Well, now. Remember last week, when Steven talked about how Lapis Lazuli could move to Empire City, get a job at a local coffee shop and come home to a wacky roommate?
Turns out he’s at least one-third prophetic; Peridot is super wacky. And we got to see that full wackiness on display in “Barn Mates.” Let’s dive into the details of an episode equal parts full of laughter and cringes.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote that Peridot had finally become one of the Crystal Gems, fully forsaking the cold reason of Homeworld for the emotional depth of Earth. It was a great start, but that’s all it was: a start. If we learned anything from “Barn Mates,” it’s that Peridot remains a relative child without an independent identity. And that’s particularly problematic for her relationship with Lapis Lazuli, who still sees her as “that jerk who interrogated me,” the reason she can’t go back to Homeworld. “It’s different!” Peridot pleads. “I’m different now!” But Peridot struggles to show exactly how she’s changed, because all she really is right now is a clean slate.
Peridot’s thirst for approval pervades this episode, from her repeated outreach to Lapis, to her subtle adoption of Amethyst’s mannerisms. (If it wasn’t obvious enough from her delivery of “I got yo number,” how about the fact that Peridot and Amethyst both respond to the crashed Homeworld ship with a big ol’ “Holy smokes.”) It’s hard to blame her, because, ever since she befriended Steven, Peridot has had love and attention lavished upon her. After so long on Homeworld without any of that TLC, she’s probably addicted to the positivity.
I was an overnight camp counselor for six summers, and right now, Peridot reminds me of the campers I’ve had who thrive on counselor praise. It’s sometimes a delicate task to handle these kids, since they’re often the ones who used to be the absolute worst, and are out to prove to everyone that they’ve gotten better. Give them too much approval, and their improvement could become contingent solely on extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation; shoot them down too hard, and they could go right back to being the absolute worst. The way to approach the situation is to gently encourage them to keep up the empathy, while emphasizing to them that behavior, not words, is what really changes people’s minds. To win people over, I always told these campers, they had to stop defining themselves in the negative and carve out a new identity through their actions. That’s what Peridot needs to do if she’s truly committed to change.
The attempts Peridot makes at empathy throughout “Barn Mates” are hilariously misguided—unlike Lapis, we find them endearing because we know Peridot’s still in the early stages of deprogramming from her Homeworld mentality. She’s new to this whole “feelings” business. But this episode really hits home when Steven suggests that Peridot give Lapis something of her own, and Peridot decides to hand over her tape recorder. The tape recorder is essentially all of Peridot’s identity here on Earth—or, rather, it’s a receptacle into which Peridot dumped her entire old self. Without it, she’s not even defined in the negative anymore; she’s just Peridot, a lost soul on this beautiful, lonely planet.
So when Lapis crushes the tape recorder and calls it “garbage,” then tells Peridot to leave, what’s really happened?
1. Peridot realizes a cold, hard fact about Earth: some people will always hate you.
2. Peridot heads off over the hills to finally become her own gem.
I was sort of shocked at the grace with which Peridot handled Lapis’ rejection, and it’s probably a defining moment for her as a character. In her facial expression, you can see her almost literally swallowing her pride, her loneliness, and her overwhelming desire to be loved. And at the same time, Peridot sees that she’s going to have to cut her own Gem on Earth, just as Lapis will have to do.
It would have been fascinating to see Peridot figuring out a new life for herself on her own, but alas, that’s not going to happen with this Homeworld ship in the picture. She’ll probably be just as needy, and just as adorable, until they’re gone.
It seems like we’ve known Lapis for a long time, but do we really know her? Before last week’s episode, we had only ever seen her in crises, whether she was taking away the ocean, or trying to save Steven by fusing with Jasper. In “Same Old World,” we began to see the real Lapis Lazuli—a perennially sad, untrusting Gem who’s been a prisoner in some form or another for millennia—and in “Barn Mates,” we see the consequences of that past: she can be a real dick.
Granted, she has ample reason to despise Peridot, her interrogator back on Homeworld. And Peridot’s card to Lapis (“You were just full of such useful information”), funny as that is, doesn’t exactly help matters. Neither does the lake. But does that excuse Lapis crushing Peridot’s tape recorder? No way in hell. That was cold-blooded.
It’s time to acknowledge that Lapis, venerated by the fan base for so long as this mysterious, fascinating, almost romantic entity, is the equivalent of a self-centered, moody teenager. This is best encapsulated in the line, “I’m kind of taking a break from water right now,” delivered Regina George-style, but Lapis’ teen-ness is all-encompassing. Angsty teenagers feel trapped by their parents, their siblings and the rules of society that conspire to ruin their ideal lives; Lapis was actually imprisoned, yes, but the subjective feeling is equivalent.
Many adolescents would be content to sit in their rooms alone all day, much the way Lapis lays on top of the silo with an expression of pure bliss before Peridot annoys her from her rest. And to be fair, it’s probably on Steven for not giving Lapis her space. But the fact is that Earth exists for sharing, and living on Earth is by nature a compromise; no matter how intransigent our inherent self-interest gets on this point, balancing our own needs and wants with others’ has been the key to peaceful existence since humans formed societies (and since before Hobbes and Locke and Rousseau wrote about social contracts). Even crazy hermits who live out in the woods need to negotiate their space with other creatures of the forest. That’s something Lapis doesn’t yet understand, and as much as we get why that is—after thousands of years of not even owning her selfhood, it’s natural to desire total independence—it still doesn’t excuse her behavior toward a Peridot who hasn’t made this hard of a tack toward empathy and friendship ever before. Peridot venerated Amethyst; she competed with Pearl; she appreciated Garnet; she wants to befriendLapis.
“We’re the same… except you don’t have to be alone,” Peridot pleads with Lapis, after her beloved tape recorder has been crushed. Therein lies the problem, though: the two are not the same, and it’s Lapis’ choice to be alone and discover a new, independent self on Earth. She’s seemed more apt to do that than Peridot has. But her challenge will be different—she needs to learn to accept other Gems, living beings, and the very livelihood of Earth itself. If she continues to be mean and distrustful and angsty, she’s going to doom herself to an unhappy existence no matter where she goes. Being solitary for a while can be nice, but loneliness is unsustainable.
Unfortunately, it’s probably going to take some time for Lapis to open her heart up to any of the Crystal Gems, aside from Steven (who, once again, simultaneously proved his precocious emotional intelligence and his startling, childish naiveté in the same episode). But her protection of Peridot and Steven from the Homeworld ship is maybe a start—not to mention that the flick-slapdown combo is the most teen way possible to handle the situation. And those of you who ship Lapidot: please don’t read too much into Lapis’ blushing in the aftermath. This was the first act of friendship she’s shown to another Gem in, probably, 5000 years; of course she’s flushed with the good feeling.
Some gems from this episode:
On drawing a line across the barn floor: “I saw this on an episode of a TV show. I didn’t see how it ended but I’m sure it worked out great.”
On his sketch of Peridot and Lapis lacking noses: “Oh, that’s kinda part of my style lately.”
On Season 5 of Camp Pining Hearts: “Trash.”
On Peridot’s departure and return: “Now she’s never coming back again… oh, she’s coming back again.”
It’s hard to believe we’re almost at the end of In Too Deep, but next week it looks like things are coming to a head. Some sort of confrontation is in the air…
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