‘Steven Universe’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 3, Episodes 6-9: ‘Steven Floats’, ‘Drop Beat Dad’, ‘Mr Greg’ and ‘Too Short To Ride’
Welcome to Together Breakfast, the feature where Elle Collins and Katie Schenkel come together to dig in and relish every last drop of Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe. With the arrival of the new nightly summer schedule, we’re going to be checking in a couple of times a week, with several episodes to cover per column. It may be hectic, but hopefully you’ll keep up with us as we dive headlong into the world of the Crystal Gems.
Today we're looking at "Steven Floats", directed by Kat Morris and Jasmin Lai and written by Paul Villeco; "Drop Beat Dad", directed by Joe Johnston and Jasmin Lai, written by Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff; "Mr Greg", directed by Joe Johnston and Jasmin Lai, written by Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu; and "Too Short To Ride", directed by Kat Morris and Jasmin Lai, and written by Hilary Florido and Lauren Zuke.
Elle: So our first episode this week was the very literally titled "Steven Floats," in which Steven floats. But the even more exciting part, I think is that Steven and the Crystal Gems return to Beach City, which means the return of the usual supporting cast, starting with one of my favorite Beach City citizens, Sadie.
Katie: I missed Sadie! I actually didn’t realize how much I missed seeing Beach City until the beginning of this episode when Steven went all George Bailey on his home. I think this is the first episode we’re reviewing for Together Breakfast that is set in the town at all.
Elle: I believe you’re right. The townspeople also get a nice moment later in the episode when Steven’s trapped in the sky and he imagines them all eating donuts without him, and then feeding his donut to a dog. But I guess the main plot of the episode is meant to be the “Steven’s trapped in the sky” bit, as he discovers another of his mother’s powers that he’s inherited but hasn’t quite figured out yet.
Katie: Yes, it was nice to realize we were starting off on a light episode (forgive the pun) with Steven not in necessarily extreme peril, and the main stakes being that he might miss out on fresh donuts. It’s also a neat development because we saw Rose use similar powers in The Answer when she had to make a quick getaway with Pearl. While they don’t manifest quite like Rose’s, Steven’s powers are becoming stronger and more developed a little at a time, which is exciting to watch as a fan.
Elle: Totally! The other great thing about this episode is just watching the Gems deal with Steven’s inability to get back down to Earth. Amethyst takes forever to even realize something weird is going on, Pearl freaks out, and Garnet remains calm the entire time, and ultimately reveals that she knew all along what the solution would be. Also that moment of Amethyst trying to throw a bag of chips to Steven and knocking a bird out of the sky was fantastic.
Katie: The animation of the Gems jumping up and falling back down was maybe my favorite bit of the episode. The way Amethyst's hair moved was particularly great. And the instrumental music used for Steven’s floaty moments again reminded me somewhat of Ocarina of Time in terms of being so soothing and sweet. Of course, that’s before Steven despairs about missing the donuts (with the “Lars will embezzle one” line that cracked me up) and starts to fall for real.
Elle: The floating power being linked to emotions isn’t exactly an original idea, but it’s the sort of thing that feels like a perfect fit for this show, which is all about emotions anyway. It’s also very Steven Universe to set it up like he’s missed the fresh donuts, and then reveal he was just wrong about what time Big Donut opens. All in all, this was a good episode, and like you said, a nice return for the series. Shall we move on to the next chapter?
Katie: Certainly! Our second episode Monday was "Drop Beat Dad," which confirmed one of the hinted at connections I’ve been patiently waiting for them to explore in the show --- that Sour Cream’s biological dad is Marty, Greg’s old manager. I remember fans guessing this from the moment Marty showed up.
Elle: Yes! We knew that Sour Cream was Vidalia’s son and had a different father from Onion, and we saw a young Vidalia get out of the back of Greg’s van with Marty, so it only makes sense. Plus Sour Cream is also interested in the music industry, which provides the hook for this episode.
Speaking of which, one of my favorite things is Steven’s dream of being a roadie. It actually makes total sense because he’s so into helping people, and that’s how he sees roadies --- as the people who help the performers make magic. I love that he even has a kind of roadie uniform, with the tank top and the fingerless work gloves.
Katie: I laughed pretty hard at him mentioning “emotional support” with the rock star’s head in the toilet. But hey, that’s totally a supportive thing to do, so Steven isn’t wrong! It’s also here that we see the conflict between Sour Cream and Yellowtail, the quintessential, “My father figure wants me to follow in his footsteps, but I dream of the spotlight” conflict. This argument also includes my other favorite line of the episode: “80% of Germans make their living deejaying!”
And then we get to meet the older Marty, who is clearly pulling some kind of angle off the bat.
