Steven Universe Rewind: The New Lars

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.

Episode Description: Steven gets a new look into Lars’ life.

Oh boy. Out of every Steven Universe episode, this one is quite possibly the most uncomfortable.

The episode opens with Steven in the Big Donut, asking Lars and Sadie an important question: koalas or sloths? Normally in an episode with this premise I would try to tease out some kind of hidden meaning here but there really doesn’t seem to be one (or else it flew over my head).

It’s notable that we haven’t seen Lars in a speaking role for a while. Apart from his one line in Say Uncle, he’s only been a background character since Season One.

Lars is irritated by Steven, but Sadie says to let him do his thing.

Lars mentions that they have the next day off since the Big Donut is closed to clean gulls out of the vents, which is quite an image. Sadie invites him over for food and movies, but he declines, saying it’s boring and he’s going to see if Buck is doing anything. They stand there awkwardly until Sadie points out that Steven’s staring at them.

Afterwards, Steven asks Lars why he didn’t want to hang out with Sadie. “But aren’t you going to get married, and have kids, and name one of them after his Uncle Steven?”

Lars tells Steven that they’re not even dating and to butt out, and although he’s rude, he’s pretty well justified here. This one is really not any of Steven’s business, even less so than the situation with Pearl and Greg (where their awkward relationship affects his family life) or with Peridot and Lapis (where at least Peridot wanted his help).

It’s also similar to the situation in Barn Mates in that Lars actually has a pretty good reason not to date Sadie. What she did in Island Adventure was pretty gross, and even if they’re friendly to each other at work now, it would be pretty reasonable for Lars to conclude he’s not romantically interested in her for that reason alone. But even if he has no reason, or even if he’s lying and is into Sadie, it’s still not remotely Steven’s business.

Future Vision

This comes up again in Little Graduation, where Steven’s fear of change and being left behind is triggered by the double-whammy of Lars and his crew heading back into space and Sadie breaking up her band and dating Shep. Lars and Sadie are both fine with this situation and Sadie tells him off on sticking his nose into things that are private.

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That night, a distressed Steven has a nightmare about Lars and his wish to help him. We’ve seen Steven’s dreamwalking powers a couple of times now, such as when he was able to communicate with Lapis inside Malachite, and when he was able to inhabit a Watermelon Steven by sleeping.

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Steven wakes up in Lars’ body. Yes, we’re doing the obligatory bodyswapping plot. In one of the more risque gags in the entire series, “Lars” wakes up naked with a girly magazine over his face.

One nice touch about this episode is that they keep Lars’ voice actor for Steven-in-Lars. Some variations of this plot in animated shows swap voices, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. Matthew Moy does a good job imitating Steven’s cadence, too.

We see Lars’ room, in the attic of his house, which is a really sweet setup for a teenager, I think. It’s actually honestly less messy than I would have assumed, too.

Steven momentarily freaks out as he works out what happened. “I guess while I’m in here, I’d better do my best to respect Lars’ body… and privacy.”

If you’ve seen this episode, you know that goes out the window almost immediately.

This is a show that has many episodes dealing with manipulation, consent, and respecting others’ boundaries. In episodes like Cry for Help, the writers toe a careful line, showing what can happen when autonomy is violated while still keeping the characters sympathetic and their motivations understandable. This episode, in my opinion, isn’t as successful as that, as we’ll see.

Steven chooses a pink shirt with a yellow cartoon of a dead bird on it – keeping his usual color scheme if not his usual motif.

Steven heads downstairs, where Lars’ parents are quietly discussing a matter in the kitchen. “We can do this, Dante. We have to talk to him,” says his mother, Martha. They seem nervous about this discussion, which really raises a lot of questions about what Lars’ home life has been like.

Martha serves him breakfast and calls him Laramie, before correcting herself to Lars. This line inspired a popular fan notion that Lars is trans – one which is never explicit on the show, but I think is a legitimate and interesting read on the character.

Dante wants to discuss Lars’ report card. Steven doesn’t understand what he’s looking at, since he’s never been to school. I’m wondering what Lars got a B in.

Future Vision

Given his later revealed secret interest in cooking, it’d be fitting if the B were in home economics.

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Lars’ parents say that they let him move into the attic but his grades are still terrible, and all they’re asking for is “a little effort.” It definitely has the tone of a conversation they’ve had before.

Steven is immediately won over by this. “You guys seem so nice! I’m sure I don’t want to let either of you down. I, Lars, promise to go out and do my very best at being your son.”

