Episode Description: Steven, Greg, and Pearl take a trip to Empire City to live the good life.
If “hashing out long-simmering resentment” is the same as “living the good life,” then sure!
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.
The last episode ended with Marty dropping off a legally-obligated check to Greg. What did Marty do with Greg’s songs that resulted in such an enormous payday? Apparently, he sold one to Pepe’s Burgers for use as a commercial jingle. The song “Comet” from Story for Steven has been redone with burger-related lyrics, and honestly, it totally works as a jingle.
So in case you missed or forgot the last episode, Greg explained that he now has ten million dollars. It’s amazing he got such a huge sum from a commercial campaign that apparently neither he nor Steven has ever seen.
Pearl was also watching the commercial. Greg points out that this is the song he was playing the night he and Rose met, which is obviously a significant sore spot for Pearl. “This is what did it? Burgers?” she says, skeptically.
“It wasn’t about burgers back then. She probably would have liked this, though, right?”
Pearl sighs and sadly concedes, “She would have loved it.”
Here, in the first few seconds of the episode, we have the entire central conflict laid out, one that has been building for a long time. Despite all of Pearl’s efforts to be her own Gem, her life at this point is still largely defined by her grief over Rose and her inability to move on, something we’ve seen both directly in episodes like Rose’s Scabbard and Sworn to the Sword, and indirectly in ways like her need for intimacy in the Sardonyx arc. The one person who could most deeply relate to her grief over Rose is Greg, the very person who came between them. While Greg seems open to talking about it, Pearl is much less so, and we’ve seen in many episodes prior that interactions between Pearl and Greg are tense at best.
I do like how Pearl agrees that Rose would have loved the repurposed burger song. She clearly had a deep love of human culture, one that Pearl never shared or understood.
Steven asks Greg what he’ll do with the money, and they sit in the back of the van and sing the first song of the episode (well, apart from the burger commercial). Steven Universe has featured musical numbers prominently from the beginning, but this is the first episode to be a full-on musical, with seven songs and very little dialogue otherwise.
Greg sings about the various things that “don’t cost nothin’,” including spending time with Steven.
“You could buy a house and a car,” sings Steven.
“I guess that I can, but I’ve already got a van,” sings Greg. It’s admirable that Greg is content to live in his van, but this does strike me as a little bit quick to dismiss his son’s extremely reasonable request. Maybe Steven would prefer to visit you in a house instead of the back of a van, Greg?
Later, Greg does buy a car, the Dondai Supremo, one that he previously wanted but could not afford. He never buys a house, but does end up eventually moving into Steven’s room in the Gems’ house after Steven leaves for his road trip.
Although Steven seems content to stay with Greg in the van when visiting, Mr. Universe will later reveal that he did have some desire for a more ordinary childhood with a house.
Greg suggests that he could put Steven through college. “But I’m with the Gems all the time,” Steven sings.
“I could buy you all the finest courses online.” At least Greg is considering Steven’s needs in this way.
This is also interesting in light of the events of Future, where Steven doesn’t know what to do with himself as Connie prepares for college. He never had much of a plan for his future beyond spending it with the Gems, and no one around him, except perhaps Connie, was equipped to offer any other options.
Steven suggests taking a vacation, and Greg gets an idea, segueing into the next song. He rummages through things in his van – including the “Passions of Xanxor” book that he took from Steven in Maximum Capacity – to fetch a postcard from Empire City, Steven Universe’s equivalent of New York City. Much like Keystone, it gets its name from New York’s real world state nickname, Empire State.
Steven packs his hot dog duffel bag, which we last saw in Same Old World, with clothes, toothpaste, Chaaaaps, and the toy that resembles bad fanart of Sonic the Hedgehog, previously seen in Steven the Sword Fighter.
Steven closes the song with, “And let’s bring Pearl!” surprising both Greg and Pearl.
“Past experiences have taught me that three’s a crowd,” Pearl says. While she’s most obviously referring to the issues between her, Greg, and Rose, it also could be a reference to the Sardonyx arc.
Greg points out that he and Pearl haven’t gotten along since he started dating Rose, which, no shit, Greg, I think Steven already knows that. Steven presses ahead, making everything even more awkward by revealing his gem: “Just you, me, and Pearl – and don’t forget Mom!”
