I may be episodes and episodes behind on… every other show I watch, but I try to keep up with Steven Universe for a few reasons. Firstly, the episodes are really short—it’s not hard to keep up with something that comes in eleven-minute bites. Secondly, it’s one of the most genuinely awesome and unproblematic shows I watch, so I don’t have to go through the mental gymnastics of feminist guilt that come with other shows. Finally, and most importantly, the people I follow on Tumblr fuckin’ love it, and if I don’t keep up I’ll get spoilers as soon as I look at my dash.
That said, this review is a bit late. Con season has started up for me, so I’ve been hot-gluing and spraypainting and sewing like a boss and… not writing so much. So that means it was three weeks ago that the Crewniverse brought its delightful cartoon off hiatus, just in time for its titular character’s birthday, and blessed us with a Stevenbomb—their term for a bunch of new episodes dropping in a week. This mini-marathon of five episodes was just plain awesome in terms of character development, plot advancement, and queer representation, and even this long after it aired, I still can’t stop grinning thinking about it.
Spoilers for the entire Stevenbomb after the jump!
It seems like the best way to go through this is episode by episode, so let’s do that. The first episode of the week was called “The Answer”, and finally gave us the story of how Ruby and Sapphire met and joined up with the Crystal Gems as Garnet. It was really cool on a lot of fronts: first of all, we got our first looks at some of the Homeworld gems, from the typical Ruby iteration to the varieties of Pearls to, even, a glimpse at the mysterious and powerful Blue Diamond. Secondly, Sapphire and Ruby’s relationship, both the way it started and just the general tone of it, is really touching and sweet, and what’s more, it’s very clearly romantic.
Their fusion into Garnet was the first time two gems of different types fused, as well as the first non-functional fusion; that is, they weren’t fusing for battle efficiency or anything like that. When the newly-formed Garnet escapes the Homeworld crew and meets up with Rose Quartz and Pearl, the rebel Crystal Gems, Rose is eager to encourage Garnet to experiment with this new experience—it doesn’t matter how Ruby and Sapphire’s relationship makes Rose or anyone else feel; it’s their own—and only their own—opinion that matters. This is such an important message for young queer kids to hear, and this episode left me with the warm fuzzies.
The next episode in the bunch was “Steven’s Birthday”, in which Greg, Connie, and the Gems all celebrated Steven’s fourteenth. Connie is surprised to learn that Steven is older than her, and then freaked out when she and Greg flip through a photo album and she sees that Steven hasn’t physically aged in several years. It turns out this is a side effect of his gem heritage, but Steven is hurt and worried when he realizes it makes Connie uncomfortable. He shapeshifts to look a bit older and passes it off as a conveniently-timed growth spurt, but holding the form all day is a terrible strain on his body and in the end he accidentally reverts back into a baby. Connie is horrified that she caused Steven to go to such lengths to make her feel better and, once Steven’s back to normal, reassures him that she likes him just the way he is.
This episode reinforced the message of the previous one to an extent; if you’re happy with yourself and being yourself isn’t hurting anyone else, it doesn’t matter what makes other people uncomfortable—you should still be yourself. It changes the focus of the moral somewhat to be more about body positivity than relationships, but it’s still important, especially because Connie is the one who makes Steven uncomfortable. It hurts way more when judgment or distaste comes from your friends because you don’t expect it, and it’s definitely worthwhile to show that situation working out and being an experience for growth for both parties.
The last three episodes of the Stevenbomb were more explicitly plot-centric, and focused on Peridot’s relationship to the rest of the Crystal Gems. “It Could Have Been Great” and “Message Received” are almost two parts of a whole as far as storytelling is concerned. In the former, the Gems, accompanied by Peridot and Steven, travel to the Homeworld base on Earth’s moon to gather information on where they need to drill down if they’re going to reach and destroy the cluster effectively. However, the change in environment seems to be a bad thing for Peridot, as it sends her into rhapsodies about how great Homeworld is and how wonderful the Diamonds are—especially her own boss, Yellow Diamond. As the episode winds to a close, we—and Steven—see Peridot swiping a communicator from the base—one that runs a direct line to the Diamond Authority.