Elle: Marty is such a sleazeball! I love his new older design in this episode, complete with too-young-for-him clothes and gold Mercury-winged sneakers. And his three-pronged hair that adds to his reptilian appearance. There's also this great bit where he keeps saying "real talk," and it gets funnier every time. But yeah, he sells Sour Cream on the idea of father-son bonding, but there’s obviously something else up his sleeve. And that’s pretty sad for Sour Cream, who is obviously thrilled to see his dad for the first time in at least nine years (since he got tall).
Katie: On the rewatch especially, it’s so sad to see Marty start hyping the crowd for this “fresh, raw experience” and Sour Cream thinking he believes in his talent, but no, it’s just a disgusting, concentrated avocado soda. The gags with the townspeople reacting to it (from Ronaldo trying to put it on chips to Onion stealthily continuing to drink it) didn’t take away from how rough it is to see Sour Cream deal with the fact that his dad is a massive jerk.
But with this we also got to see just how much Yellowtail cares about his stepson, and how much Sour Cream is like his stepdad when he goes into “muah muah muah” speak. And their hug. Their hug was really sweet.
Elle: Of course the other thing about the avocado reveal is that it becomes clear that not only is Marty a big jerk, he’s also not the cool music industry guy that he sells himself as. He’s just a shill for companies making questionable products. But before he takes off, he finally does what he originally came to town to do, which is hand Greg Universe a check for 10 million dollars. Which is a bit of a surprise.
And that leads us to our third episode of the week, "Mr. Greg," in which everyone sings, Greg and Steven throw lots of money around, and Pearl gets to be probably the gayest she’s ever been. And after "Rose’s Scabbard," that’s really saying something.
Katie: It finally happened! After a whole Steven Bomb last month waiting and hoping for a new SU song, we got a whole episode full of them! And I know we’re both fans of musicals, so yes "Mr. Greg" was pretty much a total delight, starting with the literally commercialized version of Greg’s “Just a Comet” song... which explained why Marty owed him so much money last episode.
Elle: Clearly “Just a Comet” is the “I Melt with You” of the Steven Universe universe --- a one hit wonder than became a burger jingle. And yes, a whole episode of songs was everything I wanted. In general, I don’t really buy when characters who have nothing are suddenly rich and they’re like, “But I don’t want anything!” There is no world in which Greg’s life would not be better if he had a house. But nevertheless, the trip to Empire City was great. Honestly, since the SU version of NYC was introduced just a few episodes ago, as soon as Greg mentioned a trip I guessed where they’d end up.
Katie: I too had a moment of, “No really Greg, please tell me you’re going to put that in the bank, at least. Please don’t spend it all in the big city, for the love of crap.” It’s the adult in me that has the bills and student loans, I suppose. But yes, getting to see their version of NYC (the Empire City song specifically mentions “Brooklyn to the Bowery” so it’s not even an allegory, it’s definitely supposed to be their name for New York) after Lapis flew over it was fun.
So most of the songs in the episode seemed to be referencing general subgenres of musicals rather than specific numbers, but the “Mr. Greg” song at the hotel felt like a pretty direct homage to “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” from Annie, right down to the chorus line bellhops.
Elle: Oh yeah, that was totally an Annie homage. But let’s be real, I know what song we both want to talk about. And that’s the one I’m going to call “It’s Over, Isn’t It?” in which Pearl goes full Marlene Dietrich in her tuxedo and top hat, singing very very directly about how she was in love with Rose, and didn’t really mind the men Rose spent time with until things got serious with Greg.
Now look, I know this show has gotten pretty gay before, and we’ve discussed that at length. But this is some serious, high octane gay, right?
Katie: I think at the end of the song, I might have shouted, “It’s not even coded anymore! There is no coding there!” Because yeah, while Pearl’s feelings about Rose have been pretty clearly romantic before now, I can’t imagine there’s any subtext left. That is text.
All the songs in this episode are lovely, but I think this one might be the prettiest one of the bunch. It’s the one that could be confused for a standard, and easily fit in with any Gershwin musical. Props to Deedee Magno-Hall for just belting her heart out and props to the animators for such great choreography. If the song’s lyrics themselves didn’t spell out that Pearl was in love with Rose, my god, the whole performance did.
Elle: It was as beautiful as it was unsubtle. And her outfit only made it more overt. But what was great was that this wasn’t just about telling us things we already knew about Pearl. It was about healing the rift between Pearl and Greg, which seemed to be Steven’s reason for inviting Pearl on the trip in the first place. It’s hard when old resentments have festered for years, but by the end of the episode you really see how hard they’re both trying. And the fact that the two of them miss Rose more than anyone else gives them a lot of common ground.
Katie: We’ve talked about this in earlier Together Breakfasts, how beyond his inherited Gem powers, Steven’s greatest strength is empathy, and working to fix problems through talking and understanding. If he could keep the world from exploding into shards by listening when no one else thought to, of course he was going to try to mend the non-friendship of Pearl and his dad.
