Steven Universe Review: "Warp Tour" (Season 1B, Episode 11)

 

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Whoever thought of this defense mechanism owes Brad Bird some money.

 

“Sneeze into your anticubital fossa!” – Pearl, giving advice that could very well screw the quartet all over. Or save them…

Airdate: January 8th, 2015
Written By: Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco.

Plot: While in transport between planets, Steven accidentally sneezes his head out of the warp. Whilst there, he catches sight of a foreign object being pulled within a warp. Pulled back in, he becomes convinced that he saw something, while the others insist that they are alone, stuck on Earth. Trying to ease his mind, they take a tour to the various other places they’ve traveled to in the past, eventually causing Steven to relent.

However, he overhears them reveal their true intent of the trip – just to pacify the kid – and is genuinely offended, especially at Pearl, who’s been more arrogant than normal. With the trio thinking that the kid’s gone nuts, an exhausted Steven is finally ready just to shut up about the whole thing when he comes across the UFO – one that takes him into the warp pad, puts him on the brink of death, and brings the Crystal Gems within inches of an alien technician…

Review:

Ah, here we are. The final part of what I consider to be the Steven Universe “Imperial Phase” trilogy.

If “Lion 3” was the bedrock for Rose to be placed on, and “Alone Together” the centerpiece for Steven and Connie to transcend notions of friendship and gender, then “Warp Tour” is the episode that formally cemented Steven Universe as a piece of dramatic science fiction – a transition that started with Lapis Lazuli’s release in “Mirror Gem” – via its introduction of what would become one of the show’s most beloved characters.
It’s bizarre, though, because this episode’s plot is driven via conflict with the ranks of the Crystal Gems – more specifically that between Steven and Pearl (and to a lesser extent, the rest of the Crystal Gems). It’s an old TV trope – kid sees something, adults don’t believe him, and only take notice of the thingy when it puts the show’s canon in severe danger. (Or, rather, somebody sees something, others don’t believe him, and the person goes insane until they’re carted off in an ambulance to spend their lives in an asylum.)

What makes this episode interesting is how the character dynamic and the impact on the canon is executed.

Way back in “Gem Glow”, the first impression we got of Steven is that he would be this cute little moron that would wind up interfering with the more serious Crystal Gems with his silly priorities – those such as eating Cookie Cat ice creams – all while trying to understand what the hell his powers are made up of. Much as I like that episode for what it is – a decent introduction to some of our favorite characters – it did leave an impression on some viewers that the show would revolve around that, and that alone.

After several episodes of trying to prove said viewers otherwise, this is the writers putting the dot on their opinion – the moment when holdouts were either told, in the words of British Premier John Major, to put up or shut up.

The trio, as a whole, rarely interact with Steven on such a close level. When they do interact with him, they see this goofy kid who occasionally steps up to the plate to fix the errors he has made. Of course, this works both ways – as Steven has only recently had to face situations that were drop-dead serious, such as the release of Lazuli. As such, they treat Steven’s observation as just him acting like a paranoid goofball again – to the point where they actually patronize him in their search for the mysterious object.

Probably the most indignant of the trio is Pearl. While previous episodes have shown her to have a small ego, this episode showcases her as unwilling to face a different point of view. This did have some basis in earlier episodes (“Giant Woman” – ironic, given that she and Amethyst are on better terms this episode), but here, it gets to the point where she’s downright insolent. However, there is a line at the end that casts a shadow on this – but that’s for later on.

Steven finally gets wind of their feelings because the Crystal Gems don’t know anything about how sound travels. As you could guess, he is offended by this. He saw something, and the fact that nobody will take his complaints seriously raises his hackles. And with damn good reason – he’s pacified Lapis Lazuli, helped fight a Gem Monster (although the Gems don’t know that), fused with his best friend, and befriended a corrupted Gem. This kid has matured greatly since “I summed my weapon by eating ice cream!”

Yet they still don’t comprehend it.

For his troubles, Steven becomes more irritated and exhausted, consumed by his desire for truth in a way reminiscent of Khan’s lust for revenge against Kirk. Under normal circumstances, he would come off as rather cold. But these aren’t “normal” circumstances. Here, his frustration is understandable, even if it results in him eating “macaroni and nothing”. Unfortunately, this increased insanity (at least, seeming insanity) alienates Amethyst – usually his closest friend (besides Connie) and the most lighthearted of the trio – who goes on to view him as a “sad sack”.

