Steven Universe: Unwinding Season 4—Episode 19: Tiger Philanthropist

  • Reading time:4 min(s) read

“Tiger Philanthropist” is a weird one, in that it’s a direct sequel to “Tiger Millionaire”—an episode that everyone seems to adore yet leaves me cold outside some early character stuff for Amethyst. This one is basically the same episode, but With Meaning, and everybody hates it.

The idea here is, well, yet another part of Steven’s life is falling apart. Yet another relationship is sort of collapsing, another piece of what he considered stable just isn’t there anymore. As has been happening all season. It’s yet another window into his inability to cope.

I know many of the random characters who show up around town are based on production team members, but I wonder about Fanny Pack Grandpa down there in the corner. I mused about him elsewhere, but he’s in the show as early as “Bubble Buddies” and as late as “Change Your Mind.”

Part of the subtext of this episode is basically, yeah, the show has moved on now. The daft little things that used to merit whole episodes in the early seasons, they seem inconsequential compared to what’s been happening—yet for exactly that reason, Steven still clings to them.

He’s still a kid. He shouldn’t be dealing with the shit he’s going through. All he wants is to hang onto these little things to give him joy and a sense of purpose and normality. It’s not just that he’s growing up, losing innocence. It’s that, he wants things to still matter.

He feels like everything is slipping through his fingers and leaving him behind, grasping at air. Barely acknowledging him. Everyone’s moving on. This is going to continue for some while to come. It’s going to get really bad at the start of the next season.

The specific way that Amethyst gives up their shared thing, without consulting him, just typifies this. Just moments before he was soaking in the escapism of their little role play routine, forgetting all the garbage that’s been going on. Then she just quit on him, like that.

“What a sad and anticlimactic end to one of the greatest tag-team careers to ever grace the squared circle.”

“Ahhh! Got my Saturday nights back!” To do what, exactly, Amethyst? What defines Saturday for you? How do you even know what day it is?

And then we get into all this messiness, complicating Steven’s own ambivalence with his outsized sense of responsibility. This is just one little thing, that maybe he can kind of control, that maybe he can keep from going completely to shit and ruining things for everyone else?

He’s just, so desperate to make this work. To save this one dumb little thing, to make a few people happy. He does a face turn and just starts giving things away. Which only further irritates Lars (at least, and as proxy for the rest of Tiger Millionaire’s fans).

“It’s like… the sequel no one asked for.”

“What?! It’s the sequel YOU asked for!”

“You want him to lose, and… keep his money, right?” “No, I don’t want him to *lose*. It’s just…” “What do you want him to do?! Just tell me!”

“I don’t know! I don’t even know what I want for breakfast half the time!”

And, you know what Tiger Philanthropist does, right? He just… gives up. He doesn’t care anymore. He gives away the title belt to whoever can reach it first. Amethyst leaps in at the last minute to give some emotional closure, but. Yeah.

How can this be happening?! It was just getting good! You can’t quit now! Tiger!”

(Cue increasingly ominous music.)

The warnings are there in every episode, man.

Steven Universe: Unwinding Season 4—Episode 18: Rocknaldo

  • Reading time:8 min(s) read

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…

Steven Universe: Unwinding Season 4—Episode 17: Storm in the Room

  • Reading time:3 min(s) read

Going to go light on “Storm in the Room” because I’ve unraveled that one so heavily elsewhere. And, uh, I can’t quite figure out where that was at the moment. I did track this down, though:

A thing that particularly baffles me is when people dismiss “Storm in the Room,” which for my money is close to my favorite episode of the entire show. It’s the apotheosis of the show’s themes to that point, and basically the crux for the show’s entire third act. And, it’s such an unnerving piece of drama. The whole pacing of it is unlike anything else in the show. I’m almost not sure if I’m more impressed with the quiet first half, in which Steven sweats and tries to avoid his mother’s portrait, or the stormy climax to the second half.

His rage against Rose’s figure, it may be his most upsetting character moment. There’s a little Wizard of Oz moment in the resolution (oh, that Sugar) to cheer the audience up a bit, but this is, I think, the moment that finally breaks him, allowing the finale to happen; allowing Lars to die; allowing all of the relationship upset in early season five to occur; allowing him to finish his journey that ends on the beach with that little song about self-love.

