CN: Spoilers for Newer Episodes of Steven Universe
I think a lot about the characters on Steven Universe. Everyone on the show is damaged in some way and the home world gems are no exception.
I recognize a lot of myself in Peridot. Growing up, she probably often felt like she wasn’t enough. She follows the rules exactly, hoping it will earn her the recognition of those in authority. The authoritarian system on homeworld suggests that she was probably told that as long as she follows orders perfectly, as long as she serves the diamonds just right, that she will earn recognition. She will find fulfilment as a gem. She does everything as she is told, does everything she can to fit in, even though deep down she knows she doesn’t. That something makes her different from everyone around her, even if she doesn’t know what it is.
Other people see her usefulness to them, use her, and then discard her. Because of this, and because of other ways she feels deficient – like her disability (namely her inability to change her shape) – she feels worthless and craves approval. She is hoping that if she is just obedient enough. Follows just the right script, is just useful enough, that she will get noticed. If she gets noticed, she will know that she matters.
It is in the interest of homeworld elite to encourage this idea. Like our own world, value becomes linked to productivity. If you are useful you have worth, but if you fail, if you deviate in anyway, then you are worthless and become expendable. On Homeworld, being expendable means being shattered. Your survival depends in a real sense on being productive in a way that the system values.
Her own sense of right and wrong clashes with her desire for approval from authority figures but she doesn’t realize it yet. The cognitive dissonance makes her angry and resentful.
She becomes defensive, everyone is a “CLOD!”
She needs to feel important. That her existence has some purpose behind it, because although she is told that her creation was to fill a need, she feels like her flaw somehow makes her fail in that purpose. If she can find recognition, than she will know that that is not the case. That despite her flaw, she still has value. She needs that external confirmation that she does have inherent worth.
She trusts in the system because she was raised to trust in the system. Until recently she had been a part of that same system. But at the same time, it is the same system that tells her she is flawed. Was she mocked by others? Where there times when she accidentally let slip those little bits of her that didn’t fit with the mold? What did her birth hole look like?
At some point, she falls into the hope she can somehow reconcile the two sides and settle her cognitive dissonance. If she can only convince the diamond authority to change their minds, to see reason, then she can continue seeking the approval from the authority she has her entire life while at the same time not having to give up on her moral compass to do so. She trusts in what the system told her, that her productivity and strict adherence to the rules would grant her access and recognition. That it would give her just enough influence that she would be able to trade on that to suggest an alternative.
It is when she realizes how little she matters in their scheme of things, it is when she realizes that all the faith she had in the system was so misplaced, that she finally snaps and rebels in a big way.
She ultimately does the right thing, but it costs her. It costs her because in many ways she built her identity around being this dependable reliable cog in the machine. The very competence that she hoped would make her stand out actually made her invisible. Something she now realises and has to process. Suddenly she has to deal with actually being seen. She has to deal with her own guilt at her previous complacency and the role she played in creating harm, while at the same time dealing with having to find a new set of rules by which to live. A new set of principles and guides. And for the first time, she has to define them herself.
Giving up the moral compass you lived by for so many years is difficult. It can even me psychologically painful as you realize that everything you once believed is wrong. You struggle to find some core, some truth that you can hold on to that will make it all ok. That will show, that actually while the details and the direction is was taken in is not justifiable, that actually it wasn’t all bad. Maybe if she can find just one defensible belief, it will mean she hadn’t wasted so much of her life following a lie.
For the first time, Peridot also has a chance to actually discover who she is rather than being exactly what everyone expects her to be. She no longer has to be defined by her gem. She gets to finally discover her own facets, her own strengths. In the same way, she is realizing that those around her are also not defined by their gems.
She still feels the need to be important though, so she blows up her own importance. She is the new leader of the Crystal Gems, she says. While they all silently laugh and look at her sideways, no one actively punishes her for pretending to be more important than she is.
I think that Peridot deep down knows that she doesn’t play the role she likes to pretend she does. That she isn’t really the new leader, or homeworld’s top criminal, or any of the other fancies she plays at. Rather, she just needs to let herself feel worthwhile, and for the first time she is in a place where they don’t scoff in her face for that. Because each of them in their own way is struggling with similar issues.
But although she pretends to be more “important” than she is, she still works hard to be useful. She has a fount of knowledge that she is eager to share. She wants more than anything to be helpful. This is why she tells people things that sometimes they rather she wouldn’t. She hasn’t learned yet to reframe the knowledge she was given in the context of what she has learned since landing on Earth. Her biggest asset as far as she is concerned is her knowledge, so in sharing it she is honestly trying to help. It takes time to learn that not all knowledge is helpful at all times. That there is a time and place for everything. That while something might be technically true – quartzes are made to be soldiers, pearls are made to be servants – that the conclusions she was taught as a result are not– that a gem can only be what they were made for or that their gem determines their overall worth as a person.
Faced for the first time with a situation where she isn’t told how to feel, she turns to art to help herself understand better. She is working on discovering herself and realizing that it is a process. She is trying to learn new scripts.
For the first time she is allowed to indulge her nerdiness. She becomes obsessed with a show and even uses it as a script to navigate this new world.
A lot of what I see in Peridot is fear. Fear of failure. Fear of not mattering. Fear of being a disappointment. When her new friends are actively threatened however, when she actually thinks there is a danger they cannot handle, she doesn’t hesitate to put herself between them and it. We see this at the end of the baseball game when she runs out to take the Ruby’s punishment she expects to come. And when facing Jasper in the Quarry, it is when Steven and Amethyst are about to be attacked that her metal control powers work as planned.
Peridot is another victim of Homeworld’s abuse. She is struggling with that abuse the same as all the others. She is struggling with the realization that what she went through WAS abusive but more than that, that while following orders she let herself be a tool for abuse.
In order to embrace a deeper truth about herself, she had to give up a lot of what had always meant so much to her: the approval of the society she once served, the chance at recognition from her one-time heroes, the chance to move up in status, her home, her culture, her entire belief system.
She may be a tiny slice of pie, but she is fierce and she is just learning that herself. She has more to offer the world than just what she can do for them, and hopefully she learns that too. Her anger has a purpose. It was born of something she still needs to discover, but when she does, I think this little slice of pie will be a force to be reckoned with.