Steven Universe Review: "Secret Team" (Season 1B, Episode 3)

Loudly shouting out “secret team” might do the exact opposite to your team, kid.

“We gotta come up with a name for our secret-keeping team. Something cool, like… a Secret Team.” – Steven, showing this show’s aversion to proper nouns for objects or places.

Airdate: October 16th, 2014

Written By: Hilary Florido and Katie Mitroff

Plot: Steven and Amethyst’s exercise of “diving into puddles of water in the latter’s room” sends them into Pearl’s room. There, a series of bickering between the two gems causes a bubble (formed by Rose) full of broken gem shards to pop, letting loose a lot of limbs. Since the bubbles are stored in Garnet’s room, the Gems fear death at the hands of Square Mom. Thus, the trio form an alliance – a “Secret Team”, if you prefer, in order to get the gem shards back into a bubble.

Review:

Going from epic episodes to silly little quasi-vignettes appears to be par for the course for Steven Universe right now. We’ve had an episode about Steven lamenting the death of his mother followed by a kid who might not even be human trying to kill him over a toy, Connie and Steven taking down a robot followed by a beach party, and Steven’s band trouble followed by a quartet of episodes that showed him learning that there was a lot of drama involving Gem culture. A lot of drama.

Here, after episodes focusing on Steven’s father lamenting his lack of communication and Pearl’s tragic desire to reach a utopia, we get… Steven forming alliances within the Crystal Gems over a popped bubble.

Epic, eh?

This episode showcases two alliances formed amongst the Crystal Gems. The first involves Steven, Pearl, and Amethyst, in an attempt to not get Garnet involved.

“Giant Woman” really showcased just how often Pearl and Amethyst were at each other’s throats. Neither side really could claim a moral high ground there – bickering over stupidity, and their actions almost resulted in Steven getting way to close to the stomach. In a way, it sorts of reminded me of the bickering that we see in early episodes of Red Dwarf, with opposing personalities in close quarters. However, Series III and on reduced the tensions between Lister and Rimmer, and made them part of a quartet – a rather begrudging team (“Would you describe the accused as a friend?” “Nah, I’d describe the accused as a git!”), but a team nonetheless.

Admittedly, and I do say this as a big Red Dwarf fan, the shift was mildly jarring. However, I will excuse that because of the 6-episode format and as part of the larger overall tonal shift in Series III, a shift that was beneficial for that show. Steven Universe, despite having shorter episodes, has more of them – effectively twice the time per season to flesh out these characters. These writers have less of an excuse. And, well, they know it, and take advantage of it.

Pearl and Amethyst are still knocking heads at the start of the episode. Of course, back then, all we knew about the two is that they were strange aliens that could fuse. Now, we know that they are strange alien refugees who were apparently part of an interstellar conflict… that could fuse. The stakes have been raised. The time for silly little conflicts is running down, and this episode tries to put a nail in its coffin.

Their idiocy, this time, has popped a genuine Rose Quartz bubble. Given what we know about shards, the fact that they weren’t in Garnet’s room is quite damning (and indeed, they grow into massive freakin’ arms when out of their bubble). Given what we know about Rose (ergo, she’s effectively dead), those bubbles are not only a bit of a rare commodity, but the popping of them is going to really suck. (Oh, and the fact that Pearl was in possession of a Rose Quartz bubble definitely raises an eyebrow… but we’ll get to that road later.)

My question is, why are they so damn petrified of Garnet? Well, first off, they stole a bubble from her. Second off, remember her damning reaction when Steven knocked off her glasses in “Mirror Gem”. Hell hath no fury like a Garnet livid. Also, Pearl and Amethyst have noted in “Arcade Mania” that Garnet is “the boss”, even with Pearl’s initial denial of it. To them, if she found out about this cover-up, they are toast. A union of the trio is, to the duo, the only option.

The thing is, the secret team was founded not out of a genuine respect for each other, but out of fear for the alternative. While Steven is on friendly terms with the two of them, and views the “Secret Team” as something cool, Pearl and Amethyst are still at odds. It’s a union of convenience, and once the job is done, they break up. This, despite the fact that, while a part of the team, they get on like a house on fire.

