Honestly, I’ve been kinda burnt out on covering Steven Universe over the past month or so. Not because the show is, in any sense, bad now (though it has settled a bit into a slightly more comfortable, familiar rhythm), but because forming distinct, interesting opinions about one episode a day for a month straight while writing and working on other pieces about the show as a whole (and trying to do work not about Steven Universe) adds up to be sort of intellectually and spiritually draining. But every time I think I’m near the breaking point with Steven Universe, the show completely and totally fucks up my shit, emotionally speaking.
That’s a long, heartfelt preface to saying that “Last One Out Of Beach City” is easily my favorite episode the show has done this summer, and a strong immediate contender for one of my five or ten favorite episodes of the show, period. Please put your hands together for Hilary Florido and Lauren Zuke, for making a funny, sweet, thrilling love letter to coming-of-age movies, the liberating power of teen driving, and garage music that also doubles as the beginning of an exciting new Steven Universe love story.
When Greg isn’t able to take Amethyst to a house show because he has to play cards with Barb and Vidalia, homebody Pearl steps up as the driver, deciding to take Amethyst and Steven to the show in an effort to prove she’s cool. “Pearl tries to be hip” could have been the thematic skeleton of an episode at basically any point during the series (since Pearl has been many things but never cool), but it takes on a lot more weight now that we’ve spent time with her neuroses—and it’s especially meaningful as an extension of the changes Pearl tentatively commits to in “Mr. Greg,” moving on from her past with Rose and trying to reclaim her lost edge.
Many thousands of years ago, Pearl used to be an elegant, experimental warrior in the Gem war, and Rose’s trusted confidante. Now, she’s essentially a mom, doing jigsaw puzzles with Steven as a default plan. (“Oh, a sky piece.”) And where Rose’s rebellion was organized around the idea that Gems should be able to choose what they want to be, Pearl has been trapped by her attachment to her former commander/crush object for too long, and probably needs to get out more if she expects to find out who she is. So Pearl changes her outfit, putting on a leather jacket and jeans partly to fit in at the show and partly to continue the recent trend of “great Pearl outfits.”
DeeDee Magno Hall does near series-best work here, on par with “Rose’s Scabbard” (which Steven casually references in this episode as the time she almost let him die). There’s comedy, of course—Pearl revels in her new outfit (telling Amethyst “It’s cool, because the collar isn’t supposed to go that way”), yells about how odd it is for her to wear pants and try to drink juice, and attempts to get into the concert spirit of light physical contact that doesn’t actually hurt anyone. Somehow, Hall’s comedic instincts remain intact even when “Last One Out Of Beach City” reaches the core of sadness that grounds every single Pearl episode, in this case her feelings of loss and aimlessness without even the specter of Rose as a guide. (Pearl is still a mom even in her coolest moments of the episode, reiterating the need for seat belts and firmly telling Amethyst to “Watch Steven for me.”)
Over the course of the episode, Pearl tries to navigate some things that are new and anxiety-inducing for her: the styrofoam coffee cups convenience stores, driving etiquette and regulations, and going to shows when you’re too nervous and inexperienced to handle yourself like a professionally jaded music enthusiast. These are, of course, all normal teenage problems, but they make total sense here in the broader context of Pearl’s remove from humanity and newfound interest in being cool. (This helps ground the episode as a riff on teen movies, which would otherwise feel a bit forced.) All of this material would all be a fine grounding for the episode on its own, but “Last One Out Of Beach City” really reaches pantheon status with the introduction of Pearl’s new love interest: a woman with pink hair on a motorcycle and a lip piercing, a.k.a. the coolest person in (or out) of Beach City. (Minus Buck, maybe.)