There’s no way Steven isn’t doing this on purpose, and later in the episode he reveals that yes, forcing Greg and Pearl to finally talk about Rose was indeed his idea all along. It’d be fairly out of place otherwise, since he almost never explicitly refers to his gemstone as “Mom.”
Steven conflating himself with his mother, though, is going to increasingly be an issue going forward, as we’re about to run straight into a few arcs about Steven dealing with Rose’s mistakes.
Here’s a nice long shot of Empire City, similar to the one we saw in Same Old World. Steven and Greg are dazzled by the sights, but Pearl seems mostly bewildered.
They arrive at “Le Hotel,” where the clerk is disdainful of Greg’s appearance until Greg shows him his business card – “Mr. Greg, Bazzzillionaire” – and Steven slaps a wad of cash on the desk. When did Greg even have time to make up this card? Did he have it lying around just in case he became filthy rich?
The hotel staff launch into the song “Mr. Greg,” all about their extravagant treatment of the newly rich Greg. The group dines on the “finest steak and brie,” and Greg breaks a table by dancing on it, bribing the staff to overlook it.
They arrive at the penthouse, which is two floors with a private pool, water slide, and fountain. Greg and Steven are fitted with tuxedos and wear the tuxedos while in the pool, as you do when you’re rich.
Meanwhile, Pearl is equal parts baffled and uncomfortable, particularly when the waiters try to offer her food. As established in previous episodes like Fusion Cuisine, Pearl does not eat. Steven and Greg swim up to her, looking mischievous.
Instead of tossing her in the water, they actually get her fitted for her own tuxedo. It’s a great look for her. Pearl begins enjoying herself a bit more, comparing the hotel room favorably to “the termite-riddled barn.” It must’ve killed neat freak Pearl to live in that barn for what seemed to be months on end. “Those fountains I found wasteful are actually quite tasteful,” she sings, and it’s funny that she should be critical of having a fountain in the room given that her own room in the Crystal Temple is full of them.
Pearl cheerfully tap-dances with Steven, but when Greg tries to dance with her…
Pearl refuses, stopping the song dead. One of the hotel staff boos her for ruining the song.
“Don’t worry about it, kiddo. It’s always been this way,” Greg says to Steven.
I imagine that the dancing is what freaks Pearl out because of its association with fusion – not that Pearl can fuse with Greg, but that the dancing would remind her.
Late that night, after Steven and Greg have gone to bed, Pearl walks through the darkened, messy hotel room. We can see on the TV that Steven has been playing Golf Quest Mini, a game he was previously playing in Rose’s Room (hmm).
Pearl walks past the sleeping humans and picks up a rose from a bouquet on a side table, so that she has a thematically appropriate prop for her big, showstopping musical number.
Who is ready to unpack some Pearl Feelings?
I was fine with the men / Who would come into your life now and again
Right off the bat, we have confirmation that Rose had romantic relationships with other men before Greg. Given her fascination with humans and the fact that she spent five thousand years on Earth, that’s not terribly surprising.
I was fine ’cause I knew / That they didn’t really matter until you
It does frame the situation with Greg and Pearl in a somewhat different light, though. From Pearl’s point of view, relationships like this didn’t last long, and she would eventually have Rose back. Even if Rose’s relationships with past men lasted an entire human lifetime, it would be a drop in the bucket compared to the lifespan of a Gem.
There’s also the complicated question of why, exactly, was Greg the one who was different? The show never explicitly says. I always felt that Rose’s decision to give up her form for Steven grew out of her growing frustration with her perceived inability to change and the fact that she likely felt she could never atone for her flaws and failures. It’s possible that this had just come to a head at the time she met Greg, and he happened to be in the right place at the right time.
However, I also think there’s clearly more to it than Greg just being convenient. He clearly had qualities that Rose found important. Chief among them was probably his gentleness and empathy, his willingness to listen, a quality he passed to Steven. His creativity would have been another one, a quality that many Gems lack by design but humans have in abundance. Greg’s lack of direction in life may have even helped endear him to Rose, who rejected the rigid caste structure of the Gempire and admired humans’ capacity to be and do whatever they feel like.