That rejection pushes Steven to concede defeat. At that point, he just wants pacification, even if it means the destruction of his sanity. Thankfully, he finally gets some sort of evidence – with the UFO crashing into the beach house. Not only does he truly go mental – laughing even as the robot attacks him with its repair goo – but he follows said robot into the warp pad, holding onto it for dear life. There, he finds other robots, who after a struggle, push him out into space. Not only does this give him a chance to see several other warp streams in space all heading into the same direction, but it also gives him vindication. He not only captured the thing he was fighting for, but he discovered that its powers could have serious consequences.

Yet, like Moby Dick, his attempts to find his white whale – albeit one that actually exists – prove tragic. To quote the Red Dwarf theme song, it’s cold outside, there’s no sort of atmosphere, and Steven is all alone, more or less. Drifting away, he is well aware that despite capturing the robot, he’s not only far away from the Crystal Gems, he’s alienated them with his behavior. Now, he’s doomed to die alone in the vast emptiness of the cosmos, with them unaware of everything that’s going on.

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At least, he would be if another warp stream didn’t extend hands out and capture him. Yeah, crashing into the beach house and activating the warp pad tends to attract some sort of attention. Garnet holds onto him for dear life, realizing that not only was he telling the truth but that his discovery could very well have long-lasting impacts.

“You’re a Crystal Gem, too.”

Not only is that Garnet apologizing for her more dismissive behavior but, honestly, that’s her noting that Steven may have done more to save the trio than ever before. Once just a trainee, Garnet – the effective leader of the gang – has officially recognized our protagonist as part of the quartet, a quartet that should work as a cohesive unit. Congratulations, Steven, you’ve graduated just in time to see everybody freak the hell out over their possible death.

And with good reason – they arrive back at the Galaxy Warp just in time to see the robots repairing the Homeworld Warp. Scary, eh? Even Pearl has a look of “we are so screwed” on her face as they fix it up. Why? Well, Pearl puts it best… “I don’t know.” For her arrogance in the first half of the episode, this is probably the most disturbing humbling that she could ever comprehend. The perfectionist has fallen, and at the worst possible time – with the quartet’s lives truly on the line.

But before she can really put two and two together, somebody actually uses the Warp Pad.

Enter…

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“Log Date, 3-1-2. This is Peridot, performing Earth Hub matienance check.”
Unlike Lapis, who was introduced in a flurry of magic and amazement that quickly turned tragic, Peridot’s introduction is a lot more sinister, a lot more quiet… sober. In her first thirty seconds on the show, she stomps on the warp pad – probably to make sure that she isn’t going insane and actually made it – has her robotic fingers turn into a tablet, and state her purpose – simply perform maintenance, confirm that her “Robonoids” (the repair robots) made it on time, and reactivate the “kindergarten”. With what we’ll get from a later episode, this reveals that something’s gone pear shaped and that the other gems are coming back. And given that the Crystal Gems have horrible relations with even sympathetic gems (Lapis Lazuli), this ain’t gonna be good.
With this episode alone, though, Peridot is introduced in no uncertain terms as a gem technician (even without an official title, her use of finger computers and her goals pretty much establish her job). At her job, and possibly in her life, she is no-nonsense, with a ruthless streak to her. This is exemplified in her dealing with a Robonoid that crawls up her legs. Steven thinks that she is like a parental figure to the Robonoids. Instead, Peridot simply steps on it until it pops. Here, Steven realizes just how much of a threat Peridot is – at this moment, she comes off as the antithesis of what Steven’s powers and beliefs are.
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Nurture? Love? In Peridot’s mind, there is none – take out those who have run their purpose. By extent, given her affiliation is presumed to be “not the Crystal Gems” with this episode alone, we have a damn good idea that the schism within the Gems appears to be societal in nature.

In fact, the only thing stopping her from continuing her mission (activating the Kindergarten) is the Crying Breakfast Friends sticker, causing her to bail out in her belief that the Warp Area was sabotaged. Her last act is to set off an EMP that deactivates and destroys the Robonoids. With this move, she has cemented herself as straightforward and logical to a fault – focusing solely on the mission de jeur, destroying what she doesn’t need, damning emotion to the side, and colder than ice.

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She is Peridot – giving another dark stroke of paint on a show that, again, started out so lighthearted.

