Steven Universe Review: "Tiger Millionaire" (Season 1A, Episode 9)

 

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Still a better advertising strategy than spoiling the results of your competitor’s matches.

 

Airdate: January 20th, 2014

Synopsis: Amethyst messes up a mission by punching the monster of the week, getting gunk all over Steven and earning her Pearl and Garnet’s scorn. The night after, Steven manages to track Amethyst down to an old warehouse, where a wrestling league is held. There, she moonlights as the Purple Puma – a ruthless wrestler that’s shooting up the ranks. Steven becomes struck by the aura of the whole thing, and becomes her assistant as “Tiger Millionaire” – a ruthless venture capitalist from the jungle.

Review: Full disclosure – I’m not really a professional wrestling fan. Don’t hate it, don’t really follow it. Most of the info and jokes about wrestling here, I got from brief skims from the TVTropes and Wikipedia pages. All I know is that WWE Smackdown airs on SyFy – by far, the most insane and idiotic programming move that doesn’t involve scheduling Dilbert after Shasta McNasty. (Nice job, UPN.)

So, this episode… in an actual sci-fi show. Easily among my favorite episodes from the front end of the first season.

Now that we’ve dissected how the Crystal Gems interact with Steven, now we can focus more on how the characters bounce off of each other. We start with our favorite slob, Amethyst.

Ah, Amethyst. In some ways, she’s sorta like the alien answer to Dave Lister. A slob, often acts in defiance of an overtly neurotic pseudo-superior, and is as much a humanist as one can get within the confines of the show’s main characters. However, Lister was peeled away over the course of six seasons to be even deeper than he lets on, with a great philosophical mind and the ability to pick up on skills easily – he just prefers the simpler life of a chicken soup machine repairman. That, and Lister’s “superior” is a neurotic jackass who put Lister’s life in jeopardy on no less than three occasions.

So far, Amethyst has just been this comic relief type character who eggs Steven on, acting like a 14-year old along the way. She’s basically rolled with the perception that she’s a loudmouthed lout, not giving a flip along the way. “Tiger Millionaire” is the first episode to expand on that, putting her as the hallmark of a local wrestling league.

Here, though, there’s a method to her madness. It’s not just that she’s the action-oriented eccentric isolate alongside a duo of strategists and seemingly straight-laced commanders. She feels like her physical actions are scorned by the two, and uses professional wrestling as a way to escape into it. What she doesn’t realize is that the two don’t really care about the action as much as they care about her recklessness, her childishness, etc.

Going beyond this, some lines in this episode represent that the critiques – justified or not – really cut deep into Amethyst, thus causing her to act in defiance. While we later learn the method to her madness, this episode exposes the first signs of pathos for her.

In effect, this turns Amethyst into something of a stand-in for the audience. Think about it – most of us watch Steven Universe as a form of escapism. Let’s face it, at one time or another, we’ve all felt like the world was out to get us. So how do we escape? For some of us, it’s watching campy sci-fi shows featuring alien soldiers rooming in a beach house.

Amethyst just happens to escape in a way that involves beating up a bunch of people. Which is cool, because professional wrestling is fake and it’s participants and fans are whack-jobs, right?

Well, this episode showcases a more realistic, diverse side to the sport/show. Sure, the show takes on some of the devotees who get into the atmosphere of the show (Lars – “He’s awful because he hurt me specifically!”) but also showcases a more casual side to the fandom who don’t necessarily get the theatrical aspects within (Sadie). Even it’s staunch devotees don’t necessarily seem picked on as much as the show seems to imply that these fans use it as a form of escapism. Otherwise, I can’t comment on the pro-wrestling satire too much, but this show just has fun with the “storylines” within and all of that.

As far as it’s participants, well, there’s Amethyst, who I already discussed in length. However, we also get a look at Steven, as he takes on the persona of the episode’s titular character – a callous wrestling manager who lives for the thrill of winning, as well as publicity and money. (Anybody got a strange, property-developing vibe?) The story, of course, is quick to distinguish the difference between Steven and the Tiger Millionaire, which I guess was a convenience for the younger audience.

The two are also largely separate entities, which I guess was due to time complaints. However, the infamous “soda slap” did come off as Steven maybe getting a bit too into his character. Granted, he immediately pulls back and becomes uncomfortable with the character he put on, but it’s still a very valid argument. Also, we get some development for him – he knows how to create characters, and give them backgrounds. It starts with his Tiger Millionaire persona, and eventually expands to the Pink Puma, with a backstory showcasing his empathy.

No episode would be complete without Pearl and Garnet, and their use here is quite efficient. Providing a good counterbalance to Amethyst’s complaints, it’s when they get involved in the match (not necessarily because they want to) that the theatrics of pro-wrestling fuse with the realities underneath, and threaten to bring each other down. When they understand the escapism within the sport, however, they decide to let Amethyst and Steven have it in the most covert way possible. The end result is one of the most hysterical endings this show has had so far.

Let’s see… character development, brilliant satire, campy plot… gotta be the best episode so far. Let’s see, I have how much more to go?

64?

Well, let’s see how many I can get done before the show comes back from hiatus.

Tidbits:

  • Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu wrote this episode, their second (the first being the series premiere). The two have some of the more critically acclaimed episodes under their belt – including “Sworn to the Sword”, “Lion 2: The Movie”, and “Jailbreak”. Oh, they also wrote a crossover with a certain show, but we’ll get to that when the time comes.
  • Mr. Smiley’s back, and this time, he doesn’t seem to care that a kid that he once turfed from his amusement park may or may not be participating in the league. Either that, or he’s just as much into the sport as Lars is.
  • Speaking of which… well, check out my “Best Character” below.
Favorite Scene: The ending match – hysterical, heartwarming, awesome, tearjerking. So rich in character interaction, some subtle character development, and just plain fun.
Best Character: Controversial selection here, but it’s gotta be Lars. Come on, anything that picks on the more zealous aspects of any fandom is alright in my book. And yet, Lars is still not treated like an idiot – just a flawed fan.
Memorable Quote: “I only feel what I wanna feel…” – Amethyst. Nothing like a bit of character brooding. Give it 30 episodes – that line is gonna be a tad bit darker.
Score: 8.5 (Silver)
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