In “Message Received”, Steven is angry and suspicious that Peridot would betray their trust, and it seems at first that she’s going to rat them all out. She sneaks off and opens up the Diamond line and almost snitches on them, but when she realizes how much she has come to value the warm camaraderie of the Gems in comparison to the brutal, cold efficiency of Homeworld culture, she ends up telling Yellow Diamond off in a glorious rant. As the comm line closes, the Crystal Gems, who’d been hiding nearby, terrified of what Peridot was going to tell Yellow Diamond, emerge and welcome the shell-shocked, I-can’t-believe-I-just-did-that Peridot as an official Crystal Gem. This was a welcome and satisfying conclusion to Peridot’s arc of moral dilemma over the past several episodes, and it’s wonderful to see the character who was a terrifying enemy a dozen episodes ago becoming an awkward new member of the Crystal Gem family. That’s not to say that she has worked through all her prejudices or perfectly understands Earth cultural norms—she’s still growing there—but her character development has been a delight to watch, and it continues in the final episode, “Log Date 7 15 2”.
In this episode, Steven notices that Peridot has become relatively close with Garnet, and wonders how it happened. To find out, he snoops on Peridot’s tape recorder and listens to her logs for the past several days. This episode was a fun coda to the marathon more than anything, because the bulk of it was Peridot getting into all sorts of shenanigans—being caught trying on human clothes; learning the limits of human physiology when she tries to throw Greg off a roof; watching a television show for the first time and getting obsessed with it, and the like.
I was impressed by the Crewniverse on this last note, because, while Peridot’s obsession with Camp Pining Hearts, from the constant rewatching down to the creation of detailed shipping charts, could be a gentle prod at Steven Universe’s own fandom, it wasn’t in the least bit mean-spirited. In fact, Peridot believed that her fan pairing—a slash ship between the two boys Percy and Pierre, made far more sense than Percy’s relationship with his canonical female love interest, and I was pleased and surprised to see that the fact that the pairing she’s crowing about is a queer one is never remarked upon negatively by the others. Over the course of his listening to the tape, Steven realizes the ways in which Garnet has been helping Peridot understand both Earth and humans as well as why the Crystal Gems are so different from Homeworld gems. At the end of the episode, Peridot is still expressing confusion over why the Crystal Gems fuse, especially Garnet, whose permafusion serves no constructive purpose. Garnet invites Peridot to fuse with her and she almost does, chickening out at the last second. In lieu of actually experiencing Ruby and Sapphire’s bond firsthand, Garnet explains to Peridot, “I’m Percy and Pierre,” couching her fusion in explicitly romantic terms that Peridot immediately understands.
While it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Peridot when she finally does decide to fuse with someone, I’m more excited about all the implications of this final scene. First of all, there’s an important message about consent here—Garnet calls off the fusion as soon as she sees that Peridot is uncomfortable with it, and doesn’t give her any grief about changing her mind. (Also, on a less bodily-themed note of consent, Garnet berates Steven later for listening to Peridot’s logs without her permission.) Furthermore, if “The Answer” left viewers in any doubt that Garnet was a romantically-inspired fusion, this episode left no room for argument. The fact that Peridot’s slash ship is not only accepted without comment but later used to drive home an important character point is heartwarming and so, so important for queer fans, young and old, who are desperate for the normalization of same-sex relationships on TV.
This leaves both the cluster and the growing conflict with Homeworld for another day, but it was still a deeply satisfying end to the marathon. Sadly, now that the Stevenbomb has come to an end, it’ll be a while before the show comes back with regular episodes. That said, there was plenty to chew on in these five episodes, and there will be plenty more to unpack once the show tackles the bigger plot and character elements that are still up in the air. Needless to say, I can’t wait to see what happens next.