One of the best things about Steven Universe is that the show is consistently from Steven’s point of view. We learn things about Home World and the rest of Gem culture as he does, we’re left out of conversations that are solely between Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl (unless Steven is eavesdropping), and are generally encouraged to empathize first and foremost with him, to understand his perpective in most situations. That approach is a great way of getting the audience to connect with Steven, but it also has its drawbacks. It’s tough to check in on any of the Beach City residents (we’ll never get a truly romantic moment between Lars and Sadie, because, well, Steven would be there). Even when episodes barely include Steven, they’re framed as stories being told to him—edited for his own benefit. “Log Date 7 15 2” is the first episode to almost fully take on another character’s perspective, in their own words, and it’s wonderful.
Thankfully, the writers find an ingenious way to give Steven unfiltered access to Peridot, post-redemption: her tape recorder. In the wake of rebuking Yellow Diamond, Peridot is a mess. She’s giggling with delight, high on having told off her god and leapt into a new chapter of her life. She’s panicking, terrified of the wrath Yellow Diamond will bring down upon her, and the Earth. She’s worried about what it will mean for her to be a Crystal Gem (does she have to wear a star?). She doesn’t know what to think. So it makes sense to have those conflicting emotions expressed through the tape recorder—the way she contains information—speeding it up rewinding it, repeating the word “clod.” Then, she tosses it to Steven, who decides to listen.
“It’s a chronicle of my descent into madness!” Peridot says, describing the record. From her perspective, that’s true. “Message Received” is a huge change for her, a definitive, clean break with what might be thousands of years of programming. (We don’t know how old Peridot is, do we?) As she puts it: “I used to follow every order, every rule. Now I’m a traitor, a rebel—a Crystal Gem.” And even if she’s conflicted about what that will mean, she’s definitely a Crystal Gem now. Her eyes even do the star thing Steven’s eyes do all the time when she yells about it, in one of the softest bits of visual work from storyboarders Hilary Florido and Lauren Zuke.
Peridot, also correctly, perceives Steven as the source of that madness, and all of her problems. Without Steven, she might be held captive by Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl, but at least she wouldn’t be a traitor! Steven’s generosity and faith allowed Peridot to slowly learn about the world, and about what it means to be human, in a way that made it impossible for her to comply with her original programming. (There’s a possibility Garnet would have eventually been kind to her, as we’ll see later, but that seems unlikely given how violent she was when they first caught Peridot.) That’s one of the other great things about the framing device: It allows us to not only see Peridot’s journey, we also get to experience The Steven—sorry, Steven’s own experience of Peridot’s transformation.
The bulk of “Log 7 15 2” follows Peridot learning about the world. She sees an insect, and wonders if all organic life can fly, experimenting with this hypothesis by pushing Greg off the roof of the barn. When Garnet gets mad, she petulantly (and, again, rightly) says, “Well how was I supposed to know that?” She learns about chores, whacking at the barn with the wrong end of a broom, preening about how lucky the other Gems are to have her around. She doesn’t know it, but she’s learning about what it means to have responsibilities that aren’t orders, ones that you choose for yourself, or carry about because you care about other people.
She learns about some of the more frivolous and fun (but no less important) aspects of living on Earth. In trying on boxers with aliens on them, Peridot has discovered the beauty of fashion, of being able to change her appearance at will to express her emotions, look differently in different contexts, and simply have more control over herself. (“Imagine, appearances modifiers that aren’t melded to your body.”) Then she tries on the stilts Steven got her for her one-month canniversary as an adjunct member of the team, preening about her new height and ability to reach shelves for Amethyst. (Yeah, Amethyst could shape-shift and reach up and get stuff herself, but nearly everything Peridot says about or to Amethyst in this episode is a little flirty.)
