Steven Universe Review: "Onion Trade" (Season 1A, Episode 15)


“You clearly don’t know who you are shooting GUYS at, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Steven – I am the danger! A guy opens his door and gets Hynes Ketchup flung in his face – you think that of me? No… I am the one who knocks!”


Airdate: March 15th, 2014

Synopsis: Steven loses his Ranger GUY, a part of his Guys Under Your Supervision collection. While his attempts to acquire one via the vending machine fail, he notices that Onion has it. Thing is, Onion, who is a rather… eccentric kid, is not willing to barter for Steven’s low-rung Dave Guys. Amethyst points to a matter replicator to try and multiply the Dave Guys even further. Onion instead takes the replicator. Hilarity ensues.

Review: “Onion Trade” is often cited by fans as among the weakest episodes of Steven Universe, if not the weakest episode of the show. The reasons why vary, from a lack of emotional impact, to a lack of comedy, to the character of Onion himself. Thus, I am faced with the question – is it as bad as everybody else says? Or is it a good episode, unfairly maligned by the SU fandom? Or, does it fall somewhere in the mushy, unremarkable middle – which, given some of the later episodes, will likely fall to the fringe?

As implied by the title, the main focus of this episode is Onion – the strange kid that tried to pop Steven and Connie’s bubble. And failed.  Oh, and the kid that won prizes that no person at his age should have, like a scooter. He’s been an oddity in the town, as far as we can see. The question remains – is he a Disco Stu-esque joke character, there just to be odd? Or will he get a day in the limelight?

Well, this episode answers the question.

In this episode, Onion serves as Steven’s direct antagonist. While Steven has faced antagonists before, this is the first time he encounters a human or humanoid antagonist, rather than a monster or a force of nature. Can I argue that the stakes are getting higher for Steven? Possibly. Still, the schism is over a rather silly thing – the Ranger Guy. We’re still in the era of the show focusing on Steven’s everyday life and the Gem interactions with humanity, rather than the space opera direction the show would take in future episodes.

So, yeah, not too deep a plot. Characters pretty much have to carry this one.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I’m particularly interested in Onion as a character. Is he disturbing? Well… yeah, pretty obviously. Still, I really think that the structure of this episode works as a detriment. One of the first things he does in this episode is go to his fisherman father. Look, I know that those that “ride the Downeaster Alexa”, so to speak, don’t get to talk to their families nearly enough, and that is obviously distressing.

The thing is, it’s structured in a way that comes off as “Onion’s father is gone from home a lot, therefore, Onion’s a petty criminal and a madman”. First off, I’ve been trying not to raise eyebrows when it comes to societal issues in this show (in fact, the SU fandom has a reputation of taking offense too easily that it needs to shake off), but that seems a bit of a low-blow to working-class families. (Maybe it’s just me, though.) I understand that stable families can provide an emotional cornerstone for younger students, but still. Kinda also awkward for single-parent families.

Second off, it seems to be placed at the beginning of the episode to try and comprehend his actions later on. Yet, it comes off as rather flimsy, given the crap Onion pulls through the episode. Let’s see – he wrecks a scooter that he all but stole, does so by messing around with ketchup packets, uses an object replicator to try and multiply the GUYS, multiplies a sedan, and shows no. Damn. Remorse. And, the worst part, he gets away with it, because his dad is at sea. Any sympathy for this character is mitigated. If, maybe, they brought up his “away” parent in the middle of the episode, maybe the sympathy would’ve carried over more effectively.

If there is one great thing, it does teach some basic economics. The rarer the item, the less likely that bartering basic goods and services will be able to work, no matter how many. Oh, and many goods also contain some sentimental value to it. Ranger Guy is more than just a rare “GUY” – it represents a bond Steven had with his dad. When he gets the Ranger Guy back, he realizes that it was the nostalgia that he held rather than the actual possession of the GUYS. His donation to Onion, while questionable, does showcase that he knows how lucky he is to have at least some contact with his dad, and helps showcase his generosity. Unfortunately, the way Onion acts in the episode, the moral feels rather off.

In fact, this entire episode feels off. Between the awkwardly handled moral and the poorly-handled character development for Onion, it just didn’t really gel with me. Even the jokes felt a bit flat, for the most part. It’s a lot like Gravity Falls’s “The Love God”, in that regard – an episode with a decent amount of potential is held back by subpar execution.

Hate to say it, but this is among the weakest episodes of SU. It’s not entirely pointless – it adds more emotional levity to the better “sequel” to this episode, “Onion Friend” – but it’s very awkward to sit through. I don’t think any other episode of the show is this awkward… at least, in a “subpar writing” way.


  • OK, I loved the utter ubiquity of Dave Guy, and his eternal tax form accessory. Shows just how boring the man is, and why the machine spits his figures out. Betcha his “tax forms” note that he has nine kids, one of them is seven people, another’s part of the clergy, the eldest was wounded overseas, and his wife requires a nursing home. Also, he gave away his living room painting to promote nuclear power.
  • The acronym for GUYS is one of my all-time favorite acronyms in all of TV – up there with the League Of Villainous Evildoers Maniacally United For Frightening Investments in Naughtiness.
  • The reason why this review is going out relatively late is because, a) schoolwork, b) relative apathy towards this episode, and c) as I mentioned two posts ago, I am working on my cheesy Futurama blog. Now’s the time to read it – Season 3 is when Futurama gets really interesting.
Favorite Scene and Memorable Quote: Garnet’s reaction to the entire GUY Flood? Smash the replicator. Her reason?
“I’m not cleaning up this mess.”
I just love how the leader of the gang, who is supposed to be the one to look up to, is just as quick to dodge responsibility as anyone else can be, all in this one sentence.
Best Character: Steven, by default. This episode did give him some decent character development, so I’ll give him that.
Score: Fire Salt. Let me be perfectly clear – compared to episodes from other TV shows, this is actually not a bad episode. In fact, I really did like the animation and direction in this episode. It’s just not a well-written episode. I expect the best from Steven Universe. Sorry, Mr. Abrams.

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