Steven Universe Rewind: Political Power

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 Future Vision blocks, which will include spoilers for the entire series.

Pearl is setting up a strange device on the beach. “This spot should be safe,” she says, thus setting herself up for inevitable failure. She calls for Amethyst to bring over one of Peridot’s Flask Robonoids. She does so by cheekily kicking it, causing Pearl to scold her. This little moment shows where Pearl and Amethyst’s relationship is at now: Pearl is only momentarily annoyed, whereas she probably would have been much angrier earlier in the series, but these two still can get on each other’s nerves.

Pearl prepares to turn on the device, commenting that Steven’s at home asleep — again jinxing herself, because of course Steven turns up on the beach at that very moment. Just as we saw in Winter Forecast with the shooting star, they’re still hiding their activities to prepare for Peridot from Steven, which is what this episode is all about.

Steven asks what’s going on. “Pearl got lonely so she made herself a robot friend,” says Amethyst, which is honestly a funny visual. Of course, Pearl doesn’t need a robot friend — she has Holo Pearl.

Pearl explains that her device is an EMP to knock out all of the Robonoids when Peridot comes to “meet” with the Crystal Gems. The carefully chosen euphemism is, again, setting up the non-subtle message of this episode. Steven already knows that Peridot is potentially dangerous — he saw the Gems freaking out at the Galaxy Warp and he heard Lapis’ dire message.

Pearl activates the device, which of course knocks out power to the whole town. Steven cheers, but then the Robonoid stands up and skitters away, unaffected.

Pearl is clearly very on edge throughout this episode, as she has been ever since Warp Tour, for the most part. Irritated by her failure, she says she’ll have to raid the washing machine for more parts, and Steven will have to wear the same shirt for a while. Steven responds by taking off his shirt, revealing a second, identical star shirt.

The next morning, Steven pulls out Microwavable Breakfast Friends from the freezer. It’s melted, of course, because the power is out. It’s interesting that the freezer is empty when normally it’s shown full of ice cream and other things. Steven pops it in the microwave, which also doesn’t work. He’s surprised and angry at this development, and he really should have expected this when, you know, Pearl knocked out the power.

Mayor Dewey knocks on the door, asking for Steven’s “sisters.” It’s interesting that that’s who he thinks the Gems are, and not the more logical conclusion of aunts or something. He refers to them as “the tall one, the purple one, and the hot one.”

Future Vision

Mayor Dewey’s crush on Pearl will come up a couple of other times in the series, such as when he sits next to her in Historical Friction.

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He knows that the Gems have something to do with the power going out, which is a pretty reasonable (and correct) conclusion. Steven is no help, still dumbfounded by Mayor Dewey calling the Gems his sisters.

Steven calls for Pearl, and Dewey blushes and smiles as she comes to the door. Pearl tells him the power should be on as early as tonight or as late as… never.

This causes Dewey to freak out. “The people of Beach City can’t handle a situation like this! They need their electronic distractions so they won’t know this town is a magnet for disaster!”

Pearl tells him they can get on just fine without power, since she saw humans do that for hundreds of years. “You used to hunt and gather. What happened to that?”

History in Steven Universe obviously played out significantly differently than it did in real life, so it’s probably meaningless, but hunting and gathering was largely replaced by agriculture twelve thousand years ago, six thousand years before the beginnings of Rose’s Rebellion. Either Pearl was on Earth much earlier than flashbacks would imply, or she’s referring to the remaining hunter-gatherer bands that still existed, or, simply, history in Steven Universe worked differently.

Dewey is desparate, fearing what will happen to the town when the sun goes down.

Steven agrees that the power outage is their responsibility, and Pearl’s face as he says it is hilarious. She really does not like Steven claiming responsibility for this.

“We’ll help you clean up this mess!” says Steven.

“No, we won’t!” calls Garnet from inside the house.

This is very remniscent of Beach Party, where the Gems did not want to help clean up a mess that was their fault even though Steven thought they should. Once again, they’re leaving Steven high and dry because they simply don’t care about humans and their needs very much. It’s more understandable here than in Beach Party, because the Gems really do have a potentially deadly threat they’re trying to prepare for, but this kind of behavior isn’t really fair to Steven.

Steven agrees to help Dewey by himself, and hops in the van. Dewey explains they’re going to go around doing damage control “or the boardies are gonna get restless.” Steven is confused by the term “boardies.” There was an early episode description that referred to the human characters as “boardies,” while the fanbase generally calls them “townies” — it’s possible this is a reference to that.

The first “boardies” they encounter are Lars and Sadie, who are discarding of all their melted ice cream. Steven’s upset at all the ice cream being wasted.

Dewey, however, says he has everything under control, telling Lars and Sadie that the power will definitely be on by sundown. He hands them a glowstick and a campaign button before driving off.

The relationship between Dewey lying about the situation to keep people from panicking and the Gems lying about their situation to protect Steven are extremely obvious. What’s perhaps less obvious is how this is, in some ways, the logical culmination of a season that kept going back to the well of parental figures making mistakes and hiding important truths: from the false challenges in The Test, to Greg inadvertently harming his son’s confidence with his lies in House Guest, to the attempts to hide Amethyst’s origins in On the Run, to Pearl’s repression in Rose’s Scabbard, and more.

