“School’s out!” – Steven, after taking a class on a Gem mirror. His summer vacation takes a bit of a downward turn from there.
Airdate: September 22nd, 2014
Writers: Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco
Plot: Steven, as it turns out, hasn’t received formal schooling. At all. He manages to get Pearl to teach him a lesson – one revolving around a magic hand mirror. At first, it appears that the magic mirror doesn’t work. However, it begins repeating phrases that it overhears during Steven’s walk. In a way, it becomes sentient. And when the Gems find out, they all begin to think that Steven might be in danger. However, Steven also begins to think that the mirror itself is in danger.
“Mirror Gem” is well known in the Steven Universe fandom for it’s twist, one that completely re-routed the plot development in Steven Universe and marked the show’s transformation into a dramatic, science fiction epic…
Pearl stabbed MC Bear Bear!
That’s just an absolute tragedy, unforeseen in the show’s canon. And for one of our heroes to do it? An action on par with the destruction of Alderaan, that is. It’s as if a stuffed bear cried out in shock… and then was silenced…
…oh, and Steven lets loose a gem, one that’s hostile to the Trio and wants them dead because, apparently, they effectively imprisoned and kidnapped her before tossing her mirror prison aside like a subpar movie that they got at the Walmart dollar bin.
Yeah… this episode. This is the big one – an epoch in the show’s development, even. And it starts out so innocently… or at least, it seems like it starts out innocently.
In a sense, we continue from the past episode, with Steven and Connie on the phone, talking about summer vacation… and, in Steven’s case, the mere concept of school. While an argument can be made that this scene can largely stand on it’s own, I think the previous episode aides it by showing another, tighter connection between Connie’s everyday life and Steven’s more adventurous life, as well as their close friendship.
To this end, we get a look at just how disconnected Steven has been from what we consider society. He hasn’t received a formal education, he hasn’t been seen with peers his age (bar Connie, so far), and so many more. It’s a bit of a miracle that he’s as well adjusted as he is. (OK, I’ll admit – aspiring teacher’s viewpoint there.) Once he finds out, he gets Pearl to give him a formal lesson on something – in this case, a mirror. In effect, she does what the Crystal Gems have sorta been doing all along, just a bit more “formally”.
So, with great power comes great responsibility? Yeah, the mirror is broken, so Steven has some fun with it. Until he finds out it isn’t broken – that he can talk to it. Yeah, the middle of the episode is maybe a bit too silly, relying a bit much on Steven and the mirror acting a bit too obnoxious. In fact, it actually almost hurts what is otherwise a great, great episode.
And then the mirror becomes really sentient. It takes a silly replay of the day’s events and uses it to communicate distress. So, I guess the silliness of the middle of the episode did have some purpose, I guess? I dunno – I think they could’ve executed it a tad bit better. Then again, I’m one to nitpick on occasion. Take that how you will.
So, where was I? Yeah, the mirror.
As soon as the Crystal Gems put two and two together as to what the mirror possibly contains, they try and remove it from the equation, take it from Steven’s presence. Here’s the deal, though. Garnet slips up when trying to formulate an excuse – “It will be safer where we can watch it” – and then tries to make an excuse – “It’s just a mirror. A tool. It can’t want anything.” All while the mirror is screaming in terror. The Crystal Gems knew what was in the mirror, or at the very least, had a damn good idea that it was in some way a threat.
Steven, though, has already formed a rather close relationship with this mirror. He know’s its sentience. He seems to understand it’s pure terror at the thought of being in the hands of the trio. With this in mind, he commits what appears to be his first intentional act of insubordination – slapping Garnet’s hand away, thus causing her sunglasses to fall off. Garnet, the normally stoic, reserved, and thus far, understanding of the trio, reacts in a way that would make one believe they have been officially sentenced to the ninth circle of Hell.
