‘Steven Universe’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 4, Episode 18: ‘Tiger Philanthropist’
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 show back on a weekly schedule, at least for now, we’re keeping up with it once a week.
In this episode, Lars is particularly hard to please, and two wrestling legends retire from the ring. "Tiger Philanthropist" was written by Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff, and directed by Joe Johnston and Ricky Cometa.
Elle: We should say right up front that as some readers will already know, I’m a pro wrestling fan and you aren’t. And while I’m going to do my best not to talk entirely in jargon and obscure references as we discuss this episode, it’s going to be a bit of a challenge, because "Tiger Philanthropist" is neck deep in wrestling culture, perhaps even more so than "Tiger Millionaire." And, related, I loved this episode.
Katie: I wouldn’t worry too much about me being lost, Elle. The nice thing about having so many friends (especially in comics criticism) who are into pro wrestling is that I pick up general knowledge and lingo simply from exposure to said friends talking about it. So even though wrestling isn’t really my thing, I was able to enjoy this episode’s quirks thanks to that friendship osmosis.
Elle: The real catalyst for this episode, of course, is how much Amethyst has grown since Season One. As we learned way back then, Amethyst became a wrestler because she was insecure about her self-worth and had trouble getting along with Pearl and Garnet. Being the Purple Puma let her blow off steam and live off the heat she got from the crowd. But now that she feels better about herself and her relationships with others, she really doesn’t need to wrestle anymore, to the disappointment of both her tag team partner Steven, and their biggest fan, Lars.
Katie: What stood out for me is not just that Amethyst doesn’t need wrestling to feel strong anymore, but that she was able to recognize that fact and was able to articulate her feelings to Steven without her seeing it as a weakness. That’s a level of maturity we didn’t see in season one Amethyst, and it’s great to look back at the slow build-up (especially with the Jasper stuff, but even back when she ran away with Steven to the kindergarten).
Elle: I can’t help but think that meeting her sister Amethysts and being accepted by them just a few episodes ago was probably the final step in her road to self-confidence. But tradition says that when you retire from pro wrestling, you’re supposed to “go out on your back,” losing to the next up-and-comer. Purple Puma does the opposite of this, suddenly announcing his departure (side note: Puma has different pronouns than Amethyst, which can be confusing since they’re the same person) immediately after he and Tiger Millionaire beat the snot out of Sharkamania. So it’s no wonder the crowd is so upset. And especially Lars, whose love for Tiger Millionaire has only grown since that previous episode.
Katie: Poor Lars. We’ve talked before about how Lars is a very specific kind of teenage boy, but his investment in local pro wrestling is peak that kind of teenage boy. And that’s right down to 100% buying into the kayfabe (see, I do know wrestling terms). So when Puma walks out on Tiger Millionaire, of course Lars sees it as the most tragic betrayal ever to come across his young eyes.
Elle: If Amethyst was wrestling to feel strong, Steven has been wrestling because he likes making people happy, whether it’s Amethyst or Lars or the rest of the fans. So it makes perfect sense when Tiger Millionaire returns with a new babyface gimmick (more wrestling terms!) as Tiger Philanthropist. He’s still rich, but now he’s giving money away! He also has a move called the Small Business Loan Elbow, which is fantastic. And yet, Lars still isn’t happy.
Katie: Can I just say his opponent “the Wolf of Wall Street” being just a direct reference to the movie is one of the silliest thing I’ve seen the show do in a while? Also we were given a marine biology lesson with the Sea Wasp. But yes, Tiger’s face turn to a good guy who just really enjoys offering money for his opponent’s medical bills was a great twist, even if Lars is unimpressed.
Elle: When Lars is still mad and doesn’t see the appeal of the Philanthropist gimmick, he’s basically become the embodiment of internet wrestling fandom: Unsure what he wants, but certain that what he’s being given is the wrong thing. Not so different from most internet fandoms, come to think of it. I also love how Lars is so certain that Tiger isn’t Steven, even when Steven is directly asking him what Tiger should do next.
Katie: Well, Tiger is 7' tall, Elle. Also, Superman doesn’t wear glasses. But I digress.
So after talking with Amethyst, Steven decides to offer his champion belts up to whichever opponents can take them, leading to the Brothers Construction and the Good Looking Gang coming into the ring. I don’t remember if we’ve seen either tag team in the previous wrestling episode, but we can assume both groups are mainstays of the Beach City wrestling community.
Elle: Both of those teams are from the original Tiger Millionaire episode. In fact, the Good Looking Gang was the team that Tiger and Puma were originally supposed to face for the belts when Pearl and Garnet interrupting. So when Mr. Smiley says that they’ve returned to finally claim the title, it’s a nice (and every wrestling-esque) bit of continuity. Also the Good Looking Gang are my favorites, because they look exactly like every 1980s tag team whose gimmick was “we’re handsome!” But this being Steven Universe, you get the impression that they’re probably a couple.
But before the ladder match can get underway, Purple Puma makes his surprise return, and one of my favorite things that happens in actual pro wrestling happens, which is a big sincere hug.
Katie: I loved the motion of Puma aggressively lifting Tiger up and then smooshing his face. Such a great little bit of animation there.
There’s a nice moment where Amethyst breaks character to quietly apologize to Steven for quitting so abruptly on him. Again, it shows her emotional maturity since the first season that she recognized she didn’t do right by her wrestling partner and had the courage to admit as much and make things right. And to make things right, the two of them tragically get their butts kicked.
Elle: I love the moment when they’re on the mat and both whisper “Finish it,” to which the Good Looking Gang both nod before hitting their finishing move, the beautifully named Star Crossed Lovers. So Tiger and Puma go out on their backs, as they should, and Lars is so distraught he has to be carried out by a bouncer while Sadie holds the door. Such a fun episode, and seasonal too, with Wrestlemania right around the corner.
Katie: I was happy to see Steven’s wrestling career come back, even if this seems to be the end for a good long while. It was also just a relief to get a funnier, lighthearted episode with less intense stakes compared to almost losing a father to well-meaning but menacing and dangerous space goddesses. Wrestling storylines are dramatic, but they’re not quite that dramatic.
Elle: You weren’t there when Daniel Bryan retired. But in general I agree, and I always enjoy a good Beach City episode. I can’t wait to see what we’re in for next week!