Steven Universe Rewind: Joy Ride

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.

In keeping with the more episodic bent Steven Universe takes past Season One, this episode opens shortly after Full Disclosure, with the Gems cleaning up the remains of the warship on the beach (which also appear in this episode’s title card, just like the last.) Garnet explains that they have to find every last piece, because having a wrecked Gem ship lying around is too dangerous. Given that most of the pieces seem like inert rocks, it’s not really clear what the danger is, and we saw in the last episode some humans like Ronaldo handling the ship pieces, but, sure.

Pearl helpfully points out that not only do they need to clean up the ship debris, but they also need to start looking for Peridot’s escape pod, just to get everyone caught up on the current state of the plot. Steven looks tired, but determined to help.

Steven is walking the beach, digging up some large chunks of the ship, when he’s surprised by the Cool Kids.

Jenny: Hey, Steven, welcome back to Earth!

Steven: What?! Who told you?

Steven acts as though this is a big secret even though everyone in town knows he’s a Gem and that a massive spaceship arrived. Jenny isn’t talking about that, though, she’s just commenting on the fact that Steven was spaced out.

The kids invite Steven to go hang out in the parking lot and “freak out some squares.” Steven, not recognizing slang many decades out of date, remarks that he likes all basic shapes. “You got that much needed counterpart to our cynical worldview,” says Buck. I always liked that the Cool Kids genuinely appreciate Steven’s sincerity and aren’t making fun of him or trying to teach him otherwise. Steven says he has too much work to do, and the Cool Kids depart.

That night, Steven is lying in bed groaning about his calluses and his “working man’s burden,” when he’s surprised by pizza hitting the window. He looks outside to find Buck and Sour Cream throwing pizza, and leaves the house to talk to them.

Steven: What are you guys doing here? Why are you making it pizza rain?

Buck: I only want to see you laughing in the pizza rain.

Steven: Is that a reference to something?

Given how much Greg cares about music this seems like a startling omission in Steven’s musical knowledge.

The Cool Kids still want to hang out with Steven, so they figured they’d drop by at night when Steven was finished with his work. Steven’s apprehensive about hanging out at night. Sour Cream comments that “time is an illusion,” and Steven decides to go along with it.

Cut to Steven and the Cool Kids driving past some cornfields in Jenny’s pizza delivery car. Buck urges him to take in the “smell of freedom,” but Steven thinks the car smells more like pepperoni. This prompts the kids to go on little rants about their current family troubles.

Sour Cream’s stepfather disapproves of his dream to be a DJ and wants him to be a fisherman instead, confirming that Yellowtail the fisherman is indeed Sour Cream’s stepdad. He imitates Yellowtail’s muttering language.

Future Vision

This conflict will come up again in Drop Beat Dad, when Sour Cream meets his birth father, Marty, again, and ends up reconciling with Yellowtail.

[collapse]

Buck complains that his father, Mayor Dewey, is always on his case because he’s the mayor’s son. “And I’m like, you can’t tell me what to do, I’m the mayor’s… wait.”

Jenny’s complaint is about her sister, Kiki. Jenny considers herself the “evil twin” and would rather go to concerts than do homework.

Future Vision

In Kiki’s Pizza Delivery Service, we see how this dynamic eventually causes Kiki to become resentful of Jenny for always dumping work on her.

[collapse]

Steven shares some of his family stuff, starting with the relatively mundane instance when he was grounded from TV in Fusion Cuisine, prompting sympathy from the other kids.

He then gets into finding out that the Gems are alien rebels and being kidnapped by Gems who think he’s his mother. “And maybe I kinda am?” says Steven.

Future Vision

We’ve seen this before, but from here on in Steven’s dilemma of how much he is his mother — and whether he should be his mother — will be a major focus of Steven’s character development. It will later come to a head when Steven decides to turn himself in for Rose’s crimes at the end of season four.

[collapse]

And then Steven drops the real bombshell: “I wish I could talk to Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl about it, but I think they kinda blame me for my mom not being around.”

Steven feeling as though the Gems blame him for his mom’s death is incredibly tragic, especially since he’s not entirely wrong. This is really more about Pearl than the other two, and it stems directly from the events of Rose’s Scabbard, where Pearl, after an outburst where she ran from Steven, expressed to Steven how much she missed Rose and wondered if he had any of her memories. Although the two reconciled at the end of the episode, it ended on an uncertain note, where Pearl was still clearly conflicted about her feelings toward Steven — and we see here that Steven is still conflicted by this events as well.

The rest of the car looks as shocked as you’d expect when a thirteen-year-old kid reveals that his primary guardians may resent him and blame him for his own mother’s death.

“That’s heavy,” says Jenny.

“I guess,” says Steven, showing his tendency to downplay serious issues that are understandably bothering him — a trait that will continue to get him in trouble.

The other kids reassure him, and honestly, I wish this had happened more in the show — Steven confiding in humans who aren’t immersed in Gem stuff (Connie and Greg only kind of count) to get some perspective. The Cool Kids are, as usual, surprisingly empathetic for teenagers, listening to his troubles and validating that he has a right to feel upset by them.

Sour Cream stops mid-sentence to point out an otherworldly green glow coming from a nearby field. They decide to go investigate.

Peridot is often associated with stereotypical “little green men” and UFO imagery, and here we have a prime example: her abandoned escape pod has apparently made its own crop circle.

Future Vision

Later in the series, the “alien gray” symbol becomes one of her motifs and she even covets and acquires a stuffed alien from Funland.

