Steven Universe Review: "An Indirect Kiss" (Season 1A, Episode 24)

Steven looking at a statue of his mother.

“Just today, you were crying about snakes!” “They don’t have any arms!” – Steven and Pearl, engaging in riveting conversation about the tragedy of snake biology.

AirdateSeptember 18th, 2014

Written By: Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco.

Plot: Steven and Connie have come a long way from almost drowning together. Now, they have a pic-a-nic together. Thing is, Steven’s undergoing a bit of an emotional malaise. Also, there’s a fence by the lighthouse where they are having the pic-a-nic. Steven notes that the two are connected, but that the story ends sadly.

Apparently, Steven and Amethyst were horsing around on the edge. One thing led to another, and Amethyst fell of the edge, onto her gem. It cracks, causing her eye to dilate. Thus, Pearl requested, and presumably constructed, a fence up by the cliff.

OK, that’s not a sad ending. Connie inquires about the rest, and Steven finally cracks.

Apparently, Rose used to have tears that healed Gems. Unfortunately, Steven can’t muster up the tears readily. To fix Amethyst’s gem (lest she be permanently damaged), they go for plan B. (And no, it’s not moving the town 5 miles down the road.) The quartet wind up at Rose’s fountain, which apparently has magical healing abilities. Unfortunately, the entire fountain is overgrown, driving Pearl to the brink of insanity. And Steven still can’t muster up the tears. An internal crisis ensues.

Review

This episode marks the second part of Steven Universe’s first five-part arc – one that fleshes out the Crystal Gems, Steven’s role in the dynamic, and everybody’s backstory. This time, we get a look at how Steven feels about the legacy he feels like he has to live up to. What follows is a very impressive episode – one filled with introspection and brilliance.Rose, thus far, has largely been talked about as the practical paragon of what being a Crystal Gem is like. We hear a lot about the fact that she loved all things (or saw something beautiful in all things), that she tried her damnedest to fix the Monster Gems, etc. Of course, a lot of this lies in the fact that, well, you never speak ill of the dead, Rose served as their wise and learned leader. Also, it’s heavily implied in this episode that Pearl had the hots for Rose (I’ll talk about that in the tidbits section). Oh, and there’s the small fact that they’re dealing with her son.

This son, however, doesn’t seem to have the same emotional connection that the others did. Remember Steven’s rant against Lars in “Lars and the Cool Kids”?

“What do you know about my mom?! I didn’t even get to know my mom! But I do know, she saw beauty in everything – even in stuff like this… and even in jerks like you!”

As I mentioned in my review of that particular episode, though, the latter part of his outburst came as a result of Pearl bringing it up at the start of that episode. It’s the bolded part of the rant above that lends itself to that episode. Steven never knew his mother. All he gets is second-hand information, which can provide a disconnect. I’m not saying that Rose was evil or anything – far from it. I’m just saying that, well, Steven can’t comprehend why exactly Rose is seen as this paragon.

He can’t mourn her the way others do. Sure, seeing her empty garden is moving, but it’s not tearjerking enough for him. The kid recognizes this, and he actually says that all he wants is to have met her. It’s a scenario that was damned from the start, unfortunately. In fact, it’s actually this somber reaction from Steven that provides for another tearjerker – Connie’s eyes are pretty welled up as she eats her sandwich.

The one thing that does make him cry is the idea that Amethyst is in danger of, well, dying. In fact, it’s the close connection to the gems that triggers his emotions. They’re the ones that he knows. He was clearly in tears when Pearl got a sword in the back and was petrified that he would disappoint Garnet in “Serious Steven”. No duh, it would be Amethyst that would start the waterworks.

This episode also notes that, well, Steven has quite a legacy to fill. I mean, Rose had all of these epic healing powers, damn it. What does Steven have? At this point, comparatively little. Sure, he was able to protect Connie in a bubble (possible symbolism there), but his powers are still comparatively lackluster. He’s a preteen – he doesn’t comprehend the cliche that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”.

Worse, he feels like he has such a tall order to fill, and feels that it’s imperative to the survival of his friend – of the structure of the Crystal Gems. Unfortunately, his tears appear to lack that particular power. He’s stunned for many a reason – most notably, that he might not be the successor to Rose. When the fountain does activate, he gets a sweet moment of believing that he did it… only for Pearl to reveal that she and Garnet merely unclogged a pipe.

In his mind, this translates to “You’ll never have any real magic powers, and we don’t want anything more to do with you.” Literally – he says this to Connie.  To see this seemingly cheerful kid so depressed, so out of it, feeling so abandoned and useless is simply sobering to watch. Also of note, he begins to tear up again here – reinforcing the idea that he is far closer to the Gems that raised him than his own biological mother, and that losing them would devastate him.

So… why is Connie in this episode? It doesn’t seem like she has a purpose – this episode could’ve been told without the flashbacks, right?

Well, yes. However, it’s Connie’s presence in this episode that turns this from “great” to “sublime”.

