(Note 25/11/15: Review edited because, in hindsight, the review I originally posted had a few errors in logic. Sorry.)
Airdate: December 2, 2013
Synopsis: Steven’s attempts to talk to a bespectacled bookish girl sitting on the beach (not his first attempt, apparently) result in him saving her life from a boulder… but also causes the two to become trapped in a bubble of Steven’s own making. Any and all attempts to free them fail.
And by hilariously, I mean they almost drown.
Review (SPOILERS): BUBBLES! Uh, I mean GEEKS! Uh, I mean GEEKS IN BUBBLES!
Uh, I mean, one of the biggest cliches in sci-fi history (if not TV history) has got to be the “first episode love interest”. If I may be able to describe it, it revolves around two protagonists (often of the opposite sex) who both appear in the first episode. It’s assumed from that moment on that the ship involving the two is to set sail and reach its destination.
In that case, Steven Universe certainly subverts that cliche a bit off the bat by waiting for episode seven to introduce a probable love interest for Steven… and then subverts it even further by having the two actually communicate right off the bat, rather than just have a series of awkward stumbling conversations.
The end result is what I consider to be the closest thing to a “sublime” episode of Steven Universe so far.
Yes, the “first crush” is itself a bit of a used trope in media targeting itself towards kids. (Yes, we’re still in the part of the series where we can actually get that this show was meant for kids.) Yet this episode pulls no punches with it’s handling. Steven’s awkward, yet the episode shows a reason or two for this. Contrary to the popular cliche (where the first episode involving the two has them “meet cute” – something which even Gravity Falls joked about in its use of the trope), this episode establishes that Steven’s been trying to do this for months.
But for what reason? Does Steven think this mysterious girl is cute?
Well, in a rather refreshing twist (possibly a subversion) the trope, that wasn’t the primary reason – Steven had Connie’s glow bracelet and was determined to give it back to her. Thus, there was an underlying reason for Steven to communicate with this quiet person on the beach – not just a crush. Impressively, when saving Connie’s life, his bubble activates, saving the two of them from the falling boulder. While you would think that it was just a crush in action, the reveal of the bracelet reinforces that, on a general level, Steven is willing to protect the ones that he can be kind to… which is a lot of people.
It takes a heightened sense of importance since, honestly, Steven doesn’t really have too many confidantes. Sure, he’s friendly to everybody he meets, but in most of those instances, he’s more casual friends with others. Here, his interactions with Connie suggest the formation of a closer companionship – if not romance (as we expect from cartoons and sci-fi shows), then very certainly close friendship. It really is interesting to see Steven try and impress her. Going even further on that is his attempts to display some level of maturity and intellect in front of Connie – to the point where he defies logic. Impressively, he doesn’t save this on his own terms – mere luck gets them out of the pickle. Mere luck, mind you.
Yet, we have to ask the question… what about Connie?
If Steven is the escapist character, Connie represents who we really are. Where Steven is a free-range child who lives the dream life of having superpowers (even if he hasn’t activated them frequently), Connie is a normal bookworm with neurotic parents (as far as I know – my folks don’t really care about trans fats) and a very average, milquetoast life. Where Steven is the Id, Connie is something of a superego – the Spock to Steven’s McCoy.
What makes Connie particularly interesting is that, while she does have a brief moment in distress (the boulder, anybody), this is immediately subverted. For, in 11 short minutes (in real terms), Connie gets more character development than some central protagonists get in entire movies. (I’m looking at you, Soak-a and Ahng.) She gets something of a backstory, a few neuroses, some actual character traits, a broad idea of how her life operates (she knows about the boats from spending time at the dock), a bit of self-regret, you name it. Not bad for an 11-minute episode.
Even better is how she and Steven actually compliment each other. Connie doesn’t really question where the hell Steven got these powers from – either she’s already seen some strangeness, or she’s just thankful to be alive. That, or she doesn’t really care. Both in comedic and dramatic ways (as mentioned above), the two bounce off of each other, and the end result always fits the mood of the scene, if not enhances it. Once Connie and Steven talk, the development of the relationship feels realistic because the interactions between the two are realistic. Well, as realistic as two geeks trapped in a bubble at the bottom of an incredibly light ocean can be.
Their friendship established, the two wind up saving each other in one hilariously awesome way, as mentioned above.
This episode also reflects a bit on the parental aspect of the Crystal Gems. As I’ve mentioned before, the Crystal Gems, besides being a bunch of roommates, soldiers, and aliens, have formed something resembling a family. Their interaction in this episode is something that many people have faced – parents that are either overly doting and neurotic or those that “get” their kids easier, as demonstrated by Pearl and Garnet; or the eccentric older sibling, as demonstrated by Amethyst. In the end, it’s Garnet that “wins out” – giving Steven space to perfect his “funky flow”. I don’t know why, but there’s an awesomeness to Garnet.
Rebecca Sugar initially described Steven Universe as “reverse escapism”, where fantastical elements mingle with realistic conflicts, and “Bubble Buddies” holds up well in this regard. To take the awkwardness of the “first hangout”, and accelerate that by putting Steven and Connie in a bubble generated by Steven… that is cool.
- This episode features the first appearance of Low Rimmer – I mean, the reincarnate of King Joffrey – I mean, Onion. He’s a strange little kid who is goaded by Steven and Connie to pierce the bubble via a harpoon gun. All it does is bounce off and sink the boat. Onion considers it a success. What a strange kid.
- We also get a second peek at Lars and Sadie at the Big Donut. How do those two work with each other? (Oh, right, money.) Steven believes that the two are “crazy for each other”. Shipper on deck? Lars reciprocates in his own Lars-ish way by thinking that Steven made the bubble to get closer to Connie. Give it 30-ish episodes, Lars.
- Brilliant use of continuity with the glow stick. Visually inclined viewers might have noticed it laying amongst the Cookie Cats with “Gem Glow”. I love the animators of this show.
- Oh, and did I mention yet that the music is sublime? Well, the music is sublime. The scene where Steven reveals that he kept the glow stick is set amongst a subtle, yet emotional, score. Sure, it’s a tiny bit schmaltzy, but hey, a little schmaltz never hurt anybody.
- Just one issue… how did they manage to get up a flight of stairs, yet couldn’t get up the sand? I could say that the sand was a bit inhibiting, but the two were able to move the bubble under the water? Where did the writers take their physics lessons from, Puma Man? (“Steven and Connie have the power to rear-project major cities!”)