Steven Universe Review – “The Message” (Season 1B, Episode 24)

 

That's a huge marshmallow mic.
That’s one huge marshmelon on a stick.

Don’t you know? Video killed the audio star!” “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” – Steven and Greg. Well, this episode does have a message – raise your kids on healthy doses of new wave.

Airdate: March 10th, 2015

Written by: Lamar Abrams and Hellen Jo

Plot: Remember the wailing stone that the Crystal Gems picked up in the northern hemisphere? Well, it’s starting to receive transmissions from parts unknown. With no way to transmit it, the Gems reluctantly turn to everybody’s favorite van dweller. Their expectations are lowered, not necessarily to Greg’s pleasure. Little do they know that the message is being transmitted from Steven’s old summer fun buddy…

Review:

Well, here we are. The first episode of Season 1B’s ending arc.

It’s been a long time, eh?

To frame it all, the end of Season 1A was epochal in the grand scheme of the series, expanding Steven Universe’s universe (heh) far beyond Beach City into the darkest and deepest depths of space. However, the heart of the show still lies solely amongst the Crystal Gems and their interactions with each other and the worlds they are trapped between. Aliens on Earth, expelled from their own land, all but raising their dead leader’s son while shutting out his father, they are in a continuous balancing act.

“The Message” finally confirms that the house of cards that they built up for many years has finally, completely collapsed – and while many are involved, no one else bears witness to this like Greg does.

(And yes, I am aware this makes our second Greg episode in a row. Neat, eh?)

Greg was the focus of the second Steven Universe episode, “Laser Light Cannon”. It was clear, even there, that the Crystal Gems held Greg in something of a state of contempt, or at least paternalistic pity. Of course, the rationale might cut deeper. Consider that, for lack of a better phrase, he fraternized Rose out of existence (with Steven being the end result). That hint of jealousy in “Story for Steven” has blossomed into a somewhat more intense disdain for the man later on.

For the most part, though, he at least put up this front of being used to it, flippant to the insults and putdowns the Crystal Gems have laid at his feet. Still, it had to sting – the fact that the Gems all but took up raising the kid while treating him like gum found on the sidewalk, while not being the most, well, competent at it themselves. I mean, they are admirable, but their grasp of human customs is tenuous, bordering on nonexistent. And what has that brought them? Dr. Maheswaran almost gave them a damn good thrashing, for starters.

Back on topic, Greg’s put up with a lot. Lost his wife, tossed around… and he’s finally tired of being the floormat. Luck be a lady, he gets a chance to get himself involved in his son’s life, and as soon as the first failure occurs, the Crystal Gems write the whole thing off, resigning themselves to the status of the unknown. It really is sobering just how much our heroes dislike – or at least pity – Greg. Whether it’s a deep-seated anger, a somewhat patronizing sense of pathos, or downright apathy, their attitudes do not provide Greg with a sense of confidence.

Bitterly ironic, again, given that the Crystal Gems lack confidence in their own parenting skills. I mean, that is one interesting dichotomy – the Gems have no confidence in themselves, they have no confidence in Greg… what is Steven? Kid’s stuck in the middle. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’ll be amazed if the show doesn’t end with him breaking down in front of a therapist.

Greg expresses his distaste of this arrangement the way only he knows how – through song. And I’ll admit that I liked “Wailing Stone” less than I did “Comet”. I dunno. I just think the song here was a bit too on the nose while also not being quite as memorable. It’s not bad or anything, though – clearly, they were going for an improv style full of pent-up anger, and it shows.

Still, he finally has enough, and with a newfound determination (and a remembrance of an earlier conversation with Steven), actually manages to get the message through to Video. A quirky, if not unexpected, use of the Chekov’s Gun trope there – one that combines Greg’s love of music and the show’s love of synthpop with science fiction elements.

And with that, they bear witness, yet again, to Lapis Lazuli.

the-message-lapis-lazuli

Again, let’s go back to the end of Season 1A. After a plethora of largely comic episodes that had faint hints of a dramatic undercurrent, starting with “Coach Steven”, SU began to provide it’s protagonists with an increased aura of pathos – from something as small as Lars and Sadie’s relationship, all the way to Pearl’s self-loathing and Steven’s inability to reconcile the weight his dead mother yielded over the Crystal Gems. The show was building up to something, and that something was Lapis Lazuli, the character that delivered the first strike against the apparent status quo post-Rose.

