Steven Universe – Episode 72: “Back To The Barn”

Ep. #72
ORIGINAL AIR DATE: Oct. 8th, 2015
SYNOPSIS: The Crystal Gems team up with Peridot to stop the Cluster, but it’s a difficult process.

Peridot finally explains the Cluster to the Crystal Gems. Since she doesn’t have her Limb Enhancers, she provides visuals adorably drawn by Steven on a cardboard box. The subject is no laughing matter though, the Cluster has been dormant inside the center of the Earth for thousands of years. It’s comprised of millions of Gem Shards and it’s about ready to fuse. When it does, the Cluster’s physical form will break the planet apart. Both Pearl and Peridot suggest they build a vehicle that can withstand the necessary pressure and temperature to reach the center. Peridot quickly dismantles whatever gadgets she can find around the house, but Steven suggests a better idea that doesn’t involve destroying his things: the barn!

The place is loaded with junk that no one cares about –- perfect for a Gem machine! Their goal is to build a drill so they can dig into the Earth. Pearl advises a blueprint of the machine. Peridot thanks her for the suggestion, then condescendingly tells her to get lost, but Pearl refuses. Steven explains to a confused Peridot that Pearl is a mastery of engineering, but that puzzles her further. According to Peridot, Pearls are suppose to ““stand around and look nice and hold stuff for you.”” In “Friend Ship”, Pearl confessed to Garnet during a moment of guilt and desperation that she lacked self-worth; she’s “just “a Pearl.”” This is not a grammar error: in Homeworld, there are hundreds of Pearls, all made to serve higher elite Gems. Peridot is only going by what she grew up with, so she treats Pearl exactly the way others have. It’s normal for her. “”Back to the Barn”” reveals more to the rebellion than just a hostile planetary takeover: Homeworld thrives on a culture that invalidates individuality. Cookie-cutter Gems of the same type that numbers in the hundreds are expendable or lack anything special. And Pearl knows it.

Pearl refuses to back away from the project, so Peridot simply tells her she’ll be under her temporary ownership until the task is complete. Pearl is far from happy about this and the two get into a shouting match. Steven further vouches for Pearl and her credibility as a technician. The two would be better off working together, but Peridot is incredulous that Pearl could claim to be better than her, let alone her equal. Steven has a brilliant idea: hold a competition and build the best robots ever!

They immediately dive into the barn and build their respective bots in minutes. Pearl’s robot is naturally graceful and thin while Peridot favors bulk and strength. Steven hosts a “Robolympics and declares whoever wins the competition will be the one in charge of the Drill. I love that both Amethyst and Garnet are getting into this, rooting for Pearl from the sideline without a single protest.

Steven’s categories range from plausible (best speed, best strength, best balance, etc) to amusingly unnecessary (best at ballet, best at rock-paper-scissors, etc.) Ultimately, it ends in a tie. That means they get to work together as equals! Steven, you clever little rascal. Pearl is fine with it, but Peridot retaliates. She dukes it out with Pearl, constantly screaming that she know her place. Pearl responds the only way bigoted jerks deserve to be responded to: with a punch in the face. “”That’s right! I am a Pearl! What you say may be true, but it doesn’t matter, I’m still going to kick your butt!”” Pearl almost lives up to her words, but Peridot catches her by the legs and smacks her around.

Peridot relishes in her victory and demands praise from the others. The Crystal Gems ignore her to see if Pearl is alright, then supports her for hanging in there. Peridot is flabbergasted. She can’t conceive a reason why everyone is gravitating to “a “common Pearl”” and not praising her. Steven gets it through her head that Pearl is anything but ordinary. If all the Pearls back in Homeworld are the same as Peridot described them to be, then Pearl stands out. She’s trained and built an identity for herself, able to think and act of her own accord. That isn’t common at all! It is, as Steven affectionately put it, amazing.

Peridot later approaches Pearl and apologizes by admitting the latter’s skills as worthy. She agrees to work together to build that drill.

This episode brings a lot of Pearl’s past behaviors to light, especially her glowing commendation of Rose. I can assume she spent a good amount of her life in Homeworld under the belief that as a Pearl, her entire existence would be to serve others and stand around. When Rose fought for Earth, she didn’t just save a planet, she gave opportunity to the earthbound Gems to be independent from an oppressive society. Pearl did work hard to be her own person, but her devotion and loyalty to Rose stems from internalized programming. She served Rose, repeatedly sacrificed herself for Rose, and has done everything that benefited Rose. The difference between her and a Pearl is that she did this of her own choice. It was motivated by love, but still acted based on deeply ingrained indoctrination. Suddenly Pearl devastatingly telling Rose, “”Why won’t you let me do this for you?”” back in “Sworn to the Sword” takes on an entirely new context. That lack of self-worth is also why she was addicted to Garnet’s power and confidence during the Sardonyx episodes; she felt unique and outstanding and not at all like a superfluous Gem. By validating herself against someone who represented everything she fought against is a fantastic demonstration of character development. She is a smart, capable Gem with her own conviction and no one – lest of all a no-good smarmy little imp – is going to tell her otherwise.

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