Steven Universe Review: "Keep Beach City Weird!" (Season 1B, Episode 5)

“Snake people, or sneeple, control our government at the highest level!” – Ronaldo Fryman. If this man took a government course in high school, he must’ve been very disappointed at the curriculum. Or satisfied.

Airdate: October 30th, 2014

Written By: Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco.

Plot: Steven stumbles across Ronaldo, in the hunt to validate his own conspiracy theory. He has compiled the various strange events going around across Beach City, and has come to his ultimate conclusion… the world is ruled by otherworldly snake people! Unfortunately for him, a pretty valid counterargument comes up – there are these three aliens who happen to live in the town, and get on to various misadventures. Once Steven disproves Ronaldo’s theory, he suffers an emotional collapse. Steven, feeling bad, tries to fix what went wrong… only to see Ronaldo at his most insane.

Review (SPOILERS):

We all know the reason for Steven Universe’s existence, right? Well, it’s the result of Rebecca Sugar’s deal with the Illuminati, a group of freemasons led by Preston Manning and Bill Shorten, who power the megabanks that engineered the Allen Gregory false flag, to power the sale of propane and propane accessories, all to line their pockets so that they can financially appease their sentient god, the Great Computer.

“He gets all his information on astronomy, phenomenology, and physics from a single reference book – The Junior Encyclopedia of Space. It’s the only one he could find with pictures.” – Queeg, Red Dwarf.

Yeah, that makes no sense, right?

Conspiracy theorists generally have stretched things really far to determine that certain world events are all part of this idea to start a new world order – whether it be the September 11th attacks, the election of Barack Obama as President, the rise of Donald Trump to the GOP nomination, even the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shootings. (Really? Arguing that children getting shot was fake in your attempt to prove that the world is controlled by bankers? What the hell?)

While Steven Universe largely takes it’s social commentary on a larger level (analyzing authoritarian governments and the role of “eye for an eye”), this episode decides to take a targeted look at the conspiracy theorists – what makes them tick?

Ronaldo Fryman made his debut in the episode “Cat Fingers”. There, he took a picture of Steven’s disturbing cat fingers, and posted them to his blog, Keep Beach City Weird. And, yes, there is actually a blog with that name, updated by “Ronaldo”. Between then and this episode, been a semi-professional wrestler, wound up “fooled” regarding Steven’s lion (and thought that Steven pulled a Dave Lister and went up the duff), and, well, that’s it. He’s been a background character up to this episode.

Here, though, we get the first episode to ever focus on him.

One of the great cliches of conspiracy theorists involves their belief that the bizarre is generated by extraterrestrial beings. Well, this show decides to twist that trope around by having the strangeness of Beach City actually being caused by aliens. Therefore, Ronaldo goes with option B – his belief that the United States Government is controlled by snake people.

He’s not too far off the mark. (Note – this is not an endorsement for Donald Trump. Do not take this as an endorsement for that moron. I’m not too gung-ho about Clinton, either.)

His reasoning is that they do it by keeping us pitted against each other, whether through innocuous internet fora, or political competitions. It can be a bit bizarre to think of how the concept of American democracy, seen as one of the great political systems that gives power to the common man, can be twisted into something manipulated by higher ups. Not that American democracy is perfect (see this election for more details), but still. What universe does Ronaldo exist in? (Yeah, I know, Steven’s Universe, hardy har har.)

Of course, his theories are downright insane. In any normal universe, there would be logical scientific explanations for every single thing whatsoever. To this end, he even declares that “Truth is searching for anything that proves you’re right, and holding on to it, no matter how small.” Even Steven recognizes that his logic is flawed at best, malarkey at worst.

Once his conspiracies are debunked (thanks to the Crystal Gems being upfront with Steven over screwing up the city – by the way, awesome use of continuity), he suffers an emotional collapse. No kidding – he gives up on conspiracies, shuts down his blog, and resigns himself to the menial work that is Beach Citywalk Fries. But when his theory is given “pity support” from Steven, well, he downright goes insane. I mean, he was a bit out there before, but once Steven pretends to be a “snerson”, well, Ronnie goes street-rat crazy.

