Steven Universe Review: "Fusion Cuisine" (Season 1B, Episode 6)

 

“All comedy is derived from fear.” – Garnet. It’s as close to a description of this episode as I can come up with.

Airdate: November 6th, 2014

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Hellen Jo

Plot: Garnet screws up royally while on the phone with Connie’s mother. Incensed, she requests to see Steven’s mom and dad for dinner. Funny thing, though – Steven’s mom is sorta dead, and all of the Crystal Gems have flaws that could screw up a potential dinner. Steven, however, has a trick up his sleeve – have the trio fuse into Alexandrite. Hilarity ensues… and by hilarity, I mean a dinner that makes the ones attended by Frank Reynolds look professional in comparison.

Review:

There’s a thin, fine line between “characters engaging in momentary idiocy” and “characters becoming around as naive as Ralph Wiggum”. Remember back when I reviewed “Keep Beach City Weird”, a few days ago? Well, no need – I just reviewed it a few days ago. One of my chief complaints about that episode was that at least two of the characters were turned quite stupid in order to aid the climax – crossing the line, or at least, toeing it.

Which brings us to “Fusion Cuisine”, the episode on tonight’s menu.

Opinions on this episode range the gamut from “ingenious comic romp” to “waste of 11 minutes, who wrote this crap” (Lamar Abrams and Hellen Jo, for those wondering). A lot of this deals in the more “awkward” comedy found in this episode – a good chunk of it, frankly, based on the characters being dumbasses or otherwise irritating.

Before we get into that, though, I should clarify that there are a lot of elements about this episode that I certainly liked. Expanding Connie’s living situation out makes some form of cents sense. (Stupid “Lion 2”.) Our first hint at Connie’s folks came in her debut – “Bubble Buddies” had a throwaway comment at Connie’s eating habits. “My parents don’t let me eat donuts. They have trans fats.” Cue Steven in absolute shock.

Understandable, but still, it sets up that Connie’s folks are rather strict.

This episode expands that out even further – they are paternalistic to a fault. Even Benjamin Disreali would look at Doctor Maheswaran and say “what the hell, woman?” It’s heavily implied that she’s a conservative – and not the John Kasich-esque moderate conservative, the “gay marriage may lead to a lesbian queen” strand of conservative – or at least, comes off as one. Hey, if Connie lied about the “nuclear family”, something’s clearly up. It’s also implied that, if Connie noted that her dad was a widower, she would’ve flipped. Lady, even Dan Quayle’s probably loosened up.

Oh, she’s a bit of a jerk to her kid. I’m sorry, but there’s a fine line between “making sure your kid is polite and intellectual” and “humiliating them in public”, and the Doctor goes over that line. No explaination of right and wrong, she expects Connie to follow the guidelines without any sort of explaination as to why her strictness is necesssary. There are characters I dislike in fiction, but honestly, few have left as poor a first impression as much as Dr. Maheswaran. There’s little rationale to her behavior, and little in the way of comedy in an episode that’s supposed to be a comic romp. She hits at just the right level to make me dislike her – and not in a good way.

(Don’t assume that I’m leaving Mr. Maheswaran out of my criticism, either. Marriage takes two to tango, and he doesn’t really speak up about his wife’s overt callousness. If anything, he appears complicit. Dislike him, too.)

It seems like the episode understates just how tragic this can be. There is another episode that goes a bit more into detail about it, so I’ll give this episode a very partial pass. Very. Partial. Pass.

But they’re not the only problem I have with this episode. As I implied before the break, what should be character development instead comes off as either lobotomy or simplification for, frankly, too many characters.

First off, how the hell does Dr. Maheswaran not tell the difference between Garnet’s voice and Alexandrite’s voice? The closest thing to a justification of this is the “absent-minded doctor” character trope, and even then, it’s more of an excuse than anything. Now, one could argue that she wasn’t amused, but given how she acts to Connie face-desking at the table, I’m amazed that she didn’t raise her hackles about a thirty-foot multi-armed woman in front of her. Then again, maybe she was just biding her time to see how long until this charade fell apart. Still, sort of waffle-ly.

