Steven Universe – Last One Out of Beach City Review
“Okay, nobody’s going to say it? She kinda looked like mom. You noticed. I noticed. We all noticed.”
Looking back at the first five episodes of the season, it is clear Steven Universe’s fourth season has been off to an uneven start. Last One Out of Beach City is a strong episode, the second one to come along this season. It is an episode in which Pearl attempts to break out of her comfort zone and present a different side of herself, which is the type of concept that could be a recipe for disaster. The episode wears its teen movie influences on its sleeve, and a common downside of both that subgenre and stories that involve a character pretending to have traits that don’t come naturally to them is they both often rely on cringe comedy. That form of humor runs the risk of having the comedy get swallowed up by the awkward tension inherent in the circumstances, and there was a moment where I feared that would occur in this episode. Fortunately, the writing proved to be up to the challenge and was able to successfully alleviate the sense of unease.
Last One Out of Beach City starts off with Amethyst excitedly revealing that Greg has offered to take her to a rock show. In contrast, Pearl and Steven have settled in with a puzzle for the evening, but, when Greg is forced to cancel, Pearl offers to attend the show with Amethyst. She insists Steven and Amethyst simply “never saw [her] in action,” and that she is capable of breaking the rules. The point where the episode hit a bit of a speed bump for me was when the group goes to the Big Donut to get snacks for the road. Pearl’s attempts to act cool and confident can feel rather cringey, but this fortunately doesn’t last too long. Before they leave, a mysterious girl (she’s literally credited as “Mystery Girl”) shows up, and Steven and Amethyst encourage a notably stunned Pearl to talk to her to practice interacting with humans. She botches the attempt, but, as their leaving town, Steven finally addresses the apparent reason for Pearl’s stiff behavior; the girl looked like Rose. Throughout the series, Steven has been gradually becoming more and more adept at picking up the subtext of a situation. We saw this in Mr. Greg when he clearly grasped the underlying issues that served to divide Greg and Pearl, and it’s nice to see that trend continuing here.
While the narrative of Last One Out of Beach City isn’t actually particularly complex, it feels like Steven Universe’s production staff is testing the waters to see how far they can get in this current political and pop culture climate. In the early seasons, Steven Universe was able to duck some criticism via the fact that the relationships weren’t explicit, and that the Gems, despite using feminine pronouns, having female voice actresses, and having feminine designs, were technically without gender. That being said, the show has certainly gotten more daring, and, to put it simply, the narrative of Last One Out of Beach City involves Pearl getting the number of a woman at a rock show. Again, one could attempt to dismiss this on a number of technicalities, but the context is pretty clear. Regardless of the tides of cultural change, it remains a daring move for a show from the network that once had to go into damage control mode for even suggesting that a female vampire and a princess made of bubblegum may have dated. This also proves to be a strong episode for Pearl. I may have found her initial “cool” personae to be forced and awkward, but her behavior quickly becomes more natural and it begins to feel like she is actually opening up in new ways.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- The is an animation error when Pearl is doing the puzzle and finds the sky piece. It jumps in location when she places down on the table. It isn’t that significant, but it catches the eye.
- The artist who they go to see is Mike Krol who lent both his appearance and music to the episode. It featured his songs “Like a Star” and “Fifteen Minutes” which plays over the ending credits.
- When attempting to evade the cops since Pearl doesn’t have a driver’s license, Pearl hides the car behind a billboard for Ocean Town with proudly declares “Ocean Town: No longer on FIRE.”
- Towards the end, Pearl sheds the pants (no innuendo intended) and the jacket that she had put on before. It’s a nice detail that suggests she doesn’t need to present a false front to reveal her rebellious elements.
- Is the frowney face with the x-ed out eyes a Nirvana reference? It does look a bit like a shirt that I own. It is odd that this is the second review in a row where I had to use the word frowney.
The show sends Pearl on a mission to explore new environments, and, in essence, find new places where she can fit in and new ways that she can express herself. It is a captivation form of development for her character, even if the brief foray into cringe humor rubs me the wrong way.