Body swap episode! Instead of “The New Lars” being about Lars acquiring or revealing any new aspect of his identity or anything else that might be suggested by the title, it’s about Steven accidentally projecting himself into Lar’s body for the day using his dream powers. (He’s never quite done something like this before, but he does go to sleep angry at Lars for being mean to Sadie, and it makes sense as an extension of the abilities he displays in “Chille Tid.”) Like “Drop Beat Dad,” the story hear bursts a bit at the seams (like Sour Cream, Lars is a more than compelling enough character to carry 22 minutes), but Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco do a solid job at working within the time limits, giving Lars-Steven a whole different physicality and loading each frame with details about the sour Lars we don’t see on the show, and how people react to him.
For starters, his parents Dante and Martha seem perfectly delightful. (They let Lars move into the attic!) So no obvious family problems. Lars also has terrible grades, and his poor academic performance and worse attitude just seem like aspects of his sullen personality. Is there anything Lars does like? (Though, when is he supposed to be going to school if he’s also working at The Big Donut? Do his parents know that’s what he’s doing?) Besides looking cool, Lars doesn’t seem to like much of anything, which is maybe an indication that he still has some searching to do before discovering his own identity. (Think of how fast Buck responded to the sloth-koala question. Could Lars have even come up with an answer?)
The only thing Lars really likes is Sadie, of course, so after promising to be a good son to Lars’ parents and having a brief encounter with the cool kids (in which, responding to Steven’s sunniness and fly moves, they invite him to round out their crew for a dance competition) and with Onion (who gives him an incredibly awkward thumbs-up after Lars loudly yells his own name), Steven-Lars heads over to Sadie’s house to try to fix their relationship himself. As much comedy as Steven Universe has gotten out of Sadie and Lars’ relationship (including a great, quick moment here where she throws a blanket over her toys as soon as she realizes he’s coming downstairs), their ensuing conversation doesn’t have a lot of jokes in it. When Sadie tries to confront Steven-Lars, who proclaims his literally starry-eyed love for her, she breaks down. The only reason he would say anything like that is to hurt—or, as the dialogue implies, to get in her pants.
I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the implication here is that they’ve been hooking up occasionally—which is why Lars thinks she might be under the impression that they’re dating, even though Steven doesn’t say that—contributing to all of the messiness at a level Steven isn’t quite equipped to understand. (Question for the comments: If you told Steven the expression “friends with benefits,” what do you think he would assume it meant?) If that’s what’s going on, it’s a pretty complicated situation even for adults, and we’re getting it in the margins of Steven Universe. This is the kind of stuff I missed about season one, so thanks Crewniverse. (But also, please have Steven hear the expression “friends with benefits.”)
Over the course of the past season or so, Steven’s maturation has been, if not complete, at least pretty damn close. It’s nice, or at least necessary, to see him be in the wrong for once. Here, Steven tries so hard to make the world the way he thinks it ought to be (and, let’s be honest, the way we think it ought to be) that he ignores one of the most important foundational aspects of the show: that people are complicated. Steven thinks he knows Sadie (and so do we, by proxy), and assumes he knows what’s best for his friends. Why shouldn’t simply proclaiming his love as Lars have the desired outcome? (More importantly, what did he think was going to happen? It would have been extremely gross and creepy.)
Eventually, Sadie and Lars-Steven go off to wake up Steven’s body, causing them to switch back (in a neat bit of fuzzed-out editing and animation) and Lars to go ballistic. Again, though: Lars is totally right to be mad at Steven at the end of the episode, even if he could be a little nicer and more forgiving. The cool kids and Lars’ parents ganging up on him makes sense thematically, but what Steven did, even if accidentally, is pretty horrifying if you think about it. (And, Lars was trapped in Steven’s sleeping body all day! What would have happened if he’d woken up?) Ripping up the card is a sad moment, but it’s offset by how much Lars perks up when he hears that Steven told Sadie he (Lars) loved her. How did she respond? It’s something Lars has never been capable of doing himself, because he doesn’t know how to let anyone in.
The cruelest thing about “The New Lars” is that it gives us, more than Steven, a glimpse at what being Lars is actually like. His relentlessly sour disposition and desperation to be liked are obvious teen characteristics, but for a brief moment everyone starts treating him kindly, because he’s acted that way in turn—something he doesn’t actually know how to do. The old Lars would never compliment Jenny or be nice to his parents or be honest about his feelings, because he wouldn’t know how to do those things. He does, however, consistently recoil in a way that pleases one person. Lars and Sadie make plans to hang out at the end of the episode, which is just enough movement for an episode about their relationship. Sadie likes the normal Lars, and hopefully at some point, that will be enough.
- There are gulls in the vents at The Big Donut, which maybe explains the lawsuits.
- Lars’ real name is Laramie.
- Steven being a child, for good and ill: “Why can’t you just admit you love her?”
- Buck describes Steven-Lars as “a good guy who likes making people feel good.” I love Buck. Someone tell Lamar.
- Dante, when he thinks his son has become a criminal: “You know we’ve been ready for this day.” Matthew Moy does really great work this episode, as both Dante and Lars and Steven-Lars, who has just enough of a higher pitch and sense of confusion in his voice to indicate Steven’s presence without veering into a parody of Zach Callison’s delivery.
“Okay, maybe you are Steven. Lars would never apologize to me.”
- I get the joke… but I really wanted to see that dance competition.
- So: koala, or sloth?