Steven Universe Review: "Ocean Gem" (Season 1A, Episode 26)

Before I begin the review, I would be remiss to not offer my deepest condolences to the victims of the recent terrorist attack at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, as well as their friends and families. Not only was this the deadliest mass shooting in postwar US history – with 49 dead and 53 wounded – this was also (as far as I’m aware) the second deadliest domestic terrorist attack in postwar American history, superseded only by the 1995 Murrah Bombing in Oklahoma City. That this particular massacre happened at a gay nightclub, in a region so many Americans associate with happiness and innocence, is especially heinous.

It goes without saying that this shooting was a disgusting act of hatred against LGBT people, an attack against all Americans and the values that the nation thrives on, and even a crime against humanity, which should have moved beyond acts such as this. I’ll save the political discussions for somebody else – partially because I don’t want this post to be overshadowed by talking points on issues such as homophobia, religious extremism, gun laws, tabloid media, and counter-terrorism. I will, however, proudly declare myself an ally to the LGBT Community.

And yes, I am very aware that Steven Universe is a show that has strong gay and transgender overtones. If anything, take the existence of this show – virtually unfathomable ten years ago in its current form – as a way of saying that attempts to set back rights and progress for LGBT people, especially via terrorism, will achieve so little in the end. As far as terrorists in general, no matter what ideology they use to justify their warped actions, well, Jon Stewart put it best after 9/11 –

“They live in chaos. And chaos… it can’t sustain itself. It never could. It’s too easy, and it’s too unsatisfying.”

And, remember – letting terrorism deter you from doing whatever you would normally do – whether going to a nightclub or marching in a Pride parade- only gives these madmen a sense of victory. We can’t let that happen.

Now, on a hopefully lighter note…


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“Your pain runs deep! Share it with me!” (I may have just gotten myself banned from Trek fandom for life.)

“I’m gonna bring the ocean back, or get really thirsty trying.” – Steven, stating his resolve. Gonna need a lot of water, kid.

Airdate: September 25th, 2014

Writers: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu

Plot: Last time on Steven Universe, Pearl introduced Steven to a magic mirror, the mirror proves sentient and begs to be released from it’s prison, the Borg capture Captain Jean-Luc Picard and rename him Locutus, Charles Montgomery Burns is shot outside Town Hall after angering the entire town, Kryten creates a franchise-killing dinosaur with the Time Wand, Bill manages to start the Apocalypse via a distraught pre-teen, President Bartlet and his staff are targeted by assassins, and Lapis Lazuli is released before threatening to drown the Crystal Gems in an act of revenge.

Just as Steven is being reprimanded and grounded by the Crystal Gems for insubordination, they find out that the ocean has receded. To nothing. This presents a problem – Beach City stands to lose quite a lot of tourism dough. Realizing that he helped screw up an entire town’s economy, Steven, the Trio (who nullify the kid’s punishment), Connie, Lion, and Greg all go out to bring the ocean back. En route to the source, Steven finds out about a schism in the Gem society.

Review (Spoilers):

So, in the last episode, Steven Universe raised the stakes plot-wise. It hinted that our heroes might be in greyer territory than we thought. that Lapis might be morally questionable while still coming off as tragic, and that there is a universe of Gems beyond Earth.

This episode merely serves to confirm what we learned in the past episode, yet does so in a way that supersedes almost every episode up to this point in terms of quality.

Don’t ask how Steven can breathe in space. Just assume “half-alien” and leave it be.

Lapis, in the last episode, was introduced something of an enigma. Did she have a genuine reason for attacking the Crystal Gems after being freed? Was it all an attempt to deflect any sort of blame on her part? Were the Gems justified in keeping her in the mirror… if they knew that they kept her in the mirror?

Well, we do get quite a bit of clarification in terms of her character.

On one hand, she’s pretty damn destructive. Lapis, for one, takes all of the water out of the ocean, therefore screwing with the world’s aquaculture, the weather cycles, and therefore, the environment and economy. Plants and animals will die. She’s all but callous as to wanting to drown kids – yes, children. Oh, and she destroys Greg’s van – their mode of transport to the center of the ocean. He lives in that place, it’s the Crystal Gems’ only way back, and it winds up beaten up. Has she no shame?

Well…

Consider her motives, her backstory. It’s been implied that Lapis has quite the negative view of Earth. She was, after all, effectively kidnapped there, held hostage  – and, as we learn in this episode, she was held hostage by a group she considers traitors. The one human she felt an emotional connection towards effectively decided to stay with a group that she has written off as callous and Judas-esque… mainly because it goes way back in Gem history. What, exactly, she doesn’t elaborate.

All Lapis wants is to escape Earth, to go back home. Her gem being cracked, though, makes this damn near impossible. There’s not enough water to steal from the Third Rock from the Sun, and, even worse, her water wings (literally, her wings made out of water) can’t generate with a cracked gem. Yet, in trying to reach her own home, she’s damaging the home of god knows how many people. Steven even brings this up, and Lapis gets a moment of clarity.