Steven happily asks Dewey if things are going to be okay, which he immediately denies. Steven’s angry he lied, but Dewey says, “It’s not lying when you’re the mayor. It’s politics.”

“When you work for the government, you can’t control what happens in the world, but you can control how people feel about it. That’s the real weight I carry, making the good people of Beach City feel better, safer, more secure. What’s my other option? Let the people panic and riot? That didn’t work out so well for Ocean Town.”

This is a fairly cynical view of politics, but he’s not entirely wrong here. When you’re the small town mayor of a place constantly besieged by otherworldly threats, there really is a limit to what you can do. Keeping people calm and managing the optics of a situation aren’t really bad things, either.

Future Vision

That being said, it’s obvious later on that Dewey has spent too much time just doing PR without actually working on solving any of the problems, or at least coming up with plans. He later gets defeated by Nanefua in a mayoral election, largely because Nanefua has actual proposals to help defend the city from Gem threats.

The gag about Ocean Town shows up again later, in Last One Out of Beach City, where they drive past a sign: “Ocean Town: No Longer on Fire.”

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Dewey explains that when they see the van with his head on the top, the citizens know that help is coming — as long as they don’t confuse him with the exterminator, who has a similar van.

On the boardwalk, Mayor Dewey speaks to a crowd of assorted Beach City residents, including the rarely-seen Suitcase Sam. He tells them that the power outage is temporary and will be fixed by sundown. “Things could be worse! We could be in Ocean Town,” he says.

“Too soon!” Mr. Fryman jokes back.

Dewey directs Steven to hand out buttons and glow sticks. The crowd is generally mollified. Nanefua declares that she trusts him.

Steven approaches Greg, who asks him if he has a secret government internship he needs to know about. Steven laughs nervously and hands him a button and glow stick. Greg gives him the glow stick back because he won’t be needing it.

Steven’s very conflicted here, and it seems like he should at least be able to tell his Dad the real situation. He’s well acquainted with Gem stuff and could probably give him better advice about how to handle the situation.

Steven heads back to the beach house, but stops on the stairs when he hears the Gems talking. This shot is one we don’t normally get much of in SU — we see the Gems’ feet from Steven’s point of view as he stands on the stairs, and their body language shows off the tension of the scene.

Pearl and Amethyst are talking about taking out the Robonoids, while Garnet, with increasing urgency, points out that the Robonoids aren’t the only problem — Peridot is coming with other Gems. Amethyst loses it: “Says who? Who cares? What does Lapis even know?!” Their reactions here are a lot like in Warp Tour: Amethyst is loudly freaking out, Pearl is incredibly nervous, and Garnet is trying to compose herself but unable to fully hide her fear.

These scene is also very reminiscent of another recent scene — in The Test, where Steven eavesdrops on the Gems admitting that they don’t know how to properly raise him. That episode also deals with the Gems hiding information from Steven for his perceived benefit. In The Test, Steven ultimately decides that not letting them know what he knows is for the best, to improve their confidence; here, he comes to the opposite decision, eventually asking to be let in on the knowledge.

Steven spots the Quartizine Trio under the deck. These are Rose Quartz’s cannons that used to be in her armory, as seen in Lion 2 and Rose’s Scabbard. After the latter episode, Pearl presumably went back for them in order to use them as defenses against Peridot’s forces.

Future Vision

They do use these cannons in the next episode. They don’t really help.

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Steven is clearly getting annoyed at what the Gems are hiding from him as he ascends the stairs.

As soon as the Gems spot Steven, they stop their conversation and try to act casual. Their act is very unconvincing, and Steven asks if they’re okay.

Garnet and Pearl, visibly nervous, say that they were just about to play… cards. Amethyst asks Steven if he wants to play War, earning a glare from Pearl.

Steven asks how they’ll play cards if the power is out, so Pearl proposes lighting a fire in the fireplace like “early man.” She’s really obsessed with the early humans in this episode for whatever reason.

The Gems go inside to make a fire, and Steven watches them through the window, seeing their nervous body language as they talk together. I really enjoy how they establish the tense atmosphere in this episode and the feeling that Steven’s being left out.

Steven looks at the sunset and holds up one of the campaign buttons, remembering Mayor Dewey’s claim that “when the sun goes down, so does the town.”

Steven arrives at Beach City at night, where the town is close to rioting. We see the exterminator van that Mayor Dewey was complaining about earlier, the one that looks too much like his van. Also a nice touch: Dewey’s own bodyguards are in the crowd of rioters. Between that and the fact that they dove out of the way in Shirt Club, Mayor Dewey really should get some better security.

The crowd’s understandably angry that Dewey said the power would be on by sundown. You’d think an experienced politician would have had a plan for this very likely scenario. Dewey actually had a reasonable point about spin earlier, but he forgot an important corollary: make sure your spin doesn’t come back to bite you in the ass later.

