Now this is more like it. There were leaked images from “Barn Mates” a few weeks ago (maybe more?), so it’s not like it’s surprising to see an entire episode devoted to Peridot trying to win Lapis over as a roommate. But that doesn’t make the premise any less fun. Without any world-threatening crises to take care of, Steven Universe can tackle what’s basically a low-key sitcom plot head-on, and absolutely nail it. “Barn Mates” is an effectively emotional, funny episode, with some solid Steven material, more character shading for Lapis. Also, it’s maybe Peak Peridot.
Literally everything the little green Gem does in “Barn Mates” is incredible, from her opening dream of becoming best friends with Lapis to the way she entreats Lapis in a manner that is weirdly seductive, both in the pool and in mentioning the color of the ribbon on her gift box. (It’s blue, because Lapis is blue.) From the beginning, storyboard team Hilary Florida and Lauren Zuke pack the episode with great Peridot gags, especially from her fantasizing into the tape recorder to Lapis coolly watching. But most of that wouldn’t work without dynamite line readings, imbuing Peridot with equal parts zeal for her “capacity for friendship,” frustration that she isn’t being accepted, and genuine bewilderment at the failure of her tactics. Give Shelby Rabara a Nobel Prize or a genius grant, or at least a small private island or something.
Jennifer Paz isn’t quite on Rabara’s level (who could be?), but she still does very good work this episode, turning Lapis into more of a sullen teenager than anything else. When she reads Peridot’s heartfelt card, Paz effortlessly conveys how ridiculous Lapis finds Peridot’s technical obsessions and values, while still suggesting at the margins what Peridot’s inflection might be. Rather than intense emotion, Lapis exists in long pauses in this episode, in a space slightly removed from the earnestness of Steven and Peridot. Framed from below, eyes narrowed, Lapis rejects Peridot’s gift of a pool (because Lapis Lazulis like water)—during her imprisonment, the ocean was “an endless, crushing darkness.” There’s real pain there, but it’s still pretty hilarious. Steven Universe has long enjoyed poking fun at some of its more emotional elements, and with Lapis as the new designated brooder, it can have its cake and eat it too.
Meanwhile, Steven is caught in the middle of the whole thing, since he just wants everyone to be friends. He’s never dealt with someone this emotionally reserved before, or at least not someone upset in quite this way, so he doesn’t quite know how to respond. Thankfully, Steven manages to be the peacemaker, sharing goofy dialogue with Peridot where they silently contemplate possible gifts for Lapis, then turning on Lapis to call her out for treating Peridot so poorly.
Like Garnet and Pearl’s split, the Lapis-Peridot roommate fight is justified on both sides. Peridot, who has genuinely changed and become a more open, thoughtful Gem, is frustrated that Lapis won’t give her the benefit of the doubt. (“I want her to understand.”) Lapis, on the other hand, wants to be left alone in general, and specifically is wary of Peridot—who took her prisoner. So when Peridot gives Lapis her tape recorder, the archive of all her thoughts and feelings since arriving on Earth, it should be the perfect gift, a way of establishing a connection on the grounds of Peridot’s own experience as an isolated Gem on Earth. When Lapis crushes the recorder, it’s one of the show’s more devastating moments in some time—we know how much Peridot cares. She made it to the correct, plot-approved conclusion (this is almost certainly where the sitcom version of Steven Universe would have forced Lapis to come around), and still got shut down.
But of course, Lapis eventually appears to at least a little bit of concern for Peridot, both because of Steven and because now she has proof that the other Gem is, in fact wanted by Home World when a ship shows up, searching the barn. It’s as simple as asking if Peridot is okay after the attack, but it’s enough—the newly compact, friend-loving Crystal Gem gets all wobbly, and her face fills with color as she turns to smile at Lapis. The rest of the Gems also show up to deal with the threat, and it looks like they’ll be needed. The ship, smashed into the ground by Lapis (with water with Peridot’s pool!) opens to reveal a very intimidating-looking Ruby with its Gem on its eye. Game on.
- So obviously, for the third week in a row, this section could basically be all of Peridot’s dialogue. Here are my favorites:
- “I like the cut of your Gem, Steven Quartz.”
- “I’m kind of a big deal. A big, anti-Home World deal!”
- “H-two-oh my gosh, it’s a smaller than average lake!”
- “Yeah, I’m kind of taking a break from water right now.” This is the best Lapis line of the episode, and maybe the series.
- Ugh, season five of Camp Pining Hearts really is trash.
- Steven’s drawing of Lapis and Peridot holding hands is a nod to the tip of an iceberg of fan art depicting what I can only assume is far, far more physical contact between the Gems. Well played, writers.
- Next week: baseball?