Steven Universe Review: "Alone Together" (Season 1B, Episode 10)

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“A Gem fusing with a human being? It’s impossible – or at the very least, inappropriate!” – Pearl. She probably thought the same thing way back when.

(Note: for those wondering where my review of “Warp Tour” is, I am going off of the order posted by Ian Jones-Quartey in terms of my episodic analysis. This allows for more consistent continuity in a show that thrives off of it.)

Airdate: January 15th, 2015
Written By: Katie Mitroff, Hilary Florido, Rebecca Sugar
Plot: Steven’s attempts at fusing with the Crystal Gems haven’t been up to snuff. After another failed round, he goes and meets Connie on the beach. There, Connie exposes her unease when it comes to dancing in public. With the two alone, they decide to dance together on the beach. One dance later, the two wake up as a teenager. A teenager. That’s singular.

Review:

Y’know, I’ve been thinking about a witty way to start this review. It’s hard, though. I mean, we’re talking about “Alone Together” – an episode that manages to be both undeniably sweet and still a bit terrifying. While my last review brought up the concept of the “Steven Universe Imperial Phase”, and noted that “Lion 3” was a massive step towards it by introducing Rose as a character, this episode may have very well done more to build the show’s cult following than any other so far, or maybe even since.

And it all is wrapped in one of the show’s central plot threads, the power of…

…fusion.
One of the (very few, thankfully) aspects of the (vocal minority of the) fandom that irritates me (besides harassing the staff and other fans over trivial nonsense) is the simplification of fusion. This leads to statements such as (and I’m speaking broadly – almost stereotypically, admittedly – here) “FUSION EQUALS THE SEX? AND NOT BELIEVING SO? IS OPPRESSING ME?? I AM TRIGGERED??? #its2016 #trudeauisdreamy”

OK, 99% of fans aren’t that ridiculous. Still, Fusion’s first appearance (or at least the first explanation of such) was in the context of combination in order to create a more powerful and cohesive whole. “Giant Woman”, rather than just being about Amethyst and Pearl fusing, explored their relationship, and the end result was a confident, stoic, yet still flamboyant badass. (Yes, I hopal for Opal. Flame me.) When Garnet and Amethyst fused, it was to explore the perception of power, and Sugilite was an example of ego and pride gone horribly wrong.

Fusion, rather than being about sex, is about relationships, be they antagonistic, platonic or romantic. This time, we take a look at the… vaguely romantic. And what relationship is more critical in this show than the vaguely romantic relationship between Steven and Connie?

When we first met Connie in “Bubble Buddies”, she was a shy, reserved, yet desperately lonely kid who, after being trapped in a bubble with Steven for an afternoon and almost drowning as a result, slowly began to come out of her shell. She’s become more open, we’ve learned more about her particular interests, and while I personally disliked the episode centering around her parents, we’ve learned about the reason behind her patterns of behavior.

Connie is not just your average everyday love interest. She has her own goals, her own issues, her own interests. Outside of the core four (and Greg, maybe), she might be the most well-developed character up to this point. It’s an admirable element of a show that has only had her in six episodes so far (I don’t count “Rose’s Room”), and with those episodes being 11 minutes each.

Even looking at their relationship, the two compliment each other. The goof and the (comparatively) uptight, the friendly and the reserved, the logical and emotional. These two could carry stories on their own merits. Together, we get a powerhouse. Personality aspects, though, do unite them on several fronts. In this episode, it’s isolation, anxiety, and the reaction to growing up.

Steven feels like the odd man out amongst the Gems, for he feels unable to fuse. The Gems try and teach him these various dance techniques, yet all fail. Why? Well, the reason is simple – even with their increased interactions, they are only now becoming emotionally closer in some ways. Their techniques are admirable, and their reasoning is sound, but the Crystal Gems don’t cut to the heart of the matter.

That is, to say, the heart. And that’s where Steven’s interactions with Connie come in. Connie relays her insecurities about dancing, noting that she couldn’t bring herself to go to the dance – the fear of being looked at like a dork weighed too heavily on her mind. We’ve had a character that has a rather low level of confidence, but a character that has a lot of power in dire situations (as seen in “Lion 2: The Movie”).

Steven, meanwhile, wonder if he really is a Gem given his inability to fuse. I mean, he has a gem in his stomach, but aspects like his inability to fuse seem to beg the question in his mind… will he truly be able to interact with the Crystal Gems on their level? I like how the contrast works with the underlying theme – Steven and Connie are alone in some way in their lives. For Connie, it’s rooted in her reserved behavior. For Steven, it is a loneliness built by a cultural misunderstanding.

