Steven Universe Rewind: Beach City Drift

Official Description: Steven and Connie get into a high-speed car race with their biggest foe.

Of course their biggest foe isn’t the ancient, immensely powerful intergalactic dictator who tried to turn the Earth into a geoweapon, but some creep who makes inappropriate comments. This is one of the things I love about Steven Universe.

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 episode opens with Steven wearing sunglasses and pretending to drive a car. The car belongs to Greg, who decides to use some of his newfound wealth – which he still has, even after the expenses of Mr. Greg – to buy a Dondai Supremo, a car he has coveted for a long time. Steven points out that it’s too small to live in, and Greg says he’s still living in the van.

Future Vision

The Dondai will later feature prominently in Last One Out of Beach City, where Pearl uses it to evade the cops, and in Future in general, where Steven commonly drives it.

[collapse]

Connie has stopped by to visit, and she’s looking absolutely adorable in her father’s bomber jacket.

Connie points out that the car is a used car, and Greg covers up the USED sticker with a “Dad on Board” sticker. Greg confirms it’s not a new car, but instead one from the era of “frosted tips, mood rings, and slap bracelets.” Frosted tips were most popular in the late 90s, slap bracelets most popular in the early 90s, and mood rings are from the 70s, but were also popular during part of the 90s due to 70s throwback nostalgia. (I know, I was a 90s kid who had both mood rings and a lava lamp.) This implies that the era of Mr. Universe, before Steven was born, was the 90s, which makes as much sense as anything else in this timeline.

Greg shows off pictures of his torrid romantic relationship with the Dondai Supremo on the car lot, ending with him re-enacting the spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp and getting arrested.

He also enthuses over the fact that the car features a tape deck. Cassette tapes in cars became common in the early 80s through the late 90s, when in-car CD players became the new standard. Looking up this information, I found that the last new car with a built-in cassette tape deck was a 2010 Lexus model.

As Steven and Connie wash the Dondai, a yellow sports car pulls up, kicking up a cloud of dust as it brakes. The window opens to reveal Kevin, the young man who harassed Stevonnie back in Alone Together. He asks for a car wash, and Greg hops to it, showing that he’s still washing cars despite his life-changing wealth.

Both Steven and Connie loathe Kevin on sight, but Steven in particular is visibly furious.

There’s a running joke that Steven is cordial and works to redeem Gems that are actively trying to kill him, but immediately has unbridled loathing for Kevin, whose only crime is being creepy and not respecting Stevonnie’s boundaries. There are a few reasons for this that I’ll be getting into, but one obvious one is the mundanity of it all. Steven’s previous antagonists, like Peridot, were part of a fascist Gem society that forced them to act the way they did, so Steven’s willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’ve never known another way. Kevin is just an ordinary human and has no such excuse.

It also goes back to how the audience tends to feel about antagonists. Antagonists that hit very close to home and exhibit behaviors that lots of us have to deal with in real life – like creepily hitting on a person who doesn’t want it – tend to inspire more immediate revulsion than antagonists whose villainy has no obvious real-life analogue. None of us will have to deal with Yellow Diamond building a geoweapon in the Earth, but a whole lot of us will have to deal with multiple Kevins making us feel slimy and uncomfortable.

Steven angrily confronts Kevin, who claims he doesn’t even remember Steven. Kevin drives off without paying, which Greg brushes off because he’s rich anyway, but Steven is still fuming.

Steven declares he hates Kevin, which I think is the first and last time Steven ever claims to hate anyone in the series. Greg chastises him: “Hate’s a strong word.”

“It’s a strong feeling, too!” Steven shoots back, and I’m very much on board with that. As a kid, it always annoyed me when adults would tell me not to hate. It’s invalidating, and we can’t always help how we feel, especially when the target is giving us very good reasons to inspire our hatred.

Steven calls Kevin a creep, which Greg also objects to. I know Greg is an easygoing guy, but that’s definitely being unreasonable. Some guys are creeps and absolutely need to be called out as such. Connie further explains: “He kept asking us to dance with him, even though we said no. It was really uncomfortable.”

“He didn’t even care how we felt at all!” Steven adds. Like the previous Stevonnie-focused episode, Alone Together, this episode also deals with issues of consent. It’s interesting that this episode rightfully acknowledges what Kevin did as a violation, whereas the messages about consent and autonomy in the previous episode were far more muddled.

To his credit, Greg doesn’t entirely dismiss their feelings this time, but his advice is still not totally helpful: “That guy, he’s not even worth the time of day. Don’t even give him the satisfaction of thinking about him.” This is definitely a case where he’s right, but it’s far easier said than done, and he hasn’t really given them the tools they need to healthily process this so that they can let it go instead of stewing on it.

Later that evening, Connie and Steven are laying on the roof of the Dondai looking at the stars. Connie asks Steven if he’s still mad about Kevin, and he is, very much so. Connie says she’s also still mad, even if she doesn’t look it. This has a lot of parallels to Keystone Motel, where Ruby was very visibly angry, while Sapphire was no less angry but was suppressing outward expression of it.

Connie says, “I still think that there’s something big I want to say to him, you know? Something to make him think, like we’re thinking.” This is an understandable impulse but also often a fruitless and unsatisfying path to go down. When people with empathy and strong emotions get hurt, it’s often a understandable impulse to want to make the person who wronged them suffer in the same way. The problem is that, if their abuser lacks empathy or simply just doesn’t care about the same things, this can be impossible to do, and the victim often risks getting hurt again.

