Steven Universe Review: “Horror Club” (Season 1B, Episode 15)

Catch, catch the horror taxi.

I fell in love with a video nasty!

Catch, catch the horror train.

The freeze frame gonna drive you insane!

– “Nasty”, The Damned. (From The Young Ones episode “Nasty”)

Airdate: February 12th, 2015

Written By: Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco

Plot: Steven and Sadie let Lars tag along to Ronaldo’s Horror Club – much to the host’s displeasure. While watching Evil Bear II, the lighthouse starts acting up – much like a thriller. Investigations lead to Sadie getting taken hostage by the lighthouse. With Lars and Ronaldo having a rather frosty relationship, the conspiracy nut contemplates giving said lighthouse a snack to satisfy it – Lars, to be exact.

Review:

You are reading a review of an episode of a television show – a TV show that lures it’s fans in with cute colors, quasi-lesbian aliens, and brilliant songwriting… and attacks them with emotional resonance, psychological terror, and liberal overtones. In one episode, characters mess around at the arcade. In another, characters expose suicidal self-loathing. In another, a kid and his best friend have a very awkward dinner. What type of adventure are we damned to witness for episode 15 of Season 1B? Find out tonight in Night of The Review Nebula 2: Blogspot Takes Up Space on Your Data Plan!

Lars, Ronaldo, Sadie, and Steven are our protagonists of the evening. The first one and the third one are trapped in a rather messed-up relationship, and the second one almost killed the fourth one to fuel his own ego. This can either make for a) juicy drama or b) a trainwreck. Which one is it?

Neither, really – although it is damningly dull.

The decision to stick Lars and Ronaldo in the same episode is a curiosity. The two characters are widely considered the weakest of the show’s motley cast and crew. Part of this stems from a larger sentiment that seems to regard the human characters (Connie and Greg excluded) as weaker and less interesting overall. However, their more off-putting personalities have led to fans putting the duo at the bottom of character rankings. Something about snarky, lying jackasses and insane, murderous conspiracy theorists tends to repel Steven Universe fans.  I guess Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco – the two writers of this episode, and behind some of my favorite episodes – decided to take a gamble on these characters to see if they can work together. I admire the risk. But does it produce an equally fulfilling reward?

Let’s take a look at Lars first. His appearances in the show, again, have produced a rather… mixed reaction so far. He’s lied to Sadie (presumably on several occasions), insulted Stevens thus-far sanctified mother (albeit he showed remorse for it later on), shirks any sort of effort in his work, and generally gives off a dour vibe. Some episodes, however, tend to portray a more nuanced side to him – that he’s not miserable to be miserable, he’s just tragically selfish and unable to comprehend another point of view. He wants to fit in. However, he’s inept at doing so because of his own lack of self-worth.

Personally speaking, I consider him similar to Arnold Rimmer… unfortunately, a poor man’s Arnold Rimmer. Here’s the thing – while Rimmer’s utter unlikability is one of the best aspects of one of the most hilariously cruel shows on television, Lars’s relative off-putting attitude comes off as rather unsettling in this rather optimistic (if often tragic) show. Also, Lars lacks any sort of eccentricities and lovability that Amethyst yields – largely because Amethyst at least comes off as rather well-meaning in her more eccentric behavior. Lars doesn’t have that – coming off as just a miserable, miserable character.

This episode, though, does try and give a method to his madness – by exploring his childhood. Or, at least, an aspect of his childhood that showcased where his misanthropic attitude stems from.  He and Ronaldo, once close friends, had their relationship fray (read, completely collapse) once Ronnie’s personality came to light in a hideout (the lighthouse) they once discovered. While carving their names into the wall, a plank attacked Lars in the head – just as Ronaldo got a picture of the incident. More concerning for the kid than Lars’s well-being and dignity? The quest for fame – thus showing his willingness to sell out a tight bond just to fuel his own ego.

For Lars, this was the moment his misanthropic attitude towards life surfaced. If his best friend was willing to sell him out for profit and fame, then why even bother making friends in the first place? Who else is going to throw him down the river? And it’s implied that he’s been a target before – or at least, was insecure about the spectre of other people. This was not just a violation of friendship – it was the world trashing him. And if that was the way the world worked, well, why not be selfish and odious as well? Without this betrayal, Lars might not lie to Sadie as easily, might be a gentler kid to Steven… who knows? Even as somebody that’s not a huge Lars fan, this made the character a bit more sympathetic to me – a more tragic figure.

