“Doug Out” begins with a lull.
We’re still riding on the assertion, in “Lion 4: Alternate Ending,” that not necessarily having the answers is OK as Steven and Connie snack on fry bits, recapping the events since “Steven’s Dream.”
“Life can get really intense, huh? But it’s nice to know we can still have peaceful days like this without any trouble.”
Which means something’s about to go wrong—but we’re not there yet.
Even when what appears to be a cop addresses Steven, things seem calm. As far as I can remember, Beach City doesn’t have any type of law enforcement aside from Amethyst’s Dumb Police (and to be fair, do they need cops with the Gems around? The only time a cop’s shown up was to chase a speeding Pearl). Connie reassures Steven that fry bits aren’t sending him to jail, and it turns out that Doug Maheswaran was sent over on an important assignment. Doug tells them (and us) about the suspicious nighttime lurking at Funland, giving us that flashback to “Nightmare Hospital” and establishing that this episode will be a foil exploring Connie’s relationship with her dad.
There is no conflict more integral to Steven Universe than protection. (This motif is by no means exclusive to the series or to Cartoon Network, but Rebecca Sugar and the Crewniverse have flipped the theme enough to expand far beyond the typecast, say, anime fighter boy refusing to let the people he cares about—usually, a girl—interfere with a battle.) Rose and the Crystal Gems’ purpose is to protect the Earth. The gems, especially Garnet and Pearl, hide Rose’s darker history to protect Steven from feeling hurt, or endangering himself by trying to make amends with the past. Even though the Crystal Gems pulled off an incredible rescue, Steven wasn’t able to protect Greg from being kidnapped by Blue Diamond, and the threat of something worse haunts him. Steven and Connie’s friendship has even almost fallen apart because of disputes on protection.
Doug knows what Connie and Steven get into—he even brings it up before telling them his mission. Perhaps he doesn’t grasp the magnitude of Steven’s lineage (“I kind of inherited an intergalactic war”) or the monsters Connie has fought, or he’s excited for the opportunity to prove that he, too, can protect the citizens of Beach City (“Just like you guys!”)—so you can’t help but laugh when, mid stakeout, he whips out a flashlight. Connie’s sword skills are as sharp as her intellect, and Steven and other Gems can pull weapons out of their bodies. So how is a flashlight going to protect anyone, especially two expert fighters?
Well, it doesn’t, and neither can Doug. He fumbles, plans and flashlight backfiring in his face, until he’s bested at his own job by a pair of kids, and then the culprit isn’t even that threatening. (Too bad he doesn’t know Onion like Steven does). Finally, Doug lets Connie know what’s really wrong: He feels weak because he never has to deal with any “actual danger” like Connie or “life-threatening emergencies” like Mrs. Maheswaren. Looking back to “Nightmare Hospital,” it seems like the Maheswaren parents have different ideas. Back in Season Two, Priyanka believes Connie can’t protect herself against the mutant gem; here, on the other hand, Doug is ashamed because he can’t even prove himself against Onion. This guy’s come a long way in understanding his daughter since the awkward dinner of “Fusion Cuisine” or complimenting Greg’s cherry sweater in “Winter Forecast.”
So, tension fizzled, Steven, Connie and Doug leave Funland and Onion, who they believe they’re letting off now that he’s been scared straight. There are a few discrepancies with this verdict. First, Onion’s body language indicates that he’s afraid, and this is not a guy who feels guilt—he’s cowering in fear (What’s bad enough to scare Onion?) of a greater threat, which he tries to convey, but Steven assumes nobody else is on the premises and tells Onion it’s just Doug. Onion doesn’t look convinced when Steven asks if he thought a “bunch of strangers were chasing” him. Additionally, Onion may know his way around a blowtorch, but whatever got through Funland’s fence pulled it apart. Which screams “somewhat competent Gem mutant/corruption” or “ominous shadows that appear at the end of the episode.”
And that satisfies us, because it means shit’s about to go down.
Apparently Ronaldo has a rash? After the way he’s acted recently, he probably deserves it, but Steven’s well wishes are a nice way to show continuity within the rest of Beach City.
Connie’s jokes are so clever. For some reason, Steven is fond of using a corny “Italian” accent, and Connie, donned in her best Carmen Sandiego getup, remarks that his “Pizzapopolis” alias sounds Greek.
Then, there’s this, in the Hyper Space scene:
Steven: Oh, no!
Connie: The laws of physics!
Steven does a nice job of utilizing his newer powers without drawing much attention in this episode. The way he just floats with Connie over those spilled gum balls, teasing fusion—but, to be fair, Doug probably wouldn’t have been able to handle Stevonnie on the job.
Connie and Doug’s reconciliation is so much easier to endure than the one she had with Dr. Maheswaran in “Nightmare Hospital” since we don’t have to feel sad about Steven not having a dad.
Sarra Sedghi is the assistant editor of Paste’s food and science sections. Pearl is her problematic fave.