This is a little similar to Sadie’s Song in that Steven is faced with a family dynamic he isn’t remotely equipped to understand, because he’s never had anything like it. One of Steven’s main flaws is that he is a people pleaser even at his own expense. Greg never puts much in the way of expectations on him, and he eagerly accepts any Crystal Gem responsibilities, so he’s never been in this position of a parental figure asking him for more effort that he can’t or won’t provide.

Steven generally has high emotional intelligence. I think that if he really thought about this situation, he would probably realize that that’s not how Lars would act. Of course, this is where Steven’s impulse to fix everyone’s lives – even being somewhat manipulative to do so, like in Mr. Greg – gets him into trouble. So of course he thinks that pleasing Lars’ parents is the right thing to do.

Future Vision

In Mr. Universe, Steven reveals that he sometimes longed for a more normal, structured childhood. On some level, he’s probably enjoying this taste of a different family.

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Lars’ parents are surprised but pleased. Martha comments that Lars is wearing the heart plugs she got him. Of course Steven would pick those out.

All notion of respecting Lars’ autonomy and privacy gone out the window, Steven walks down the street, laughing to himself. He notices Onion: “Hey, Onion, look! I’m Lars!” Onion gives him a disturbed thumbs up. You know if even Onion is concerned by your actions, you’re doing something kind of messed up.

Lars spots Buck and Sour Cream leaning against a wall and runs to talk to them. They say they’re hanging out. “Would you say you hang out more like koalas or sloths? Uh, I’m asking for Steven,” Steven says.

“I like that kid,” says Buck. Steven giggles. It’s sweet that Buck apparently does sincerely like Steven. “Tell Steven we’re more like sleeping tigers.”

Jenny emerges from the back of Fish Stew Pizza, complaining that she had to work and now she smells. She’s not thrilled to see “Lars.”

Steven tells her she doesn’t smell, and when she’s shocked, he says he can say even nicer stuff: “Like you’re really cool and pretty and fun to be around!”

Steven, of course, is so sincere and always complimenting other people, that he would never stop and think about why that might be embarrassing for Lars. Jenny appreciates it, at least. “This is so unlike you!” she says, accurately.

“I see what’s going on here. This isn’t the Lars we know,” says Buck, making Steven panic. “Maybe Lars is actually… a good guy who likes making people feel good.” Buck then invites Lars to join their dance crew, and I love that they actually have a dance crew.

While the Cool Kids don’t have much in the way of depth, I continue to enjoy how they’re all really chill and not like the “popular kids” in most pop culture who are snobbish bullies. Lars builds up all these defenses and acts really standoffish because he thinks it’ll make him cool, but with Steven at the wheel making him act sincerely nice, he’s immediately accepted into the group, something he wanted but was never able to fully achieve on his own.

“Lars is going to be psyched!” says Steven, not even considering that no, he really won’t be.

“Buck is pleased,” says Buck, going along with the third person thing.

Steven impresses them with his dancing skills, but then remembers he can’t go to the competition because he has other plans.

Lars arrives at Sadie’s house, and Sadie, clad in adorable robe and bunny slippers, is not too happy to see him. “Well, if it isn’t the human boomerang, always coming back to me,” she says, implying that Lars has pulled this before – saying he doesn’t want to hang out and then showing up anyway when his other plans fall through. Steven seems momentarily confused. Through Lars’ eyes, he’s getting a glimpse of relationship dynamics that he’s not used to and are frankly a little over his head.

Although irritated, Sadie relents and invites him in for a movie.

As seen in Horror Club, Sadie is a huge fan of horror movies, and her collection of videos is definitely not Steven-friendly. Let’s be glad he didn’t go for “Caligula – The Documentary.”

Steven picks out “Fangs of Love,” a cheesy werewolf romance movie that Sadie is only interested in watching to laugh at. Steven, of course, is really into it, crying at the end, which concerns Sadie.

Sadie questions him on making a big deal of refusing her invitation in front of Steven the day before, and coming over the next day. “It’s like you’re one way in private and a different way in public. You act like you don’t know you don’t want to be seen with me, but I do know. I’m not stupid.”

This is a pretty understandable conclusion Sadie has drawn here. It’s not explicit if that’s actually how Lars feels, but it does track with some of his previous behavior, including wanting to keep his horror club with Ronaldo a secret when they were kids.

Steven, of course, is in way over his head here. Steven, having been raised largely away from humanity, doesn’t have any concept of the kinds of social pressures that might drive Lars to act like that. While I wouldn’t call the relationship between Lars and Sadie mature, exactly, it is far more characteristic of late teens and early adults than of someone Steven’s age.

