There aren’t a ton of definite weaknesses in the current run of Steven Universe, but there has been a bit of a lack of focus on a few of the secondary residents of Beach City. This is to be expected (they’re secondary characters for a reason, after all), especially with the additional focus we’ve had on Garnet, Pearl, the Gem mythology, and Connie. And while we have had a few new characters or fascinating looks at older ones (“Onion Friend” comes to mind), the season as it stands so far still leaves something to be desired. The way the show obviously cared about everyone in Beach City, even the non-magical humans, was one of the strongest parts of the early episodes—especially something like “Island Adventure.” What I’m trying to say is… I missed Sadie.

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This is a pretty slight episode that mostly serves to reiterate and make explicit things we could have already guessed about Sadie, but it’s still very sweet and, honestly, I’m just glad we got to hang out with her for a bit. Back when Steven was spending nearly all of his time in the Big Donut, we got to watch Sadie and Lars’ lives (and their weird relationship) play out in the background of the show, the source of many of the best early installments like “Island Adventure.” This episode suffers a bit without Lars, which seems like an intentional decision to treat Sadie as her own character (after all, he literally walks out of the Big Donut at the beginning)—one that I hope pays off down the road. It might be worth revisiting “Nightmare Hospital” to see why, because “Sadie’s Song” is the second episode in a row to focus a little rigidly on a maternal relationship, this time in the person of Barb.

Steven discovers Sadie singing the titular song to herself (I’m sure there are many analogues in pop history, but the bits about having so many friends that it’s harder to remember their names make it hard not to imagine Taylor Swift) and, knowing what we know about Sadie’s mom from “Lion 3” (more on that later), it’s pretty easy to predict how this episode will go. Barb (voiced by Kate Flannery, of The Office fame) is not quite an overprotective mom, but she is an insanely enthusiastic one who encourages Sadie to commit a little too fully to anything she expresses interest in. In doing so, she seems to have acquired a ridiculously idealistic picture of her own daughter, one that’s basically a type-A superhero rather than the quiet, introspective girl we’ve come to know. So the idea that Sadie would want to perform at Beach-A-Palooza, but in a simpler, stripped-down way, is totally alien to her.

The bulk of the episode is composed of Barb and Steven preparing Sadie for the show, and while a lot of the jokes are easy, some of them are really great in the way they demonstrate the pair’s sense of ownership. Think about when Mr. Smiley tells Sadie she’s looking good (after encouraging her to smile) and Bard and Steven are the ones who respond “Thank you!” Sadie has been swept along for the ride after only barely letting Steven in to take her out of her comfort zone the way only Steven can. That‘s why when we see Sadie all dolled up and ready for the performance (after a brief montage drawn from her eyes—a passive, unmoving subject of Barb and Steven’s ideas—it’s one of the sadder moments from the series recently. She might not be under attack by monsters, but she is being made deeply unhappy and put on display by the people she’s ostensibly closest to, and who should care the most about her.

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When Sadie says that she thinks about her room “like a bunker,” it’s easy to see why. She’s devoted a lot of mental energy to avoiding her mother’s zealousness, which must be stressful. At least Steven asks Sadie what she thinks her gimmick should be, even though he’s coming at it from the wrong perspective by assuming she should have one. Barb doesn’t even entertain the possibility that her daughter might be different. It’s the opposite conclusion from the one Sadie comes to in “Lion 3,” still perhaps one of the single most powerful moments of the show—one where the maternal bond is strong enough that even Sadie’s embarrassment about being packed lunches falls away. Here, they appear to resolve their problems by just talking about it (shocking for this show, I know), but it still feels perfunctory, partly because there’s not much build-up other than the quick establishment of the nature of their relationship, and partly because we don’t actually hear the conversation, which feels like a bit of a cop-out.

Because, oh, right, there’s that ending scene with Steven wearing Sadie’s clothing and singing, doing the performance for her instead. Was that something you guys wanted to talk about? It’s pretty great, but it still ultimately feels a bit like super-sugary candy to me. There’s no other show quite like this one, that would take its totally awesome young male hero, put him in a dress and heels and makeup, and have him do this fabulous performance cheered on by a town full of people—that much is true. But it’s also something that’s a little too easy to imagine happening on the show.

Maybe my standards are just a little too high (because really, this scene is a lot of fun). Think about it this way: The best parts of Steven’s singing are subtle demonstrations of the gracefulness of his dancing, and the way his attention-hogging is delightful, somehow managing to avoid being irritating because of how much he loves himself and everyone else. That’s pretty great, and in line with the show’s mission/our understanding of Steven. But the way it comes out a little of nowhere makes it harder for it to land, and means that it feels a little tacked-on. Maybe I’m greedy, but I feel like my appetite is just being whetted for the next episode that feels like that the entire way through and totally drops my jaw. Because as predictable as it might have been to see Steven replace an unhappy Sadie, the best part of the episode overall is the quiet moment when they sing in the back room of the Big Donut. It’s the best resolution to Sadie’s story—she can perform with Steven, and that’s enough for now. Spectacle is cool and all, but what I wanted out of Beach-A-Balooza was a powerful hit of intimacy.

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Stray observations:

  • “Barb! I knew you delivered mail, but I didn’t know you delivered Sadie!” Steven is pretty great in this episode.
  • See also: “Ever since my act two years ago, there’s been a rule that you’ve got to wear clothes.”
  • See also also: “I don’t want to break up a family.”
  • So Barb apparently punched an umpire, huh? I’d watch that flashback.
  • Have we heard the story behind Sadie’s not going to prom already, or is that something that’ll come out in a later episode (with Lars, I assume)?
  • A lot of great Nana Pizza moments in this one. She’s right—the surprise guest was pure Steven! (Also some great commentary from Jenny.)
  • There’s a thread running through this episode about the expectations of pageantry and what Sadie is supposed to do with her body to be a successful performer that I’m not prepared to pick up here, but hope gets fleshed out in the comments.

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