Season four is when the show finally breaks Steven. And it does so in such a heartrending way. The show had been unavoidably building to this point ever since “Full Disclosure,” but in reality since its earliest episodes, with the Gems consciously protecting Steven from a reality they knew he couldn’t yet handle. It’s a thing that had to happen, dramatically, to produce the consequences that would permit a resolution of the show’s overarching conflicts—all of which is what season five serves to fuss over. But, season four—this is what the show has been preparing us for the whole time. This is what the rest of the show serves to clean up. This is the centerpiece, in dramatic terms.

And, personally, I think it pretty well nails it.

I’ve written so much about this episode. It’s galling that I can’t find more. But, it’s just one of the very best things the show has done as of early 2019. I’ll probably come back to it in later thought-chunks.

Likewise if I can locate my notes or other material, I may well return to update this entry.

Steven Universe: Unwinding Season 4—Episode 16: The New Crystal Gems

  • Reading time:4 min(s) read

Connie asking the real questions in here. Did the zoo machines pierce Steven’s ears, or are those some kind of magnetic clip-on?

Also, this is Connie’s best shirt. It’s the same one she wears back in “Love Letters,” and probably some other places. I’ve always loved teal and turquoise—that whole range. Connie’s outfits, though they change frequently, usually incorporate some version of the color.

Dialogue thing: apparently despite there being, like, a few dozen people in Beach City, never mind wherever Connie lives (which isn’t Beach City), apparently it’s enough for a bus system, with a fairly regular schedule. One that connects neighboring towns, even.

Judging by the sound outside her house—in the daytime, compared to last time I had headphones on for this location—her house must be near a freeway. The sound is muffled, insulated, to the point nearby bird chirps are more prominent, but it’s persistent. Those cars sound fast.

I need to go back and pinpoint when Pumpkin’s pronouns changed.

Also, the bathroom scene: it’s interesting, as the dialogue bounces around, how the soundtrack mirrors, zorping back and forth between Lapis’ celesta and Peri’s… eerie… synth-celesta (?) thing, that she’s had since her first appearance on the warp pad, way back.

This is all especially curious as one of Connie’s key instruments (she has a couple) is celesta. Normally the show differentiates pretty well, but putting the three in a room together… I guess aivi and surasshu had fun with what that meant on their end.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Exhibit C:

How is Connie seeing all this? The magic of artistic license, I guess.

This episode, it kinda… I understand its role as a cool-down after an intense multi-part plot arc, but I feel disappointed it doesn’t do more with the premise. It kinda just takes the idea of a B-team and shrugs it away. The best thing here is Lapis’ usual horrible attitude.

Seriously, this is some prime Lapis in here.

It’s just, you know. Three of the best characters in the show, teamed up for the first time as a backup for the Crystal Gems. You’d think this episode would write itself. … And as it happens, it kind of feels like it did?

It’s not awful by any means. It’s just weirdly slight. Like, really, argue over a car wash? That’s where we’re going to spend these eleven minutes? And not just that. The character points the episode hits, they’re not, um. It doesn’t cut very deeply, shall we say. Rather obvious.

It’s also curious, in that it’s Molisee and Villeco, who tend to be pretty solid. But as I mused before, they’re better with the slowly boiling tension. Their comedy, it’s… it works great as asides amidst awful happenings, yet feels directionless and without purpose on its own.

I’m assuming this is the first time Connie’s slept in Steven’s bed? She seems to have gone right for it.

Not sure what GameCube (er, that is, Dolphin) game is on the end there, but I’m sure it’s something. I like the one randomly upside-down, because, Steven.

The mystery of who knows whom on this show and why or why not is always a big head-scratcher, given, again, how few people live in the area. Like, nobody seems to know who anyone else in town is until we see them meet on-screen. But it makes sense Connie wouldn’t know Yellowtail.

Got to say this is a bit of a mood as well.

Lapis looks curiously like Jamie Lee Curtis there.

Just me? Okay.

Yellowtail doesn’t have the best experiences at Greg’s car wash, does he.

It’s also, I’m…

Okay, these two, their art style works when there’s a ton going on and their sketchy off-model boards make for constant expressive cutaways, conveying extra emotional information on top of the story beats. For flat sitcom staging? It doesn’t work so well.