And Sadie’s comment that Lars is different in public and in private is another unsubtle hint as to the moral of the story here. Steven is trying to “fix” Lars’ relationships with people, but all he really knows about them is the very limited things he’s seen. He doesn’t know anything of the history between Lars and his parents, or what Lars and Sadie talk about alone in her room. It’s one thing when he’s mediating between people he knows very well, like Pearl and Greg, or when people explicitly ask for his advice, but he really doesn’t know these two that well, and they definitely did not ask for his opinion on this situation.

Steven puts a hand on Sadie’s shoulder, telling her not to be sad. She immediately shrugs it off. This is pretty much his final warning to back off with what he’s about to do, but it’s just not something Steven is able to recognize.

Sadie asks him how he really feels about her. “I love you!” Steven declares, clearly proud of himself.

Sadie is at first shocked, and then furious – not the reaction Steven anticipated at all. “All right, I get it. Some cute little heart gauges, a dumb fluffy movie, that’s enough for Sadie? Right, Lars?”

Steven, of course, has no idea how to respond to this, and probably doesn’t even realize the full implications of what Sadie is saying here. Even if you don’t think that Sadie construed this sexually – and honestly, that’s a valid if dark interpretation of her words – she’s still feeling used by what to her seems a totally out of nowhere, insincere romantic gesture. The idea that real life relationships like that exist is something that Steven doesn’t even know about, except perhaps in movies.

Even though he couldn’t have anticipated Sadie’s reaction, there’s still really no excuse for his actions here. Lars told him in no uncertain terms that he didn’t think of Sadie that way and wasn’t interested in confessing his love. Steven did something with Lars’ body that he knows for a fact that Lars wouldn’t approve of, and despite his innocent intentions, it’s a major violation.

Sadie kicks him out of the house. “You’re only my friend when it’s convenient for you! Get out of my life!”

Steven, in desperation, reveals that he isn’t Lars. He tells Sadie what happened and apologizes for hurting her feelings, which is enough to convince Sadie that he really is Steven.

Sadie, to her credit, immediately asks the obvious question: “Does this mean Lars’ mind is inside your body?”

Steven: I don’t know.

Sadie: You don’t know?!

Steven: Maybe… we should… check?

Sadie: Ya think?!

I guess it goes to show how focused Steven was on the idea of fixing Lars’ life that he never gave any thought to what had actually happened to Lars’ mind. Never mind that Lars, not knowing anything about Steven’s dream powers, would be incredibly distressed to wake up in Steven’s body.

I think this is part of why this particular bodyswap story comes off as creepier than many. In most bodyswap stories, both people are swapped, and they come together early on to discuss the situation and what they’re going to do about it. If that had happened in this story, there’s a good chance Lars would have told Steven in no unequivocal terms not to meddle in his life, and perhaps Steven would have listened. It also makes the potentially gross aspects a little less gross if both parties are going through the same thing. Here, however, it’s entirely one-sided, so there’s no one to warn Steven off what he does, and no mirror plot of Lars trying to navigate the world as Steven.

In a more lighthearted version of this episode, Lars getting roped into going on a mission with the Crystal Gems might have been pretty funny.

The Cool Kids are strolling by with the second-place trophy they won in the dance competition when Steven and Sadie go running by. “Hey, look, it’s Lars and Donut Girl!” says Jenny, showing that Sadie keeps to herself enough that the other teens don’t even know her name.

They pass Lars’ parents, who are happy that Lars seems to be turning over a new leaf. They don’t recognize Sadie at all. While it’s clear that Lars has been to Sadie’s house many times, it seems that Lars never invited her to his, which supports Sadie’s idea that he doesn’t want to be seen with her. The Cool Kids and Lars’ parents follow the pair as they run to the beach house.

They try to get into Steven’s house, but it’s locked. I didn’t even know they did that. Sadie shows off her surprising strength by kicking down the door.

The Cool Kids, understandably, wonder why they’re breaking into Steven’s house. Martha assumes Lars is a burglar (in broad daylight in front of everyone, apparently). “We’ve been ready for this day,” says Dante, which paints a pretty sad picture of Lars’ home life.

Steven’s body is in his bed, asleep. Steven slaps his body awake as the group of people following them rush in. Steven wakes up in his own body, as Lars passes out.

Lars wakes up a second later, shocked and confused to wake up in Steven’s house with all these people standing around. It would seem he really was just unconscious all this time, which makes sense – if he had actually woken up in Steven’s body, no doubt he would have gone looking for Steven.

Lars demands to know what happened. The Cool Kids rush to Steven’s defense as he explains that he spent the day with his mind inside of Lars’ body. Lars, very understandably, completely freaks out.

The Cool Kids criticize him for losing his chill, which – what? He just had someone else’s mind inside his body. Martha apologizes to Steven, saying “he wasn’t like that this morning.”

