Steven Universe – Episode 66 “Historical Friction”

Ep. #66
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: Jul. 16th, 2015
SONG: No
SYNOPSIS: Jamie puts on a theatrical play based on the man who discovered Beach City.Jamie informs Steven that he’s putting on a play at the local community theater. It’ll focus on William Dewey, the founder of Beach City and Mayor Dewey’s ancestor. Steven auditions for the play and since he’s the only one who bothered to volunteer, he’s given the eponymous role. This leaves Jamie to play everyone else, but he won’t let that deter him; he’ll make his first big production count! Since Mayor Dewey is the direct descendent of the town’s founder, he personally funded the play and wrote the script, but it badly whitewashes William Dewey as a man who is nothing less than perfect. Stuck with a slipshod budget and a bland story that offers no exciting conflict, Jamie protests for a better script, but Mayor Dewey won’t budge.

Steven shares Jamie’s disappointment and he eventually complains about it to Pearl. She reads the script herself and reacts incredulously at the heavy inaccuracies. After all, she did meet William Dewey face-to-face centuries ago and he was not the shining beacon Mayor Dewey is trying to foster. Pearl proceeds to doctor the writing. Steven presents the revised script to Jamie afterwards and the actor is overwhelmed at the real, human emotion behind it. Now this is a play worth doing: an engaging tale about a man who genuinely struggled to make a name for himself. Too bad Mayor Dewey is still funding the play, not to mention it goes beyond what his budget paid for. Steven encourages Jamie to keep moving forward regardless. Inspired, Jamie sets out to create a show for the ages!

At the night of the play, Mayor Dewey, his son, a good amount of Beach City’s townsfolk, and Pearl are among the audiences. Pearl is especially adorable here because she waves to Steven at one point and praises his acting skills much like a doting mother would. The play barely survives with its shoestring budget, but by gum, Steven and Jamie give it their all. The biggest highlight is Jamie acting out all three of the Crystal Gems simutaneously (with Amethyst as an impromptu mop puppet.)

The play reveals the real history of William Dewey, a dunce who nobody believed would ever find new land even if he was standing right on it. It seems his peers were right to ridicule him, he’s a cowardly wimp! But lo and behold William eventually runs into the Crystal Gems while out at sea. They warn him the upcoming land is too dangerous for humans and that he should turn back now. William heeds their advice, but he clumsily loses his sail, stirring his ship into the middle of the ocean. William and his first mate, Buddy, soon run afoul of a deadly sea creature. Buddy dies defending his captain, but leaves with parting words, telling him he is brave because he tries in spite of his failures. The monster nearly does William in, too, if not for a Giant Woman (I always assumed this was Garnet, Pearl, Amethyst, and Rose’s fusion) stepping in to smash the beast. She then scoops up William’s boat to safety and tells him once again that this land is not safe for his kind. William plants his foot down and declares his intent to stay because his perseverance is what makes him great. He almost names this new land after his late friend, but Buddy turns out to have survived the monstrosity, so Beach City it is.

Mayor Dewey is sweating buckets, but the audience loves the play and that enthusiasm expands to him. Even his own son, Buck, is appreciative of his great-ancestor’s struggles. The play is a hit and Jamie quickly takes to his minor fame, signing autographs from the Beach City denizen (and a quick pat on the butt from Nanefua.) Mayor Dewey approaches Jamie to congratulate him for the amazing production and then promotes him as Head Director of the Beach City Community Theater. Jamie has to use all his willpower to accept the offer with a calm face. Steven credits Pearl for her help as an “insider’s source”, then he tries to end the episode with a joke, but gets nothing.

If “Historical Friction” wasn’t part of a Steven Bomb, it would have flown by as a standard slice-of-life look at Beach City’s denizens, but out of the five episodes that encompassed the bomb, this one stood out by a considerable margin upon first glance. For the uninformed, Steven Bombs are special events Cartoon Network promotes where they usually air five Steven Universe episodes in a row – one per day – that accompanies a specific arc or unified theme. Starting from “Cry for Help”, this specific Steven Bomb focused on the Crystal Gems’ lowest point as a team, so to have an episode about a lighthearted play felt a little out of the way. “Historical Friction” as a standalone filler would be a much needed breather after a set of heavyhanded offerings on its own, but it does fit the arc’s overall theme: creating flawed characters is a necessary component to drive conflict in a growing narrative and ultimately a step in developing nuanced protagonists. This is especially true when a character genuinely causes a mistake that has severe repercussions that they have to fix in order to be a better person. This often invites a lot of criticisms from the audience who is quick to dismiss if said character dares to commit an act that may seem out of their moral circle. Mayor Dewey’s nervous reaction seems to echo as one for the creators of Steven Universe and the anticipation they must have carried throughout production as they wondered how their fans will perceive Pearl’s actions once the episode aired. It was a below the belt moment for her, but by taking that risk, they created a richer, layered individual. Your mileage will vary on how well they delivered it and a character committing a harmful act is only one source of conflict out of hundreds that can drive a story, but never let it be said that Steven Universe can’t go meta on its audience every so often.

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