One thing I’ve seen in analysis of this episode is the notion that Steven is only this uncharacteristically angry because Kevin hurt Connie and he’s protective of her. I think that’s certainly part of it, but I think it downplays the fact that Steven himself also feels violated by the treatment. Boys deserve to have their boundaries respected, and it speaks to the kind of notions of masculinity that the show generally rejects when it’s treated as though Steven can’t have feelings about this unrelated to Connie.

Kevin had mentioned earlier that he was taking his fancy car to a street race, and Steven and Connie realize that they would be old enough to drive the Dondai if they fused. They still wouldn’t have a license, but whatever.

At the street race, Kevin has just beat Jenny, who is driving the Fish Stew Pizza delivery car. It goes to show Kevin’s unwarranted ego that he brags about beating a regular old car in his immaculate, expensive sports car – and it looks like he barely won, at that.

Buck, Sour Cream, and Ronaldo are there, along with a character we last saw working the ticket booth in Lion 2.

Future Vision

This character is Jane, and in the next episode she’s revealed to be Ronaldo’s girlfriend.

[collapse]

As Kevin gloats, Stevonnie drives up in the Dondai and offers to race him. Ronaldo is extremely enthusiastic about the Dondai, as apparently cars are one of his specialized interests. He identifies the car as a ’96, which matches with the other info we’ve got about the era, and also places Greg’s band as being very throwback in its style (or else music tastes varied a lot in the world of SU, which is also quite possible given the levels of technology are also all over the place).

Kevin recognizes Stevonnie and calls them “two kids in a beautiful trenchcoat.” I love that no one questions this. Most of these characters were at the rave and saw Stevonnie split, but I think everyone in the town chalks it up to “Steven was involved so it’s some weird magic.”

Kevin goads them, saying they’re obsessed with him, and Stevonnie takes the bait and agrees to race.

At the top of the mountain, Kevin cheats by taking off early. Stevonnie drives after, somehow effortlessly driving stick shift. They reach a curve at high speed and are able to perfectly drift using the handbrake. Where did Steven and / or Connie learn to drive like this? Video games?

This entire scene is reminiscent of racing anime, and while I thought of Speed Racer, it’s apparently a direct reference to Initial D. The music that accompanies the scene is called Dire Dire Drift, a reference to one of my favorite Mario tunes, Dire Dire Docks.

Kevin taunts them as they race neck-in-neck. Stevonnie asks him why he’s always such a jerk, and he gives a sob story about his younger brother who is sick. Stevonnie falls for it and Kevin laughs in their face. “I’m like this because I think it’s funny.”

Future Vision

After last season dealt heavily with redemption, we’re seeing more characters this season who can’t be so easily redeemed, and the encounters with Marty and Kevin are building up to the more serious failure to redeem Jasper that caps the season off. Steven has mostly dealt with Gems who are desperate and need his help, and now he’s getting a taste of characters who aren’t interested in anything he has to offer them.

We do get hints at Kevin’s actual insecurities in Kevin Party, although he never ends up being all that sympathetic.

[collapse]

Stevonnie is enraged, and they start to hallucinate as the fusion becomes undone. They get literal tunnel vision, imagine the road crumbling behind them, and see Kevin’s laughing face fly towards them, causing them to spin out and stop. Thankfully, no harm comes to Steven, Connie, or the Dondai.

Steven wants to get back to beating Kevin, but Connie asks the real questions: “Why do we even have to play his game?… Why should he get to have any say over how we feel?”

I think for all of us who have been hurt by someone who wasn’t worth the dirt on the soles of our shoes, this is one of those things that’s both extremely true and extremely difficult to put into practice. It’s one of the great injustices of life that the worst people often sail through life experiencing little remorse or consequences, while those around them suffer even though they shouldn’t even pay mind to the opinions of awful people.

Connie points out that Kevin is the reason they fused, which snaps Steven out of his anger. The first time they fused, it was out of joy and a true connection; this time, they fused out of a desire for revenge. While Steven and Connie obviously don’t hate each other, we saw how awful a rage-fueled fusion can be with Malachite. Steven and Connie vow to finish the race, not for Kevin, but for themselves, and fuse again.

They catch up to Kevin, who seems to have been waiting for them. This time, when he taunts them, Stevonnie simply ignores him. Instead, they take in the view from the mountain.

Future Vision

A shot very similar to this is used in the Future credits and in the last episode, as Steven is driving away from Beach City.

[collapse]

Kevin uses a nitrous engine to pass Stevonnie, once again showing his insecurity where he has to use a trick like that to beat two kids.

Kevin gloats about his win, but Stevonnie smiles and holds out their hand to shake, irritating him. “Second place isn’t so bad for my first time driving a car,” they say, getting the last laugh. As they drive off, Kevin yells about how they’re so obsessed with him.

Future Vision

In Kevin Party, Kevin proves that this is projection by inviting Stevonnie to a party because they’re cooler and better liked than he is.

[collapse]

I enjoyed this episode more than I remembered. Stevonnie is always a delight, and even though it’s fairly slight, I think it does a better job developing on the themes of this season than some of the other townie episodes. Besides, Kevin really is fun as a foil.

Next time on Steven Universe Rewind! It’s one of the funniest townie episodes, Restaurant Wars.