“Without power, I can’t take care of my family,” says Mr. Fryman. “Well, [Peedee’s] fine, but [Ronaldo] can’t take care of himself.”

Dewey tries to reason with the crowd, but an angry Nanefua yells that he lied to them. The crowd starts throwing the buttons and glowsticks at Dewey, who retreats to his van. “TIP THE TRUCK!” screams lovable elderly anarchist Nanefua.

Future Vision

It’s no coincidence that later on, Nanefua is the one who decides that Mayor Dewey isn’t doing enough for the town and defeats him in the mayoral race.

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Mr. Smiley, Mr. Fryman, and Peedee tip the truck over — either someone in this group is very strong or the van is really light. We get this great shot of chaos entity Onion, who you know has just been itching for any excuse to riot.

Steven jumps on the tipped van and delivers a speech where he admits that the power probably won’t be back on tonight, but that they’ll all be okay. “You all care about each other more than you care about microwave dinners or video games or being able to see in the dark.” He rallies the crowd: “But are we really going to hurt each other? Of course not! We’ll face the night together and we’ll survive because we are the light of Beach City!”

The crowd cheers in approval. Here we see an early example of Steven taking on a leadership role, particularly supporting other people, something he’ll do more and more as the series progresses.

Hearing the cheers, Dewey emerges from the van, only to get yelled at by Nanefua.

In a particularly unsubtle bit of writing, Steven says: “Mayor Dewey was hiding things from you, but he did it because he didn’t want you to worry! He was just sheltering you from the truth because… he loves you.” Steven has a moment of realization as he says this, obviously tying it back to the situation with the Gems.

This is another way in which this episode forms a close parallel to The Test, the moment when Steven realizes that the Gems aren’t trying to hurt him and believe they’re doing what’s best.

Future Vision

Like The Test, this is one of those moments that’s pretty straightforwardly heartwarming originally but becomes less so post-Future. Steven, from a very young age, had to use a great deal of emotional intelligence to work out his caretakers’ feelings and motivations in ways that weren’t always healthy. Greg and the Gems certainly cared about Steven and tried to do right, but ultimately a lack of appropriate emotional support took its toll on him in a very serious way.

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Steven goes home where the Gems are sitting by the fire, Pearl working on her EMP machine. He asks if they can talk, and Pearl immediately starts to nervously sweat, pretending there’s nothing to talk about. Amethyst offers to play cards again. “No, I don’t want to play cards. I wanna talk about Peridot,” says Steven.

Pearl plays it off like it’s fine, but Steven insists: “No, it’s not! I know it’s not. I know you just don’t want me to be scared but just tell me the truth!”

I’ve compared this episode to The Test a lot, but this is the moment where they diverge. In The Test, Steven decides to not let the Gems know what he figured out in order to spare their feelings and give them a victory. Here, the stakes are much too high to allow them to keep pretending. Instead, he takes the opposite route and demands they talk to him — and he’s right. The threat is too great, and he’s old enough to know what’s coming, even if it’s terrifying.

“Peridot is coming,” says Garnet. “And we don’t know who or what she’ll be coming with. She’s a modern Gem with modern Gem technology that’s bound to overpower us. Steven, the truth is… we’re scared.”

This is powerful in a number of ways. First, it’s fitting that Garnet is the Gem who decides to finally be honest with Steven — she’s always been the one of the group who has the most faith in his abilities. Secondly, hearing the most stoic member of the group admit her fear and helplessness really drives home the situation.

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It’s still a little amusing to have Peridot talked about like an existential threat on a rewatch, knowing that eventually she’ll be obsessing over TV and making meep-morps, but they really do a good job of setting up this situation as menacing in preparation for the season finale.

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Steven uses his newfound leadership skills to reassure the Gems: “We’ve been scared before, right? None of us knows what’s going to happen, but that’s okay. We can figure things out together.”

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I’m really seeing a lot of these episodes in a different light post-Future meltdown, I have to say. This is a very sweet moment — but I can also personally relate to being the child that always has to reassure the parent instead of the other way around, and the toll that can take on mental health and emotional development.

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In another unsubtle moment, the power comes back on after Steven finishes his speech to the Gems. It ends the episode on a hopeful note — except that the end credits are overlayed with a weird, staticky noise that increases in crescendo, foreshadowing next week’s threat.

I had mostly forgotten this episode and found myself enjoying it a lot more than I remembered. It’s a fairly funny episode with some really good line readings from Joel Hodgson as Mayor Dewey, but the humor continuously runs up against the feeling of impending doom in the background. The writing is very on the nose, but I think it works overall. It’s a great lead in to the upcoming bombshell…

Next week on Steven Universe Future! We’ve made it to one of the series biggest bombshells, The Return! I’m very eager to discuss this separate from Jail Break, because I think the latter episode often overshadows it in discussions, while it’s one of the series’ best in its own right.

Plus, the return of a couple of my favorite Gems, and the introduction of everyone’s favorite angry fascist Cheeto puff!