Steven Universe: Season 2, Episode 27 - "It Could've Been Great"
Peridot's the focus of an episode with an ominous cliffhanger that could spell large-scale changes for the character.
Steven UniverseCast: Zach Callison, Estelle, Michaela Dietz, Deedee Magno, Matthew Moy, Kate Micucci, Tom Scharpling, Grace Rolek, Shelby Rabara
Subtitle: Season 2, Episode 27 - "It Could've Been Great"
Network: Cartoon Network
Air date: 2016-01-06
I've noticed a trend in the "StevenBombs" (week-long rollouts of new episodes): each has an overarching theme that ties them together. The first three seem to have been, in order, fear, dependence, and betrayal. This week’s StevenBomb, as I suggested in my review for "Steven’s Birthday", deals with change in its various manifestations.
I’d been disappointed that in "Steven’s Birthday", Peridot (Shelby Rabara) was a complete non-factor despite going through the most change of all the characters, and hoped that the episode "It Could've Been Great" would be Peridot-centric. My wish was granted -- the narrative of "It Could've Been Great" revolved around Peridot and her perspective.
But let's talk about Peri for a second before we get to the plot. She was "born" as a subject of an authoritarian empire, and from her comments, it's clear that the caste into which she was born is only a step above Pearls -- manufactured slaves meant to be furniture. But even out of the reach of the Diamonds who rule her world, Peridot still lionizes them and celebrates their plans to impose themselves upon the galaxy. I’m reminded of Frederick Douglass, who wrote in his Narrative that, "Colonel Lloyd's slaves would boast his ability to buy and sell Jacob Jepson. Mr. Jepson's slaves would boast his ability to whip Colonel Lloyd ... [the slaves] seemed to think that the greatness of their masters was transferable to themselves".
Steven's (Zach Callison) kindness towards Peridot has coaxed a number of hidden talents and repressed traits out of her -- we’ve seen Peridot developing a fondness for humor, a skill for building giant robots, and most recently, an instant and savant-level grasp of music. But for every moment of self-awareness on Peridot's part, there’s another moment where she slips back into the role of cog in the imperial war machine. This episode was split almost perfectly in half, with each half being a reflection of that division in Peridot's psyche.
Jean-Paul Sartre held that everybody is free, but that people practice “bad faith” to delude themselves into thinking that the decisions they freely made were forced by something else: somebody coerced me into this decision, or something in my life demanded I make this decision, or I can’t act outside of my role. For Peridot, it comforts her to delude herself into thinking that her will's still guided by Yellow Diamond (Patti LuPone). Steven inadvertently destroying her delusions means that he has condemned her to freedom -- and while the manifesto of the Crystal Gems calls for freedom for all living things, it’s obvious that Peridot's lifetime of slavery has made her identify with her oppressors, and that part of her wants nothing more than to escape from freedom and return to the certainty of her caste.
Once her body was free from slavery, Peridot put shackles on in her own mind.
"It Could’ve Been Great" deals with the Cluster drill being completed by Peridot and the Crystal Gems, and Steven continuing to do his best to evangelize for the Earth’s wonders to its newest resident foreigner. Without any clear idea of where the Cluster was implanted in the planet, the Gems decide to take a trip to the Moon to rifle through the data archives of a base used by the Diamonds themselves. Peridot, once there, falls back into her role as slave of the regime, troubling the Crystal Gems by needling them for not showing proper deference to an authority they’d cast off thousands of years ago.
When they make it to the central library, Peridot learns where the Cluster was inserted -- and the audience gets to see for the first time what Steven Universe's Earth looks like. The damage done to the planet by the Gems’ imperial ambitions was incalculable and horrifying. (Suffice it to say that Siberia does not exist.) But analysis of the computer archives goes further, and the ultimate goal of the Diamonds' "anti-terraformation" is pulled from the records and shown to all in the room. Again, no spoilers, but the end result would have been a structure on which no life as we know it could’ve existed.
Peridot's excitement about the technical mastery of the Diamonds’ plan is set against the horror and disgust of the Crystal Gems and Steven. When they express their feelings, Peridot takes the side of the absent Diamonds, leading to a confrontation that shows the Crystal Gems in a darker light: psychologically traumatized veterans of an ancient war struggling with the reality of their losses and the potentially Pyrrhic nature of their victory over the Homeworld. It’s only because of Steven going full-Rose Quartz (Susan Egan) in defense of her that Peridot manages to walk away from this episode with her life, but even Steven has to express his disappointment to Peridot that she can’t or won’t accept the value of life on Earth.
The episode ends with a cliffhanger that can be interpreted in a number of different, but equally ominous, ways. We can’t be sure of the future, but what "It Could’ve Been Great" spells out is that Peridot's status quo with the Crystal Gems can’t continue the way it’s been going. Their tolerance of her unwillingness to make a decision about her future is running out; one way or another, Peridot's going to have to choose who she’s going to be.
Kat Smalley is a graduate of Florida State University. Most of her nonfiction work is dedicated to cultural and philosophical analyses of sci-fi programs and video games. Her fiction has been published in Lambda Award-nominated Gay City Anthology vol. 5: Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam.