‘Steven Universe’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 4, Episode 17: ‘Rocknaldo’
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, Bloodstone joins the Crystal Gems, and Ronaldo learns a lesson, maybe. Rocknaldo was written by Hilary Florido and Lauren Zuke, and directed by Hye Sung Park, Ricky Cometa, and Kat Morris.
Elle: After the big space adventure of the last several episodes, it’s nice to get back to a Beach City episode, in which everything that happens isn’t as dire as can be. That said, this episode has a lot of Ronaldo. And I have to admit, he’s not my favorite character. He’s a perfect portrayal of a specific type of person who we’ve all met, but that just means he’s annoying in a very realistic way.
Katie: I’ve always found Ronaldo best in very small doses. This episode feels very much like a sequel to “Keep Beach City Weird,” which ends with Ronaldo starting his theories on the Great Diamond Authority and the invasion of the rock people. And then this episode starts with his verbose-looking pamphlet on the dangerous rock people walking among us who are adding mind-control minerals to the water supply and hate men. As you said, Ronaldo is a very specific kind of person most of us have encountered, often on the internet.
Elle: The accusation of man-hating in particular felt like a deliberate nod to the darker side of internet culture. I really love the conversation Steven and Ronaldo have, in which Ronaldo insists that he’s not talking about Steven and his family, even as Steven points out that they’re who he’s describing. You see this kind of disconnect all the time with people who subscribe to bigoted ideologies and refuse to acknowledge that people they know personally will be affected.
Katie: So this gets super overt as the episode goes on, but even early on it’s clear that Ronaldo is a textbook example of a misguided ally. After this first talk with Steven, where he realizes his pamphlet is insensitive at best, Ronaldo is resolved to change his ways, which is good... but that leads him to deciding he’s going to become a Crystal Gem, too. And moving in with the Gems.
Elle: It’s such a perfect portrait of a certain type of young activist, the way he goes so quickly from being convinced to care about something, to letting it dominate his life, to insisting that he understands the issue better than people who were born to it. And meanwhile all of this ridiculousness from Ronaldo is pushing Steven’s kind and accepting nature to the limit.
Katie: I liked how the Gems won’t let him go on missions and have to explain that Steven has been training and has proven that he is prepared for missions --- which we know, because so much of the first season was Steven being kept behind on missions. But because Ronaldo sees his choice to join them as proof that he’s dedicated to the cause, clearly they just don’t appreciate his devotion.
The part where he insinuates Steven isn’t proud enough of being a Crystal Gem because his shirt hides his gem was another clear cut “this is what unsupportive allies actually do to marginalized people in real life” moment for the episode.
Elle: I mean, thank god the Crystal Gems aren’t willing to take Ronaldo to battle some giant corrupted gem monster with his anime replica sword. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t fare very well. But it’s very telling that Steven is actually pretty convinced at first by a lot of the nonsense Ronaldo says, both because of Ronaldo’s oversized confidence and because Steven just keeps his heart and mind so open.
Katie: It’s really common for marginalized people (especially those like Steven, who cares so much about not causing hurt) to feel guilty when allies don’t take criticism well. It took a while for Steven to recognize that his own feelings were valid and to stand up to Ronaldo.
I liked the phrasing of the dialogue when Steven finally does confront Ronaldo in front of the other gems, “The second it wasn’t about you, you stopped caring. This isn’t the Bloodstone club about making Bloodstone feel good. This is my whole life --- do you care about that or not?” The choice of words feels very, very deliberate.
Elle: Absolutely. Amethyst has my two favorite lines in this episode. The first is when Ronaldo passes out after Steven confronts him, and Amethyst says, “You truthed him so hard he died!” And then in the next scene, when they’re leaving the sleeping Ronaldo outside the Fry place, Steven’s concerned and Amethyst says, “You’ve worried about him enough.” It’s a simple line, but her tone and expression convey so perfectly the hard truth that sometimes, in dealing with toxic and self-serving people, you have to put limits on your compassion.
Katie: This leads us into Steven checking in with Ronaldo three weeks later, and “Bloodstone” (by the way, of course he chose that name) has mostly learned a lesson? I mean, he starts off by saying that he must be the ultimate outsider even among the outsiders of the Crystal Gems, which, you know... isn’t great. But he does apologize, and he creates pamphlets designed to teach humans about the Gems, and how the community can help them. In other words, taking the onus of educating others off of the Gems and educating his own people. Whether or not people will believe Ronaldo is another story, but the idea is good.
I also liked the part where Ronaldo asks Steven if he can ask him a question about being a gem, and then accepts Steven not wanting his answer in future versions of his pamphlet. It was a nice example of “here is how to not be a jerk ally.”
Elle: Ronaldo’s always going to be a lot to take, but he did seem to have learned something that goes a little deeper than just being the ultimate outsider. And whether or not people believe him may be less the question than whether or not anyone but Steven will ever take a Ronalphlet in the first place.
Katie: During the Thanksgiving episode, you and I talked about how we felt the message was muddied because the episode put a lot of responsibility on the gems to reach out to someone who didn’t trust them (and it being shown right after the election did not help).
This episode I thought did a much better job of being clear on its message, and really showed some clear cut examples on how to be a good and not so good ally. On top of it, it did a good job validating Steven’s frustrations when dealing with a poor ally, which has got to be cathartic for a lot of Steven Universe's audience.
Elle: I would imagine so. And while this is definitely an episode with a strong message, it’s also an episode about someone being annoying, rather than one about characters being targeted for death or abduction into space, or one where Steven has to prevent the destruction of the Earth. I guess what I’m saying is that the scale of this show often seems to be getting bigger and bigger, the stakes higher and higher, and it’s always nice to see it shrink back down, at least for an episode or two.
Katie: And it looks like the next episode could be another silly character episode as the show dives back into one of your other favorite topics, Elle --- pro-wrestling. “Tiger Philanthropist” next week!
Elle: I’ve been waiting so long for another wrestling episode!