He is so insane that, well, he kidnaps the kid, chains him up in his “lab”, and appears ready to kill him, believing that he is a “snerson”.

Why does he do this?

His ego.

What makes this episode unique is that it delves into the mentality of Ronaldo – the ego that powers his beliefs. His reason for his depression? “I’m not at the center of anything.” He even confesses that “something important is finally happening to me” once the “snerson” is captured. He isn’t into the paranormal because of something he saw, or because he truly believes in it – he’s into it because, well, it makes him feel important.

But what is Ronaldo’s life going to be? Inheriting a fast food joint which neither he nor his brother seem to have any interest in? Living in a tiny city, beach or otherwise? For somebody with Ronaldo’s personality, well, it might not really mesh up too well. Much like Sadie’s actions in “Island Adventure”, this is a damn good excuse – but, again, not a justification. At least this episode comes off a bit better at exploring this conundrum.

Pearl sums up the reason why the initial reveal plastered Ronaldo’s heart all over the ground pretty damn well:

Humans just lead short, boring, insignificant lives, so they make up stories to feel like they’re a part of something bigger. They want to blame all the world’s problems on some single enemy they can fight, instead of a complex network of interrelated forces beyond anyone’s control.

As… blunt… as this is, Pearl does raise a very interesting piece of philosophy. Do we just simplify our issues to the simplest possible answer? Do we do this in order to make our victories easier? To try and compromise those we want vanquished more rapidly? Are we willing to face up to the idea that, well, we aren’t unique? Or do we just resort to these insane defense mechanisms?

But, again, this isn’t a justification for Ronaldo’s insanity and vanity. It’s just a reason for it. A method to his madness, mind you.

(Besides, that quote reminds me of this zinger from the aforementioned great computer: “As the days go by, we face the increasing inevitability that we are alone in a godless, uninhabited, hostile, and meaningless universe. Still, you’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?”)

So, that’s some good Ronaldo character development, eh? Well, it really depends on whether or not you like the character. Honestly, based on this one episode alone, he is so insane that if I knew him, I would distance myself from him as much as possible. In some ways, he is worse than Onion – at least the kid has an excuse (albeit a very awkwardly-written one) involving his father, and might be young enough to be mentally saved. Ronnie here is just a madman, egged on by his ego.

My view of the character will be solidified once I go on to review “Horror Club”, but right now, it ain’t looking too good.

What’s more interesting is how Steven tried to right what he felt was a wrong – in this case, believing that he completely destroyed Ronaldo by disproving his theory. He tries to reignite his belief… and almost gets killed for it. Kinda bizarre that Steven was able to reason with an alien that siphoned the world’s water, but not somebody from his local fry joint. This will not be the last time his trust in people, alien or otherwise, is shattered.

This episode, though, does suffer from a severe case of “idiotitis”.

First question – how the hell does Steven not recognize any of the Gem-related crap that went on over the past few months? He lives with the Crystal Gems, for smeg’s sake! He saw the pedals, the red eye pieces, the tiny drill creatures that caused him to destroy an arcade game… he participated in StevenTag, for god’s sake! And he doesn’t recognize any of it? This stretches belief!

Second, how did Ronaldo not recognize the bits of the Red Eye, the thing that the entire town seemed to watch? (One could argue that he was deep inside, but c’mon – that thing was noticeable to everybody.) Hell, is he inside all the time? The town seems to know about the magical quartet? Dude needs to get out more.

And why does Peedee not see that the “Snerson” was Steven in a costume? This one really grinds my gears. Back in “Frybo”, Peedee was a world-weary kid who was emotionally aged beyond his years. He appeared to have intelligence far beyond his physical age, albeit twisted into a world-weary psyche. Here? He acts closer to a typical “impressionable younger sibling”.

