It’s about that time in the season where Steven Universe returns to Lars, and his character arc has become my favorite of all the Beach City residents (sans Greg).
I’ve mentioned it before that while I’ve always enjoyed Lars, his character development has fallen short in the series prior. Namely, whenever the episode focused on him, and usually Sadie as well, he tended to develop quite nicely by the end. However, as soon as the episode was over, it was as if the series hit the reset button, as his typical dynamic and characterization carried over into future episodes. This is mostly a casualty of the structure, as the episodic comedy format still required that episodes can be watched out of order without seeing ever episode previously (most of the Townie episodes, as reddit calls them, tend to be more susceptible to this treatment). Though the further and further we get into the series, the less true that seems to be, and it’s no more apparent than with Lars. “The New Lars” from season three ended up being a true turning point for the character, as “Future Boy Zoltron” ended up showcasing the growth of the relationship between Sadie and Lars, and thankfully, “The Good Lars” continues to focus on the growth of Lars himself.
That’s not to say that Lars himself completely resolves to changing here, though it’s left ambiguous whether or not Lars opted to ditch the Pot Luck or if he was abducted by those shadowy figures introduced last episode. Under the assumption that those two are abducting the civilians of Beach City like this episode implies, it’s a little odd that Sour Cream is holding a potluck while Onion is missing, doesn’t he care? But I digress, the premise of the episode focuses on the reveal that Lars is a talented baker, and along with The Cool Kids invite to potluck, the struggle of crafting the perfect food to bring to the festivities. A large portion of the episode is just simple entertainment, watching Lars, Sadie, and Steven come together in order to aid Lars’ cooking debut to the Cool Kids is charmingly fun. Knowing full well how Lars’ insecurities dominate his actions, it’s just cathartic to witness him working towards something to impress in a way that highlights his own personal interests, and with the people he’s had the most emotional connections to. Of course, insecurities don’t just dissipate overnight or anything, and then come rearing their head back in, particularly in a stand-out scene with Steven. Which involves Lars essentially out-righting admitting his love for Sadie and Steven’s really sound advice.
Based on this episode alone, we’re only left to speculate whether Steven got through to Lars and he was simply kidnapped or if Lars chickened out at the last-minute, which would also be in-line with his characterization, especially since he lacked the support system of Steven and Sadie. An attentive eye would’ve spotted Lars’ Ube Cake Roll already in the trash when Steven arrived at the Potluck. Perhaps my favorite detail discovering upon re-watch, and one of the best visual detail in the episode, with Buck’s “Shirt Club” shirt as a close second.
Anyway, the sequences depicting the Potluck land too. It’s pretty nice to see the Cool Kids do like Lars, even if they’re praising something “lame” he did out of anxiety, and Sadie getting along with them is to be expected but it’s nice to see her opinion on them converted into the legitimately cool people they are, rather than the vision of coolness that Lars perceives them as. And while this half certainly features the same kind of charming fun that the first half does, it ends on a more somber note.
I love the mutual sadden resignation/disappointment both Steven and Sadie have at noticing Lars’ Ube Cake Roll in the trash and the following discussion where Sadie realizes she’s acting like her mother and should focus on her own problems is a great somber note, punctuated by Steven’s crestfallen “Bingo Bongo”. I rather enjoyed the use of “Bingo Bongo”, a rather silly saying that ended up saying a lot about the situation. To Lars its a symbol of his own assessed lameness, a defining example of how his own passions and interests fail to exude any of the attributes he finds valuable. Essentially, a reminder that he’s not cool like he desires to be. For the Cool Kids, it’s transcendent. It doesn’t hold any significance to them outside of this fun little thing Lars did once. Their reaction to it is a complete rejection of Lars’ negative feelings. Finally, Steven’s is an downhearted acceptance of the conflicting perspectives. That Lars’ own insecurities prevent him from finding the happiness he could obtain if he could get out of his own head, and that Sadie and his [Steven] own attempts are futile until Lars dedicates himself to it, and that maybe they’re best served to focus on their own issues.
Overall, “The Good Lars” was a pretty great follow-up to Lars’ recent episodes of development. The episode itself had a few good jokes too, my favorite being Steven wondering if he could reach Lars’ mind somehow, hinting at his dream powers which he referenced earlier in the episode, only to come to the more ground conclusion that he could just call Lars (but which Lars did he call?). However, what I want to leave off on isn’t something that pertains solely to “The Good Lars” but this entire StevenBomb. Between this and “Doug Out” it’s clear that the series is addressing the biggest problem I’ve had with Steven Universe, and that’s the disconnect between Beach City episodes and Gem content. The two distinct style of episodes haven’t really interacted since early season two with “Joy Ride”, as far as I can recall. The fact that the two types are finally starting to connect in a meaningful again after so long is the most exciting prospect the series has had in a while. It’s just a shame it took so long into season four to do it again.