And did Garnet not put two and two together and decide to come along and clear the air? Again, I know she’s not the best conversationalist, but she’s supposed to be the more logical, sane member of the Crystal Gems. There is a later episode which makes this twist even stupider, and makes the actual creation of Alexandrite pretty damn pointless. Hell, what about sending Pearl? You don’t have to eat at a dinner.

Also, why the hell did Greg go with this? Even with the odd bit of incompetence (his business appears to be barely functioning), he normally has more foresight than this. I could buy his bumbling behavior in “House Guest”, mainly in a (misguided) attempt to reconnect with his kid. Here, he goes straight into full-blown idiot territory. Did he really think this would work? Thinking about this episode may cause headaches.

Now, I feel like I’ve railed against this episode more than enough, so I will give it some positives.

First off, I did like the idea of fusing the trio together, even though I do wish we got to see Garnet and Pearl’s fusion beforehand and I wish the circumstances were more effectively executed. You have this intense fusion between three totally different gems, and where else do we get a first display than at a simple dinner date? Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl can’t even get that right. Truly, for a bunch of roommates, they don’t really get each other. As far as Alexandrite’s behavior at the dinner table itself, consider this an example of the show’s “reverse escapism” backfiring.

I also had a soft spot for Steven’s analysis of the trio when deciding who will be his mother. While it did veer a bit into “irritating Steven” territory, his appreciation for the trio seems genuine enough. His idea of fusing the trio is not meant to be manipulative, but comes with the idea that the three will display their altruistic qualities into the resulting fusion – not their less idealistic aspects. Oh, you naive, naive kid.

And, much as I really, really dislike Dr. and Mr. Maheswaran in this episode, they do improve very slightly at the end of this episode. Turns out they learned that non-traditional guardians can be as disciplinary as traditional guardians. In fact, they seem less livid at the alien parents than they do the fact that Connie lied to them. I guess that’s a good lesson? Maybe Connie’s parents aren’t complete jerkasses? Still don’t really like them in this episode, but yeah…

Finally, I did like the Steven/Connie dynamic in this episode. To see the two in conflict over something silly seems, well, stupid. However, the fact that they talk through it after the fact and reconcile easily does show that their relationship has some staying power. Still, I would like to see a philosophical schism between the two – and we will see something approaching that in “Full Disclosure”.  As it is, though, this episode does a rather decent job.

In fact, I can comprehend Connie’s situation in this episode. She, as I’ve mentioned before, represents the outsider looking into the weirdness… and liking it. But she still has to deal with the everyday reality. Her parents, as much as I dislike them, do represent a decent contrast – two characters who have no knowledge of the supernatural, and who might not like it. While I still don’t like their execution too well, I can appreciate the concept behind their inclusion in this episode.

Looking at it, maybe it seems like I’m being too harsh on this episode.

Why is that?

The biggest complaint I have, though, is the one that damns it closer to the bottom of my “Steven Universe Power Rankings” – this episode just feels awkward. Despite trying to come off as an average SU episode, it feels… crueler. And not in a good way.

I should clarify, though, that I like “Keep it Together”, or “Rose’s Scabbard”, or the episode about a certain sword crafter. Those episodes are tragic and often make you feel uncomfortable. One could argue that, by that logic, those episodes are “crueler”. However, at least in my viewpoint, they do so in a way that feels like a Steven Universe episode – adding a somber aura to the characters, the world they exist in, etc.