And, with good reason, Pearl begins freaking out. Here, we get another look into her earlier arrogance – that it was a defense mechanism. To her, having something else float through space, with a warp pad, showcases the worst case scenario – that other gems are coming. Her anger to Steven earlier in the episode wasn’t just her insolence – it was sheer terror, mixed with utter denial. Even worse? This scenario has happened before. Not only did Pearl screw up, if it wasn’t for Peridot fleeing thanks to the sticker, she would’ve screwed up royally.

In fact, if Steven had actually sneezed into his arm, they would’ve been unaware of Peridot’s arrival, and this Kindergarten would’ve been activated. That would not have been good. Pearl’s use of flowery, technical language may have saved the quartet.

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Garnet, meanwhile? She doesn’t explain who the hell she is to Steven. This time, though, it’s less out of paternalism and far more out of personal anger. She takes her fists, turns them into gauntlets, and smashes the living hell out of the warp pad – making damn sure that they won’t come back. If only it wasn’t in vain. No, even without the knowledge of later episodes, it’s pretty clear that breaking the warp pad did little to prevent it from being repaired the first time. What makes you think it’s gonna be a permanent fix now?

Eh, at least it’ll take more time to repair that warp pad.

Still, the impact this has had is incredible. Steven has met the most callous person in the world so far (except for maybe Lars or Ronaldo or Onion, and even they seem to have some excuse). His innocence has just suffered a massive dent. Simultaneously, the Crystal Gems have done more than ever before to make him feel like he is one of a quartet, rather than a tag-along to the trio.

It also fits well in my theory of it being the third of a stretch of three episodes that kicked off Steven Universe’s Imperial Phase – it might not be as awesome as the other two, but there’s a strong sense of tension, pretty good character interaction, and some awesome animation.

And Sucrose and Company haven’t looked back.

Tidbits:

  • The episode even starts with Pearl and Amethyst praising each other for their fighting abilities – a true sign that their relationship has warmed up since “Giant Woman”. In fact, the two of them are blushing quite a bit, laughing awkwardly in Amethyst’s case. I’m not gonna lie – that scene turned me into something of a Pearlmethyst shipper, and even a certain recent episode hasn’t made me completely abandon that ship. I’ll go down with it; I’m not putting my eyes out and surrendering.
  • I love the callback to Amethyst eating the bag of Macaroni and Cheese cheese powder. “What are you eating?” “Macaroni and nothing.”
  • Note that Garnet wipes away a tear when she rescues Steven from the vast emptiness of space. For a character so often coming off as the stoic of the trio, moments like this really showcase a more complex, emotional aspect of her. It’s those little character actions that make a good show sublime.
  • Lovely second reference back to “Giant Woman”, where we find out that Steven Jr. has sired some kids. Congratulations, Steven – you not only created an entire species of watermelon people, but you’re now an adoptive grandfather. Which makes Greg a great-grandfather. Given that Steven is also an effective regeneration of Rose… Phillip J. Fry now has a competitor for the most confusing family tree in American animated sci-fi.
  • I love the musical sting that plays when Peridot is first introduced. Despite its occasional quirks, it starts stoic and robotic, slowly getting more dramatic as her more ruthless nature is revealed.
  • Finally, on a note that has nothing to do with this episode, turns out I was on the money when it comes to the stateside release of Red Dwarf XI. While nothing is still confirmed for a US digital release, I think I’ll be satisfied with buying the DVD. That might be this blog’s Christmas Spectacular Thing (which I skipped last year, largely because my brain was frazzled) – reviewing every episode of Red Dwarf XI.

Wrap Up:

Favorite Scene: Steven floating through the damning emptiness of space. I love how they play his little victory as so hollow. Khan would be proud.

Best Character: Peridot. In one minute of screen time, she does more to shake up the show’s canon than any other character so far (except for maybe Lapis.)

Memorable Quote: “I was right… and now, I’m gonna die… a frozen, tired little sad sack.” – Steven. Honestly, if Zach Callison does nothing else after SU, it will be a damn shame. This show, in all regards, has some of the best vocal performances in ages. The defeat in Steven’s voice is utterly crushing.

Score: Gold

I think I should clarify before anybody asks that I gave “Warp Tour” a Gold not because it’s weak (far from it), but because there was just that little bit of more power in episodes such as “Lion 3” and “Alone Together” compared to this particular episode. 

Still, for being a plot-heavy episode that still has a lot of good character interactions, “Warp Tour” slides into the “Gold” tier. It comes in between “Lion 2” and “Mirror Gem”.

My next Steven Universe review takes us from a plot-centered episode to a bit more of a character-heavy piece.

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