Most of the human characters of Steven Universe are either central targets for intensive arcs or pleasant background players, without many true supporting characters. For every Greg or Connie who has consistent, nuanced development, there’s a Buck or, God forbid, a Kevin. But Ronaldo has sort of been in the middle for a while. He’s not one of the core humans, and he probably never will be—but he’s also slowly changed over the course of the series, particularly in his relationship with Lars and his lurching attempt to understand the Gems.
Also, Ronaldo’s obnoxiousness and self-centered approach to the world are kind of the whole point of his character, which means it would be difficult for him to have a moment of selflessness and permanent change. This has produced a sort of uncanniness in the last couple of Ronaldo episodes, where his brief moments of lucidity don’t seem to really have any effect on him as a person—which makes it harder to take future episodes seriously. It’s perhaps a silly complaint to assume that every episode of Steven Universe should have emotional character moments, but Ronaldo is an important enough character that it feels like, at some point, we should get something out of all of the time we’ve spent with him.
At the very least, “Rocknaldo” is sort of a shift, in that Ronaldo is trying to be a Crystal Gem rather than trying to expose them somehow. But it still feels a bit like it’s starting from the same place as the other Ronaldo episodes—no one else would still buy into Ronaldo’s crap after all this time, but Steven’s boundless optimism and faith in people lead him to take one of the pamphlets (sorry, Ronalphlets) Ronaldo has been distributing on the boardwalk: “Let’s get knowledgeable,” Steven says, before reading through the material to discover that it’s a deeply misguided attempt at labeling all Gems as threats. (Or, “rock people.”)
After discovering that he’s been in the wrong about the Gems (conflating them with the monstrous Gems that occasionally terrorize Beach City), Ronaldo is motivated by shame and embarrassment to try to join the Crystal Gems. After getting through the the entire arc of an ordinary Ronaldo episode in the first two minutes, we spend most of “Rocknaldo” watching Ronaldo live in the temple, trying to train himself with a replica sword, creating his own Gemsona (“Bloodstone”), and gaslighting Steven into thinking he’s not a real Crystal Gem. This last very weird bit comes in a couple of some of the odder moments Steven has had in a while (including the space arc!), when Ronaldo first guilts Steven into tying his shirt up to show his gem, then tries to convince him he’s not living up to the ideals of the Crystal Gems because he, rightly, lashed out.
Ronaldo is a pretty broad character, which isn’t helped by the fact that Zachary Steel uses a few, well-practiced deliveries for each of his lines, with little variation. Even when Ronaldo is asking for forgiveness for his ignorance, he still sounds a bit like a smug jerk, which is funny, but also somewhat distracting. That quality also makes it much easier to empathize with Steven when he blows up at Ronaldo and yells, “You’re just a guy with a blog!” Eventually, the Gems deposit the passed-out at the boardwalk and leave him to decide—selfishly, and in a sort of sour grapes echo of most of his prior actions—that maybe Ronaldo should just work alone. The only change? His Ronalphlet is now called: “Crystal Gems: Who Are They And How Can We Help?” It’ll be interesting to see if Ronaldo ever comes up with a productive answer to that question.
- “Rocknaldo” is storyboarded by Hilary Florido and Lauren Zuke.
- Steven discovers some fun facts about the Crystal Gems: “They hate men?”
- “Also, don’t say rock people. It’s offensive.”
- Amethyst, reacting to Ronaldo passing out: “You truthed him so hard he died.”
- This episode takes place over the course of about a month—are we supposed to assume the last couple of episodes are happening at roughly the same time, or is everything strictly chronological? (Or is this how we’re padding out the time between episodes, now?)