Connie ranting about the two “super-powered children.”

“We’re both thousands of years older than you,” Lapis Darias back.

“Then act like it!”

Man, why wouldn’t you get the 10 x SUPER?

See, there’s always some kind of teal going on.

How many pairs of red shoes did Connie bring on this trip?

I’m struggling to grasp what larger role the episode serves in terms of anchoring or presaging or supplementing the larger concepts going on around it. Maybe I’ll have an epiphany somewhere down the line. Right now, it’s just… yeah, it’s there. It pads us out before “Storm in the Room.”

Steven Universe: Unwinding Season 4—Episode 15: That Will Be All

  • Reading time:4 min(s) read

Any time Amethyst spots someone in a strange outfit, she fatuously comments on how it’s “a good look for you.” In this case, Greg… Ah, Greg.

Most of this discussion, it originates on Twitter, and my tweets from March 2019 have mostly vanished for some reason. Don’t know if the pertinent tweet survives, but when I was musing a while back on Jasper’s gem placement (i.e., in the middle of her face) and how it was probably chosen to obscure how much Jasper would otherwise look like Rose, in particular with that upturned Universe style nose? Well, here’s Skinny, with her nose.

There’s this whole theory out there that’s almost become an accepted truism, that surely all these Rose Quartz gems are fakes that Pink created to throw people off her trail, and there never was any real Rose Quartz. Reminds me a bit of how 1980s Who fans grew weird about Susan.

Surely she can’t be the Doctor’s REAL granddaughter, because (we’ve decided) the Doctor doesn’t fuck! So many elaborate lattices were erected to prevent the Doctor himself from ever having to have been.

I mean, maybe. It’s a theory. Who knows. It’s got that kind of fan funk to it, though: a thing that maybe would be structurally clever, but that feels like it overlooks the show’s themes and emotional logic. 

I love the lighting in this show. Every environment, every time of day has its own palette for every character. Ergo Stevonnie having a different skin tone in almost every episode; they never seem to appear twice at the same time of day. Also, Gem tech tends toward gel lighting.

I mean. The reason Pink would have had to have bubbled every Rose Quartz she could find… it’s obvious, right? Especially in light of everything I’ve been saying about drawing comparisons. Jasper’s nose and all, for our benefit. CG Rose ain’t no normal Quartz soldier.

She’s this mythic figure with powers and properties that no normal Gem should have. And the strangeness would be so much more obvious if there were other Roses walking around, who didn’t exhibit any of those things. It would raise so many awkward questions.

It’s bad enough to wind up in a room with one Diamond. Worse enough with two. Then they have to reignite this strange domestic conflict partway through, and sing the most melodically and rhythmically awkward, off-putting song in the show. (Also the most difficult and best.)

Seems like every time Steven meets a Diamond, he’s wearing something peculiar.

But the best thing about this scene, that makes it one of the best scenes in the show, I think, is that sense of “Oh fuck, what did I just walk into?” that just keeps getting heightened. We’re not supposed to be seeing this. It’s uncomfortable, erratic, and none of our business.

Which makes it scarier. Like, I don’t know, you happen to be hiding in your parents’ closet as part of a game and then they go in there and start shouting at each other right in front of you about something you can’t begin to understand, and you don’t even dare to breathe.

At this point in the show, the Diamonds are a scarce commodity, and portrayed as immense, detached figures, scary in the way of an indifferent Greek god; beyond good and evil, as it were. Everything is just less significant than they are. And, they’re doing this.

Their most common view is still a profile; just barely deigning to taking notice, if at all.

Which is for the best, as if you happened to see them dead-on, happened to earn their full attention… that might not be a desirable turn of events.

There’s really a sense of, Christ, what is going on here? We didn’t ask for this, and they keep getting more and more worked up. If that rising emotional energy were to find a too-convenient outlet… well, uh. Best to get out of here, huh.

This would be a best-case scenario.

God, Blue is so fucking 1970s, it kills me.

Neither the Amethysts nor the Rubies seem to make particularly good guards. Like, as general categories of Gem, they’re all a bit… uh, erratic? Yet they seem to be among the most common types.

I wonder what’ll become of these guys.

