19th Jul2015

‘Steven Universe 2×18: Friend Ship’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“I’m just a Pearl. I’m useless on my own.”

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‘Friend Ship’ isn’t a spotless episode. The animation feels choppy, the pacing is cluttered, and Peridot’s villain routine wore thin a while back, but that sequence between Pearl and Garnet in the Temple of Doom chamber is what Steven Universe is all about. Using the bulk of this week to show how the Gems as a unit were processing the turmoil in their midst gave a rock-solid foundation to the short exchange in which Pearl revealed that due to her place as “a Pearl” in Gem society, she believes herself incapable of making her own choices. Directionless, she’s mythologized Garnet and thinks of her, and of the relationship she exists as a manifestation of, as a source of strength and security.

There’s no pat “everyone is different” ending to their conversation. Garnet affirms Pearl, telling her, “You are your own Gem,” but she also refuses angrily to listen to Pearl’s excuses. Garnet’s unsteady reflection on being undone by internal conflict is a beautiful moment of emotional vulnerability, as is Pearl’s quiet willingness to die if Garnet doesn’t feel comfortable forming Sardonyx in order to escape. The sequence refuses to back away from the complexity of the issues it’s framing, instead letting two imperfect people find a fragile peace in their own ways.

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‘Friend Ship’ revisits the dungeon exploration of early Steven Universe with mixed to positive results. The episode’s weakest element, its action sequences, are offset somewhat by its characteristically gorgeous backgrounds, and the sight of the ruined Gem space ship is sobering. The attempt at impressing how ruinous the Gem invasion was, though, is undermined by Peridot’s antics and the lackluster pace of each encounter with her. The Gems stand staring as she escapes with painful slowness, using none of the abilities we know they possess. They let her point weapons at them and monologue, doing nothing while she cackles. The show has had only intermittent success with its fight scenes, and even as it continues to mature tonally and visually it has struggled to capture its occasional fantastic success with that part of its makeup in a reliable way.

The episode’s pacing also suffers outside its fight scenes. There’s a great deal of rigmarole involved in getting the Gems to the space ship when the episode could easily have started there, so when we’re asked to believe that they’re lost within an ancient labyrinth after about fifty seconds it comes off as a bit of a thin sell. ‘Friend Ship’ works, warts and all, as a heartfelt resolution to a week of largely excellent storytelling, but Peridot’s one-dimensional characterization and a clumsy grasp of action and movement hold it back from being great.

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