Steven Universe Review: “Joy Ride” (Season 2, Episode 2)

An image from Steven Universe's
Now, this is what summer’s all about. Top down, Ozzy’s Boneyard on the radio, and an emotionally scarred 13-year old in the front passenger seat. Did Top Gear ever capture this beauty?

“I only wanted to see you laughing… in the pizza rain.” – Buck Dewey. And with that, the characters disappeared in a little red corvette, partying like it’s 1999, going uptown.

Airdate: March 26th, 2015

Written By: Hilary Florido and Katie Mitroff

Plot: The Gems apparently have never heard of the cliche, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, and are on edge after the recent events – Steven in particular. After a long day of picking up debris, Steven is woken up by the Cool Kids, who convince him to come on a ride. Out in the sticks, they come across a pod… Peridot’s pod…

Review:

Steven’s life is both the road to heaven and the road to hell.

On one hand, we have a protagonist that is discovering these various superpowers, is half-alien, lives with (and was all but raised by) three warrior alien ladies, has an intellectual and compassionate confidante in Connie, a kickass ex-rocker (if somewhat dorky) dad, and isn’t afraid to showcase his own emotions. Steven’s one of the friendliest, warmest, happiest protagonists in all of animated television, and anybody that meets him is bound to have a good time.

On the other hand, he’s the son of a separatist, never even got to meet her, has been labeled public enemy number one by an alien civilization millions of miles away, is only just learning to control his powers, is naive to a fault, has been kept in the dark for his whole life so far, and is being raised by three soldiers who have no idea what the hell they are doing. He’s screwed, and anybody that allies with him is in for a world of emotional shock.

We want to be Steven… and yet, in some ways, we don’t want anything to do with the kid.

How does the kid deal with the pressures of his two lives? Well, “Joy Ride” provides an intriguing answer, thanks in part to the Cool Kids. Not too much to say about this one, but we do get some more insight into their behavior.

The Cool Kids, as I mentioned before, aren’t cool because they fit a criteria cliched attitudes of what being cool is. At their heart, they’re just your average trio of teenagers, dealing with their own life issues that you would find on, say, Coronation Street or something to that effect. Sour Cream’s stepdad is trying to get him out of entertainment and onto the Downeaster Alexa, Buck Dewey has to deal with his father’s PR strategies, and Jenny has the dynamic with her far less rebellious sister. What makes them cool is their emotional honesty – even if they do have a rather cynical outlook on their own lives, they don’t try and put up a facade. They are what they are.

Such is the nature of their lives that they do get episodes on their own merits. Buck Dewey has already “Shirt Club”,  Sour Cream will have “Drop Beat Dad”, and Jenny will have “Kiki’s Pizza Delivery Service”. They can carry episodes on their own. As a group, they really shine.

So what would happen if they hung out with a kid whose issues far outclassed theirs in terms of objective gravity?

Steven’s been through hell over the past half-season. He had to pacify one of the most powerful gems that the crew ever came across, believes that Pearl resents his mere existence, watched Amethyst suffer a violent emotional breakdown, was kidnapped by soldiers, kidnapped by an Alex Jones wannabe… you know, one question that comes up every other episode is “do the concept of therapists not exist in the Stevenverse?”

Yes, we’ve gotten brief breaks as a viewer. But only brief breaks. And only for the viewer. In the show, Steven’s been on a nonstop rollercoaster of emotions for months. It’s gotten to the point where he even briefly contemplated shutting himself from the world to protect his closest friends. (Connie, thankfully, brought him back to Earth.. figuratively.) A full blown emotional break is not out of the question. And just a forewarning, this stress is going to build over the next two/three seasons. Big time.

But back to this episode. Steven’s status on the edge stands in stark contrast to the Cool Kids, and this comes out when they come across Peridot’s pod. (So, she didn’t need Stephen Harper to bum her a ride to Delmarva…) Steven’s trying to ward them away, only for the Crystal Gems to mess around with the pod. Eventually, even Steven falls in with the cool kids. Consider it his emotional surrender – he can’t take the stress, this state of being on edge, anymore.