It was Lazuli that brought to our attention the whole Homeworld society. It was her that shattered the aura of peace that seemed to encompass the Crystal Gems. And now, it’s her that tells them that their conceptions of Homeworld no longer hold any water (heh) – they’ve evolved beyond compare technologically, and are now out for the Crystal Gems’ heads. This is the warning – surrender peacefully or prepare for an unfathomable hell.

I don’t think it’s an accident that Lazuli has thus far been used as the agent to raise the show’s stakes. She’s a tragic figure, imprisoned by the Crystal Gems for so long, willing to damn the Earth just to flee her hell, and just as she gets back to Homeworld, she learns that the society is out for blood, for his own friend… all because Peridot followed through on her threat.

There’s also a particular irony in the fact that Greg’s comparatively outdated technology was used to inform the Crystal Gems that Homeworld has advanced far beyond their capabilities. Dual-edged sword there – and one that merely serves to twist the knife in the Crystal Gem’s hubris, to underscore that they are screwed.

Surprisingly, Garnet… isn’t as outwardly terrified as the others. I mean, yeah, she’s freaked out at this turn of events, but she actually comes forward to thank Greg. While it reflects well on her stoic and measured nature, consider that so far, Pearl and Amethyst had volatile reactions when Rose was concerned. Amethyst turned into the deceased to mock Greg, and Pearl suffered a breakdown of epic proportions when her image of the dead was shattered. Not that Garnet didn’t have a relationship with Rose, it’s just that her personality (and composition) tempers her emotions and makes her more open to Greg. Also, she got her goal – learning what was in the message.

And as Steven and Greg play with the voice synthesizer, happy that their immediate conflict has been put aside for now, the trio can only stand aside in horror. I can’t think of a more apt way to demonstrate just how unprepared Steven is for this mess.

So yeah, this episode does follow through on the overreaching arc of 1B. Unfortunately, I think I like it less than most plot-focused episodes so far. I mean, I still like it, but I just like it less.

First off, the decision to actually flash back to “Mirror/Ocean Gem” during “Lapis Lazuli” seems a bit redundant. It was like the show’s budget was cut and they needed to trim scenes wherever possible. Granted, these were Steven’s memories, and I think just him performing wouldn’t have caught the eyes of those watching. Still, it didn’t really gel too well with me.

Also, let’s be real here – some of the character designs in this episode are honestly my least favorite of Season 1B. Unfortunately, I happen to have a particular dislike of Mr. Abrams’s and Ms. Jo’s style in episodes they do. The eyes seem too buggy, the characters too flat, the details too exaggerated. I have a feeling that this is more Mr. Abrams’ doing, given the events of “Same Old World”. This isn’t a knock on the guy himself – he seems rather cool. It’s just my own personal opinion that his style of art and writing is just not my cuppa.

My personal complaints aside, I think this episode does an admirable job of starting the next big 5-part arc. It expanded on one of the show’s secret weapons, brought back the arc in a stunning way, and made me laugh.

Tidbits:

  • This is another one of those episodes where Amethyst doesn’t really give a damn about the overreaching implications of the sound waves, nor does she particularly seem to care about Greg. She is an id, and as such, wants the issue at hand to be resolved as cleanly as possible. How ironic that the ending of the episode does the exact opposite.
  • Again, I really do like the 80s influence on this show – right down to the keyboards, synthesizers, the fascination with technology in this episode, etc. Kind of ironic, given this show’s (in)famous liberalism and that decade’s (in)famous conservatism.
  • Unrelated note, but my god, can Cartoon Network get its schedule in order? Yes, I know Teen Titans Go makes mad money and has less continuity to confuse the super-casual viewer (and children), but

Wrap-Up:

Favorite Scene: It’s in the title.

Best Character: Garnet. Yes, Garnet. Her stoicism and seemingly measured response after the aforementioned message make her stand out, ironically enough.

Memorable Quote: “Don’t put up a fight. It will only lead to devastation!” – Lapis Lazuli. The warning was dire, damn it.

Verdict: Silver. It’s definitely a small step down from “Story for Steven”, but it still does a fine job at advancing the plot.

As for where it lands in the rankings, I’m putting it at #30 right now, between “Laser Light Canon” (ironically enough) and “Secret Team”. Again, I liked “The Message”. I just didn’t love it.

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