“Tiger Philanthropist” is a bit of an odd Steven Universe episode, if only because it feels like it should have aired a few months ago when quite a few classic early episodes (like “Beach City Drift” or “Monster Reunion”) were getting quasi-sequels. Still, it’s a welcome surprise in the midst of all the space stuff. Though Lars inadvertently describes the vibe of the episode when he says “It’s like, the sequel no one asked for,” that doesn’t mean “Tiger Philanthropist” isn’t a great episode of Steven Universe.
Partly, that’s because its best elements stand alone, even if you haven’t seen “Tiger Millionaire” in a while. (Or ever!) Storyboard artists Katie Mitroff and Lamar Abrams use the overwrought aesthetic of the underground wrestling matches to turn in some of the best fight animation the show has had in some time. Gem fights can be a lot of fun to watch, and very beautiful, but they’re never quite going to have the humor or oomph of Steven—sorry, Tiger Philanthropist—taking on the Wolves Of Wall Street. It helps that there are inherently lower stakes here, which makes it easier for the writing team to drop in overstated, ridiculous moves like Steven’s venture capitalist takedown. (Aivi and Surrashu also do some really excellent music that’s a bit more reminiscent of the earlier battles than it is the intensity of, say, the cataclysmic Jasper fights.)
And though it would be easy to do a wrestling episode that felt a bit too high-concept, “Tiger Philanthropist” has some excellent character work for Steven, Amethyst, and Lars. Though Amethyst abandoning wrestling by dropping the mic and belt and leaving the arena would be an absolute genius wrestling play and a totally in-character arbitrary heel turn if it were staged, instead, she quits because she was using wrestling as a way to overcome her insecurities—which she’s spent quite a bit of time getting over in the past 30 episodes or so. So why not get her Saturday nights back?
Still, that decision leaves Steven partnerless and Lars devastated. It’s not like Steven really needs to keep wrestling (he was mostly doing it to hang out with Amethyst), but he does feel bad for Lars, and returns to the ring in the new character of Tiger Philanthropist. (Apparently, Tiger Millionaire retired to his big stack of money, but “realized it didn’t make him happy, so here I am, ready to give back to the fans.”) It’s a great bit, since a formerly successful tycoon who decides to give all of his money away is basically a perfect persona for Steven, and leads to all sorts of excellent jokes. Taking down several opponents before yelling “This should cover your medical bills!” and tossing fake money everywhere is basically a perfect Steven line.
Still, like Ronaldo in last week’s episode, Lars is impossible to please. He’s upset that the Tiger Millionaire-Purple Puma team has broken up, but he doesn’t like Tiger Philanthropist either, since it’s too different from the thing he already liked. And he hates Steven’s attempt to quit fighting by letting other tag teams compete for the belt. But Steven, the too-involved creator simply trying to please his fans, keeps going back to the Big Donut trying to ascertain what Lars wants out of his wrestling career. Eventually, Lars blows up at Steven (who he somehow doesn’t realize is Tiger Millionaire, even though Sadie keeps pointing it out to him): “I don’t even know what I want for breakfast half the time.” Turns out making sequels solely to please fans is a pointless, fraught endeavor!
So instead, Amethyst shows up, and she and Steven take a dive, allowing The Good-Looking Gang to take over the championship—much to the disapproval of a screaming, pained, excited Lars. It would be nice to get the further adventures of Steven and Amethyst, wrestling pros, at some point. But it seems like Steven Universe has the right idea. Sometimes you should just quit while you’re ahead.
- Lars sees Tiger Millionaire as “like seven feet tall,” which certainly helps answer why he doesn’t realize it’s Steven. We all have distorted perspectives sometimes.
- The Wolves Of Wall Street are by far the best wrestling team. One of them literally tells Steven, “Oh, I’m actually pretty financially stable.”
- This is also a great Mr. Smiley episode: “Such dedication to teamwork and friendship!”