There’s funny stuff, too, mostly coming from Peridot’s attempts to consume pop culture and the lighter forms of human interaction. (Jokes! How To Make People Laugh Around You Instead Of Feel Bad is almost on par with How To Talk To People in the pantheon of great Steven Universe books. Do you think they have the same publisher?) Steven introduces Peridot to Camp Pining Hearts, a teen soap, which she originally disparages, then watches repeatedly for over three days straight. When Steven hints at what, exactly, a television show is (a series of episodes rather than just a half-hour movie), Peridot’s eyes are huge. “There’s more than one?”
I haven’t said as much about her work recently as I should have, but I’ll say it here: Shelby Rabara is just fantastic in this episode. Nearly everything that comes out of Peridot’s mouth is both funny and very sweet, an indication of the show firing on all cylinders. Lines like “Pearl really tries for some reason, and I can appreciate that,”show off new depth to Peridot’s personality—it’s not exactly how you would expect her to think about Pearl, but it makes total sense in retrospect, and gives the audience a better sense of how, exactly, she’s changed over the course of the past few episodes. Each of these moments unfolds roughly the same way, expanding Peridot’s understanding of the possibilities of human life in surprising and new (and funny) ways, but the relative structural similarities between the vignettes don’t change how effective they are at hitting on the episode’s main theme.
This all leaves one big question: Why not show all of this stuff chronologically, in the order it was happening? Why not just let it play out in the background of the past few episodes? Well, for one, this structure allows Steven to control the flow of time—his fast-forwarding through an argument about appropriate shipping on Camp Pining Hearts is both hilarious and a great piece of commentary on fan culture (which you monsters will probably think is better than Ronaldo). With all of this in mind, Peridot’s decision to repudiate Yellow Diamond would be too easy to predict—the sort of thing that could be a narrative cheat on another show (looking at you, season four finale of Breaking Bad), but in this case simply allows for a concentrated look at something Steven is learning about Peridot. And all of those bits are just the small stuff of life, the sort of moments we don’t see in most other episodes, and probably don’t need to see.
One thing we did need to see: the origin of Garnet’s thumbs-up. As most things have in the past few episodes, it all comes back to fusion. Peridot can understand the functionality of using Opal to help build the drill, but Garnet just… is. Peridot is capable of asking the question of why Garnet is the way she is, but she’s incapable of seeing “The Answer.” (Peridot sees Garnet stargazing: “You can do that alone.” “Don’t want to.”) Garnet basically comes on to Peridot as a way of helping her understand fusion, which is cute, funny, and a little sleazy, all the same time. Just think about the the way Garnet pats the bench, or the way Estelle delivers her lines teasing at the experience of being together. It’s scary because Peridot thinks it’s scary.
But Garnet’s response to Peridot pulling back at the last minute captures the reason Peridot really betrayed Yellow Diamond: She was willing to try and understand someone else, even if she’s having a hard time doing it. That desire to understand, manifested in a different way, is also why Steven listens to Peridot’s recording, which Garnet correctly and humorously points out is still a violation of Peridot’s privacy (at the end of the recording, presumably using future vision). And it’s why all of the Gems are willing to fight to protect Earth. Peridot might not fully be on board with the Crystal Gem project to the extent that Garnet is, but she’s certainly going to put the work in to get there. I’m excited to watch her try.
- I assume there will be, like, 100 mixes of Peridot saying “clod” rewound back and forth. Please leave them in the comments.
- Tom Scharpling gets one great line in after Peridot pushes Greg off the roof: “Hey, it’s not like a six pack is gonna save you from that height.”
- “I don’t know what it is about flames, but they just make everything cooler.” Steven, speaking the truth.
- “It seems the Earth ones are constantly filling the void of their lives through meaningless distractions.” Peridot, speaking the (very sad) truth.
- “It’s subtext, Steven.” This is the line delivery of the episode, and maybe of the week. Just fantastic range by Shelby Rabara.
- Michaela Dietz and DeeDee Magno Hall continue pulling double duty on in-show TV, doing the voices for Percy and Paulette on Camp Pining Hearts.
- We made it through another Bomb week, everyone! I’m not sure when the show comes back, but I’ll be here when it does.