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It would appear that we are getting our Halloween episode really, really early this year on Steven Universe. And I’m totally cool with that. The Halloween episode has been a tradition throughout television history, and it’s one of the few cliches I unabashedly love. For this show, it means bringing back my favorite minor character, revealing an old connection between him and my least favorite minor character, and a great sense of atmosphere and fun.
Renaldo is a spot-on portrait of a geek (Or nerd, or whatever complicated terminology we’re using to make generalizations that are almost meaningless in our post-modern society), unlike the much maligned portrayals on certain shows named after prominent scientific hypotheses that I could mention. What the creators of this show understand is this: Renaldo’s interests don’t necessarily make him socially awkward. He’s been amicable and somewhat charming in each of his appearances, though he is occasionally a bit of a jerk. He’s also a conspiracy nut, though it seems that this is mostly because he finds it fun, rather than any real, crippling paranoia. So, of course he hosts a movie club in the lighthouse consisting mainly of him, Steven, and whoever else shows up, and of course they watch B-movie from the eighties, and of course Lars has to ruin everything.
I hate Lars. I don’t count this against the show, because for the most part I’m supposed to hate him. Every bit of humanization he’s had has come across like the show is saying “Well, yeah, he’s a jerk, but so what? Some teenagers are jerks. But Lars isn’t an irredeemable jerk; there’s a sliver of human decency under there, and if his adolescence doesn’t go too badly, his good side should come out at some point in his twenties and he’ll be fine. So, meet him half-way, and sympathize with him a bit.” Which I do. But he still a terrible person most of the time, who Steven has a somewhat strange relationship with: he seems to like, and even look up to Lars, while simultaneously being aware that he is possibly the only character on the show less mature than Steven. He’s materialistic, rude, and selfish. But as we find out tonight, he possesses these qualities for the same reason most teenagers do: to hide what a nerd he used to be.
When the video club is interrupted by what appears to be a mysterious supernatural entity (But turns out to be one of the normal supernatural entities we’re used to in this show), Renaldo is delighted. This is right up his alley, and something to add to his highly selective mental file of things which indicate he is not crazy. Lars is at first dismissive, then terrified, and tries to flee the scene immediately. Sadie and Steven are mostly along for the ride, although Steven gets a chance to shine towards the end of the episode when it turns out the haunting was caused by another rogue gem monster. Steven quickly becomes the cool one, as he calmly bubbles it, teleports it back to the temple, and explains its nature somewhat to the others.
But before Steven sends it back to the heart, the gem reveals a secret history between Lars and Renaldo. When they were kids, about Steven’s current age, they were close friends, sharing nerdy pursuits like forming secret clubs and gathering evidence of the paranormal. But when the gem made its presence in the lighthouse known, the one photograph Renaldo got was rather unflattering for Lars. Here we see the seeds of Lars’ desperate desire to fit in being planted: he awkwardly, apologetically, rips up the photo that means so much to Renaldo. The two almost come to blows, with Renaldo eventually shrieking “Why do you care so much about what other people think of you?!” To which Lars retorts “You wouldn’t say that if you knew the things people said about you!”
What a lot of anti-conformity preachers forget is that conforming can seem really, really great. For people who have as little sense of self as an average teenage male, the only affirmation of your own existence is that which comes from other people. So, other people liking you becomes the ultimate goal, above and eliminating the need to be someone worth liking. Clearly, this is what happened to Lars; it’s rather sad, seeing what a numbskull he became after debasing himself for so long. Like I wrote earlier, there’s hope for him yet, as there seems to be something resembling a genuine friendship between him and Sadie, and he even has a grudging respect for Steven. So we can sympathize with him, as hard as he makes it by being so terrible to everyone around him.
Lars takes another step towards redemption today by making peace with Renaldo. Kind of. He mostly blows it off so he can focus on hooking up with Sadie, which is his normal pattern of existence. But any hope for Lars is bound to come in increments, so let’s just take what we got. He has a long way to go, but at least he’s going in roughly the right direction.
Final Rating: Good/Mind-Blowingly Amazing
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