Steven Universe 3×10 Review: The New Lars
After the feels fest of “Mr. Greg” and the Gem-nanigans of “Too Short to Ride,” it’s nice to return to Beach City and its human residents with “The New Lars.”
Continuing the pattern of the Steven’s Summer Adventure event whereby Steven seems to be settling into his powers both new and old, “The New Lars” showed him mastering corporeal possession. This time, it wasn’t one of the Watermelon Stevens, which he created from his own spit; it was Lars. We do learn more about the grumpier half of the Big Donut duo: his real name is Laramie, he is biracial, his dad’s name is Dante, he isn’t doing great in school. But this episode wasn’t so much about Lars turning over a new leaf as it was Steven learning about boundaries. This is admittedly familiar territory for Steven Universe. Instead of working on his extroverted overexuberence, Steven has to work on his magical ability to possess the bodies of sentient life from within while he sleeps. It’s a good thing Steven Quartz U. is such a mensch, or he’d be terrifying.
I remember when “Chille Tid” first premiered, I had hoped that Steven’s dream-mind-reading powers were not a one off, and we would see them explored further throughout the seasons. I love Steven Universe for so rarely disappointing me. I love Steven Universe for introducing this power deliberately at different levels of urgency as Steven learned to control it, so that when he uses it in some epic battle or epic diplomatic strategy it will feel epicly satisfying. And we can also laugh and say, “remember when Steven used that amazing power to make Lars wear heart ear plugs?”
The thing is, it would have been nice to see Lars grow, a little! We now know that his parents are lovely people, so his home life isn’t bad. We know he has two friends, Sadie and Steven, who stick by him whether he deserves it or not. Even the Cool Kids, who would be bullies in a lesser television program, are tolerant of Lars. And as soon as “the new Lars” shows up (aka Steven puppetting Lars’s body) they warm right up to him. All it takes is a belief that Lars is now “a good guy who likes making people feel good,” and they are inviting him onto their dance crew! (Um, Crewniverse, can we see that animated, please? Is a Gem somehow pretending to be a human on the winning team? I know you’re thinking Amethyst but what about Garnet.)
Instead, Lars seems to remain like the sloths, only ever moving forward by inches. At the end of the episode he finally seems to have an epiphany that his mean behavior is the reason he has so much trouble getting the approval he craves– but then he discovers that Sadie preferred the old him. While there’s obviously a lot to be found in a good, old-fashioned “be yourself” moral, there’s a big difference between ‘naturally grumpy and sarcastic’ vs. ‘continually cruel to everyone around you’. Hopefully future episodes will show that Lars really has learned his lesson.
Ultimately, however, Lars in this episode was just vessel for Steven, both figuratively and literally, to learn a lesson of his own. Steven’s genuine kindness means that he’d never deliberately use his powers to harm someone. One of his biggest flaws, however, is that his eagerness means that he sometimes has difficulty understanding other peoples’ perspectives. In his view, it’s obvious that Lars and Sadie ‘love’ each other– Lars just needs to come clean. Similarly, Steven knows exactly what Lars needs to say to get in good graces of both Lars’ parents and the cool kids. What he didn’t realize is the importance of choice involved; if Steven puts the words in Lars’ mouth, they mean nothing. Here we see Steven testing the ethical boundaries of his body-controlling abilities, but also something far more applicable for our budding diplomat– that sometimes, you just can’t solve someone’s problems for them.
“The New Lars” was an odd episode, overall. Certainly not one of my favorites, as much from the awkward comedy caused by Steven-in-Lars body as the presence of Lars himself. However, it did provide us with some deeper insights to our characters, and gave us a lot to chew on.