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#not to mention the weird parasocial relationships that stem from it
Episode 137: Sadie Killer
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”You ever feel so bad that you feel good?”
As the showrunner, Rebecca Sugar is involved in every episode of Steven Universe, even if she rarely gets main storyboarding credit. She goes without such recognition in the span between That Will Be All and Change Your Mind, but I can’t help but think she had a bigger hand than usual in Sadie Killer. While the three lead Gems are all based on aspects of her personality, Sadie is based on who she was when she started going to the School of Visual Arts. Alongside Lars, Sadie was a character Sugar invented in college, well before the rest of the Steven Universe roster. And while she was at SVA, Sugar played in a band where she was rechristened “Rebecca Murder.” This story feels personal and specific.
I don’t wanna go any deeper into armchair psychology for actual human being Rebecca Sugar, because I’m not interested in invasive parasocial analyses of strangers. So on the surface level I’m operating at, it's a stretch to find more parallels between Sugar’s background and Sadie Killer; sure, it might suggest burnout over work on the show if you squint, but Sugar is part of a crew doing creative work and Sadie’s whole problem here is that she’s all alone and work is stifling her creativity. So I’m not gonna say this episode reveals production tensions, or that Sugar has retail experience and a lot of feelings about it. But I'll for sure say that at least somebody who worked on this episode has retail experience and a lot of feelings about it, because this kind of catharsis doesn’t come from an outside observer. If Back to the Kindergarten is the first episode of the Breakup Arc to bring us joy, Sadie Killer is the first to bring us a sense of victory. 
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Sadie Killer is an episode about Sadie singing, featuring an insensitive Steven who wants to put on a show. This description also applies to my least favorite episode of the series that doesn’t belittle abuse, Sadie’s Song. The big difference is that this time, Steven’s behavior is way more realistic with where he’s at in life: more subdued than the stage mom energy of Sadie’s Song, limited to not-so-exaggerated thoughtlessness that customers can display (I’m torn between whether his multiple forms of payments or his trail of napkins is worse). At no point is he insincere about his desire to help her, and in stark contrast to the weird blip of Annoying Steven, this version is thrilled to cede the spotlight.
After two episodes spent distracting himself by focusing on others, Steven returns to the coping mechanism he tried at the beginning of Raising the Barn: making music. Perhaps there’s a subtler way to show that he’s doing it as an outlet than him just telling Sadie he’s doing it as an outlet, but it feels like a real thing for him to say, and we don’t get much else in terms of his Breakup Arc storyline here so it’s good to be direct about it, and this episode isn’t about him so I’m glad they don’t devote much time to it. He ends up focusing on Sadie anyway, but the issue has never been that helping people is bad. Here, there’s a healthy balance between Steven wanting to do things that make him feel better and wanting to do things that make others feel better.
Sadie takes up his mantle of martyrdom, not cutting herself an inch of slack as she works two jobs at once. It’s a nice touch for her to mention that she’s already used to doing Lars’s share, and that the issue now is a social one more than a labor one. In some ways she’s worse off than Steven, embracing the suffering and the comfort of structure, even if that structure is killing her. But she also has a Lars-like ability to acknowledge her own pain, expressing worry for his safety without ignoring how it affects her; compare this to Steven’s routine of ignoring his problems and only caring when others are hurt.
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We don’t know much about Sadie’s financial situation, but all signs point to her being the only child of a single mom with a steady government job; mail carriers might not make much, but this is a world where a pre-lottery car washer earns enough to feed, clothe, and furnish a home for his son (yes, he lives in a van, but if he couldn’t afford a house Steven wouldn’t have a house). There’s no discussion of money after Sadie quits, which to me implies that her wages aren’t critical to keeping her family afloat. As such, there’s a sense of her work ethic stemming more from inertia than income, which lightens the load of the episode: this is a very different story if her need for a break clashes with the crushing weight of providing for your household, and I’m glad we get the version without asterisks.
