Ronaldo is probably the most divisive character on Steven Universe. I’ve seen people who love him, and people who refuse to watch episodes that focus on him. Why is that? To be sure, Ronaldo is a little obnoxious, but he also often comes across like a surrogate for the fans, or at least a certain kind of fan. In “Full Disclosure,” he manifests an attitude toward the supernatural that places him within the events of the series, even though he is not of them. His blog is the closest he’s come to fully participating (give or take some lizard people), until the events of “Rising Tides/Crashing Skies.” That Ronaldo often comes across as obnoxious reads, to me, like a sense of projecting, an anxiety over interacting with the series solely as a fan who is often (lovingly) tweaked by the writers and storyboard artists for the relationship they have to the show.
The documentary that gives the episode its name (and its unusual format) is ostensibly about Ronaldo’s quest to investigate the events of “The Arrival” and “Jail Break,” but, of course, it’s really about Ronaldo himself. After all, everyone else in Beach City has at least a basic idea of what happened—the Gems are probably the source of a lot of the strange and terrifying stuff that happens in the town, but they also protect the townspeople and generally speaking are pleasant enough to have around. Ronaldo has to come to this revelation himself, as he has in nearly every episode that’s focused on him (besides “Horror Club”). He’s perpetually in a state of crisis, because otherwise his life wouldn’t have enough excitement to give him a reason to get out of bed in the morning, which makes his total breakdown at the end of the episode all the sadder. (“I’ve made Beach City… normal!”)
Though the world of the show clearly has lots of modern technology, no one really seems to use it, or try to broadcast anything about the Gems (think about how chill Sadie is about just accepting aliens without wanting to, like, tell anyone). It says something that Ronaldo is also often the most media-savvy character on the show, and the one who provides the creative team (in this case, storyboard team Lamar Abrams and Hellen Jo) the most opportunity to play around with the format and general stylistic approach to the characters. (I’m writing this before the episode airs, but I’m curious to see what happens on the Keep Beach City Weird website when this airs, since the writers often take great pains to have it update in concert with the events of an episode.)
Ronaldo’s documentary is mostly a great excuse for jokes, riffing on everything from Ronaldo’s extremely poor editing skills (and tendency to embarrass himself in front of the camera without cutting out the offending footage) to his overblown opinion of himself to the way he sees everything through the lens of genre. Beyond the faux-Dateline thing he’s doing at the beginning, there’s also a shout out to the conspiracy thriller in his interviews with Mayor Dewey and Onion (“You can’t keep quiet forever!”) and a whole host of general mockumentary jokes in the way everyone responds to the camera. His perspective clashes with our knowledge of the Gems in a way that makes things like Steven’s description as a “gracious host” all the more amusing, while still being telling about Ronaldo and Peedee (whose involvement in the documentary is almost certainly more than we are told, but is still sort of left up to the imagination).
Leaving some room open to hint at the awkwardness and depth of the Fryman sibling relationship is nice, and an indicator of how comfortable the show is with many of its supporting characters now. (Peedee is one of the more underserved characters of Beach City, particularly considering how much he appeared early on.) As they have been increasingly well established, it’s easier for Steven Universe to play around with the way they’re seen by others, sanding away at new facets of Steven and the Gems. Case in point: The shot of Garnet emerging from the house to simply say “Okay” in response to Ronaldo’s plea for her to stay is fantastic, showing her as just a tad uncannily tall and legitimately superhuman in a fashion we’re not accustomed to, since we spend so much time in and around her head (both literally and figuratively). When we cut back to the normal style of the show, with Steven and the Gems watching the documentary on a laptop, it’s a breath of fresh air, but also kind of sad.
There’s an even more human, sad face to this in Mr. Fryman, who expresses a sense of powerlessness that Ronaldo spends the episode trying to ignore. He is legitimately concerned about the monsters that keep attacking his town, and frankly, he is right to be worried. (Unlike Jenny, who references the events of “Joy Ride” but professes not to be mad at Garnet.) It’s the rare moment that suggests that the Gems might actually have a negative psychic effect on the rest of the town, and it’s something that might come out as the series goes on (and the bad guys keep coming). For now, let’s just make sure that Beach City stays as weird as possible.
- Best piece of documentary editing: describing Steven as a gracious host.
- Related: “Only if you… participate in a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade!”
- “That was very poorly edited.”