As an attempt to try and build her confidence, Steven decides to take a spin with her, dancing to music on his smartphone. Emotionally, she begins to loosen up – glad that she’s dancing with somebody that she is so close with. Truly, if any other scene showcases their friendship this well, I haven’t gotten to it yet. (Maybe I will sometime during Season 2.) It’s lighthearted, free, and when Steven trips, Connie catches his fall.

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The two laugh as a glow surrounds them. Literally. The area around them glows before the two black out.

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They wake up as a singular entity.

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In my personal opinion, and after a period of thought concerning all the factors involving the popularity of this show, Steven Connie Stevonnie is the character that did more to propel Steven Universe from “cult sci-fi cartoon” to “pop culture element” than any other character. They* are representative of god knows what – androgyny, consent, a great partnership, puberty, a fantastic partnership, and an understanding of what the hell goes on when two people put their heads together.

Stevonnie is introduced in an aura of confusion – the two slowly coming to the realization that they have, in fact, become a fusion – more accurately, that Stevonnie is a fusion. After the initial excitement is the desire to showcase this stunning ability. “I have to show everybody” appears to be a centerpiece of Steven’s brain – that he was able to fuse with somebody, and a human, to boot!

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Naturally, the Crystal Gems are stunned. And pretty understandably, as well – if you tried to teach this kid to fuse for god-knows-how-long, only to have him fuse with a human after only an (apparent) few meetings, you’d be baffled out of your mind. (Wait until they find out this was an accident, as well!)

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Pearl’s reaction is one of fascination, confusion, and worry – no doubt, trying to see how this can work with her very logical, straightforward worldview, and wondering what the physical or mental impacts are on Stevonnie. So much so, that she recommends that they un-fuse before something distressing happens. It’s not out of any sort of disgust at Stevonnie as much as it is a concern – after all, Stevonnie is unprecedented in Gem culture.

Garnet, meanwhile…

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…wow, that is hilariously happy, coming from her.

OK, most of my readers might know why she is so ecstatic about this. (For those unaware, she’s a fusion of two Gems, and in fact, was one of the first fusions of two different types of Gems.But even with that spoiler-iffic fact removed, consider that Garnet has been, up to this point, Steven’s biggest fan. She’s been the Gem most likely to give the kid the benefit of the doubt, introduced him to the missions the trio-turned-quartet go on, and through it, has even humored his more silly behavior. Not hurting is her normally stoic demeanor, which makes this moment a stand out amongst others featuring Garnet.

So enthralled is she by this development that, when Pearl asks for backup on her suspicion, Garnet simply steps forward and talks directly to Stevonnie…

“Stevonnie. Listen to me. You are not two people… and you are not one person. You… are an experience. Make sure you’re a good experience. Now… go! Have! Fun!

For Garnet, being the first of their kind isn’t something to necessarily be looked at with askance or fear. To the contrary, she views it this sublime moment that should be taken advantage of by the components representing Stevonnie. They should take in every single possible moment, damn any sort of fear. (Having personal experience doesn’t hurt, either.) And it all still feels like it’s in character – it feels like something Garnet would say.

Garnet and Pearl, in this dynamic, represent not only two differing parental styles – the concerned vs the happy – but also two different styles of approaching dilemmas – the romantic vs the logical. I absolutely love this dynamic and think it makes this already cool episode a delicious watch.

(Oh, and Amethyst just sits back, laughs at the situation, and names Stevonnie by using a compound of the duo’s names. It works very well.)

Stevonnie takes up Garnet’s advice, running around the beach like there’s no tomorrow. At first glance, this new character feels liberated – confident, excited, and having the most fun of their (short) life. They are, honestly, the perfect representative of what Steven and Connie could be if put together. Garnet was on the right track with her motion of confidence, eh? Because, with this montage, Stevonnie does appear to radiate confidence. Things, however, start to get a bit awkward. And it all begins with the place that Steven loves so much, the Big Donut.

All Stevonnie wants is a donut. Lars and Sadie take one look at them, and the mere thought of the Big Donut Duo being heterosexual** suddenly takes a massive hit. I’m serious – this stranger that they don’t know is just ordering donuts, drying out their hair, and Lars and Sadie are stumbling over their words, their basic job functions! Unbeknownst to them, they are getting hot under the collar over the combined entity of two pre-teens. Two pre-teens who either have no concept of sex or only glanced over it via exposure to science textbooks.