Ronaldo, on the other hand…

To balance out any sort of insight – good or bad – for Lars, the episode goes to great lengths to completely and utterly assassinate any hope for Ronaldo being seen as more than just a pitiful jackass. It was present in his mentality from the start. Ignoring his friend and willing to sell him out for fame, he then offers Lars as a sacrifice for the lighthouse Gem, in return for Sadie. So vile is his behavior through the episode that even if the flashback tried to make him more sympathetic, it wouldn’t have worked. Personally, I think the writers tried to showcase that he had this warped sense of self from the start. I think I’d be more comfortable with that development if it wasn’t for Steven Universe‘s later attempts to flesh out other characters with more sympathetic backgrounds. It just feels unpleasant.

I guess it would work for a show like Red Dwarf or Futurama, where the characters tend to be more comically tragic, but even then, it feels like they undershot with Ronaldo here.

Not helping is that neither of the other two characters do much of value here. While Sadie’s love of horror movies does give her some form of character – it helps flesh her out further from the “nice girl next door” that she seemed to represent up until “Island Adventure” – she does little else except get captured by the lighthouse gem. Did she really need to be in this episode? I don’t think so. Even when other episodes have their characters in bit parts, they often get cute lines that reveal a bit more about their character’s modus operandi. Not too much with Sadie here – there are few truly insightful lines for her.

Even stranger, some weird love triangle pops up between Ronnie, Sadie, and Lars in this episode. I think it was an attempt to try and force some conflict in this episode. In any case, I saw less chemistry between Sadie and Ronaldo than I did between Troi and Worf. It’s an unnecessary plot element that feels so out of place, that it winds up discarded in later episodes. (Three words: “My Ohime-Sama!”) The ship rusted and sank before it left dry dock.

As far as Steven goes, his role as the show’s heart does play a minor role here – as the Gem does react to him and showcase where the source of the crisis lies. Plus, he did save Lars, who was a bit of a jackass to him this episode (par for the course, but still). Still, the most interesting aspect of this episode lies in hindsight, given that he hides behind the couch during Evil Bear II. Let’s just say that many of the next 70 episodes are going to a) improve his tolerance for horror movies or 2) drive him to seek out a therapist. If this was a new aspect of his character, I’d be more thrilled with the episode. Unfortunately, it’s not, so, yeah. He’s really just blase this episode – remove him, and there would be no difference in the episode’s plot.

However, since I like to keep positive, I figure that I can complement this episode on keeping with its horror-styled atmosphere, while still mixing in a decent amount of effective comedy. I mean, it’s certainly not unheard of to mix the two (“Demons and Angels” from Red Dwarf did so, even though I think it’s one of the weaker episodes from Series I-X), but it’s certainly a plus in this rather… weak episode.

It’s a shame because this is an episode I really want to like. Hey, it gave some insight onto my second least favorite character, making him slightly more sympathetic, and gave a rather characteristic twist to the “haunted house” cliche. Unfortunately, it also serves to forever damn Ronaldo in my eyes, overcooks Lars’s more odious behavior, underuses Sadie, and just feels unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. It doesn’t help that Raven and Paul are responsible for some of the show’s most poignant and plot-moving episodes, and that this outing couldn’t reach their peaks.

Eh, even the best writers have duds once in a while.

Tidbits:

  • In the flashback itself, we did get Ronaldo using an old Polaroid camera. While a necessary plot device, it does reflect well on the retro touches the writers put into this fantastic show. Fun fact – variants of the camera are actually back for sale at various big box marts.
  • Other than that, I don’t have much regarding this episode. It’s a bit of a wash for me.

Wrap Up:

Favorite Scene: I guess the flashback for giving Lars a more tragic backstory.

Best Character: Lars, albeit somewhat by default (again). That will never be my response ever again.

Memorable Quote: Uh… can’t think of one, unfortunately.

Verdict: Fire Salt. I wanted to pass it for what it did for Lars, but it was just too underwhelming and boring for my tastes. It comes in just below “House Guest” – another episode I was rather lenient towards. I think I’ll be skipping this one in repeats.

Or will I?

For there are always boring days when the episode might be on Cartoon Network, or days when I might be feeling generous. Days like this are certain to come around soon…

…on The Review Nebula.

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