I’m fascinated that we don’t get any commentary from Jenny, the only employed Cool Kid. In her case it’s a family job, and it’s a lot harder to quit when your boss is your dad, but if there’s one thing I wanted more from in Sadie Killer it was a nod, however small, to this similarity between Jenny and Sadie (especially considering we learn they also share a love of cult horror movies). Jenny is one of my favorite minor characters on the show: unlike Buck or Sour Cream she has no special focus episode, but gets surprisingly rich characterization nonetheless. Beach Party, Joy Ride, Beach City Drift, and Kiki’s Pizza Delivery Service paint a clear picture of a second-generation teen who self-identifies by contrasting herself against her "good twin” but can’t help having a big heart. She’s given plenty of thoughts about work before, and it would’ve been neat to see that reflected in her interactions with Sadie.
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That’s a pretty minor complaint, and it’s the only one I’ve got against the Cool Kids (besides Buck’s repeated use of “doo-doo,” which I don’t find at all funny but fits his weird irony-shrouded persona). They’re always great to be around, but their fundamental kindness is more welcome than ever in this tumultuous string of episodes. The mere fact that they want to jam with Steven might be par for the course by now, but it still speaks to a sincere friendliness that one would hope for in any cool kid. While their musical tastes vary (Steven and Jenny want something light, Buck and Sour Cream want something challenging) their disagreements never lead to fighting, and they want to include Sadie in the same way they’ve adopted Steven into the group. Even Buck, the most nebulous and snarky of the teens, uses his monotone for unambiguous compliments.
When they relocate from Sour Cream’s driveway to Sadie’s basement, her concern over the state of her room mirrors Steven-as-Lars’s visit in The New Lars, and in both instances her fears are unfounded. This time the acceptance of her peers feels real, given there’s no weird body swapping at play: the Cool Kids like her movies so much that Jenny, who has been the biggest proponent of practicing so far (interesting how the employed Cool Kid has the best work ethic), suggests they watch Bulgarian horror instead. And then things get weird!
The Working Dead begins as a normal jam session, with Sour Cream starting us off with his sampling skills and other instruments coming in at a natural pace. There’s less hesitance than we might expect, but this still feels like something a group of actual kids might do, complete with talking through what they’re doing. Sadie starts singing along, but it still feels real: her lyrics are simple and unrhyming, and she’s interrupted by Buck’s praise and her own chuckle of approval. 
This is our first full song since all the way back in That Will Be All, and despite the long buildup it still sneaks up on us. We’ve had small fragments like the potluck song and the beginning of Steven’s song from Raising the Barn, and this could’ve been the same thing, but it soon becomes a music video complete with choreography and visual effects. I’m not even that big on the song itself; of the tracks we hear from this era of Sadie Killer and the Suspects, my favorite is, well, Sadie Killer and the Suspects (and Disobedient blows the rest of their stuff out of the water), but it feels fantastic to have singing return to Steven Universe. Kate Micucci’s performance is everything to the scene, building enough confidence over the course of the song to go full camp without sacrificing her underlying frustration.
It’s such an excellent choice for Sadie’s musicality to manifest in punky rebellion rather than more pop songs like Haven’t You Noticed (I’m a Star); nothing against Top 40 hits, but Sadie has always had a temper and singing is a great way to let out the rage. The Working Dead blends Steven and Jenny’s appeal to fun with Buck and Sour Cream’s edge, making her a natural fit to lead the new band. Sadie Killer is here to eat the rich, but with a wholesome horror aesthetic.
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The conclusion here would be predictable in most scenarios: our long-suffering hero has found a way to express herself that she’s great at, and work is killing her, so she’ll choose herself and her friends over the job. But Sadie has been linked with the Big Donut since the first scene in the series, and we’re still in the Breakup Arc, where disappointment is the new normal. Just as the potential of a happy ending makes the downers of Gemcation and Raising the Barn hit harder, the potential for more heartbreak makes Sadie quitting her job at last that much more of a triumph.