Not helping matters is the ending, where Peedee seems to enable Ronaldo’s insanity, so to speak, by giving him a piece of “evidence”. I know that Ronaldo without his ego is a depressed sad sack, and that there could be an interesting character balance with Ronaldo as the excitable and imaginative brother, but there could’ve been better ways to handle this rather than enable his ego. It comes off as quite a bit awkward.

At least the final lines in this episode are pretty cool. Without spoiling anything, Ronaldo’s rant is one of the most interesting pieces of dialogue, plot-wise, in the first season. Just watch the next two seasons, watch the episode again, and laugh.

OK, well, this episode was a bit… silly. Much as I liked a reflection on Ronaldo, and the satire of Conspiracy Theorists and how their theories make no sense, the ending was a little uncomfortable, and Ronaldo quite psychotic, for my tastes. It’s certainly not as awkwardly executed as “Onion Trade”, but it’s far from the show’s standout.

Tidbits:

  • This episode has one of my favorite “comedy” moments of the first season – Garnet, Amethyst, and Steven playing StevenTag. What makes it work is not the game itself (which is more structured than Calvinball), but the interactions between the characters. Especially Pearl wondering what the hell is going on, and refusing to take part.
  • Also of note is the idea that, according to Ronaldo, one of the things that creates schisms in the world is anime message boards. While making the conspiracy theorist the otaku might be a bit stereotypical at first glance, consider that Steven Universe was not only created by an otaku, but that the show has basically been declared a fusion of Shonen and Shoujo styles. So it’s a cute little shout out, maybe a bit of self-depreciation. (Oh, and no, I’m not an otaku by any stretch of the imagination. The only anime I have seen more than a couple of episodes of is Dragon Ball Z Kai. I do want to see Cowboy Bebop, though.)
  • Also, I like how Ronaldo tries to take down the “other snake people” – the Crystal Gems – only to have his ass handed to him. Bonus points for Garnet breaking a barrel over his head. Yeah, it may come off as over the top, but he deserved every inch of it.
  • On a less related note, this Friday brought to an end the Summer of Steven, a month of daily episodes taking us through the end of Season 3, and with a couple of Season 4 episodes. Episodes ran the gamut from “subpar” (“Restaurant Wars”/”New Lars”) to some of the most sublime TV i’ve ever seen (“Bubbled”), from depressing (“Bismuth”) to laugh riots (“Kindergarten Kid”). All in all, I give the Summer of Steven an A- – some small flaws, but made up for with some great outings.
  • And on a completely unrelated and silly personal note, two of my favorite sports teams started up again this weekend.
    • The New York Giants are playing preseason football, and hopes are high that Ben McAdoo will re-energize the team and bring them back to the NFL Playoffs for the first time since Super Bowl 46 (which we won). I’m cautiously optimistic. Then again, after three seasons of 6-10 (each of which had one embarrassing “moment” per season – 0-6 start, losing to Jacksonville, and the OBJ/Norman fight), even ending 8-8 should make me somewhat satisfied. It wasn’t a good sign when the team scored 10 points in the first quarter… and in the game overall. Still, preseason doesn’t really count.
    • Also, England’s Premier League kicked off their season this weekend, and with it, came a new season for Arsenal FC. This could be Arsene Wegner’s last chance to get the team first place in the League, but many analysts are saying that’s doubtful. (Hey, the team could’ve gotten first last season if it wasn’t for a midseason decline as well as the superb way that Leicester played. Kudos, Fox supporters) Not helping was the mid-game collapse against Liverpool. Still, the season is young. Gotta keep up hopes.

Wrap Up:

Favorite Scene: I gotta go with Ronaldo revealing his first theory to Steven, simply for the dramatic irony purposes.

Best Character: Pearl. Her rather… brash speech is my favorite quote of the entire episode.

Memorable Quote: “Can Big Science Explain This Potato?” – the title of Ronaldo’s last blog post before his hiatus (pictured at the top).

Verdict: Bronze. It’s an episode with a bit of an interesting idea and pretty good social commentary, but issues with Ronaldo and Peedee’s characters send it to the Bronze tier.

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