Last week’s episode of Steven Universe delivered on two of the show’s greatest strengths: its adorable humor, and a keen eye for character development. Not only does this week give us the heart-cloggingly sweet joy of Peridot and Steven on an adventure together, it delivers the show’s third strength: actual plot advancement.
Spoilers ahead, of course.
Steven Universe is a strange show, plotting-wise. When the actual meta-story of the series is progressing, it gives us some of the best episodes in the show, like the sublime “Jailbreak.” But the vast majority of the series, and what gives it a lot of its heart and character, is wrapped up what you would define as “slice of life” episodes—where the big progression is a character moment, or it’s a light-hearted side adventure, rather than dealing with the weightiness of the overarching story.
Plot progression comes at moments few and far between, and when it hits, it’s a tantalizing jolt of worldbuilding and story that usually serves to make the world of Steven Universe even more enthralling. “When It Rains” totally delivers on that advancement and adding another layer of curiosity to the show’s lore, but thanks to Peridot, it also continues to be as charmingly adorable as ever.
Although last week saw Peridot come around to Steven’s side, she’s still not convinced that she can trust the Crystal Gems. Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl still crowd around the bathroom door trying to extract information on the Cluster—Garnet goes bad cop, Pearl goes good cop, and Amethyst, naturally, is thinking about food—and all it does it get Perdiot to retreat into her villainous shell, insulting the gems with a cry of “Crystal Clods!” and a cackle straight out of a mid-’90s anime dub. But when the Gems decide to strike out on their own for information on the Cluster and Peridot, leaving her alone with Steven, we get to see the softer Peridot of last week emerge again.
It is, of course, as terribly cute as it was last week.
Peridot being so innocently ignorant of everything on Earth, even thunder (her admission from behind Steven’s shoulder that she doesn’t know anything without her computer screen belies a youthfulness to the character you never really expected when she was busy being the show’s most regular villain), is charming in all the right places. But it also goes a long way to show just how much of her perceived villainy was just a mask rather than her actual personality. She’s young, scared, and confused—the fear of thunder and the joyous moment she steps out into the rain with Steven for the first time are brilliantly endearing. If you (somehow) didn’t love Peridot before this, you will now.
But the cute characterization quickly gives away to the real meat of “When it Rains”—a short, sharp, actual shock of plot progression. After confiding in Steven through her innocence, they venture to the defunct Kindergarten to learn more, but the thrust of it? The cluster is bad news: a humongous, planet-dwarfing forced fusion of gem shards to create a mutant abomination. It’s basically a Steven Universe Old God. And now Peridot only trusts Steven enough—her naivete reasoning that if Steven knows how rain works, he knows enough about Earth to stop the Cluster from emerging.
The “When It Rains” of the title doesn’t just refer to the actual rain in the early parts of the episode, but the complete flow of new information and plotting: when it rains on Steven Universe, it pours! It’s almost too much—both for Steven, who immediately begins freaking out that the Cluster is way beyond anything he’s seen before, and for the audience, an out-of-nowhere plot burst that threatens to overwhelm the 11-minute runtime of the episode. But it’s invigorating to see the show, after a long time of dwelling on its characters, suddenly pick up the main thread so deftly and so quickly again. There’s an actual drive behind what’s going on, and it gives these episodes a different, but equally satisfying vibe as the moments of measured character work usually do.
Sadly, the structure of Steven Universe means that we’ll have to wait another week to get much more—following a short encounter with some Gem Mutants at the Kindergarden, the Crystal Gems come to Steven and Peridot’s rescue, and we’re left with a cliffhanger where Peridot finally decides that if she can trust Steven, she might start trusting the Gems enough to help them save Earth from the Cluster. Peridot takes another solid step to becoming an ally on the show rather than a foe—and Steven Universe takes another step along on its story. Let’s hope next week’s developments come just as thick and fast as they have since the start of this new arc.
In conclusion and apropos of nothing though, here is a picture of the spectacular face Pearl pulls when trying to interrogate Peridot:
I may have to begin including a “Pearl Face of the Week” segment in these recaps.