Or: The slow, painful, conversion of Peridot.
(Note: Although I’ve been spoiled about most of the plot to the series right up to the most recent episodes, this post attempts to approximate, as best as I can, the perspective of someone watching on October 15, 2015, the day this episode aired. To aid in maintaining this perspective in future posts any discussion of this post in places I would be privy to should avoid any events depicted or things revealed past this point. You can also read my original tweets while watching this episode.)
Towards the end of the first season of Steven Universe, the show built to a confrontation between the Crystal Gems and the forces they thought they had driven off Earth forever so many thousands of years ago. Steven and the Gems revealed their continued existence to the gem technician Peridot, and through her Homeworld, in Marble Madness, after the midseason finale already resulted in letting Lapis free to tell what she knew about post-rebellion Earth to Homeworld. The subsequent Stevenbomb focused on the anticipation and worry hanging over the Gems after Lapis’ warning of Peridot’s impending return with new gem technology and backup, and eventually, the actual confrontation with those forces.
I’ve already told the story of what happened then and how disappointing it was. While Jasper and the technology she brought left our heroes broken and defeated in the first part of the season finale, the second part involved Garnet thrashing Jasper around while affirming her own status as a fusion (in the same episode we learned of it to begin with) while pushing Peridot’s defeat and the redirection of the gem ship back to Earth to the background. Then Jasper herself gets taken out of the picture not because of the direct actions of the Gems, but by pushing Lapis to fuse with her, which Lapis then uses to drag the resulting fusion to the bottom of the sea. As disappointing a climax as it was, it at least left behind the bread crumbs of plotlines for our heroes to worry about and for the show to pick up later. Besides whatever happened with the unstable fusion of Malachite, there was the fact that Peridot left the ship in an escape pod and wound up who knows where. Both of those would be threads the show would have to take up at some point.
It’s worth noting that while the Gems trembled in fear of Peridot before and during the Stevenbomb, they were more worried about what she represented than Peridot herself. Peridot was a grunt, a peon, a technician sent to check on everything Homeworld left behind. She barely even knew anything about the Earth and had no idea the Crystal Gems had ever existed. For the Gems, though, she was the first gem to arrive on Earth in thousands of years, and unlike Lapis she was unquestionably tied to the forces they drove off back then. Peridot represented the prospect – and after Marble Madness, the reality – that Homeworld would come back in force and restart the war the Gems fought thousands of years ago. After The Message, she was the one known element of the force Homeworld was sending, and the only other thing the Gems knew was that she was coming with backup and with technology far advanced from anything the Gems had previously encountered. Jasper was the big boss of the end of the season, not Peridot, who was hardly any threat at all and was practically subdued by Amethyst and Steven alone. The problem with Jailbreak wasn’t that Jasper got all the focus instead of Peridot, it’s that Garnet and later Lapis defeated Jasper so easily without setting up the theme of fusion that would be her undoing.
So it’s not too surprising that her appearances so far in the second season have mostly had her playing the role of a cackling supervillain who nonetheless never manages to do much more than get away from the Gems. Without the backup she brought to Earth, she can’t do much more than fend for herself as she checks on the Kindergarten and attempts to contact or get back to Homeworld. She’s never really been cut out for the role, but as long as the Gems keep getting in her way at every turn, and as long as she’s stuck on Earth, she’s at least going to try and play the part.
And yet, while the buildup to the end of the first season was about fearing Peridot, and her appearances in the second season have been about her as a joke villain, as the show builds towards the second-season midpoint, it’s been engaged in a storyline about the conversion of Peridot to a potential ally.
Nominally, that’s not really what it’s about, or at least it didn’t start that way. After her attempt to get Steven to use his healing powers to fix the Galaxy Warp didn’t work, either because they’ve been on the fritz since House Guest or because the Warp is a piece of gem technology rather than an actual living thing, Peridot begins panicking about the prospect of still being stranded on Earth when “the Cluster” hatches and begins trying to negotiate with the Gems with information on it. Though the Gems aren’t successful in getting any information out of her, Steven eventually wins her over enough to reveal “the Cluster” to be a massive amalgamation of gem shards deep inside the Earth that, once fully formed, would tear the planet apart from the inside. Thus, for the moment, Peridot and the Gems have formed something of a marriage of convenience to build a machine to drill deep inside the Earth to do something about the Cluster.
