Steven Universe Review: "Joking Victim" (Season 1A, Episode 21)

Steven Universe Lars breathing fire
“Sorry, the sign on the side of the store states that The Big Donut is not liable if you start breathing fire. Your lawsuit is thrown out.”

Airdate: August 21st, 2014

Plot: Steven’s attempts to chase down some fire salt fries (thanks, Amethyst) with soda lead to a mess at the Big Donut. Lars shirks his responsibilities via a “back injury”, and Sadie gives him the day off. Steven, therefore, is appointed as a temporary Lars, and even manages to do a better job at the Big Donut. Still, Sadie can’t just fire him – the two have something of a relationship.

To try and cheer Lars up, the two bring donuts to his house, only to catch him on the trampoline with the Cool Kids. A distraught Sadie reveals that this may not have been the first time this has happened, and vows revenge. Cue the fire salt donut. The consequences are really heated… as pictured above.

Review (SPOILERS): At first glance, this episode has such little a point as to it’s existence, it’s probably a sphere. However, a closer look does damage to that hypothesis. Yes, this episode is a “canon-light” one – an episode that does not have a whole lot of bearing in terms of major plot development. The episode isn’t completely disposable, however – it fleshes out characters, and introduces a theme that will become a major one in season 2. In fact, dare I say, it’s probably the most overlooked episode of the show’s canon.

The Lars/Sadie dynamic has been somewhat enigmatic since the literal start of the show. (Seriously – they were two of the first three characters seen.) The former serves as the iconoclastic, often odious layabout who just wants his money. The later… not nearly as much, as revealed in this episode. Lars was fleshed out in “Lars and the Cool Kids”, showcasing some of his insecurities. This time, not only does the show flesh out Sadie, but it also expands some more on their dynamic.

“Joking Victim” confirms that Lars and Sadie’s partnership goes beyond mere workmates. In fact, it’s all but confirmed that the two of them have a romantic relationship. Even further, the writers go as far possible to note that the relationship has become sexual on at least one occasion. (“He let me be his player two, and we spent the whole night together”, and Sadie trying to let Steven take it literally.) So, yeah, the two of them are pretty close. Sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, right?

Uh, no.

Right from the get-go, Lars is trying to dodge work, quite clearly feigning an injury so that he can get off for the day, and leaving his responsibilities to Sadie. Even more tragic is that she notes that this is not a one-off occurrence. This does lead to the implication that the relationship is more give and less take on Sadie’s part. Still, Sadie defends this relationship by saying that Lars is nice once you get to know him, and that he does showcase some altruistic qualities (noting that he knows her favorite snack – oyster crackers.) As far as why Sadie would believe Lars’s obviously fake back injury? Well, crushes make you act silly sometimes.

When Sadie and Steven discover that not only did Lars feign sick, but he also is hanging out with the cool kids – an ensemble that includes Jenny Pizza – their reactions are rather appropriate, given their maturity and mental connections with Lars. For Steven, it’s an example of the dude lying to get out of work. Pretty obnoxious thing that he did.

For Sadie? This is effectively a betrayal that even Brutus would cringe at. It makes Lars’s negative traits rise to the surface of her mind. For here, the dude has burnt her trust. Think about it – if you can’t trust your workmate to not fake a back injury, than what about a relationship? And the worst part? This has happened before. Or at least, this may have happened before. After all, what was Lars doing those other times he feigned an illness? Was he playing Madden with some other girl, if you catch my drift? She even puts the question on the table…

Player two – is that just your way of saying I could’ve been anyone?

To be used like that is portrayed in the show as downright gut-wrenching. Yet, even after this, Sadie is willing to still see the good in Lars. Says a lot about her character, and why she and Steven get along like a house on fire. (On that note, Kate Micucci nails the heartbreak in the climatic scene. If this show’s secondaries are great when it comes to somber moments, the primaries will be – and have been – astonishing.)