Naturally, the kid shows remorse (or at least regret) before bolting from the Temple. It’s a pretty understandable reaction, though, given that Garnet and Amethyst give chase, with Pearl trying to explain that “he didn’t know what he was doing!” Glad to see that at least one of the gems is giving some form of a defense for the kid. And of course, it was Pearl. Guilt for giving Steven the mirror in the first place? Or not understanding what the hell is going on? These are legitimate questions.
OK, back to the running kid. Steven bolts to the beach, where the mirror demands freedom. Finally putting two and two together, Steven pulls a cracked gem from the back of the hand mirror, allowing it to regenerate.
And out comes Lapis Lazuli.
Lapis is one of the very first “fan favorite” characters. There are many reasons for this – many, many reasons. Once released, she thanks Steven for talking to her, for helping her. Clearly, she wanted this for many, many years. She questions why somebody from the Crystal Gems would do such a favor for her. Steven’s confused that anybody, anybody, would question those that appeared to have raised him. Is she just saying that because she wants the gems destroyed?
Well, when the trio arrives, Lapis immediately attacks them. And, the best part? She gives a reason!
You three knew I was in there, and you didn’t do anything. Did you even wonder who I used to be? I’m Lapis Lazuli, and you can’t keep me trapped here anymore!
Let’s give Lapis the benefit of the doubt for a moment, and take everything she says at face value. Did the Crystal Gems really intend to toss her to the side like an old shoe? Did they really ignore her for a reason, or downright ignored her existence? We’ll get some answers in Season 3, but right now, if what she’s saying is true… well, our heroes are pretty callous.
The operative part of that sentence, though, is “if what she’s saying is true“.
Why? Well, take this exchange…
Lapis: “Steven, come with me.”
This brief conversation confirms the following; a) the Gems are aliens, and b) the Crystal Gems are expats, and it’s very heavily implied (and later confirmed) that they are refugees. And all in the span of six freaking words. Lapis could simply be telling lies in order to get Steven, who has freed her, to rebel against the ones he has loved. While the seriousness in her voice can dilute that claim a little bit, and one could argue she’s trying to “liberate” Steven from the trio, at the point of this episode, it seems like an equally valid argument, at least based on this episode alone.
And her parting words to the kid – “Don’t trust them, Steven.” – are equally damning, yet equally mysterious. What, if anything, did the Crystal Gems do to make them untrustworthy? Is what we see of them what they really are? Are they treacherous? Or, again, is it Lapis’s attempt to try and get Steven to betray his mentors, his mothers? This complexity is incredible.
Some of these questions will be answered in the next episode, but we leave now on a stunned Steven, a simmering Garnet (“Steven, you’re grounded”), and a Crystal Gem team having very well seen an epoch.
By which I mean, this was a very good episode. A weaker than I expected first half does hurt it slightly, but the second half of the episode is harrowing and disquieting, introducing one of the show’s most interesting characters. This is the episode, along with its partner, that inalterably shook up Steven Universe, and it’s not hard to see how.
- Credit has to go to Lapis Lazuli’s voice actress, Jennifer Paz. Honestly, she manages to give her character such a sympathetic, tragic, powerful aura. Paz is apparently more of a stage actress, but I think this could be a television breakthrough for her.
- Joel Hodgson reappears as Mayor Dewey. Honestly, Dewey’s pompousness (thanks to Hodgson’s acting) makes the middle of the episode a bit better.
- I also really like the reveal that Pearl might be a bit obsessive compulsive. Amethyst puts MC Bear Bear on the pile that Pearl made, and she immediately pierces him. “Symmetrical means both sides have to stay the same!”
- In fact, given that Lapis argued that the Crystal Gems have done some pretty obnoxious things in the past… can this be considered symbolic? Pearl stabbing one of Steven’s stuffed animals? One thing that is symbolic, however, is that after this, Steven may very well be growing up rapidly.
Favorite Scene: Without a doubt, the introduction of Lapis Lazuli. I also think it safe to say that she’s the…
Gold. A comparatively weak middle does harm it a little, but it’s more than made up for with a thrilling climax… one that we’ll take a look at next time. “Ocean Gem”.