The full Steven Universe musical is here, and it is delightful. Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu turn out a great series of set pieces, including homages to classic Fred Astaire-style dance numbers, some Greg-inflected rock, an emotional, angsty Pearl number, and a lush (if slightly cheesy) Steven ballad to close things out.
Everything comes from music here, from the beginning of the episode’s plot: It turns out Marty used “Like A Comet” as the basis of a jingle hawking burgers, and had to hand over some share of the profits from the commercial (which he also starred in) to Greg. (What happened to Marty’s share of the money? Why does he need to sell guacamole soda?) Without much of a sense for what they would want to buy, Steven and Greg hit on the idea of taking a trip. And just like that, we leave Beach City right after coming back, for a taste of the big, gleaming Empire City.
The prospect of spending an episode in Empire City is pretty exciting since other than the barn, the only location outside of Beach City we’ve spent much time in is Keystone, and that was just in a motel. And there are a couple of cool details we learn about the city (there’s a Brooklyn, apparently), but Steven, Greg, and Pearl mostly just hang out in the hotel the whole time. Greg has, essentially, paid the hotel staff to dance and do musical numbers while he and Steven wear tuxedos and splash around in the pool and eat pizza and play video games. (This is exactly the kind of luxury experience you would expect Greg to create.) It would be cool to see more of Empire City, but this episode of Steven Universe is a bit more inwardly focused.
Le Hotel’s staff round out the “Mr. Greg” dance sequence, eventually zooming in on Greg and Pearl. (Who looks great in a tux, by the way.) The moment is loaded with the language of fusion—as all dancing is on this show—so it’s not hard to see why Pearl is reminded of Rose when she comes up against Greg on the dance floor. (Also, Pearl is probably reminded of Rose by basically everything.) Pearl retreats in disgust, and while Greg and Steven are passed out in their tuxes surrounded by empty pizza boxes and video games, she wistfully sings “I Was Fine,” about her inability to get over Rose in what I believe is the show’s first explicit confirmation that her feelings were romantic, rather than simply subservient or fanatical in her capacity as a Pearl.
DeeDee Magno Hall gets a full meal whenever Steven Universe does an episode about Pearl’s feelings for Rose, and though “Mr. Greg” is no “Rose’s Scabbard” it’s definitely up there. For example: After Pearl ridicules the burger ad, Greg posits that Rose would have liked the absurdity of the comic food. Pearl sighs and agrees. “She would have loved it,” she says, with an adroit mixture of pathos, unease, and humor. It’s a tough balance, making it all the more impressive that Hall, Johnston, and Liu manage to contain the entire emotional arc of the episode in one tight moment.
Rose might have taken an interest in humans over time as a passing fancy, but she fell in love with Greg, and that act denied Pearl the possibility of actually being with her leader in the long term. It’s a painful association Pearl has with Greg, especially when you remember that Steven is a product and constant reminder of that choice. This is, of course, why the whole trip is happening—Steven wants Greg and Pearl to work out their issues, and he is, ultimately, successful, playing them off in a ballad soaked with soft yellow and blue glows. (This is, I am sure, an anime reference I’m not getting at first—please remind me!) It’s another scene where someone tries to get two other characters to be honest about their feelings, but that doesn’t make it any less effective, either as a narrative tactic or as a way of actually resolving difficulties in a relationship.
There’s something really beautiful about Steven forcing adults to deal with their emotional problems–he has the kind of childish emotional clarity that it’s easy to lose, surrounded by complication and pain and decades of love and pain. Greg and Pearl both loved Rose, and are still trying to deal with losing her, but they should be able to bond over that and get something positive out of it, rather than stewing alone. Pearl, Garnet, Amethyst, and Greg’s various ways of slowly grieving for Rose are some of my favorite pieces of the show’s emotional tapestry, so an episode that concludes with fond, Shiva-like reminiscing about the deceased is a winner.
Yes, there are some things I don’t love about “Mr. Greg.” For one, it’s a little on the nose, even for Steven Universe—I might just prefer when weird and deep-running Gem emotions seep out around the edges of other conflicts like they do in, say, “Sworn To The Sword.” And while the concept of a full Steven musical sounds incredibly appealing/swoon-worthy, “Mr. Greg” is a bit too tightly packed, song-wise. Most of the music is incredibly efficiently deployed (i.e. Pearl singing “Don’t Cost Nothing” at the end as a way of connecting with Greg’s happy-go-lucky attitude toward the simpler things in life) and good, but it still feels like it’s flying by, pushing at the boundaries of the show’s run time. Still, not being able to fully appreciate everything on a couple of views is, at worst, a minor complaint about a tightly-plotted, emotionally resonant musical with lots of different songs that happens over the course of 11 minutes. Loving Steven Universe don’t cost nothing.
- Steven pointing to his Gem and saying “and don’t forget mom!” is so unsettling.
- Seriously, does someone on the creative team just love hotels and motels? Will the next Steven Universe travel episode take place at a Holiday Inn?
- Tom Scharpling is, always, great in this episode too, even if Pearl is doing the bulk of the emotional work. His resignation at never being able to get through to Pearl is, perhaps, part of the downside to his casual, go with the flow attitude toward life—he’d never have been active enough to do what Steven makes him do. Also, I love the callback to Greg being a cherry man.
- It’s really too bad you have to drive through Jersey to get to Empire City.
- I’m guessing at all the song titles, so I’ll update this if anyone confirms alternates.
- Other things Greg could have bought with his money: food besides steak, better equipment, a new paint job and additional employees for the car wash, more Philosophy Majors records, health insurance.