Since the project has started, however, the focus of the episodes have been about getting Peridot to throw off her preconceived notions of who the Gems are supposed to be, based on the roles Homeworld says they should have, and accept who the Gems actually are, at least enough to be able to work with them. First, Peridot dismisses any technical expertise Pearl might have at building the drill because, according to her, Pearls are mere servants good only for standing around, looking nice, holding stuff, and doing what they’re told (about which I’ll have plenty more to say in the next character analysis post). Steven holds a giant robot-building competition to determine who has more technical expertise to lead the project, and after he declares the contest a tie, Peridot nominally wins by thrashing Pearl’s robot, but Steven points out that if there’s any truth to Peridot’s description of Pearls in general, the mere fact the Gems’ Pearl came so close to beating someone explicitly intended to be a technician is remarkable, which Peridot ends up begrudgingly conceding.
At least nominally, this episode sets up the same sort of conflict with Amethyst that the last episode set up with Pearl, but it’s really as much about Peridot’s own evolving feelings as anything else. Amethyst starts laughing at every one of Peridot’s overly technical, descriptive names for things and her descriptions of what makes the Gems defective and dysfunctional in her eyes, until she gets to Amethyst herself, the one member of the Gems that comes closest to her idea of what a gem should be, and starts making fun of her for being, as Jasper called her in The Return, “a puny, overcooked runt”. Amethyst starts barely speaking to her, and when Steven points out that she hurt her feelings, that seems to hurt Peridot’s feelings. Peridot thought she was bonding with Amethyst by being so funny in her eyes, but instead lost the respect of the one gem she thought she would have the most respect for. She gives a tape-recorded apology admitting that, between her failure of her original mission and her inability to get along with Amethyst, she isn’t much better than what she considers the Gems to be.
The latter half of the episode makes clear in a way that wasn’t before how attuned Peridot is becoming to the Gems’ way of doing things. When she shoves Amethyst out of the way of an out-of-control gem drill it certainly seems to be out of a genuine concern for her, not merely trying to get on her good side. And it certainly seems clear she’s learning how to handle interpersonal relations in a way she probably never did as someone loyal to Homeworld. She seems to have been either grown or trained to think very logically, to process information and relay it, not to deal with the complexities of other gems, let alone gems so divorced from their Homeworld-given roles. She’s only a few days removed from losing her limb enhancers, which she’d come to rely on as giving her literally any capabilities whatsoever, whether physical or mental. (“I don’t know anything without my screen,” she told Steven in When It Rains.) So it’s not just Amethyst’s reaction that’s foreign to her, it’s her own reaction to that reaction. She’s not just learning what makes the Crystal Gems tick, she’s learning what makes her tick. She “wants to understand”, she says, and whether that comes from a place of fascination, intelligence-gathering, or genuine interest, it at least shows she’s willing to meet the Gems on their own terms rather than force them into the roles she thinks they should have. And in the process, she may be starting to come around to the Gems’ way of thinking.
At the end of Back to the Barn, Peridot wonders why the Gems are still walking away with and praising Pearl instead of listening to her despite winning the competition to be in charge of building the drill, protesting, “What about the rules?!?” Garnet’s response is simply, “Welcome to Earth.” On Earth, a Pearl doesn’t need to have a master, a fusion doesn’t have to be a “war machine”, a “puny, overcooked runt” doesn’t have to feel like one, a hybrid of gem and human can exist at all, and a Peridot can learn who she is when all her Homeworld-given technology is stripped away from her. The marriage between Peridot and the Crystal Gems may still be a marriage of convenience, but in order to maintain it Peridot is learning how to play by and appreciate the Crystal Gems’ rules, and in the process she’s slowly being converted to their worldview and developing a sense of herself that may not have been possible on Homeworld. Welcome to Earth, Peridot. It’s not what you expected, but it’s far richer than you could have imagined.