg at this point in the series.
The magic moss grown by Rose Quartz foreshadows Steven’s eventual plant-based powers, in particular the Watermelon Stevens.
Pearl has a plan to deal with the moss.
She does an unnecessarily dramatic dance to summon a roll of police tape from her gem. The Gems cordon off the lake of moss with the tape, believing it will keep humans away until they figure out how to deal with it.
Finished with their work, Steven asks who wants to get some lunch, but it’s just him.
Steven walks to Fish Stew Pizza, where he spots Lars leaning against the wall in a carefully disaffected pose. Steven tries to give Lars a high five, but Lars rejects it, so Steven just slaps the front of his shirt instead.
Steven thinks that Lars is waiting because he wants to get a fresh pizza from the oven, but doesn’t want to seem too desperate.
Steven peeks inside the pizza shop, and sees the real reason why Lars is waiting outside: the Cool Kids are in there.
From left to right, we have —
Sour Cream (voice: Brian Posehn), one of my favorite townies. He’s a generally laid back teenager who is trying to launch a career as a DJ. Mostly I just respect that he likes to incorporate old Nintendo handhelds in his music. He’s Onion’s older brother.
Jenny Pizza (voice: Reagan Gomez-Preston), Kiki’s twin sister. She also works at Fish Stew Pizza, but is less responsible than her sister, often shirking work.
Buck Dewey (voice: Lamar Abrams), the mayor’s son. He’s also pretty laid-back, but also has a bit of a cynical streak. He has a somewhat contentious relationship with his father.
…and Kiki Pizza, who previously appeared in Steven’s Lion.
One thing I really appreciate about the gang of Cool Kids is that they aren’t some kind of tough delinquents or even snobbish bullies like they would be on most shows. They seem like fairly normal, decent kids, who occasionally get into mild mischief but mean well and are usually nice. Unlike a lot of “cool kids” on TV shows, they seem like teens that would actually be fun friends to have.
Steven quite sensibly asks Lars why he doesn’t just talk to the cool kids, but he rejects this idea, saying his plan is to “keep it cool and let them come to me.” A second later, the kids exit the pizza shop without noticing Lars there.
Steven decides to help by telling the cool kids to look over there. Lars: “Steven, no! Don’t go over there! I hate you!”
Steven introduces himself to the kids, who return the introduction. They chat as Lars panics. Steven returns and tells Lars the cool kids invited them along for a ride, which Lars can’t believe.
Lars — maybe more than any of the other characters on the show — almost always appears as a direct foil to Steven, and this is a perfect example. Lars is putting so much effort into putting up a wall and a fake personality, which gets him ignored. Steven just sincerely throws himself out there and is rewarded with new friends. It’s clear that part of why Lars can’t stand Steven sometimes is that he would really like to be a lot more like Steven, but is too insecure.
The ride is in the pizza-themed car that Jenny uses to deliver pizzas for her father’s business. You can see the billboard for Dogcopter 3, a movie that will feature in Lion 2: The Movie.
Buck asks Steven where he got his shirt, and Steven says he doesn’t know where any of his clothes come from.
It’s later revealed that Steven’s shirts were actually promotional shirts from Greg’s rock star days.
Steven asks everyone to buckle up, which Lars complains is lame. Sour Cream and Jenny agree that “there’s nothing lame about seatbelt safety.”
After having watched A Very Special Episode last week, I can’t help but hear this in Sunstone’s PSA voice.
Sour Cream puts on some spaced-out beats and they drive off. Steven suggests they stop by the Big Donut, which Buck declares to be “a drag.” Lars coughs over Steven’s explanation that that’s where he works.
Steven gets excited as they pass Funland Arcade, but Sour Cream says he beat all the “Gs” in there three million times.
Sour Cream: Honestly, though, I’m just exaggerating to sound cool.
Steven: I appreciate your honesty.
They pass by Mayor Dewey giving an election speech and kissing babies.
Buck: He never kisses me like that.
Lars: That’s rough, bro.
Lars’s delivery has me convinced this is a riff on Avatar’s “That’s rough, buddy.”
Buck claims that the lack of daddy kisses in his life made him what he is. We’ll see more about Buck’s relationship with his Dad in Shirt Club.
The group decides to go to Dead Man’s Mouth, which Buck describes as “this lake where some dude died, or maybe it looks like a mouth?” When they get there, Steven realizes that it’s the lake full of moss from earlier. He tries to stop them from approaching, but Lars shushes him, telling him not to be lame. The group rips down the police tape and prepares to go for a swim. Sour Cream has those zip-off pants that become shorts for some reason.
Steven tries to convince the Cool Kids to not go into the lake, but they think he’s just trying to build a spooky atmosphere and jump in anyway. He grabs Lars around the waist before he can follow suit, making this hilarious face.
The moss surrounds the cool kids and pulls them underwater. A terrified Lars asks what’s happening, and Steven says it’s a magic moss his mom planted. The three kids just barely manage to crawl out of the lake before the moss envelops them. Steven and Lars try to tear it off, but it regrows too quickly.