Thankfully, Steven has his healing saliva – y’know, the saliva that allowed Connie to pop the lenses out of her glasses. Lapis gets her wings and flies off into the stars, forever liberated. Right?

Yeah… we’ll get back to this.

Either way, Lapis Lazuli, with our knowledge of the Gem Conflict, manages to give off a very, very sympathetic and affable aspect to the opposing side.

Now, onto the Gem conflict… to see Pearl spin it in a way that they themselves were the heroes, when Lapis thinks otherwise, really showcases an impressive level of depth in terms of plot and character dynamic. Pearl notes that, for one, there are corrupted Gems – the Centipeetle, the Ice Monster, etc. – who the Gems bubble and trap in Garnet’s room. The way she mentions it – after noting that “not all gems are good” – leads to some hint that, well, not only do “Homeworld” Gems not necessarily approve of this idea of imprisonment (or the reasoning behind it), but that they might be doing more unseemly things to corrupted Gems.

By the end of the episode, though, one has to wonder… is the Crystal Gems’ side of the story completely, unreservedly true? I mean, there’s definitely more credence to their side of the story based on what we have seen, but there could very well be some inaccuracies – small, but still damning. Later episodes will flesh out the actions of the Crystal Gems a bit more, but to see the show take such a mature tone is, again, impressive

Oh, speaking of complete and unreserved… the animation. Formerly fantastic, this episode has some of the most sublime visuals I have ever seen. Lapis’s face in the water (which almost reminded me of Star Trek V‘s god… except actually well done), the tower of water, the detailed sea floor that Greg and Pearl drive across… I was amazed by it all. These writers, storyboard artists, directors, put so much effort in this show, it’s astonishing.

And what amazed me even further is just how much Steven has evolved. Not only does he take complete responsibility for his actions, he tries to reason with Lapis. When Lazuli tries to finish off Steven and Connie, he manages to generate his shield. Yes, the kid who once flung his shield into a TV because he generated it by accident used it to save the Earth’s economy/environment/life and all that.

Steven activating his shield.

This not only cements Steven’s role as the “defense” of the Crystal Gems, but it really showcases just how in tune to his powers he has become since “Gem Glow” and “Cat Fingers”. And even then, he still tries to talk to Lazuli – not to destroy her, but to wonder… why? He’s baffled over this schism, and while both sides are willing to blast the other as irredeemable and write off the kid as naive (rightfully or otherwise), what manages to make this work is that Steven manages to quell the immediate conflict, at least for now.

He notes the hypocrisy of the situation – that Lapis is trying to go back home by devastating Steven’s home – and Lapis is able to admit that, yes, she only needs the water tower in the short term because her Gem is cracked. One application of saliva later, the earth is saved. There are still deep schisms, though, and none of those are really addressed, but to see Steven disarm a life-threatening disaster via diplomacy is very impressive, although it is tempered by the fact that, no matter what, this is only a band-aid over a larger conflict.

“Ocean Gem” finishes up the two-parter and Season 1A by blowing almost every other episode this “season” out of the water – the only episode that matches this is “An Indirect Kiss”. The characters are well-developed and sympathetic, the comedy is well-placed, the drama is intense, and the plot moves at the best possible pace. To see just how much the show has improved from “Gem Glow” is astonishing. There’s still one episode left in SU’s first five-parter, but I think it’s safe to say that we have entered the “best show on TV right now” territory, and I doubt we will leave it for quite some time.

“See ya, Lapis… wherever you are…”

Tidbits:

  • I am willing to concede right now that, as much as I wasn’t thrilled with the middle of “Mirror Gem”, to see Dewey there, campaigning, is one hilarious contrast to his role here, trying to fill up the ocean with a garden hose. All while sobbing. I rolled. Said it before, and I’ll say it again, but Joel Hodgson, man… he manages to make being captured on a satellite look dignified, and being in the annuls of power look pathetic.
  • Credit also goes to Jennifer Paz, for giving Lapis Lazuli such a sympathetic, almost tragic, and downright brilliant aura.
  • Oh, and the fact that Connie goes with Steven to protect him will foreshadow “Sworn to the Sword”, one of Steven Universe‘s greatest episodes.

Wrap Up

Favorite Scene: Lapis sends water versions of the Crystal Gems after them. All four gems respond by trying to ward off the threat. I like how it’s not even close to easy for them, and that ultimately, Steven’s shield is the most effective weapon.
Best Character: A carryover from the last one – Lapis Lazuli.
Memorable Quote: “…I just want to go home…” – Lapis. I love the regret and tragedy that Paz puts in that line.
Score:
Platinum. Safe to say, this show has ascended into awesomeness.
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