And don’t take that as a personal slight against “cruel”, macabre comedy, either. “Better Than Life”, again, was the episode that made me a fan of Red Dwarf, and that ended with the crew almost being eaten alive by killer ants due to Rimmer’s neuroses. The difference is that “BTL”  felt like a Red Dwarf episode, and it gave a good chunk of awesomely tragic character development for Arnie J. And the show didn’t gloss over his callousness and his parents’ cruelty like “Fusion Cuisine” seems to do with Mr. and Dr. Maheswaran. (As for why the Cat seemed overlooked in “BTL”, well, that’s a bit more ambiguous.*)

Even then, SU has done some cringe comedy beforehand, and afterwards. However, it felt limited in other episodes, and was balanced out by other types of comedy, or some form of impressive plot or character development. I just don’t think the show can do this type of comedy at this level for this long, in this way. It just feels unnatural and strange to watch these particular characters acting awkward and idiotic for as long as they did here.

That, with a plot that’s rather predictable (come on, you sure as hell know that the trio are going to screw it up, and the writers don’t separate Connie and Steven), and characters that feel off, makes this episode a bit of a rough watch. Not even the good elements can overshadow just how uncomfortable and awkward this episode feels. This episode gets 1000 years of W.O.O.**, plus no television.

…OK, it’s not that bad (give this to me over “Pete” any day of the week). Maybe I’d be less incensed at this episode if it had aired during 1A (after “An Indirect Kiss”, even). But the stakes are higher now, and compared to it’s contemporaries, it’s a bit of an off effort. But, again, it’s just my own personal tastes. I’d still recommend watching this episode, if only out of curiosity.

Tidbits:

  • So… Pearl doesn’t like eating. Anything. Yeah, I like the twist as a good point of contrast with Amethyst, but it’s execution in this episode seems a bit… off. For a show as carefully placed together as this, to not foreshadow anything about this seems more than a bit unusual. Then again, the Simpsons episode “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk” had Smithers get stung by several bees, years before his severe allergy was established in “Twenty-Two Short Films About Springfield”.***
  • I still have to give kudos to the voice actors and actresses in this episode. Special note goes to Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, who manages to make Dr. Maheswaran a more relatable character, if not a more likable one. And I don’t think I’ve gushed over Tom Scharpling and Grace Rolek yet, so just make note of it – they even make their less sympathetic moments relatable.
  • Also… first Bowie, than Alan Rickman, Prince, now Gene Wilder’s joined Death’s Class of 2016. Bizarrely enough, despite only watching Willy Wonka, this one hit me. Keep breaking my heart, 2016.

Wrap Up:

Favorite Scene: By default, I guess Steven and Connie’s argument in the restaurant itself.
 
Best Character: Um, Garnet, simply because….
Memorable Quote: “Hello… this is Mum Universe. Sorry, the children are playing swords. Sorry – playing with swords. They’re bleeding. Oh, no! They are dead! Don’t call again.” – Garnet. She needs to take an acting class.

Verdict: Fire Salt. Even with the merits I’ve mentioned, it’s probably my least favorite episode of Steven Universe that I’ve covered so far, and one of the weaker ones overall. It was just an awkward episode that, in my view, simply never got the balance right in terms of tone and character. Maybe I am slightly harsher with this show than I might be with others, but that’s because I know what the Crewniverse are capable of.

On that note, I am announcing that I am going to try a “ranking” system (on a separate page) for the Steven Universe episodes that I’ve covered so far. This is actually inspired by the brilliant Loreweaver Universe live-blog (check him out), as well as Steven, Universally, so kudos to them for the idea.

*If you’re wondering, who knows what caused Rimmer to go loony? Was it just Cat wanting to mess around with Rimmer’s fantasy? Or was Rimmer that psychologically tortured that he imagined Cat screwing around with Rimmer’s fantasy. I’m going with the latter, but the former is also a good interpretation. There are many reasons besides nostalgia why it’s my favorite episode of the show.
** With… out… oxygen. No oxygen for 1000 years. That’ll teach this episode to be a breadbasket.
*** Rebuttal to my rebuttal, The Simpsons has a much looser grasp of continuity compared to Steven Universe.

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