For Steven, this is pretty much two of his guardians fighting against each other – indicating that they still have a long way to go compared to “Giant Woman”. To him, it’s an utterly pointless schism, one that drives a wedge between not only the two, but his relationship with the duo. Such is his frustration that he takes drastic measures – forming his own alliance with Garnet. Irony is the ultimate weapon, and Steven utilizes it to try and get this ridiculous fight quelled once and for all.

When Garnet inquires if he’s confessing his role in order to make up for his role in the cover-up, Steven simply remarks “I just want Secret Team back.” Selfish as this might sound at first glance, beneath that line is a kid who just wants two of the people that he lives with to get along. And not for any serious reason – just because he knows that together, they can be more cohesive than they are apart. Garnet seems to get this vibe, and responds by producing a Kobayashi Maru for Pearl and Amethyst – either getting them to spill the beans for the sake of Steven, or putting them through psychological hell.

And still, Pearl and Amethyst can’t put their egos behind them. In effect, they are content to let a kid – a kid that only joined to see the two get along, no less – take the rap. Simply because they couldn’t fess up. Garnet, therefore, has to enact plan B – scare the raison d’etre for the Secret Team out of their brains. And once that’s said and done, she gives probably the most damning indictment the two have faced from a large-scale ally;

So, you two can’t get along unless you think I’m going to kill you. Steven, I know you wanted to help them. You wanted to protect them, even from me. They made you feel like you had to take their side. But there are no sides, because we’re all on the same team — The Crystal Gems!

Again, we must remember Amethyst’s note from “Gem Glow” – “You’re one of us, Steven! We’re not the Crystal Gems without you!” It goes without saying that the two (and Steven) needed to be reminded that the four of them are a cohesive whole, and should not be pawns in their silly, self-serving games that only served to try and protect their own egos.

Here, the four of them learn a harsh lesson – they could’ve merged the secret teams instead of dissolving them, and gotten a Pizza. (Interesting business model.) Nice going, morons.

Besides the character interactions, there are also a lot of interesting aspects to this episode. There’s the formation of the various limbs from the Gem Shards – implied in “An Indirect Kiss”, this indicates that the breakdown of a Gem literally causes the body parts to detach from each other permanently. Pearl’s possession of a Rose Quartz bubble is also rather suspect, as I noted above. I know she’s, y’know, the dead-ish leader, but the fact that Pearl, the stoic and by the book leader, stole that bubble definitely hits to some sort of devotion to Rose.

“Secret Team” is a quite good, if not great, episode. The character dynamics are pretty well-executed, the comedy works, and the twists are actually pretty cool twists. I just don’t think it stands out in the realm of (largely well-executed) Steven Universe episodes. And given that this is an episode revolving around the development of the physical makeup of Gems and the Pearl/Amethyst dynamic, that’s saying something.

Tidbits:

  • Glad to see that Steven took advantage of Garnet’s unbanning from Fish Stew Pizza.
  • One interesting aspect of this episode is the use of “Secret Team” graphics. Steven Universe does have a very comic-esque style when it comes to their more humorous moments (such as Steven explaining The No-Home Boys in “On The Run”), and this might be among the first examples of it. It really does help showcase the differences between the light-hearted moments and the dramatic moments – and even then, there are occasional overlaps.
  • This tidbit relies more on a tangential connection, but this episode sort of reminds me of the TNG episode “The First Duty”, where Wesley gets involved in a cover-up of a fatal accident, mainly to preserve the egos of the team, especially the leader of said team.
  • On a final note, I should bring up that, as you can tell, I tend to pay attention to the more science-fiction and character elements in Steven Universe, rather than it’s politics-centered and gender-centered themes. That said, I do have to give kudos to Rebecca Sugar for noting her own bisexuality at the recent San Diego Comic-Con. I can’t necessarily say I was surprised (she did imply in a couple of interviews that she wasn’t heterosexual), but it adds a new level of poignancy to the episodes that do rely on these themes of sexual identity. I still prefer to focus on the sci-fi and character elements, but that’s just my approach to reviewing this show.

Wrap Up:

Favorite Scene: No contest, it’s Garnet tricking the rest of the Crystal Gems into giving a confession. That’s leadership, right there.

Best Character: Garnet. Again, no contest. The arms. The arms.

Memorable Quote: “I just want Secret Team back.” – Steven. Again, a quote that would come off as completely self-serving (albeit self-deprecating) in other hands comes off as an innocent naiveté in the hands of our favorite half-human.

Verdict: Silver. While not an outstanding episode, it’s still a quite good outing.

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