Steven Universe Review: "Watermelon Steven" (Season 1B, Episode 8)

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The Cat: Think of all the glorious, beautiful, wondrous things about having children.
Lister: Like?
The Cat: Like, when they grow up and leave home!
Red Dwarf, “Parallel Universe”.

Airdate: November 20th, 2014

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Hellen Jo.

Plot: Steven and Greg spend one evening holding a watermelon seed spitting contest. Steven wins by a mile. The next morning, he wakes up surrounded by a bunch of humanoid watermelons. Stunned, he learns that Rose grew plants as a form of defense. Not seeing them move, he decides to sell them. It’s only thanks to Onion’s daily high misdemeanor that Steven realizes that they can move. And, indeed, anybody that wrongs Steven even slightly – even lays a finger on them – faces an ass kicking. And, no, the Crystal Gems are not spared.

Review:

I seriously can’t believe I have to type these words out… Steven has sired an entire species of watermelons. By spitting out seeds.

Yes. Steven is effectively a father. And God. James Kirk and Benjamin Sisko, eat your heart out – Steven has usurped both of you. One can only laugh.

How the hell do I review this? “Watermelon Steven” has one of those “high concept” plots that should make for epic episodes. Hey, characters creating species gave us “Godfellas”, often considered one of the most thought provoking and best Futurama episodes of all time. The last time I reviewed something that directly dealt with God, though, it had Kirk and his friends sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and Uhura fan-dancing, before they met a version of God that looked like an effect from The Wizard of Oz.

Not helping is that this episode was written by Lamar Abrams and Hellen Jo, who contributed to the relative mess that was “Fusion Cuisine”. My expectations are lowered thus – if this episode turns out to be worse, I’ll ask Paddy Ashdown how to best prepare a hat for consumption.

“Watermelon Steven” is, first and foremost, an episode about Steven becoming a father. It actually begins with him interacting with Greg – spitting out watermelon seeds. Even as the two don’t really interact with each other, this really shows just how tight of a bond Greg and Steven have. Truly, they are a fantastic father-son pairing – one of my favorites in any media that I’ve seen. Still, their relationship is largely built on Greg being a goof – a goof that often gives good advice, but goofing around with his son, nonetheless.

And then Steven, again, becomes a father. He spits his seeds all through the entire area, and by the time he wakes up, he’s grown a bunch of watermelons. With seed eyes. I am not making this stuff up. Apparently, yes, he carried over all of Rose’s powers. My question is… why would Rose have the ability to create an entire army of sentient fruit people? Well, she needed a backup army, or maybe it’s a symbol of just how in-tune with the Earth Rose was.

Still, it’s rather interesting that this paragon of the Crystal Gems grew plants simply to have a backup army, or to defend her. In effect, she pretty much grew an army from the start. We can debate whether or not this counts as raising sentient beings to fight or not, and just what type of sentient beings this represents, but I’m sure as hell getting back to this later in season three.

The plot, strangely enough, starts with Steven trying to make a profit over the weird watermelons. However, once Baby Melon escapes from Onion’s clutches on his own terms, Steven bolts in an attempt to save his other kids, whether from normal food or your average everyday vivisection. Give him credit – dude is on track to be one hell of a father. Don’t. Mess. With. His. Watermelon. Kids.

Unfortunately, the plants were, again, grown simply to kick ass and take names. They proceed to beat the stuffing out of Ronaldo. Then, they turn on the Gems, mainly because Pearl (literally) laid a hand on Steven. (Overprotective, or just untrained? I’m going with “yes”.) They gain the upper hand, unfortunately, to the point where they even want to bury Amethyst in a shallow grave. (“Those flowers are lovely!” Side note, but in a few episodes, that scene is going to go from “awkwardly funny” to “simply awkward”.)

Impressively, Steven tries to get in the middle of it all, begging the Watermelons to stop fighting. I, personally, find this a fascinating hint at a sea change between Steven and his Mother. Rose trained her plants to serve as a line of defense. Steven is trying to rebut that view. Of course, circumstances have been, in the past, less deadly for Steven then they were for Rose. (Although, with what happened with Lapis, times, they are a-changing.)