And yes, they shrug it off with a zinger. They still have confidence, at least at first glance. But I did sense the specter of awkwardness as they ate the donuts – to the point where I actually think the following line…

“We can stop if you… no. No. Don’t worry.”

…isn’t Stevonnie realizing that they ordered too many donuts, but rather, Stevonnie realizing just how awkward that was. It’s a clink in their confidence, a rebuttal to their newfound chutzpah. Maybe, this newfound freedom from Stevonnie’s existence does come with some limitations, at least socially. (It also works as a metaphor for consent, and a very good metaphor at that. Admittedly, though, I prefer explaining consent via a nice cup of tea.)

But that’s not the end of it. Sour Cream, who is himself slightly hot under the collar (and unaware that they are Steven and Connie), invites them to a rave. Ready to showcase their confidence, Stevonnie accepts. Which leads me to wonder – Connie, you think a school disco is awkward? Try going to a rave, where people are close to each other, listening to deafening music, taking various illicit substances I do not endorse the consumption of, and oftentimes waking up the next morning in strange beds.

Of course, this is a Cartoon Network show set in a small beach town, so not only are there no illicit substances (Sour Cream instead offers glow sticks), but the rave is only attended by a spare few people – the Cool Kids, mainly. (And Ronaldo, for some reason, hasn’t been thrown out. I think people took pity on him after a bunch of watermelons kicked his ass.) Stevonnie gets down on the disco floor, and even dances like there’s no tomorrow…

…only for them to notice that everybody else is transfixed by their mere presence.

“I thought this was a dance party. Why isn’t anyone else dancing… this is what being cool at a cool dance is, right? This is how it’s supposed to be. Why… isn’t it how it’s supposed to be?”

 

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I think I should bring up at this point that I absolutely adore the animation in this episode. The visual symbolism, the shading, the coloring… all so fantastic.

 

Sure, they dance. But the most important aspect is that Steven and Connie have had their initial optimism about what this dance would be. They thought they’d be blending into the crowd. They instead stood out – this physically attractive entity has careened into the center of the rave floor, and has taken it by storm. For Connie, it’s a confirmation of the worst case scenario. For Steven, it’s a rebuttal of his feeling that nobody cares how you dance. They well and truly realize that, well, the society is acting weird in their presence just because they are there.

“I don’t understand what’s wrong. You have fun dancing, but this dance isn’t fun. You’re supposed to like this. Why don’t you like this? I wish you were here. If we were together, it would be OK… but we are together… and it’s not.

The two’s emotional defenses have broken down, and the two wind up talking to each other inside Stevonnie’s head. In this sense, Stevonnie together is the union of Steven and Connie – but as a singular entity, they are alone.

Oh, wait, there’s an egocentric asshat at the party, as well.

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Kevin is the type of person that looks in the mirror every morning, and says to himself, “I am sex incarnate.” An egotistical smooth talker, he slides into Stevonnie’s life, not only dancing in much the same vein as them, but also declaring that they are the best dancers that night. Is it an attempt to sleep around? (He does refer to Stevonnie as “girl” and “baby” – albeit more in a sexist sleaze way rather than “insulting preferred pronouns” way. Honestly, if you weren’t aware that Stevonnie was a fusion between a boy and a girl, you’d probably call them a woman, anyway. But, they’re not.)

Or is it merely an attempt to keep his ego up? We first saw Kevin hanging around the wall, scoffing at the other partygoers. The dude probably alienated those around him with his more condescending behavior, and in a last-ditch attempt to flaunt his arrogance, is coming on to the last person there – in this case, a (somewhat feminine looking yet still) androgynous person who walks into the disco.

No matter what, he still refuses to back off despite Stevonnie’s discomfort at the situation. Is he really that self-centered, or just looking to satisfy his own hedonistic pleasures? Disgusted by this sleaze’s patronizing behavior, and all too aware of his coming on to them, Stevonnie gets one last bit of confidence…

“You wanna dance? Let’s go… and it’s Stevonnie. I’m not your baby.

…and proceeds to embarrass the hell out of Kevin, dancing like crazy until Stevonnie breaks apart, right in front of everybody. I have to wonder whether this was a gambit on Steven and/or Connie’s part to protect each other, or if the separation was just caused by the heat of the moment. Either way, the entire party is stunned, and we get a bit of humanity out of the egotistical ass.

