17th Jun2015

‘Steven Universe 2×07: Rising Tides / Crashing Skies’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“I’m so brave to be doing this.”

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‘Rising Tides / Crashing Skies’ is that rare character study that offers insight without demanding that the audience render up sympathy. Ronaldo Fryman is a typical teenage boy in that, whether it’s acclaim or love, he believes the world owes him something. The faux-’Loose Change’ format of his delightfully awful tell-all documentary is the perfect showcase for his teenage insecurities. Ronaldo is so obviously his own worst enemy when it comes to making human connections and finding legitimacy as a journalist that it’s easy to chuckle at his constant misfortune. Revealing that the reason he’s so desperate to manufacture oddities and expose bizarre conspiracies is that he believes himself to be insufficiently interesting to draw attention is a smart move in terms of characterization.

When he tells Garnet and the Crystal Gems, in the middle of a night-time battle with a gigantic crab, that their presence endangers Beach City he displays both ignorance of his own inner needs and motivations and some surprising journalistic smarts. “Who cares how long you’ve been here?” he tells Pearl when she defends the Gems’ presence on the grounds that they preceded Beach City’s existence. “Innocent people are in danger as long as you’re hanging around.” But Ronaldo craves to be associated with that which is unlike himself. Ultimately, Garnet’s (feigned) willingness to leave Beach City drives him to beg her and the other Gems to stay so that he can keep associating himself with the strange events they attract. It’s funny and it’s sad and it lays a good foundation for future character work. Also, Ronaldo and Pearl make for surprisingly great foils in that they’re both confident-verging-on-arrogant and don’t always back up their analyses with facts.

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The documentary format delivers a steady stream of jokes both in how it reveals Ronaldo’s ineptitude and hunger to be regarded as cool and knowledgeable and through the lower third name tags like Onion’s(?????) and Steven’s(gracious host). Each of these name tags reveals something about Ronaldo and how he sees the world around him. He associates Sadie(horror movie fan) with something that connects the two of them and blatantly projects his agenda onto the Gems(Beach City would be way safer if they weren’t here). His post-interview reply to Nanefua’s question as to what exactly he’s doing (“It’s a websclusive for my blog-”) made me snort water. ‘Rising Tides / Crashing Skies’ is funny without ever being mean-spirited, a difficult line to walk when the subject and author of pretty much every joke is a character like Ronaldo.

There’s little advancing of the larger plot arcs suggested by season 1′s finale, but Steven Universe has put a lot of work into being a show not just about the Crystal Gems but about the community in which they find themselves. The continued character work with figures like Connie, Ronaldo, and Mayor Dewey helps that setting live and gives its peril both emotional weight and dynamic potential. Giving the normal characters time and space to come into their own and share their visions of reality, no matter how crackpot and badly-edited, is vital to the show’s all-embracing spirit of togetherness and growth. Nobody is defined solely by their obnoxious qualities, nor do personalities persist unchanged forever; people find room in themselves for newness and maturation. He’s a bit of a wad right now, but who knows? Maybe Ronaldo really will wind up a galactic ambassador someday.

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