As Pearl does not share Rose’s admiration for humanity, a lot of this would have likely been lost on her, causing Pearl to assume that Greg was just another temporary fling right up until the point where it wasn’t.
I was fine when you came / And we fought like it was all some silly game / Over her, who she’d choose / After all those years I never thought I’d lose
This song paints Rose, and her treatment of Pearl, in a negative light, moreso than anything we’ve heard from Pearl so far. It’s one thing if Rose simply fell in love with Greg – even knowing about Pearl’s affections, she didn’t owe her a romantic relationship, and should be free to love who she will. However, it’s quite another thing if she knowingly pitted Pearl against human suitors in petty games. We Need to Talk provides an example of her doing this very thing: when she agrees to fuse with Pearl in front of Greg. It seems cruel for Rose to play games with Pearl like this for thousands of years. The rest of this season deals heavily with Rose’s flaws, and this is one of the best examples.
It hasn’t been made explicit yet, but the fact that Pearl was custom-built for Rose must make the idea that she’d lose to some human all the more painful. It’s obvious that Pearl, despite declaring she belonged to no one, never let go of that mentality until well after Rose was gone.
Was there any way Rose could have convinced Pearl to let her go? Likely not, but we see no evidence that she ever even tried. Perhaps the knowledge that Pearl would never truly be free until Rose was gone played into her decision to sacrifice herself to create Steven.
We get this nice 360 degree shot of Pearl, showing off how they’ve finally learned to draw her face properly from multiple angles (except straight on, never draw Pearl straight on).
You won and she chose you / And she loved you and she’s gone / It’s over, isn’t it? / Why can’t I move on?
This situation would be difficult enough for a human to grapple with, but perhaps even more so for a Gem. Functionally immortal, difficult to kill or incapacitate permanently, and not exactly built to be in touch with their emotions, it makes sense that a Gem like Pearl would not know what to do with her grief. They don’t have grief counselors or therapists or a network of other Gems who have been through the same thing. Pearl’s song also asks the question: “Move on to what?” Humans are often driven onwards by their need to eat and sleep and hold down a job, or by their friends and family. Pearl has no human needs, and her only friends and family are other Gems that, except for Steven, don’t really seem to know what to do with their lives now that Rose is gone, either.
War and glory, reinvention / Fusion, freedom, her attention / Out in daylight, my potential / Bold, precise, experimental
Pearl effectively summarizes her role in the Rebellion years. We’ve seen in previous episodes such as Rose’s Scabbard and Sworn to the Sword how Pearl looks back on the war with a certain fondness despite the harsh costs, and this gives us insight into why. It was, for her, the moment when she became more than a Pearl and began to discover everything she was capable of. The Rebellion years were a time of great change and experimentation, and you get the sense that Pearl has perhaps stagnated since then, in the absence of major external forces.
“Reinvention” takes on a greater meaning when you learn that Pearl was possibly not only referring to her changed role, but to the moment when she disguised herself as Rose in order to allow Pink to fake her death, thus bringing an end to both her and Pink’s original identities forever.
Who am I now in this world without her? / Petty and dull with the nerve to doubt her
Here we see Pearl’s self-loathing brought out, and a sharp contrast with how she felt about herself during the years with Rose – at least, so she says.
The truth is that the Pearl we see seems every bit as brave and innovative as claims to have been during the Rebellion. In fact, she continues to learn and grow from those days. In flashbacks of Rose’s time with Greg, Pearl’s jealousy causes her to act as petty and immature as she ever has in the series. Her perception that she was brilliant then and dull now is clearly incorrect.
But this line gets at the core of Pearl’s problem. The situation she now finds herself in was Rose’s choice entirely – she chose to pursue Greg, to give up her form to create Steven, and to leave Pearl behind. The only way Pearl would be able to move on is for her to allow herself to feel her true, buried feelings of anger and hurt, process them, and let them go. However, she can’t do that because it hurts too much for her to consider Rose as anything less than perfect, and it especially hurts too much for Pearl to consider that Rose was not as deeply in love with Pearl as the reverse.
