27th Mar2015

‘Steven Universe S01E52: Joy Ride’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

steven-universe

“Come on, aren’t you your own mom?  You can do whatever you want.”

Living up to a parent’s legacy can feel impossible.  Steven lives in the void his mother left, a hole in the lives of every one of his parents, biological or otherwise.  It’s easy to see the tension between his desire to step up and help ease the pain of his mother’s absence and his desire to be a kid, to befriend monsters, to play, and to be free from responsibility.  When the Cool Kids show up to spirit Steven off for a night of joyriding after a day of hard work excavating pieces of Peridot’s wrecked space-hand, it’s a chance to unwind and experience that freedom.

The Cool Kids are a good set of voices to show the pressures exerted on a child by a parent, and by a parent’s reputation.  Lamar Abrams’ Buck Dewey is unique in the annals of animated teen history as a cool, confident rich kid who seems quietly but completely averse to throwing his weight around.  The episode mirrors Steven’s difficulties with Buck’s unwillingness to emulate his high-energy politico dad, a reflection of the long shadow Rose’s importance casts over Steven’s childhood.  Abrams’ voice work is unaffected and clean, playing well off of Zach Callison’s noisy earnestness, and his comedic timing is spotless. Brian Posehn’s Sour Cream and Reagan Gomez’s Jenny Pizza, both voiced with verve and humanity, round out the group and help to highlight both the similarities and the gulf in experience between average family conflict and Steven’s space-opera woes.

Steven’s worried inability to confront and understand ideas like his mother living on as half his essence is understandable, but here the episode plays it as much for laughs as it does for pathos.  “I wish I could talk to Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl about it, but I think they kind of blame me for my mom not being around,” he says sadly.  The Kids fall silent until Jenny clicks off the radio and replies,  “That’s heavy.”  It is, and the show is smart in taking its time ramping up to the Big Questions of Steven’s existence.

If “Joyride” has a weakness it’s that while Steven and the Cool Kids have a great dynamic, their interactions don’t really lead naturally into emotional closure or progress. Steven gets to have his night out, and he has his thousand-year grounding from television revoked, but the whole thing is over pretty quick and Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl aren’t really involved enough in the substance of the episode for it to land completely.  It’s natural for the show to pull back from the other Gems and refocus on Steven in the wake of “The Return” and “Jailbreak,” but it makes their presence at the episode’s close feel kind of peripheral.

The Gems’ last-minute appearance and assault on the malfunctioning pod does, however, do great work in establishing how frightening they can be without context.  Steven huddled inside Peridot’s pod, terrified that Garnet will accidentally pound him flat, is a heartbreaking sight.  There isn’t much time for emotional comedown after Jenny defuses the situation, but the teens get to stand up for Steven in the face of Garnet’s disapproval (an angry Sour Cream: Just let him be a DJ!), reminding both the Gems and the audience that Steven is still a kid and deserves a little slack.  Also, the “Earth Forever” sticker superimposed on Sour Cream throwing rocks at the pod is just great.

I’m Gretchen Felker-Martin, and I hope you’ll join me for the rest of my coverage of Season 2 of Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe!

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