Steven Universe: Unwinding Season 4—Episode 18: Rocknaldo

Okay. If we can get over the experience of Ronaldo being insufferable and look at why we have an episode about Ronaldo being so insufferable, it gets a little more interesting.

What we’ve got here is a discussion of toxic allyship. Which is… it’s an unusual thing to talk about, but it’s relevant to a lot of stuff going on in leftie spheres. On the one hand, swell; good to have people theoretically on your side. But, none of this is really about them.

It’s not even all that subtle about what it’s doing, with this white dude who starts off passing out, er, Ronalphlets about these insidious figures infiltrating society who, among other things, “hate men.” When checked on his bullshit, he goes away to think then has a revelation.

And now he’s like Joss Whedon or some shit. Just creepily in there and making this whole discussion about someone else’s struggle all about him. Ultimately, after all the familiar fuckery of even accusing in-group members of not being in enough, he learns to be a better ally.

Like. Show your support, but give them breathing room. Don’t speak for them, but have discussions with other out-group members about who the group is and try to correct misconceptions. Help to spread acceptance. Keep your own ego out of it.

It’s, hm. Not sure exactly how to talk about this. But I think part of the long, long delay in my recognizing my gender diversity and accepting my sexuality for what they are was out of fear of co-opting someone else’s thing. Like, who am I to say that any of this applies to me?

I’ve co-opted things before, as I’m sure most people have. And I’m not entirely certain if I meant well or not; it’s hard to tell, you know? I don’t want to act like a dick. I don’t want to be like Ronaldo here, barging into a scene he doesn’t understand and making his groove.

Ronaldo is a fragile guy. He has a really poor sense of self. I don’t know what hole it is in his life, what he’s avoiding with all his conspiracy theories and everything else he does. I’m tempted to connect a few dots with his lack of a mother figure. He’s older than Peedie…

And, like, when is “Lion 4: Alternate Ending?” Soon, right? Three episodes from here. Which is where Steven goes all conspiracy crazy about his mother and his place in the world. Ronaldo is this lost figure, just trying to figure out where he belongs, what everything really means

At the end of the season, Steven of course figures he’ll rid everyone of the burden of himself and all the weight he carries as his mother’s son. When, uh, the Rock People do in fact come to town and… what is it Ronaldo says in this episode? Hang on.

Seriously, though, I want to feel free to walk around town like this.

Okay, not many details, but. Again, this is just a few episodes before this all… kinda actually becomes relevant, what with Aquamarine and Topaz. Could be a little more on-the-nose, but in retrospect, this absolutely serves as foreshadowing.

Point being, there are parallels in this episode between Ronaldo and Steven. It’s safe to say when Ronaldo shows up, he’s usually there for a reason actually. Sort of a canary thing. You don’t want to make the connections because he’s so friggin’ annoying, but that’s the point?

Ronaldo has no filter, and so he tends to play out things that other people choose not to say or haven’t fully processed yet, and serve as, um, a catalytic clown. Gosh, that’s a term, huh. He presages the development of important themes and concepts before they fully manifest.

And Ronaldo’s whole misadventure with the Crystal Gems… it’s not accurate, because when does Ronaldo ever really get the meaning right, but it kind of mirrors how Steven is starting to feel about himself at this point.

Which again the episode even makes explicit, during the scene where Ronaldo in his seventh day (or whatever) of sleep deprivation convinces Steven to walk out and question his own role in the team. Which is over almost immediately, because it’s a Bugs Bunny gag, but. You know.

Like. Ronaldo in this episode is who Steven is starting to get scared that he is. The way that everyone feels about Ronaldo is how Steven is becoming scared that everyone feels about him. Sorta kinda. Broadly. He’s not fully one of them. He’s a burden. He’s a liability.

And at the same time we get an episode about how absolutely not to support a marginalized group of people.

You can get a lot more out of a story if you’re not all caught up in this notion of being entertained.

All of this hit me about two minutes into the episode. I’ve not actually watched this full thing get. Possibly because of my hang-ups about being entertained. Hang on, let me get some cola and see this through in full before I say anything else.

Ronaldo: “DO YOU KNOW, I’VE ALWAYS FELT STRANGELY AT-HOME HERE…” Everyone else:

It’s some character trait to be able to yell an ellipsis.

Yeah, Steven leaps right in by comparing himself to Ronaldo. The CGs tell him his body is organic and he doesn’t have a gem.

“M-my body’s organic, and I’m a Crystal Gem!”

“You’re going to entertain this?”

This whole conversation, yeah, hits both of the above points square-on.

It both goes on about how isn’t it good that someone’s taking an interest, and shouldn’t we accept allies where they come—and also shows how much Steven is projecting his own insecurities onto Ronaldo. Like, accepting Ronaldo into the group is proxy or test for accepting himself.

Here I am Ronaldoing my own self. This isn’t the end of the episode. This is, like, twenty seconds after I said I wouldn’t post anymore.

Well, whatever. The episode also kind of deals with Ronaldo, um, fetishizing, for lack of a better way to put it, the CGs and their identities and ways of life. He’s role-playing with stuff he bought at anime conventions. Already getting close to the line with this nonsense.

The fetish thing often being a big element of toxic allyship. Again, look at the Joss Whedons of the world. They downplay the creep factor here, but they get the psychology down hard.

As a long-time aficionado of James “Kibo” Parry, I have to once again commend the writers and storyboarders for their commitment to the inexplicable ubiquity of durian juice.

As a character note, I absolutely have to underline that Ronaldo wears khaki cargo shorts.

I don’t think I need to say much more about that.

Hell. Yeah. So. When Ronaldo doesn’t get to go with them on the next mission that comes up, again here’s Steven projecting himself onto him: “I didn’t get to come along at first either!” (All of which we thematically revisit, of course, a season later…)

Oh fuck. And what does Ronaldo say as they warp away?

“But… I’m a Crystal Gem too… “

In terms of Steven’s mental breakdown, I think it’s actually kind of relevant to have an episode that establishes he’s afraid on at least some level that he’s just another Ronaldo.

Ronaldo, actively undercutting Steven’s already-shaky confidence in his identity at every step. Even in the dumbest fucking ways. “Funny that you… sleep, when Gems don’t need sleep. Why is that?” “I—I don’t know?”

A very relevant time for a callback, actually.

Steven doesn’t get outwardly angry all that often, but his annoyed face always kills me.

What the—they actually fucking redrew the whole background for a very slightly closer-up shot in the same scene?

Again, Ronaldo saying what nobody wants to address.

Notably, it’s not until Ronaldo picks on Connie that Steven gets his ire up.

And as I’ve commented before, this episode probably has the single best line in the whole show.

The signs… don’t quite say what they seem to say.

NOW WITH 100% EEEL POTATO

YES, LAE’RE OPEN

It’s not ambiguous. They’re just… intentionally misprinted for some reason. Which just adds another level to the strangeness.

About five seconds later, drawn even smaller, we get REAL POTATO. It could have looked like this in the other one, but it doesn’t. On purpose. Just… because?

I mean. Ronaldo is Ronaldo, and this show isn’t about him. Really, none of this is about him. But the growth that he demonstrates, tortured and minor as it may be, it’s not unimportant for the things the show has to say.

Right, and the very last note of the episode is Ronaldo asking Steven why he never uses his Gem name. To which he responds that it’s his mom’s name, and nobody ever calls him that unless they’re about to kidnap him or beat him up.

So, about Ronaldo and foreshadowing…

Author: Azure

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