On the flipside, she does let the anger get the better of her. Revenge, in this case, is a dish served hot, and it almost torches Beach City in the process. Logos and ethos go out the window – for Sadie, it’s getting back at the untrustworthy excuse of a man. That, and Sadie herself has shirked work so that she can watch Canine Court. Granted, at least she appears more honest about it, so that’s a mitigating factor.

Lars, meanwhile, is actually portrayed less single-dimensionally than I would’ve thought he would be. Yes, his lies to get off of work are portrayed as obnoxious and insensitive. However, the show also seems to point out that he doesn’t get the effects of his behavior. He never saw the idea of trust in this relationship. Lars doesn’t get the complexities that go into a partnership – that of trust, that of taking and giving. It doesn’t really seem malicious on his end – although that might be due to Matthew Moy’s great execution of the character. It is, however, certainly selfish, and the show makes no attempts to excuse, much less justify, his actions.

Once he realizes just how much “the video game night” meant to her, he tries to make amends – attempting to assist in the cleanup of a town he burnt down. Maybe, just maybe, this will mark the start of a more sensitive, altruistic Lars. Or, he’ll be back to normal.

As far as Steven’s role in the episode lies, he’s more of a secondary player. It is through him that Sadie is able to execute her revenge, but also through him that Lars is able to not die. He serves as largely the innocent in the entire equation – the source of destruction. In fact, he only knows of the “prank” because, well, Amethyst did it to him. He felt like, hey, at least it would be justified if it happened to Lars. Thankfully, he makes up for it with his Big Donut training (thanks, Sinbad), and learns a valuable lesson… Amethyst is a lazy bum.

Oh, and maybe he learned something about vengeance and food tampering, as well as trust in relationships? I dunno.

Also, the scenes at the Big Donut that don’t involve plotting revenge are downright hysterical. To be honest, I have never worked in food service, but even then, I think this might be a funny, funny satire. Special note goes to the cheesy instruction video – the one that, as implied before, wound up saving Lars’s life. Food service – it might be mind-numbing, but it may save a life or two. Maybe I should contemplate a job at Taco Bell.

If there’s one irritating aspect of this episode, it’s that, despite the town almost burning down as a result of this, there appears to be little reflection on or reaction to that. Nobody really does an investigation, and everything’s back to normal in the next episode. It’s more of a nitpick than anything (I’m assuming that Sadie had a really charged Fire Extinguisher), but still.

“Joking Victim” actually surprised me with how well-produced it was. It had well-rounded characters, a very emotional conflict, a brilliant climax, and some awesome voice over delivery. It’s a very underrated episode, or at least it’s rated appropriately compared to what’s about to come soon.

Tidbits:

  • Yes, I noticed the “Purple Puma/Tiger Millionaire” poster in the break room. Yes, this show has continuity in even the smallest moments, and I love it.
  • Love how, during the training video, not only does it go into the most minute details (talking about the state’s VAT and how it’s applied), but Sadie is damn near comatose by the end. And Steven is still nodding his head along. I rolled.
  • I also love the fact that the Pizza convertible has the license plate “PIZZA”.
  • Nice logic from the cool kids. Skipping work? Cool. Not wearing a seatbelt? Hell no.
  • Joel Hodgson returns as Mayor Dewey. He’s more silly this time around, dedicating the biggest bowl of Ice Cream in Beach County… which proceeds to melt with a little help from Lars.
Favorite Scene: I have to go with Sadie and Steven finding out that Lars lied to them. There’s no background music, which makes the scene that much more realistic. Of note, as Sadie runs off in tears, she comes across the Pizza convertible and recoils in disgust. Little things like that, honestly, turn a good show into a fantastic one.
Best Character: Sadie and Lars both get the award jointly. This episode is a tragedy in 11 minutes.

Memorable Quote: “I cleaned the last five Stevens” – Sadie, upon Steven downing the fire salt with an entire soda fountain. Indicative of a) the insanity that Steven gets into, and 2) the Lars/Sadie dynamic.

Score: Silver. Honestly, though, it’s a fairly high-quality Silver. It’s not as iconic as certain other episodes, but the episode is still pretty damn good.

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