And here, we get the most impressive part of the episode. Baby Melon lays a hand on Steven…

…and, with the raise of his hands, tells the other melons, “come at me, ya smegheads.”

So, yeah, Baby Melon becomes the sacrificial lamb for the watermelons, who proceed to beat him into slices. (Rarely has war been so brutal and so juicy at the same time.) I’m starting to think that this episode is either a critique of religious crusaders (who are willing to destroy even their own to save their god), or other zealous political and militia extremists. Again, this is something that we’ll take a look at during season three.

Needless to say, Steven is not pleased.

Look at what you’ve done. You think I wanted this? You should all be ashamed! He knew this is what it would take to calm your rage. He understood true loyalty… Go! Think about what you’ve done. And don’t come back until you understand what he did for me, for all of us!

This is, honestly, one of his first truly “mature” moments. Sure, he’s had moments of levity before, but to see this insight from him shows that, well, he has become a more focused. He’s starting to understand how characters and societies function, how they operate. Also increasing the impact of his rant is the idea that, well, the watermelons pretty much killed his son in an attempt to save him.

We still have quite a ways to go, but from a kid who was just excited to eat some Cookie Cat ice cream in episode 1, there is quite a bit of difference.

Shamed by this, the melons simply take their leave, walking into the ocean. I think that one particular moment really showcases just what they think of Steven – he’s their god, their father, and their (former) leader. And they’ve shamed him. Their walking into the ocean actually gives Steven’s coronation as “watermelojesty” a lot of credence. Perhaps they saw the kid in his crown as they were growing overnight and thought “well, he’s our anointed majesty, all hail him.”

Unfortunately, the aura of the moment is sorta taken off-balance by Steven eating Baby Melon.

Granted, I’ll take that over half of the comedy in “Fusion Cuisine”, and I’m willing to concede I did laugh, but still. My personal interpretation of Lamar Abrams and/or Hellen Jo is that they write Steven Universe as a comedy that happens to have dramatic elements to it. And that’s fine. They have their right to write the show however they please. I mean, it was probably approved by the rest of the writers. And I can appreciate the tonal difference in their writing. I’m just not too gung-ho about it, personally.

So yeah, “Watermelon Steven” is good. It takes some of the darker comedy that “Fusion Cuisine” tried to do, and executes it in a way that’s pretty funny, albeit with a tinge of well-executed tragedy. The fact that my review served as more of a recap than anything, though, really shows that I can’t say too much about this installment. Not a standout, but certainly a rather good episode. Hold up on that chocolate hat, Ashdown.

However, starting with the next episode, we enter what I consider to be the moment Steven Universe truly shifts into top gear. There is a streak of six episodes which are widely considered to be amongst the best of Season 1, and at least three of which are considered to be a contender for the title of the pinnacle of Steven Universe.

Bring it, Sucrose!

Tidbits:

  • Am I the only one who finds it ironic that Ronaldo, who once freaked out about the idea of Steven being pregnant, is the one to almost kill his kid? (Also, with this episode, I think I’m buying a ticket on the Ronaldo hate train. Dude, you’re vivisecting a living being who’s still alive. Are you insane?) Seeing him get clobbered is utterly cathartic.
  • Sadie actually called Steven’s watermelons “handsome melons”. Probably the single most awkward line in the history of the show. Sorry.
  • Greg bowing and calling Steven “my liege” is going to take be repeated (albeit with Steven and Connie) in a later episode. It will be amusing at first… then slightly less so.
  • Also, Mr. Smiley accepts bribes. Hey, he has to pay for the damages the kid did to his arcade and theme park somehow. Otherwise, who will have fun at Funland?

Wrap-Up

Favorite Scene: Steven eating his own spawn aside, I really loved Baby Melon sacrificing himself, and Steven’s ensuing anger.
Best Character: We are gathered here today to pay final respects to our honored dead…
…he did not feel this sacrifice a vain or empty one, and we shall not discuss his profound wisdom at these proceedings.

Memorable Quote: No quote that I didn’t mention before really stood out. I’m gonna go with “BRING IT, MELONS!” I absolutely love Michaela Dietz’s delivery of that line.

Verdict: Silver. A more respectable effort from Adams and Jo, albeit not perfect.

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