I think what I love most about seeing Pearl at her most vindictive and petty is that it reminds me of one of the best bits of character advice I ever read, from the director of Revolutionary Girl Utena: that no one is ever just one person all the time.
Steven Universe is REALLY REALLY GOOD AT THIS.
Pearl IS a valiant knight. Pearl is someone who sacrificed absolutely everything for one person. Pearl is someone who loves to serve. Pearl is the one who, in Steven’s view, does make ‘the best mom’ of the gems. At her absolute best she’s nurturing, delighted at the chance to help Steven understand his heritage, protective, and doting.
But at her worst she’s also possessive, uptight, demanding, has RIDICULOUSLY high standards and, yes, is quite selfish when it comes to her feelings for Rose.
She has a tendency to equate Rose with Steven in a very literal sense which, if you consider what we know of gem physiology, the fact that they are built around that gem, which is their ‘true self’, when their physical form dies they reform around that gem, Jasper calls Steven ‘Rose Quartz’ because he has her gem and therefore clearly MUST be her — it seems like this is actually an easy mistake for gems to make. It’s WEIRD for all the Gems because by their standards, Steven SHOULD be Rose. And Steven, being an insightful kid, has picked up on his. He understands ALL of the crystal gems, however subtly (or unsubtly) do in some ways hold Rose’s loss against him. He SHOULD be Rose. Her gem still exists. That gem should hold her identity. That gem IS her. And yet it isn’t. And that’s SO WEIRD TO THEM.
But that said we also see all of the Crystal Gems, Pearl included, clearly learning to love and acknowledge Steven in his own right. It fits into the series’ other great thing: weird inhuman beings learning to actually like and respect humanity, but that’s a different ramble.
I appreciate that we do get two Pearls.
We get two Pearls in the same way we get two Amethysts: one of them is the fun-loving ‘baby’ of the group, the one who relates to Steven as another kid, the one who likes a lot of the ‘fun’ stuff about humanity, having probably picked up an enthusiasm for humans and their pop-culture and weirdness from Rose. But we also have Amethyst the bitter teenager having an identity crisis, the one who feels as though her origins are a strike against her, the one who feels lost and out of place, the one who was made as a weapon and TAKES OUT HER AGGRESSION ON HUMANS who she doesn’t really seem to acknowledge as equal beings, takes out her aggression on Greg who stopped being her favorite playmate, and is generally actually full of a lot of anger, resentment, and defiance. Someone who Garnet is perfectly willing to ‘make a call on’ should she show ANY sign of falling back on her original nature.
We get two Pearls the same way we get two Garnets: ….In a few senses. But let’s just stick to the basics here. We have a Garnet who is deadpan, but sweet and loving. Who clearly just holds so much deep love and affection for Steven. Who jokes with him. Who will do ANYTHING to keep him safe. Garnet, who understands the nature of romantic love better than any of the other gems, who is quietly understanding and even supportive of Greg and Rose’s relationship. But this is also a Garnet who is a soldier first and foremost, is quite ruthless and yes, violent. She really will do absolutely anything to keep him safe and she clearly doesn’t really care all that much about collateral. Well, none of the Gems do. But Garnet ESPECIALLY. She has a mission entrusted to her by Rose, and she’ll do it, but Steven has to work to get her to even TALK to people like they’re people. They don’t mean terribly much to her. She’s someone who can show an amazing depth of feeling for her fellow gems but humans are a charge, they’re a mission, and they’re not really her priority and that ambivalence can show through at critical times. When her patience runs out, she will act, she will beat you down, NOT waste time with explanations.
We get two Pearls the way we get two Roses: …well okay, actually we get a lot of Roses, because we mostly see her through other people’s perspectives and THEY’RE ALL REALLY DIFFERENT? There’s Rose the rebel leader, Rose the general, Rose the warrior. Rose Quartz the protector of humanity. Who loved them so much she gave up her existence so she could, in some way, BE one. Who gave up EVERYTHING for Earth. Rose who brought the Crystal Gems together. Rose who they all love and obviously still mourn.
But Rose Quartz was also ruthless. Rose was full of regrets for these things she ‘had to do’ during the war. Rose who’s tactics the brutal Jasper ‘respected.’ Rose who kept secrets from everyone. Rose who was also a tourist when it came to humanity. Saw them as cute, as fun, as play things. Rose who LAUGHED IN HER LOVER’S FACE WHEN HE ASKED HER IF SHE RESPECTED HIM. Rose who had to learn to treat humanity as equals, not as fun playthings, not as pets – and a Rose who obviously learned not to. At least enough to recognize Steven HAD to exist – out of love yes, but also who knows how much of that was also a calculated move? Because Rose was wonderful and yes, Rose loved humans and Greg and Steven but Rose was also a REBEL and a GENERAL and she had to make a call. And so we know the two Roses came together at SOME point as a character. That’s how we got Steven.
So, yeah. We see bits and pieces of all the gems at their best and their worst. I don’t think seeing Pearl at her absolute worst makes her a bad character. I think that makes her a more interesting one. Her character is clearly going somewhere and I look forward to seeing where those two Pearls come together in future episodes.