Because she can’t confront these painful truths, it leads to Pearl’s inner resentment leaking out in unproductive ways. She can’t abide any criticism of Rose, she can’t stand that Steven learns things about Rose that she thought were secrets between them, and she can’t bury the hatchet with Greg. Most of all, she turns her anger inward. She can’t truly blame Steven, who wasn’t there, and she can’t fully blame Greg, who was at most half responsible, and she can’t bring herself to blame Rose, so that leaves blaming herself. She talks of Rose’s relationship with Greg as a game that was hers to lose, as though everything happened because Pearl just somehow wasn’t good enough to stop it. It’s no wonder she’s so insecure, still carrying so much guilt over the idea that perhaps she is the reason the love of her life is now gone.
The fact that Pearl was originally owned by Rose, and never entirely moved on from that role and mindset, makes this even more tragic. Doubting Rose’s decisions isn’t just difficult for her because she was in love, but because it goes against her very core programming. Pearls aren’t intended to be anything in this world without their owners, and despite the Rebellion’s principles, Pearl never truly moved past that as long as Rose was alive. Pearl sums it up in the movie: “And I was sure she’d set me free / But in the end I guess I never left her side.”
What does it matter, it’s already done / Now I’ve got to be there for her son
Pearl almost comes close to processing her feelings but then dismisses it. It matters because you and your emotions matter, Pearl, even if you’re used to devaluing them.
And now we get to Steven, who is both an embodiment of the best parts of Rose and a constant reminder of the fact that she’s gone, leading to Pearl’s complicated feelings towards him. Although she loves Steven, it’s obvious that she sometimes resents him for effectively replacing Rose, even if it’s not his fault. You can also understand why she’s so overprotective of Steven – Rose gave up herself for this, and if Pearl were to allow something to happen to him, she’d literally be failing Rose’s dying wish.
In Three Gems and a Baby, we’ll see a little of how Pearl initially reacted to the idea of being there for Steven. Notably, she comes very close to attempting to pull out his gemstone with the idea that it might cause Rose to form again. (Given the events of Change Your Mind, this clearly would not have worked.) She’s only stopped by the knowledge that Rose wanted to become Steven, even if it does not make sense to Pearl.
As Pearl sings this line, Steven is climbing out of bed and watching her. Hearing this probably doesn’t help his growing complex of feeling like he needs to live up to his mom.
So there you go, Pearl. You can’t move on because it would mean you’d have to accept Rose’s faults and that your relationship together was not the idyllic love you wanted. You have to accept that, even if Rose had the right to form relationships with other people, you still are allowed to feel hurt over the rejection. You have to accept that Rose’s actions weren’t about you, and weren’t some kind of punishment for being flawed or losing a “game,” and that you deserve to be loved yourself.
Eventually, Pearl is able to begin moving on from Rose, flirting with a pink-haired human and gaining more confidence in herself. That process is helped along at least partially by her healing here.
This is one of the most beautiful songs in Steven Universe, both in the singing and in the presentation. Deedee Magno-Hall really pours her heart out, and the animation of her dancing on the balcony is gorgeous.
As Pearl finishes up her song, she realizes that not only Steven, but Greg was awake. Which, yes, she was singing a very loud and heartfelt ballad just a few feet away from him.
“Nothing’s going to fix this,” he says sadly. I appreciate that he genuinely wants to patch things up with Pearl, even though the situation is awkward at best.
Pearl regrets coming along. “No, this is exactly why I brought you,” says Steven.
We see him both channeling his empathy powers and channeling his mother in bringing together two people who she loved. Steven has come a long way when it comes to emotional intelligence over the course of the season so far.
It’s also worth noting that Rose’s speech to him in her video told him to take care of them, and that’s exactly what he’s going to try to do.
On the other hand, knowing about his eventual breakdown makes this sweet moment a bit worrying. Steven should be having a light, fun vacation where he’s free to be a kid after all of the trauma he’s been through lately. Instead, he’s using his vacation to heal other people’s emotional wounds. It’s sweet, but not necessarily healthy behavior for a child his age. Children who take up too much of their parents’ emotional burdens at a young age often struggle with depression and anxiety later in life, which we do see play out with Steven.