When the woman walks into the convenience store like she owns the place (epitomizing Amethyst’s understanding of how to act at shows), Pearl is bowled over by her mystique and obvious resemblance to Rose—then knocks over a bunch of cups when she fitfully, awkwardly tries to initiate a conversation. (Thankfully, Steven is on hand to point out the obvious: “Okay, nobody’s gonna say it? She kinda looked like mom. You noticed. I noticed. We all noticed.”) Coming upon the woman again out on the road (on a motorcycle, naturally), Pearl hesitates again, then takes off after her crush—drawing the attention of the cops, who she then has to avoid in an absolutely masterful sequence set to “Fifteen Minutes,” one of the two Mike Krol songs used in the episode. Pearl, of course, doesn’t have a driver’s license, because the Gems are illegal immigrants. (Or, more appropriately, they might be even earlier inhabitants of Earth.)
Out of gas and down in the dumps over her seeming failure to execute coolness, Pearl finds a surprising source of comfort in Amethyst, who points out that she has already done a ton of really cool stuff. It turns out that “Last One Out Of Beach City” is also a really great Amethyst episode, whose relationship with Pearl is given room to be far less antagonistic without losing the comedy in moments like Amethyst pretending Pearl has broken her arm. It’s a level of normalcy that allows for good-natured teasing, rather than outright confrontation—especially given the level of respect Pearl has begun to show for Amethyst over the course of the past few episodes. So they start walking away from the car and, finally, get to the show.
I’m not super familiar with Mike Krol (here’s one of the songs he plays at the show), but the depiction of a crowd of overjoyed people hanging out and listening to music is just great. (I’m not sure if it’s a reference to a specific person, but I love the bald guy waving his arms around mouthing all of the words to the song.) This really isn’t the normal human demographic for Steven Universe, since Steven tends to hang out mostly with the same groups of people who inhabit a small town. But “Last One Out Of Beach City” captures a real, human collective—an excited and energetic public formed around the show, before Pearl goes and, by acting like her dorky self, gets the girl’s phone number.
Seriously: Pearl’s mystery crush had better come back. (Yeah, Pearl doesn’t have a phone, but Amethyst and Steven should really force her to make that phone call.) For all that Steven Universe’s big plot beats have seemed somewhat predictable in the past few months, or at least kinda telegraphed (Jasper’s inevitable, oncoming redemption, Rose killing Pink Diamond), giving Pearl a human love interest is flat-out genius. Not only does the decision allow the writers and boarders to explore Pearl’s romantic attachments and experience outside her grieving for Rose, it also gives Pearl—the least empathetic Gem—more of a reason to interact with humans. Pearl’s relationships with people are pretty great, but they’re usually relatively tightly constrained to vaguely disapproving mom (Greg) or goofy, authoritative teacher (Connie).
Pretty much all of the comedic, dramatic, and visual threads of this episode knit together in its closing moment: Pearl’s little smile after realizing the significance of the phone number (and after Amethyst calls her a rock star). Coming right before the beginning of the special ending credits (where Pearl is credited as“repressed nerd,” Amethyst is “ultimate wingman,” Steven is “voice of reason,” and Mystery Girl is “herself”), it’s a small facial movement that carries a surprising amount of depth, even by the already high standards of Pearl episodes. Where does Pearl go from here? She’s still going to, fundamentally, be herself, but she can explore what that means in a variety of situations, and with a variety of people. (Get it, girl!) The fact that Pearl cares so much is precisely why she’s cool.
- Amethyst should really learn that going to shows by yourself is kinda awesome. Get over that hump, Ams!
- I, for one, would like to see Barb, Greg, and Vidalia play cards.
- Other great Pearl lines, part one: “Oh, a sky piece.” (Steven: “Nice!”)
- Other great Pearl lines, part two: “Nostalgic for the suburbs? Psh, they’ve only existed for what, 70 years?”
- Other great Pearl lines, part three: “Now? I’ve been a criminal for 6,000 years.”
- Amethyst: “Wait, no! You can start smaller, talk to a nerd!” (Steven: “Amethyst!”)
- My one and only problem with this episode is that jigsaw puzzles are, in fact, dope, and Steven, Amethyst, and Pearl could have had a very fun night putting one together. That is all.
- Here’s the Mike Krol song that plays during the chase scene, and over the ending credits. I’ve been listening to it obsessively for about a week straight. Have fun, kids.