It’s interesting that Holly Blue (with her Rose nose) has Amethyst’s kind of whip. Which suggests it’s sorta a Quartz thing. If that’s true, it raises questions about Jasper’s helmet. I mean, it might be individual to the particular Gem, but this is so specifically Amethyst-ish.

With all the hexagons, it’s hard to avoid lots of Homeworld architecture feeling Gallifreyan.

Is Pearl ever not just the biggest mood?

I mean.

Steven Universe: Unwinding Season 4—Episode 14: The Zoo

  • Reading time:3 min(s) read

I remember “The Zoo” as my least favorite part of the whole zoo arc. The first two episodes, and the final one, are all great. “Gem Heist” is functional bridge material. “The Zoo”… I don’t even know why my brain swerves with this one. I guess I’ll have to interrogate that, huh.

I bet it has to do with the zoomans, though.

I think the whole 1960s sci-fi story here is kind of… you know, I’m. My brain has been here before? So many times? Hang on, though. Just strikes me, Greg is kinda living out Passions of Xandor here, isn’t he. In a different sense from, you know, the overall Rose thing.

I guess Steven’s revolt here among the zoomans, suggesting they just do whatever they want, sort of serves as foreshadowing for his later misadventures on Homeworld. Start with the human Gem experiment; move on to actual Gem society.

Yeah, it’s the zoomans. It’s their whole Star Trek Planet of Single Metaphor schtick. I’ll go full-force with allegories if they work. This feels more like dancing with paper plates; having fun with pastiche of an old sci-fi trope. There’s probably more here that I’m not engaging

I do enjoy every time the show remembers how strong Steven is, though. All twelve times ever. In almost every case it comes off as an incidental “OH YEAH” sort of gag. 

Here, though, with Steven consciously holding back at first, it plays into his degrading confidence this season. It’s a microscopic moment, but he sweats and consciously holds back, knowing how badly he could hurt Greg if he allowed himself to. There’s stuff going on in his head that he’s not saying, because he isn’t usually this aware of what he’s doing.

It’s the simplemindedness. The zoomans, I mean. It’s, you know. I get it. Don’t @ me. I understand the storytelling here. But it gets old within about twelve seconds, and we’ve got eleven minutes of this. It’s not even cute, like Padparadscha. It’s just, WHEE! WE’RE NAIVE!

(If they were New Yorkers (Er, in-universe, would that be Empiricists?), they would be naĂŻve.)

It feels like from beat to beat we’re going through the motions of a predictable story, based on old, well-trod ideas, decorated with people who understand nothing and state the obvious. And it’s… you know. Normally the show works on more levels than this? It’s so dull, to me.

The mass freak-out at Greg rejecting the choosening is also kinda not my party. Though I do love how the Amethyst guards handle it. Whenever we get away from the frickin’ zoomans, even for a second, it gets so much more interesting.

Oh well. It’s eleven minutes.

As for what’s playing on repeat in Steven’s head, that he’s not saying? Well.

Steven Universe: Unwinding Season 4—Episode 13: Gem Heist

  • Reading time:2 min(s) read

“Is this really going to work?”

“No.”

Keep in mind, Sapphire isn’t fused here. So she’s only able to see one future probability. It’s Ruby’s spontaneity that gives Garnet the ability to churn through multiple branching points and pick the one she wants to follow.

Amethyst’s revisitation of the Jasper masquerade feels significant, thematically. Not sure how, yet. Even uses the same Ruby ship to do it.

Worth noting though, that this is Michaela Dietz’s chance to go nuts with slightly different readings for the Famethyst, much as Charlyne Yi has done with the Ruby squad. I think Estelle is the only major or recurring Gem actor not to voice multiple characters at this point? (“This point” being 2019; not midway through season 4. We don’t get another Sapphire variant for a while yet. And I guess we technically have a couple episodes before we meet another Jasper. Squaridot is exclusive to the game, but that’s deuterocanonical.) (Okay, we also have only met the one Lapis, and Bismuth.)

So, curious thing. Amethysts and Jaspers are Quartz soldiers, just like Rose. Accordingly, they all look similar aside from coloration and a minor details like hair texture. Agates are also Quartzes, though, and Holly Blue sure as heck does look different. Similar build, but.