Greg is at the hotel bar, eating a glass full of cherries. “Cherry man,” he says to himself, a reference back to Winter Forecast where he called himself a cherry man while wearing a cherry sweatshirt.
Steven arrives with Pearl and motions for them to talk to each other, but they look away, embarrassed. Steven then pays off the staff playing the piano so he can commandeer it for a musical number.
“Why don’t you talk to each other?” says Steven, which is practically his motto at this point.
It’s notable that Steven’s streak of being able to solve just about any problem by getting people or Gems to start talking is about to come to an end in this season. This is one of his last big victories for simply talking things out that he’ll have for some time.
Why don’t you talk about what happened / I know you’re trying to avoid it, but I don’t know why
You know, Steven, it really doesn’t take that much imagination to figure out why Greg and Pearl might be avoiding talking about this particular topic.
Steven sings that they have a lot in common. It is interesting that people with such disparate personalities both fell in love with Rose. For Pearl, Rose represented an escape from oppressive Gem society. With Greg, it was almost the opposite, as he served as an escape for Rose.
The coloring here is significant and not subtle if you’ve watched the series through. Steven is lit in bright pink, of course, as he is Pink Diamond. Greg and Pearl’s colors also correspond to the Diamonds and to the ways they fail to deal with Pink’s death, with Yellow and Greg avoiding the problem and suppressing, and Blue and Pearl filled with grief, unable to move forward.
“You both love me and I love both of you,” Steven sings, and the pink lighting reminds us that this also applies to Rose.
Greg: If I were you, I’d hate me too.
Pearl: I don’t hate you.
Greg: But I knew how you felt about Rose, and I stayed anyway.
Pearl: That wasn’t the problem.
Greg: Then what was?
Pearl: She fell in love with you.
This is significant, as it’s an admission from Pearl that she doesn’t actually hate Greg and that her problem was really with Rose, her choice to be with Greg, and her choice to give herself up to form Steven. Greg had a hand in it, but it was ultimately Rose’s decision.
“Well, you know Rose.” “She always did what she wanted!”
This is such a critical admission for Pearl, that the situation was mostly due to Rose doing what she wanted. She knew that forming Steven would be painful for everyone, and she still chose to do it anyway. Pearl finally acknowledging Rose’s role in all of this is an important step for her healing and being able to forgive Greg, Steven, and herself.
Pearl offers her hand to Greg to dance, when she had refused him earlier in the episode. They dance, awkwardly at first, but then more fluidly, with Pearl dipping Greg.
“You know you both need it / Someone to know what you’re going through,” sings Steven, and he’s certainly right about this. One major problem that Pearl has is her isolation and unwillingness to open up about her feelings to other people. Greg shares the pain of losing Rose more than anyone else Pearl knows – and particularly, Greg is the only other person who can really understand the awkwardness of having your former lover turn into your son.
And on that last note, having Steven reconcile Pearl and Greg like this really cements the idea that Pearl, more than anyone, is effectively Steven’s mother.
The moment ends when one of the staff presents Greg with the bill.
One fear I had going into this arc was that they would immediately wipe Greg clean of his money with some extravagant expense. The good news is, while this bill is indeed large, Greg remains rich afterwards. That’s more realistic, too – fans have calculated the potential costs of the swanky hotel room, luxurious meal, custom suits etc. and the total is unlikely to be more than 200K. That’s still a staggering sum for someone like Greg, but only 2% of his newfound wealth.
Greg sings a reprise of his earlier song, now about how various things “cost something.” Pearl joins in, showing that she mostly remembers the lyrics to it, surprising Greg.
“Getting it wrong –” sings Pearl.
“Don’t cost nothing,” finishes Greg.
On the way home, Greg and Pearl chat amicably with each other, while a contented Steven rests in the back seat. From this point on in the series, Pearl gets along much better with Greg.
This is one of the top episodes of Steven Universe. Great songs, beautiful animation, and fantastic character development and emotional depth make this a fan favorite. Pearl’s song in particular is arguably one of the best of the series, and certainly one of the most iconic and memorable. Steven Universe really could have used more full-on musical episodes like this, but then again, that’s part of what makes this episode so special.
Next time on Steven Universe Rewind! We’re back to my old wheelhouse of Peridot analysis with Too Short to Ride.