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May 17, 2016 / Angela Sylvia

Animated Distractions: Peridot, “An Effort to Understand”

The majority of Steven Universe spends time with only three gems — Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. As Steven’s trio of moms, they’ve taught Steven not just about being a Gem, but also about love, bravery, and loyalty. And Steven, in turn, has helped them understand friendship, persistence, and heartache — basically, helping them to be a little more human.

Because, despite their vibrant emotions (and tendency to break into song) the Crystal Gems are aliens, and they had to learn, and understand, and change things about themselves in order to exist on Earth.

Peridot RainEnter Peridot, the newest “Crystal Gem,” as she says with a kind of manic sarcasm. She’s been stranded on a planet she didn’t even want to come to, amongst people she’s been told are traitors to their kind. She has faith in her superiors and a deep belief in the system she was born and raised in, a system that denounces everything the Crystal Gems have ever done.

She joins the Crystal Gems in a common goal, first as a prisoner, then as a reluctant ally, and, finally, miraculously, as a friend. But, to get to that final point, there are a lot of things — new, foreign concepts — that she’s asked to accept:

  • To see the world, and the people on it, as beautiful, rather than useless and expendable.
  • That a society that qualifies each person as inherently better or worse, more or less, based solely on what they’re born as, is stifling, wasteful, wrong.
  • That words have the power to make someone laugh — and to make that same person hurt.
  • That some relationships won’t make sense to you, but just because they’re different, just because you don’t understand, doesn’t mean they aren’t valid, that they aren’t wholly right.

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These are things that the other Crystal Gems have had to learn over the many, many, many years; even Garnet struggles to understand her own self in the beautiful episode “The Answer”. But Peridot has to learn these things now, quickly, before the viewers’ eyes. What makes watching her learning process such a pleasure, though, is how she learns. She makes assumptions and mistakes, and even if she’s angry or disbelieving when Steven and the others call her out on it, she takes it to heart, she examines it, she adjusts. And she acknowledges when she just doesn’t understand.

 

Everyone’s perplexed by other people, particularly the ones that lie outside your own knowledge and experience. I couldn’t figure out why a friend in high school would want to cut herself, and I once said, out loud, “I just don’t understand transgendered people.” I get it now (or at least as much as someone without that experience can get it) but it came after time, through dedicated thought. Mostly, that understanding came from a desire to understand people who were different from me.

Peridot Crystal Gems“I’m still learning,” Peridot says in an apology to Amethyst. “I hope you understand. I want to understand.” And later, when Peridot tries to understand Garnet, and fails, Garnet is still proud of her. “Because you made an effort to understand me.” It’s through that effort that Peridot grows, and learns, and connects with people she may have never known otherwise — people, she realizes now, really are worth protecting.

 

(And because this is Steven Universe, you know she’s part of the group when she gets to sing a song.)

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