It’s all subconscious, though. He’s not supposed to be the leader of a subversive organization. He’s 13! Steven’s supposed to be playing video games, eating pizza, watching football, and suffering an emotional breakdown due to puberty, not due to him being the most wanted entity in the universe.

I mean, my God.

Unfortunately, Steven still doesn’t really know the controls of the escape pod. Peridot’s pod takes a life of its own and begins threatening the immediate few square feet, up to and including the Cool Kids. Steven’s trapped inside, and the Crystal Gems are alerted. Whoops. Garnet comes within inches of pulverizing Steven inside the pod, only for Jenny to stop her in the nick of time. As you could understand, the Crystal Gems aren’t too pleased with this turn of events, and seem willing to actually ban Steven from dinner for 1000 years, but are talked down by the Cool Kids.

With this scene, what this episode ultimately goes for is a more balanced take on the peer pressure message that we see often in animated television, particularly at shows intended for younger viewers.

This kid, really, has relatively few peers of his age group. There’s Connie, Peedee… and that’s it, really. The Cool Kids are as close as humanly possible. They were kids, yearn for that sense of innocence, and want Steven to retain as much of that innocence, as much of that naivete, as humanly possible. They heard him vent and were disturbed at the details he exposed.

Again, this ties into the fact that the Crystal Gems don’t know anything like this before. As we’ve seen so far and as we’ll confirm in the future, all Gems are created as adults. They’re immediately thrust into the dogs of war, forced to militarize and thrown into castes by a callous government. The concept of childhood is (pardon the pun) alien to them.

The Crystal Gems have unwittingly taken their support of egalitarianism to a fault – not out of malice, but out of a lack of awareness. Now that Steven’s proclaimed himself a Crystal Gem during “The Return”, they’ve gone all-in. All while the group are collectively on edge. I don’t blame them for being on edge, but wow, did it backfire here. Indeed, after coming to the conclusion that Steven’s life has pretty much been hell recently, they decide to loosen up. Not just on Steven, but collectively.

To be honest, this episode isn’t the most interesting in the Steven Universe canon. You could sure as hell do a lot worse, but this episode does tend to be overlooked a little, and not without reason. There’s little particularly memorable here, particuarly in terms of comedy. What there is, however, is the fact that this episode serves to continue the main plot thread of Season 2 – that of a Peridot lost. The Peridot lost. And she’s not far. She can’t be that far. That alone gives the episode some lasting effects – making it just a bit more haunting.

That, and there is some small level of insight into how the Crystal Gems act as a unit. If they recognized that they might not be the best guardians in “The Test”, this episode does showcase their slow, slow improvement. Not that they were particularly bad guardians before, but here, they become just a little bit closer to human. And only just a little, given just how human these aliens are already.

All around, “Joy Ride” is alright. Not too much to talk about, not too much to complain about. It’s A-OK.

Tidbits:

  • If I mentioned this before, I’m sorry, but mad credit to Lamar Abrams in his portrayal of Buck. I’ve been more critical of his episodes (his style isn’t really my cuppa), but
  • Not really a whole lot to unpack, just that it looks like Steven Universe is in the middle of what will likely be the longest hiatus in the show’s history. To which, I respond… I watched Gravity Falls. There was a year’s hiatus between the two seasons. Still, why didn’t CN just hold off on Season 5 until they were ready to air the season as a whole? Create some level of excitement!
  • Also, the great teevee prohibition? Repealed. The specter of “Fusion Cuisine” will never depart, but it’s been put at bay.

Wrap-Up:

Favorite Scene: Gotta go with Steven spilling his guts in the convertible. Really puts his issues in perspective, huh?

Best Character: I would go for a three-way tie between the cool kids, but Buck paraphrasing Prince puts him over the top… I never meant to cause you any sorrow….

Memorable Quote: “He did break us out of space jail.” – Amethyst. Well, that’s a good argument in case Steven screws up in the future.

Verdict: Silver. It’s good, but not great. In terms of ranking, I’m throwing it in at #40 between “Serious Steven” and “Island Adventure”. It’s a fine episode, but nothing really that special. Skipping it ain’t going to drive you too far off course.

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