Steven looks to the hill, and realizes what they have to do. He turns to Lars to explain, but…
Lars: This is all your fault! I knew if something went wrong today it would be because of you! Now I’m never going to be friends with these guys. All because of your weird mom!
Aaaaaand we have the first ever occurrence of Steven getting blamed for something his mom did! Buckle up, because it only gets worse from here.
It’s also a good example of one of Lars’s key character flaws: his tendency to lash out at everyone around him when something goes wrong. If it weren’t for Steven, he wouldn’t have even talked to the cool kids, but he’s too insecure to admit that.
Lars bringing up Steven’s mom is the first time Steven gets genuinely angry in the series.
Steven: What do you know about my mom? I didn’t even get to know my mom! But I do know that she saw beauty in everything! Even in stuff like this! And even in jerks like you!
As is common with the better townie episodes, we actually get some pretty solid Steven character development here. It’s the first time he’s upset about the fact that he never got to know his mom, which will become a recurring issue with him. And it’s another example of how hard he’s trying to live up to what he sees as his mom’s legacy of loving everything.
As we’ll see later in the series (and the movie, and Future), the idea that Rose Quartz was all-loving and perfect was very much a fond fabrication pushed mainly by Pearl, who loved Rose more than anything, and Garnet, who believed she owed her existence to Rose. Rose/Pink was very deeply flawed and did terrible things.
But at this point Steven doesn’t know better. All he knows is that his mother loved everything and was beloved by everyone who knew her. Throughout most of the original series, Steven desperately tries to live up to that legacy by being loving and patient to everyone, and it’s rare that he snaps like this. Steven’s attempts to patiently befriend Lars foreshadow his treatment of Lapis and Peridot.
After multiple attempts to befriend Gems gone awry (Jasper, Eyeball, Navy, etc.), and learning that his mother isn’t perfect, this streak has started to fade from Steven. In last week’s SUF episode Bluebird he had no intention of giving the benefit of the doubt to a fusion of two gems that tried to kill him. It will be interesting to see if SUF does more with this.
Lars seems genuinely ashamed of what he said, and helps Steven load the kids into the car — buckling them up, of course, because there’s nothing lame about seatbelt safety. Steven explains that they need to drive the moss to the top of the hill. Lars can’t drive stick shift, so Steven says he’ll operate the stick.
Considering how you have to coordinate changing gears with hitting the clutch it’s unclear how this would ever work, but okay, it’s a working together metaphor, fine.
They nearly drive the car into the lake and into a truck, but manage to make it to the top of the hill.
They drag the cool kids to the top of the hill, but become engulfed in the moss themselves.
Lars: This sucks.
This bit reminds me a lot of Stuck Together, where Steven and Lars have a heart-to-heart while stuck in the body of Topaz.
The group lies there, covered in moss, until the sun breaks from the clouds and the moss blooms into beautiful flowers. The centers of the flowers look like rose quartz gemstones.
“The moss was just trying to bloom,” says Steven, and I can’t imagine what kind of subtle metaphor that is in an episode featuring Lars.
Obviously, the idea of the moss trying to bloom — and Rose Quartz seeing its potential — can apply to all four of the Crystal Gems. It’s also obviously reminiscent of her relationship with Greg, where Rose could see the inner love and beauty of an irresponsible musician who lived in a van. Of course, the entire series is largely about the child Steven blossoming into an adult, a trusted confidant, and a brave leader.
And of course, it’s also a metaphor for Lars, who at this point is a jerk who treats his friends poorly. Steven is one of the few people willing to be patient with him and recognize he has a good heart somewhere deep inside, and he is eventually rewarded when Lars sacrifices himself to save the Off Colors and blooms into a hero. Notably, that coincides with him being resurrected with Rose Quartz’s powers and turning the same shade of pink as these flowers.
Lars, Steven, and the newly freed Cool Kids stand on top of the hill and admire the gorgeous view of Beach City, now covered in pink flowers. The music here is an arrangement very similar to Rose’s Theme.
Jenny asks how they got up here, and Lars starts to give Steven credit, but Steven butts in and says that Lars drove them there, earning him the praise of the cool kids.
Steven puts up his hand to high-five Lars, and Lars shakes his head and slaps his chest, like Steven did earlier.
This is such a cute moment, but one of the big problems people tend to have with Lars is how much his character development tends to NOT stick, especially compared to other characters.
It’s very realistic that a teenager like this would backslide a lot, but can be frustrating in a serialized TV show like this. They take a little too long to get to Lars’s redemption, which really only happens in the 5th season.
I had forgotten how much I enjoy this episode until I watched it again. A lot of your enjoyment will probably hinge on how you feel about Lars as a character, though. I’m fond of the gang of Cool Kids, and Steven gets some really nice moments here. Overall, this is on the better end of townie episodes.
Next Time on Steven Universe Rewind! We’re taking a break for Christmas, so there will be no article next week. After that, it’s the first episode featuring everyone’s favorite (?) whatever (?) Onion, Onion Trade, as well as one of the most dramatic and critical early episodes, Steven the Sword Fighter!