Lars and Sadie won’t break up for real until Steven Universe Future, and if anything, their dramatic separation here adds a new layer of romantic pining to these star-crossed lovers. But his absence still allows the Breakup Week to have one story about the upside of relationships coming to an end: sometimes it crushes you, but sometimes you can breathe for the first time. If Lars was still here, it would’ve taken that much longer for Sadie to free herself from the Big Donut. Instead, thanks to him leaving, she can get what she wants.
So we have Peridot’s story about the fallout of a bad breakup, and Sadie’s story about the good things that can come from newfound independence. All that’s left is a story about reconciliation, and the Breakup Arc can finally come to a close.
We’re the one, we’re the ONE! TWO! THREE! FOUR!
Barely misses the cut. I think The Good Lars is the more satisfying Sadie episode, as she makes a more personal change to her outlook and its bittersweet conclusion is truer to the teenage experience. But I’m always here for the Cool Kids and music, and anything that redeems Sadie’s Song in any way is bound to make me happy.
Top Twenty-Five
Steven and the Stevens
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Mirror Gem
Lion 3: Straight to Video
Alone Together
Last One Out of Beach City
The Return
The Answer
Mindful Education
Sworn to the Sword
Rose’s Scabbard
Mr. Greg
Coach Steven
Giant Woman
Beach City Drift
Winter Forecast
Back to the Kindergarten
Steven’s Dream
When It Rains
The Good Lars
Lars’s Head
Catch and Release
Love ‘em
Laser Light Cannon
Bubble Buddies
Tiger Millionaire
Lion 2: The Movie
Rose’s Room
An Indirect Kiss
Ocean Gem
Space Race
Garnet’s Universe
Warp Tour
The Test
Future Vision
On the Run
Maximum Capacity
Marble Madness
Political Power
Full Disclosure
Joy Ride
Keeping It Together
We Need to Talk
Chille Tid
Cry for Help
Keystone Motel
Back to the Barn
Steven’s Birthday
It Could’ve Been Great
Message Received
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Same Old World
The New Lars
Monster Reunion
Alone at Sea
Crack the Whip
Back to the Moon
Kindergarten Kid
Buddy’s Book
Gem Harvest
Three Gems and a Baby
That Will Be All
The New Crystal Gems
Storm in the Room
Room for Ruby
Lion 4: Alternate Ending
Doug Out
Are You My Dad?
I Am My Mom
Stuck Together
The Trial
Off Colors
Raising the Barn
Sadie Killer
Like ‘em
Gem Glow
Arcade Mania
So Many Birthdays
Lars and the Cool Kids
Onion Trade
Steven the Sword Fighter
Beach Party
Monster Buddies
Keep Beach City Weird
Watermelon Steven
The Message
Open Book
Story for Steven
Shirt Club
Love Letters
Rising Tides, Crashing Tides
Onion Friend
Historical Friction
Friend Ship
Nightmare Hospital
Too Far
Barn Mates
Steven Floats
Drop Beat Dad
Too Short to Ride
Restaurant Wars
Kiki’s Pizza Delivery Service
Greg the Babysitter
Gem Hunt
Steven vs. Amethyst
Adventures in Light Distortion
Gem Heist
The Zoo
Dewey Wins
Cheeseburger Backpack
Together Breakfast
Cat Fingers
Serious Steven
Steven’s Lion
Joking Victim
Secret Team
Say Uncle
Super Watermelon Island
Gem Drill
Know Your Fusion
Future Boy Zoltron
Tiger Philanthropist
No Thanks!
     6. Horror Club      5. Fusion Cuisine      4. House Guest      3. Onion Gang      2. Sadie’s Song      1. Island Adventure
(Rebecca Sugar didn’t provide official promo art, but her pride in Sadie merits inclusion. Also, huuuuuuuge thanks to Love Takes Work for confirming my memory of the podcast episode telling the story of Rebecca Murder’s origins; their blog includes podcast reviews and is an excellent resource!)
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