[collapse]

Steven recognizes Peridot’s escape pod and tries to get the Cool Kids to back away, citing the danger. Sour Cream ignores him, picking up a rock and throwing it at the pod. Steven freaks out because Peridot could be in there, but the kids climb into the crater and look inside, finding it empty.

Future Vision

It’s a little surprising that Peridot didn’t take the pod with her, considering it seems to be a pretty fast means of transportation and doesn’t really require repairs for Steven to make it semi-functional. Perhaps she thought it might attract the Crystal Gems’ attention more easily than her escaping on foot.

[collapse]

Steven isn’t really all that comforted by the fact that Peridot isn’t actually in the pod, because it means she’s “just out there somewhere, trying to hurt the Earth!” “Not cool, Earth forever!” says Buck, kicking the pod.

Future Vision

It’ll take the Gems awhile to find her, but she isn’t actually really here to hurt the Earth — at least, not directly. At this point she’s probably trying to locate the kindergarten so she can check on the Cluster, which she didn’t have a hand in creating, but which is going to destroy the entire Earth if left unchecked.

[collapse]

Jenny wants to take a selfie with the pod, and Steven is upset she’s not taking this seriously. She asks the other kids if they want to be in the selfie. Sour Cream is down for whatever, but Buck just wants to “experience the moment for what it is sometimes — plus, the lighting’s weird.”

Jenny finally entices Steven to join the selfie with something he can’t resist — funny stickers.

The group takes various selfies in front of the pod, including a few with funny stickers, as promised. You can see that Buck relented and joined in the pictures after a few.

Jenny encourages Steven to get into the pod to take some more pictures. Steven seems nervous about it for a moment, then happily climbs into the pod and poses. As Jenny snaps pictures, the pod closes up and starts to move as the interior lights up and projects various screens.

Steven realizes he can control the pod with his hands, and shakily walks it out of the crater. He thinks he should take it back to the Temple immediately, but the Cool Kids want to play around with it first. “C’mon, aren’t you your own mom? You can do whatever you want,” says Buck.

“Seriously, Steven, you’ve been under a lot of pressure. Don’t you deserve to have a little fun?” One thing I like about this episode is that the peer pressure from the Cool Kids is misguided at worst, not malicious, like it would be in a lot of the poorly written cartoons I had growing up. They’re completely correct that Steven needs an outlet to have fun and blow off steam, and it’s really a shame that this didn’t come up more throughout the series. Mostly, they just underestimate the danger of the escape pod, but at this point it really does seem pretty harmless.

Steven and the Cool Kids proceed to have a great time joyriding the pod around the field. Sour Cream unzips the bottoms off his pants off to serve as flags as Steven in the pod races Jenny in her car.

They draw designs in the field, Steven signing his name with a “Cool S”.

Future Vision

During this sequence, I can’t help but think how few opportunities Steven had to act like a normal kid from here on out. Much later, in Mr. Universe, Steven will lament that he missed out on all sorts of normal childhood and teenage experiences.

[collapse]

Having had his fill of fun, Steven says he needs to get the escape pod back to the Gems — just as soon as he jumps a nearby haystack.

Steven jumps the haystack and takes a tumble, hitting one of the dented sides of the pod. The pod closes up and begins to levitate, knocking back the Cool Kids with a shockwave. It fills with a weird liquid substance that Steven can apparently breathe. Seriously, what is this supposed to be? Gems don’t need to breathe, and we don’t see this liquid factoring into any other Gem spaceships in the series.

The pod goes haywire, shooting out lasers at random as the Cool Kids run for cover. It shoots up what seems to be an emergency flare. In The Return, we had our first mention of Yellow Diamond, and this particular flare certainly seems to be Yellow Diamond-themed. It’s likely Peridot didn’t use this distress signal for fear that it would lead the Crystal Gems right to her, as it does here.

Indeed, the Gems show up just minutes after the flare goes up. They can’t see Steven inside the pod, and assume it’s Peridot inside, attacking humans. Pearl tosses a spear into the pod, nearly hitting Steven, as the Cool Kids try to get their attention. Amethyst catches the pod in her whip and Garnet pulls it in, ranting angrily.

Garnet, in general, is less stoic and shows a lot more emotion post-Jail Break, likely because she feels like she can be her “true self” around Steven now.

At the last minute, Jenny jumps in front of Garnet’s fist as she winds up to punch the escape pod back into space. This really is impressively brave of her considering Garnet could have literally killed her if she hadn’t stopped. Jenny may be kind of lazy and doesn’t always treat her sister right, but she definitely has guts.

Jenny finally gets the Gems to listen, and Garnet cracks open the pod to find Steven.

The Gems scold Steven for not bringing the escape pod to them immediately, but the Cool Kids immediately jump to his defense, pointing out that he’s obviously under a lot of stress and needs a break, and they just wanted him to have some fun. “Just let him be a DJ!” adds Sour Cream, his heart in the right place. I love that all three kids are backing up Steven here.

The Gems concede that maybe they’ve been too hard on Steven, particularly since he did just break them out of space jail, and Garnet ungrounds him from TV. Look how happy Steven is!

The whole group then hangs out and takes some selfies together, including this one where each of the Gems is mirrored by one of the Cool Kids.

This is a solid episode, and I honestly think it works a lot better in light of what happens in Steven Universe Future. Steven really does need the chance to wind down and act like a normal kid sometimes, and it’s sweet how the kids are trying to help him.

Next week on Steven Universe Rewind! We’re going to cover two episodes next time because they’re both fairly insubstantial. One is the slight but generally agreeable Love Letters. The other is, well, my least favorite episode of the series, and one of only a small number I haven’t been looking forward to covering: Say Uncle.