As I’ve mentioned before, Connie serves as the show’s audience surrogate, in a way. She has no powers, relies on her outside knowledge to solve the issues of the day, and the most eccentric aspect of her persona appears to be her geekiness. While she is aware of Steven’s alien-ness, that doesn’t influence her appreciation of him. Not in the slightest. He’s still that sweet kid. In fact, she knows that he can access his powers. Kid helped saved her from a falling rock by creating a bubble.

This is just Steven doubting himself.

Remember in “Coach Steven”, Pearl sang that she wanted to be Steven’s rock and inspire him? Well, should that rock fall to the wayside (which, chances are, it won’t), Connie sure as hell will take up the mantle. Admittedly, the way she phrases it can come off as a bit self-centered out of context (after Steven begins weeping over the idea that the Gems would reject him for his lack of powers, Connie says “you don’t need any powers to be with me”), but here, it’s a reaffirmation of the fact that she treasures him as a confidante.

And it’s through her that Steven finds out about his power… healing saliva. In this case, Steven’s backwash restores her vision.

Her reaction is not one of joy, but of shock – that this strange boy has irreversibly and noticeably – yet also positively – affected her life. After all, if you were told by your child that his or her friend fixed their vision, you would cry malarkey at first, too. And while an argument can be made that it wouldn’t matter, given that the Gems do interact with the rest of the world, I propose the counterargument that Connie’s parents have (up to this point) been heavily implied to be strict. Magic would freak them the hell out.

So, what’s her reaction once Steven leaves the area, rushing to tell the rest of the gems? She takes her glasses…

Connie popping the lenses out of her glasses

..she pops the rose-colored lenses out of them…

Connie putting the frames back on.

…yet leaves the frames on.

There is so much to dissect in this one movement. As far as a character move, it’s Connie taking a third way – throwing aside the redundancy of the glasses, yet also deciding to keep the frames in order to best ward off suspicion from her parents. Given what’s been implied about them, it’s an act of a rather dramatic defiance.

Yet, note how stern the character is. No longer is Steven a mere spectator nor guest star in Connie’s life, nor vice versa – the two are now permanently intertwined, as confidantes, as friends. Their lives have been forever affected by their presence.

And the disposal of the rose lenses also marks an even more dramatic act of symbolism. For Connie, this once-sweet and silly boy has also become a figure with tragic traces inside him.

On a meta level? The disposal of the rose-colored lenses is in my opinion, the moment when Steven Universe, Rebecca Sugar’s solo project, officially marks it’s transformation from “silly Cartoon Network sci-fi comedy” into a science-fiction television epic. From the moment on, the show is no longer about four aliens living in a beach house – it becomes a space opera, a post-war drama, and most importantly, a character piece.

“An Indirect Kiss” is, in many ways, representative of it’s title. The follies of Frybo, the terror with the teacups, and the fire salt fiasco are no longer paramount. They have been kissed goodbye.

Next time, we meet Lapis Lazuli, a character who is, in more than one way, the show’s revolutionary.

As far as this episode goes, I was not disappointed. In fact, I was really, really impressed. There was great character development, a sobering story, and fantastic interactions. It really was one of the most emotional episodes so far. Unless “Mirror Gem” and/or “Ocean Gem” blow me away, I think that “An Indirect Kiss” might be the best episode of 1A.

Tidbits:

  • Getting back to Pearl’s role in this episode, it’s pretty clear that her feelings for Rose went quite a bit beyond those of her comrades. She describes the garden in a very emotional and nostalgic matter, is mortified that it overgrew, seems to imply that Rose was the one that kept the team sane, and is petrified when Garnet kicks a rock through some of the roots. With only this episode, it’s clear that she at least had a high reverence for her former leader. Dare I say, it’s almost like she was in love with Rose. Later episodes will flesh this out, by the way.
  • Garnet maintains her stoicism through the entire ordeal… except for punching the rock through the roots. Undoubtedly a decent idea, but still, the consequences could have been relatively insane. Makes me wonder if her stiff upper lip is really that healthy for her. I mean, she did fuse into Sugilite a few episodes ago, and she, plus Amethyst’s id, went full-on mental.
  • I also have to commend the animation, again. Every single thing in this episode is so well-animated, so vibrant and colorful, so flowing. I just found out that the show is hand-drawn. Yes. Hand-drawn. God, I love this show.
  • Oh, and I’m going to experiment slightly with the layout of my posts for the next review or so. Nothing radical – just some font sizes and headings.

Wrap Up:

Favorite Scene: Connie popping out the lenses from her glasses after getting her vision repaired, due to the rich symbolism and the dramatic way it was presented. That was a tough one, though, since this episode also had…
Memorable Quote: “I don’t know how to feel about you, but everyone else does. I wish I could have met you then this place would make me sad, and I could cry healing tears, like you.” – Steven. Not a whole lot more needs to be said.
Best Character: Steven, with with the large amounts of introspection and all that jazz.

Score: Platinum. I’m not kidding – I think this episode is one of the most iconic of the entire show. It moved me, it fleshed out Steven… it’s just fantastic.

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