“Please don’t cause a scene, Laramie,” says Dante, which is both completely invalidating of his feelings and using the name he dislikes. Despite Lars’ parents being nice on the surface in the moments we see through Steven, I definitely get the impression that they have a lot of flaws as parents.

“I was acting weird all day and you just liked it?” asks Lars. Honestly, that would be a pretty devastating revelation, especially to someone who already has questionable self esteem. Everyone except for Sadie very obviously preferred Steven in Lars’ body to actual Lars, even his own parents.

Lars takes a deep breath to try and calm down. He does not.

This seems to be the scene that bothers most people about this episode, and it certainly didn’t sit quite right with me. I definitely don’t think that the show is endorsing what Steven did, as not only is Steven very apologetic about it, but it would go against some of the show’s major messages about boundaries and consent. The problem, I think, is that the ending here is way too abrupt, a victim of the eleven minute runtime. This scene ends with both the Cool Kids, normally sympathetic characters, and Lars’ parents, who we have just met, totally invalidating Lars’ feelings. Even just a little pushback on that from Steven or Sadie here might have helped. It’s tonally jarring that we have characters telling Lars to calm down, he screams comically, and then we cut the scene, even though what just happened really isn’t funny at all.

For reference, the last time a character had their bodily autonomy violated this badly, we got an entire five episode arc about it. While I don’t particularly want a five episode arc about Lars, I might also argue that this episode’s premise was not a great idea if they don’t have enough time to really do it justice in one.

It’s remniscent of Island Adventure, another major episode centered around Lars and Sadie, where Sadie seriously screws up and manipulates Lars and Steven into staying on the desert island for days when they really could have gone home at any time. Lars is understandably very angry at her, but we don’t really have time to examine these feelings of betrayal. It’s interesting to me that both times, these violations happen to Lars and then are glossed over. It’s like the Crewniverse thinks that, since Lars is often a difficult and unsympathetic character, it’s okay to do these plots with him. To me, the problem is that while, yes, Lars is often irritating and hard to like, he’s mostly just a harmless troubled teen and in no way deserves being stranded on an island under false pretenses or having his body possessed.

The next day, Steven goes to the Big Donut to apologize to Lars and give him a card, one with a koala and a sloth on it. An extremely downtrodden Lars tears up the card without looking at it. This reminds me a bit of Barn Mates, where Peridot attempts to apologize to Lapis in a similar way, although I’d guess the contents of Steven’s card aren’t quite as misplaced. One of the lessons of that episode is that some problems are too big for a simple apology – and this certainly seems to be one of those.

Despite my misgivings with this episode, I can definitely buy that Steven would screw up in this particular way and only realize his mistake afterwards. He has a desperate need for everyone to get along and for him to fix everyone’s problems, as well as a manipulative streak – often deployed for good effect, as in Mr. Greg, but even well-meaning manipulation can easily backfire, as it does here.

Future Vision

What Steven does here is also a very Diamond action. It’s most similar to White’s power of possessing other Gems. White is a dark mirror of Steven here: Steven does what he does out of a desire to make people happy, and White does what she does out of narcissism, but they both end up in an eerily similar place, taking away sentient beings’ free will to supposedly make them better.

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Steven says that he hopes he didn’t screw up Lars’ friendship with Sadie. Lars demands to know what he said to her. Steven says that he confessed his love, and Lars is clearly interested in the answer. When Steven says that Sadie thinks he’d only say something like that to hurt her, Lars seems genuinely crushed by this. “Maybe that’s why everyone liked the you me better than the real me,” he says.

The fact that he admits that Sadie’s right even while so broken up about it is pretty sad. You can get the feeling that he’d like to do better, but he’s constructed such walls around him that he doesn’t even know where to start. Seeing Steven so effortlessly win the approval of his parents and the Cool Kids has to sting.

At least one person preferred the actual Lars…

Sadie enters the Big Donut, and they stare at each other awkwardly, before making some small talk about how weird Beach City is. “It’s good to see the real you,” says Sadie, which is exactly what Lars needs to hear right now.

He invites her over to watch movies after work, and Sadie accepts. Steven smiles, but it feels a little unearned to me. Just because Lars and Sadie are still friends doesn’t mean you didn’t screw up badly, Steven!

Future Vision

Of course, he hasn’t really learned that lesson fully, and honestly, they never go as deep into Steven’s manipulative tendencies as I’d like on the show, probably because it’s hard to explore without making him unsympathetic.

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Next Time on Steven Universe Rewind! I’m sure you were all clamoring for the return of Kevin, right? It’s Beach City Drift.