Pearl and Complex Characterization in Current Animation
By: Sam Quattro
We’ve just barely entered the “Summer of Steven” and already there is so much happening. So much to come. But the episode “Mr. Greg” just aired a few hours ago, we podcasted about it, and I feel compelled to continue on talking about it. I won’t go as in depth as the podcast, but there are a few points regarding a certain gem I want to explore further.
Pearl was in love with Rose. We know that. We have however many episodes, songs, moments displaying this affection.
Rose was in love with Greg, and Greg with Rose. We wouldn’t have Steven without that.
Rose was probably in love with Pearl too, but that is more uncertain. They have thousands upon thousands of years of history together, and from the interactions we’ve seen via flashback, it seems apparent that Rose must have loved Pearl too. There are people out there who will say that Rose was manipulative of Pearl, that it was just friendship, that Pearl’s feelings of romantic love were unrequited. Love, emotions, cannot be simplified. Love isn’t a competition. Honestly, Rose probably loved them both at the same time. But whatever the case may be, Pearl was in love with Rose. Rose was in love with Greg. That we know.
The dynamic between Greg and Pearl is interesting to me. They were both in love with the same person and now that that person’s gone, they’re both hurting. And Steven is in the picture which makes things complicated in terms of this relationship. Steven forever bonds Greg with the Crystal Gems. He is the person their leader fell in love with, decided to procreate with, and the father of their most recent member. It’s not like Pearl can run off and never speak to these people again, build new relationships. She could do that, but realistically? She’s a literal alien. She’s been on earth for thousands of years and hasn’t built up a friendship with anyone but those who were directly associated with Rose; she likely hasn’t had anything akin to Amethyst and Vidalia’s relationship. She has no one but the Crystal Gems in this world. Greg and Pearl need to get along for the sake of Steven despite whatever hardship comes from the fact that they were both in love with Rose. Because Rose isn’t here anymore. Steven is. And they both love Steven.
I think the remarkable thing is the utter awkwardness and lack of vitriol between the two. As Pearl says, “isn’t it over? You won, and she chose you, and she loved you, and she’s gone.” There’s nothing to be angry about anymore, no point in being angry. It’s over. But Pearl can’t move on. Understandably so. What is 14 years of grieving compared to a 5,000 year relationship? But Pearl recognizes that she needs to move on. For her sake, everyone else’s sake.
It’s this character depth that makes me so glad to be alive to view this generation of western animation. What I grew up on; Fairly Odd Parents, Spongebob, Powerpuff Girls, etc. simply did not have this. And the ones that were close; Hey Arnold, As Told by Ginger, skewed a bit too young to explore the vast complexities of emotion. Animation is typically pigeon holed into being exclusively for children if it doesn’t have vulgar language and images. But shows like Steven Universe, Adventure Time, The Legend of Korra…these are human stories. Not exclusively silly gags, funny for the sake of funny. They explore the complexities of existing, as grandiose as that sounds. Maybe even more so than most live action prime time shows. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any piece of media describe the emotions that go along with being unable to move on from their former love interest but knowing that it is necessary. I don’t ever think I’ve seen the awkwardness between two different people who loved the same person transpire unless it was fueled with hate. It’s not the tired competition narrative we’ve seen over and over and over again, as if love can be simplified like that (though Pearl’s competition references in her song were a bit jarring in this respect). It’s real.
And while I’m annoyed with the Animation Age Ghetto, I’m glad that Steven Universe is on a network where children can see it. I’m glad that we can have difficult, realistic stories like this. I’m glad that we can have Pearl in a tux for the majority of the episode. I’m glad that Pearl can be in love with Rose and sing about how the boys Rose was in love with never really mattered and how it hurt when she found Greg as if she were in an old Cole Porter musical. I’m glad that we can have this show with complicated emotions for me to enjoy as well as my five year old nephew.