Where they’re going, they don’t need (rail)roads– it’s time for the Shorty Squad to travel “Back to the Kindergarten.”
The whole scenario in “Back to the Kindergarten” is treated very much like the aftermath of a breakup. Peridot mopes around, listening to the same sad music on repeat, feeling terrible after Lapis’ abrupt departure. Especially interesting, considering the last episode deliberately paralleled Lapis and Connie together. Connie isn’t Steven’s girlfriend, but she’s definitely his romantic interest, which suggests things about Peri and Lapis– or things that might be. Regardless, it doesn’t matter what the exact nature of their relationship is. It was deeply, deeply important to Peridot, and one of the most meaningful experiences she’s had in her relatively short time as a free Gem. Sometimes, the loss of friends can be even tougher than date mates, because there isn’t the same social expectation to provide a clear explanation. Sometimes they just… fly out of your life.
So Amethyst and Steven team up to help get Peridot out of her funk. She is, after all, living in Steven’s bathroom, which means he has to do “three things” in his kitchen sink… the least embarrassing of which is washing his hair. Their idea is to take her to the Prime Kindergarten, so Peridot can show off how much more she knows than Steven and Amethyst, just like the good old days. Indeed, “Back to the Kindergarten” contains heavy parallels to “Too Far.” But after the events of the Wanted Arc, in which Amethyst met her Famethyst and gained a new sense of positive identity, her and Peridot’s viewpoints have swapped. It is wonderful to see Amethyst’s growth in this regard.
“Everything’s different now! Man, I used to think this place was full of empty holes, but now it’s like, it’s empty with holes which were once full!”
Peridot, on the other hand, no longer admires the Prime Kindergarten for being a paragon of Gem innovation. All she can see is the barren wasteland, nothing like the countryside she shared with Lapis, which teemed with life. Even though it’s tough to see Peridot so glum, it’s nice to see Amethyst keep her emotions in check when Peridot insults her place of origin, and then Amethyst herself– her reaction to Peridot’s correction that only the “well-made” Amethysts are all gone is simply “not better!” The little Quartz has grown so, so much since “On the Run.”
When they discover a beautiful flower growing in the Kindergarten’s wasteland, everyone is excited by the possibility it presents. Could the Kindergarten heal, after all? The two Quartzes encourage Peridot to use her farming expertise to test to see if anything can grow. Peridot is cautiously hopeful, relishing the chance to combine the skillsets from two different phases of her life. Amethyst’s glad to see her friend doing well, and energized by seeing her original home transformed. Having a project to focus on makes Steven the perkiest he’s been since returning from space.
But overnight, all the sunflowers wither and die.
Distraught, Peridot lashes out, and crushes the original, still surviving flower…. Only for it to turn out not to be a flower at all, but the nose of a mole-rat monster/corrupted Gem. Peridot is promptly gobbled up, and her friends come to the rescue in Smoky Quartz form, another callback to the Shorty Squad Kindergarten Excursion in “Beta” and “Earthlings”. While I sure was encouraged by Smoky’s adorable, chubby grin, Peridot was in no position to be comforted. One day we might get to see Smoky and Peri hanging out in less serious circumstances, but now is not the right time.
“Once you mess something up, it’s ruined for good and nothing will ever be able to grow again.” Boy, is that a relatable break-up feeling.
Whether or not Lapis truly is a lost cause remains to be seen. I suspect not, but also suspect it will take a long, long time for her to come around. Regardless, the important takeaway from “Back to the Kindergarten” is this: even if one relationship is beyond salvaging, and can never regrow, there’s plenty of fertile land out there where new gardens can flourish.
Steven Universe has always had something of a special flair for sunsets… but man, the lighting in this episode truly was gorgeous. What a wonderful shot, three friends, relishing the glory of Earth’s nature.
Author: KK Bracken & Laura B
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