Dr. C – TV Review – Steven Universe #66 – Historical Friction

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The second coming of the Ember Island Players…

Steven Bomb 3, day 4.  After the Sardonyx incident, the rift between the gems mean they’ve been spending time apart and we’ve been getting individual feels-trips with the gems one at a time… a lot like when Avatar: The Last Airbender gave most of the cast one-episode each on their own with Zuko in season 3.  And I bring that up, because that character developing arc wrapped up with a particularly famous episode called “The Ember Island Players” in which the cast attends a play about themselves.  And now for Pearl’s individual episode of the arc, we have her attending a play about the Crystal Gems.

Well, technically it’s about Captain William Dewey, the great great great grandfather of Mayor Dewey.  He funds a community theater production with his interpretation of events as an act of political vanity; Jamie the mail man is in charge and Steven wants to help.  And the script… is… SHIT.

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“This isn’t just boring… it’s historically inaccurate!”

The Mayor writes his ancestor as one hell of a Mary Sue and outright lies about certain events… Pearl was there to verify.  So, in the interest of saving the play, Steven get’s Pearl to help him rewrite the play to be more accurate and interesting, with a believable version of Captain Dewey and full involvement of the gems.  The play itself thus serves as an origin story for Beach City itself, without resorting to flash back, and using the tropes of stage craft and hammy acting for entertaining jokes.  The play is full of laugh out loud moments, particularly when Jamie brings his glorious impressions of the gems and watching Mayor Dewey have a mental breakdown from the front row of the audience.  It’s levity much needed during the drama this week.

So while it feels spiritually like ‘Ember Island Players’, which was a tongue-in-cheek recap of events we’d already seen, here the play is a goldmine of subtle backstory and world building, while also delivering a message relevant to the current story arc.

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All aboard the speculation boat!

For example, the mayor’s ancestor being only five generations back (nearly 200 years the mayor says), yet being portrayed as an explorer type in search of a new land, hints at the alternate history of the world.  While it’s not stated where he sailed from, we can infer he sailed from somewhere across the Atlantic given mentions of crossing the ocean and sailing many months.  So if Dewey was indeed amongst the first to cross the ocean, that sets the date of settlement in the Americas about 200 years later than in reality.  The difference could be accounted for by something that happened during the ancient gem war and the corrupted gem monsters inhabiting the ocean… Dewey’s ship was nearly sunk by one such creature if not for the gems intervention.  Or perhaps gem related events slowed the rate of technological development in the rest of the world, meaning trans-Atlantic voyages weren’t possible as early in the timeline.

We can also pair this with a few hints from previous episodes to extrapolate more.  In #64 – Keystone Motel, the state of Pennsylvania is called Keystone, and we know that Beach City is in the state of Delmarva, part of real world Delaware.  The U.S. being formed at a different point in history by different people could mean different state names and borders.  But we can also look back to the last time we saw Jamie, #56 – Love Letters, where he drops a throwaway line about coming back from “where all the movies are made… Kansas…”  We took it as a joke at the time, but if you know film history, there’s a subtle brilliance there.  In the early days of film, film-making companies moved themselves as far west as they could to dodge oppressive regulations on the east coast… thus Hollywood was born.  With a 200 year delay in development, expansion might not have reached all the way to the pacific at that time, and thus they went as far west as they could… leading to Kansas becoming the film making mecca of the SU-verse.

Sorry, I’m a sucker for alternate histories.  Of course, any of that could be debunked at any time, but I feel like it fits too good to be a coincidence.  Anyway… what else, oh yeah, I mentioned a message related to the running Sardonyx-arc.  It’s almost as if the writers predicted how harshly the fandom would judge Pearl and wrote this episode to contain a take-that and lesson about good writing.  The Mayor’s original script portray Captain Dewey as an infallible hero with no flaws who everyone loves… good for a politician’s image I suppose, but that doesn’t make for a good character.  It makes for a laughable and boring Mary Sue.   As Jamie explains to Steven:

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“How can a guy have no faults? To be human is to be flawed… a real hero MUST struggle!”

If this show does one thing very well, it’s showing that characters have flaws and that’s ok.  Though Jamie refers to the a human, and the gems aren’t, the same rule applies to characters regardless of species.  “Everybody gets stuff wrong; and then you have to keep going, and it’s hard, which is why it’s great when you never stop trying!”  Steven says to Pearl.  And that’s the depiction of Captain Dewey that Steven brings to the play… a flawed and inept human who doesn’t get everything right, but perseveres and keeps trying until he ultimately succeeds, compared to the bad script where he succeeds with no effort.  And guess what?  To the Mayor’s disbelief, the townsfolk and his son react well to the believable and flawed version of his ancestor, because he still kept trying.

The end result: Pearl seems to take this to heart, as next episode, she stops sulking and starts trying… trying very hard… to fix her mistakes.  And Mayor Dewey makes Jamie head of the city’s community theater program.  So yes, I foresee more Jamie in the future.  He’s actually become a really endearing character now that he’s over his unrequited-crush on Garnet, and hopefully we’ll see more community theater shenanigans very soon.

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OK, now gives us an episode with Steven and Connie in a play together or we riot.