Thank God for Peridot—I don’t think I could have handled it if she was still back at the barn, even if that meant occasional Peridot-Lapis buddy episodes. Instead, it looks like all of the Gems are just kind of hanging out in Beach City now, or at least exploring the world doing their things and maybe going on the occasional quick mission. (Basically what Garnet was up to for most of season one.) It’s a looser model that lets the writers focus on whoever they want without having to worry about incorporating Gems who just don’t fit into the dynamic. And it gives us “Too Short To Ride,” which is my favorite episode of Steven Universe in a long time.
Steven kicks off the episode by giving Peridot a tablet computer Greg bought, then decided he didn’t need (so yes, he still has the money), which reminds Peridot of her old limb extensions, which were also connected to screens giving her a constant flow of information. These may have been powerful items that allowed Peridot to learn about whole star systems, Steven admits… but did they have cat videos? (Peridot, watching cat videos: “Why was this documented?”) Steven wordlessly puts the bow from the unwrapped tablet onto Peridot’s head, in one of storyboard team Hilary Florido and Lauren Zuke’s many great off-kilter, perfectly-timed visual touches in the episode. (Think Peridot blinking at the giant alien doll/all of Peridot’s facial expressions, or the way Mr. Smiley puts the tiny finger puppet onto Peridot instead of said doll.)
I’m starting to feel like a broken record in these reviews/the letters I keep writing to the Nobel committee, but I can’t help that Shelby Rabara continues to be an international treasure deserving of all our respect and whatever percentage of our income we would ordinarily tithe to a church or other shady religious organization. Especially in this episode, it’s easier to pinpoint why her performance is so good—the comedy is coming from Peridot’s willpower and intensity (her desire for the alien toy she wants to win, her near-constipation trying to force shape shifting), but the show takes the emotional grounding behind that commitment deadly seriously, a balance that only works because Rabara can contain both affects in her voice at all times. Whether she’s finding creative uses for velcro (complete with a faux-action power-up sequence), googling “am I having fun,” or lusting after a toy alien “swollen with knowledge,” Peridot continues trying to find her way in a world she doesn’t quite understand.
Peridot can’t change shape, which prevents her from riding the roller coaster with Steven and Amethyst. (Also from having fun in the house of mirrors.) There’s a lot of anxiety bound up in this lack of capacity, which almost certainly contributes to the cocktail of her partial sense of inferiority and general arrogance/assumption that she is the leader of the Gems. After a quick failed training montage for shape shifting that includes the return of cat fingers, forced stretching, and Peridot getting off a fire tweet (sorry, cheep), Peridot reveals the source of her discomfort: Home World is running low on resources, so she was built without cool powers. (Question for comments: What does this mean in thinking about Gem construction and the source of the Gem need for colonization? Are they just galactic parasites?)
The other Gems are comfortable with themselves, for the most part—they all have neuroses, but they are all also capable of fusing with each other and understand their place on the team, and on Earth. Peridot’s frustration with her form helps explain her sore spot around fusion as an “abomination,” since it pokes at her rationalization that a Gem’s initial form is perfect as intended and should not be altered in any way. (It’s a bit late for that, Peristotle.) Basically, Peridot is a big prude who is too bound up in her own head to explore and be comfortable with her body the way it is (yes, this is vaguely gross, but it’s also like, half the point of the show), and eventually grow into understanding what it would be like to have a free, loving relationship with herself or another person. Like, say, Amethyst.
Peridot plays the angsty teen to potential love interest Amethyst here, which is interesting since usually the team’s angsty teen is… Amethyst. Amethyst instead gets to be a different kind of teen, alternating between “overtly chill” and “upset at Peridot,” which manifests in a delightful noogie. Amethyst, who has always been the youngest Gem, now has the opportunity to be cooler-than-thou, the way a college sophomore can pretend to be extremely worldly to the incoming freshman because he smoked a joint once at a Chance The Rapper show. Except that her speech about Peridot being who she is, rather than who she could be, stinks of maturity and the lessons she’s learned over the course of the show, especially relating to her own relative deformity.
Technology, however, doesn’t just have to be a crutch, or a disguise. It’s also a form of possibility, something that allows Peridot to do more than she could with just the body she’s been given (something I suspect many Steven fans will relate to in some capacity). Peridot doesn’t need to be totally reliant on her tech, but it is part of her identity, especially considering how important it was to her role in the broader Gem society. She was a technician, and consuming and deploying information is important to her, even if it’s in the slightly different, more limited form of getting off jokes in a 140-character format and watching animals do stuff. “It’s all that I am!” Peridot yells as Amethyst throws the tablet toward the ocean—which is not totally true, but at least goes some way toward capturing the complexity of this sentiment and Peridot’s relationship with her own creation—something that can’t be summed up easily by either Amethyst or Greg’s paraphrased, vaguely Luddite stance against modern technology.
This push, it turns out, is just what Peridot needed to unlock her actual Gem ability: manipulating metal, Magneto-style. Steven starts listing off all of the amazing things she could do with this ability (like opening jars or avoiding touching doorknobs after using the bathroom), but Peridot goes straight for the kill and wins the giant alien. It’s a great use of her indomitable will being directed toward something kind of absurd, and allows Peridot to do something for herself without needing the assistance of Steven or Amethyst. (Other than emotionally, of course.) Best of all, it opens up a whole new space for Peridot jokes and weirdness surrounding my favorite Gem. A minor victory for the Shorty Squad, but a victory nonetheless.
Stray observations/Peridot quote corner:
- Long-ish note that doesn’t fit in the body of the review: We also get to spend a bit of time with Mr. Smiley this episode, who continues to run basically everything at the “funderstaffed” amusement park, complete with an ominous close-up about his lack of sleep and complaints about his non-membership in a union. It’s not surprising that he freaks out when Onion tries to burn down the roller coaster (again!).
- Last two great Peridot quotes, part one: “Bold. Let’s follow this logic!”
- Last two great Peridot quotes, part two: “I also do not steal Steven’s clothes when he’s not looking.”
- Steven, watching Peridot make an arm strap out of velcro: “Good thing I grew out of those shoes!”
- Steven, after being told he can’t ride the roller coaster: “We’ll just have to maintain a healthy lifestyle in hopes we’ll grow before the end of the season.”
- Here is a partial screenshot of Peridot’s Twitter. (Update: As Pearl Evangelist Sheltie points out, the Peridot Twitter is real and it is spectacular.)