In the piano ballad he sings, I like that Steven mentions how they’re really very similar. You brought up how they both miss Rose deeper than pretty much anyone else, but I can also see it in how they both misstep and cause others frustration, and how much they both beat themselves up about it. It was nice to see them both be kinder to each other.
I also loved how when Steven sings “You both love me and I love both of you,” the room glows pink. Specifically Rose’s pink. The whole scene has some great color theory along with the pretty song. The fact that it ends with Greg and Pearl dancing as friends is just... perfect.
So now we’re at our final episode of this particularly hearty Together Breakfast --- "Too Short to Ride," aka “oh my gosh it’s a Peridot and Amethyst episode!” The Shorty Squad, Elle. The Shorty Squad!
Elle: This is such a fun episode, and so rewarding for everyone (like the two of us) who loves Peridot and also ship her with Amethyst. Interesting that, even though Greg doesn’t appear, his newfound wealth is still a key part of the story, since he impulse-bought a tablet and decided he doesn’t want it, leading Steven to give it to Peridot. It’s exactly her sort of device, and a big improvement on the tape recorder that she was so devoted to until Lapis destroyed.
Katie: This first scene has a billion amazing little moments in it. Steven putting the bow on Peridot. Peridot’s eyes when she realizes it’s a touchscreen. Steven showing Peridot their version of YouTube and Twitter (also: she now has a real life Twitter account). Peridot’s special tablet wrist holder and the poses she does as she proudly shows off her invention. What an adorable little nugget our neurotic triangle has become. I’m so proud of her.
Elle: It’s funny how Peridot was introduced as an intimidating, authoritarian, no-nonsense scientist, but now she’s in many ways the most childlike of the Gems. You get the impression she was so wrapped up in her Official Homeworld Duties that she just never had a chance to mature as a person, and now she finds herself pretty early in that process. Which is all the more reason it’s really nice of Steven and Amethyst to take her to the amusement park.
Katie: It was a treat to see Mr. Smiley so much in this episode. Getting to see him play off the three “kids” gave us some of the funnier moments. And as an adult I can appreciate him just trying to keep it all together as apparently the only person working the entire park. But I’m sort of surprised that when they need to get tall, Amethyst doesn’t suggest to Peridot that they try fusion. I dunno, maybe it’s just because I like the idea of the two of them, but I sort of figured that’s where the episode was going.
Elle: I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an Amethyst/Peridot fusion down the road (and I certainly hope there is), but I don’t think they’re quite ready for it yet. Peridot’s only recently let go of the distaste for fusion that Homeworld culture instilled in her, after all.
Katie: There is something incredibly sweet about Peridot being drawn to the stereotypical alien; “Those compassionate eyes. It understands. I need it, now!” And then when they realized the ring toss game is rigged: “I didn’t save earth for this.”
Elle: Peridot’s connection to the stuffed alien is the cutest thing. And of course it’s funny because she actually is a little green alien, but she doesn’t even realize that’s what the doll’s supposed to be.
Katie: But needing Amethyst to shapeshift to win the game brings up the real reason Peri is feeling down --- she can’t shapeshift and feels left out. But beyond just feeling left out, she feels inadequate. We get to learn a little more about Homeworld here (and about how Peridot is becoming more honest with herself about her home planet) --- Homeworld barely has resources left, so all the newer, Era-2 gems like her aren’t getting the powersets that older gems have. It makes sense why she clung so much to her tech enhancements and why seeming tall meant so much to her.
Elle: While it’s sad for Peridot that she feels lesser because of the meager circumstances of her creation, it’s also pretty reassuring in the larger context of the show to realize that Homeworld might be on its last legs. They’re really no longer the great conquering civilization that Rose’s army rebelled against. Now they’re just scrambling desperately to get all that back. Which is good, because they’re terrible.
Katie: It says a lot about Amethyst’s growth as a person since the start of the show that she can be as thoughtful and frank to Peridot as she is here. And more happy Peri/Amethyst shipper moments with, “We don’t hang out with you because of who you could be. We like you.”
Of course it doesn’t work and Amethyst throws Peridot’s tablet towards the ocean and then Peridot becomes Magneto.
Elle: Did you notice the way that she winds her arm to pull the tablet back in, like she's a fishing rod? It's a great bit of animation. Peridot having power over metal makes a lot of sense, as that’s probably a power that would help Gems like her interface with their tech enhancements, and probably a lot easier to engineer than stuff like shapeshifting. But the important thing for this episode is that it enables Peridot to win the alien doll she wants! Hooray for Shorty Squad!
Katie: It feels good to be back, Elle! I’m looking forward to the Summer of Steven and many more Together Breakfasts with you.
Elle: Me too! Things are going to be pretty hectic, but I can’t even begin to imagine how many great episodes we’ll get to see, and how many secrets we’ll learn, before the summer ends.