“That’s two kids! I’m out.” (Legs it.)

Kevin – he might be an egotistical sleazebag who hits on people despite their pretty obvious discomfort, but he’s not a pedophile. I’ve (undeservedly) accused characters of being sleazy sex offenders before, so I’m just glad that Kevin knows his limits (even if he’s too selfish to comprehend that Stevonnie didn’t wanna dance.)

Clear of Mr. Slimy McEgo, Steven and Connie begin dancing together, relieved that the ordeal of Kevin and being treated like an adult is over (for now, at least) and with all the cares in the world taken off their shoulder. Hell, Sour Cream just chucks glowsticks down at the two of them, basically saying, “shine on you crazy diamonds.”

The moral of the story? Don’t commit acts of pedophilia. Kids are not interested in sex. It’s sorta like alcohol. If somebody is underage, don’t have them drink alcohol. Don’t even supply alcohol. You face jail. In fact, even if you aren’t a pedophile (which I hope none of you are), back off if your attempts to come on to others make them weirded out. Makes you come off as a sleaze.

Alright, really, what is this episode all about?

Well, this episode really showcases the more personal, quiet side of fusion – showing it as not just an analog for sex, but an analog for change, for the partnership between two people, for the combination of virtues and neuroses we all have. And in my personal opinion, it does it far more successfully than “Fusion Cuisine” did. And yes, you could argue that episode was focusing more on comedy caused by off-centered fusions. I can appreciate that rebuttal. But as far as my personal tastes go, when it comes to the “human” side of fusion, this episode knocks it out of the park.

Not only does it cement Steven and Connie’s relationship as a truly fantastic one, showcasing just how the two complete each other, but it fleshes out the duo as their own entities, having them face a future that’s sure to be more awkward as they age. The character interactions are all well-done, Keven is so slimy that I absolutely admire the execution (thank you, Andrew Kishino), the animation is admirable, the background music is up there in my list of favorites, it explores themes often mishandled (or done over the top) in fiction, and the situation involving Stevonnie manages to come off as heartwarming while still having a rather dark, risky side to it.

It’s subversive, it’s sweet, it’s creepy – no duh, it’s one of Season 1B’s best episodes. Keep those glow sticks flying, Sour Cream. Keep them flying.

Tidbits:

  • So, Sadie might be bisexual. I only bring this up because, according to TV Tropes, Rebecca Sugar has noted that Sadie is representative of Sugar while she was in college. And, as most of you know, Rebecca Sugar noted her bisexuality at the recent San Diego Comic-Con. I’m wondering if this was her first step in publicly coming out of the closet or just a coincidence that worked its way into the script. Either way, it’s an interesting aspect of this episode.
  • Some others have pointed out the similar dress colors between Kevin and Stevonnie. I like that contrast in style – Kevin, for one, is trying way too damn hard to be cool.
  • Sour Cream is able to DJ by engineering portable gaming systems. This kid would be one groovy engineer.
  • Lastly, I am aware that the Red Dwarf episode “Twentica” has made its way onto video sharing sites – thanks to its early release on UKTV Play. I still am going to try and review it after it comes out on iTunes in the states. I just want that thrill of waiting for it to premiere.

Wrap Up:

Favorite Scene: Ah, the entire rave scene is so beautifully dark, yet ends on one of the sweetest moments I’ve ever seen.

Best Character: Do you have to ask?

Memorable Quote: Just take all of Garnet’s dialogue and put it here.

VerdictPlatinum. I doubt any other score would make sense.

Honestly, “Alone Together”, might have been the catalyst for Steven Universe’s status as one of the best shows on TV. You have this character that transcends traditional gender spheres, exploring themes that aren’t seen frequently on TV (let alone children’s TV), and handling them with enough grace to make them work. The show was popular and had a cult following before, but this episode may have been the one that made Steven Universe revolutionary.

For that reason, it gets placed into the Platinum tier, and as expected, it defenestrates “Lion 3” in the rankings, coming in at #1. While I don’t think a rewatch of “Warp Tour” will put that episode at #1, it most likely will give it a run for its money.

* Even without the writer’s statement, I think that “they” would be the most logical pronoun for Stevonnie. Steven is a boy, Connie is a girl, and Stevonnie has no specified gender nor biological sex. I prefer to think of them as “an experience”. Garnet nailed it.
** This is only per the age-old mentality that all fictional characters were straight until proven otherwise. Could we be moving past that train of thought? I dunno.

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