Steven Universe Review: “Jailbreak” (Season 1B, Episode 27)

Steven Universe Jailbreak

“Tonight, there’s gonna be a jailbreak
Somewhere in this town!
See, me and the boys, we don’t like it.
So we’re getting up and going down!”
– “Jailbreak”, Thin Lizzy

Airdate: March 12th, 2015

Written By: Joe Johnston, Jeff Liu, and Rebecca Sugar.

Plot: After getting head butted by a brutish Homeworld soldier, Steven wakes up in a cell on a prison ship. Unfortunately, the cell doors don’t take into account human biology, so he’s able to escape. While looking for the others, he comes across three particular prisoners. One is Ruby, a tomboyish hothead desperately looking to initiate contact with her partner, Sapphire. Sapphire, meanwhile, is a more levelheaded and stoic prisoner who has been vocalizing through the prison, clearly to garner Ruby’s attention.

All while Lapis Lazuli has hit the depths of despair, resigned to what awaits them on Homeworld. Her desperation, however, does not take into account a prisoner rebellion – in particular, Ruby and Sapphire teaming up once again to try and fight Jasper.

Go on.

Guess what their strategy is.

Review (SPOILERS FROM MOMENT ONE):

Ah, yes. “Jailbreak”. It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll, and here we are – not only the final episode of Season 1, not only it’s climax, but also probably the single most well-known episode in the history of Steven Universe. Poll anybody on the street what they know about Steven Universe, and you’ll get a select few answers:

  1. “SECURITY!”
  2. “Isn’t that the show about that kid that summons weapons by eating ice cream? Even Into Darkness had a better premise than that.”
  3. “That fandom made me abandon Intersectional Marxist-Leninist Feminism and vote for Trump.”
  4. “Oh, yeah, one of the characters is actually two lesbians in a purple British trench coat.”

Yeah, that last one is what everybody thinks about. Garnet is not one person – she’s two people. As one person.

This is gonna be weird to explain…

Calling this twist epochal in the Steven Universe canon is not going to be controversial, as it really does mark the moment that the grand overreaching themes of Steven Universe come into focus. To understand why, though, we should first take a look at Ruby and Sapphire as separate entities.

Ruby is introduced in a cell – the perfect place for a hothead like herself. Her anxiety is visible from moment one, as she pounds the walls of her prison cell. All she cares about at this point is reuniting with her beloved, Sapphire. She doesn’t even drop her name to Steven, a sign of the extent of her agitation. Indeed, with only her dialogue and the one-track mind, plus the performance chops of Charlene Yi, her agitation becomes palpable viewing. Damn any sort of consequences, damn the prison guards, she will find her love.

What really makes it work, however, is Ruby’s role as the romantic of the duo. First off, and please correct me if I’m off track, I’ve personally noticed a small trend in media that more tomboyish characters tend to eschew romance, or at least come into an internal conflict over it. To take the somewhat boyish Ruby and make her the “purer” romantic – both on a philosophical level and an emotional level… I’m not sure if I’d call it groundbreaking, but I will cede that it is an intriguing take on the character dynamics we often seen.

But it also works to build up the tension. There’s a fire in Ruby’s gut, and she won’t rest until it’s extinguished. Which, as we later learn, is pretty much never.

Not quite as dramatic on her end, though, is Sapphire. A stoic who signals through the prison by vocalizing, this is largely because of her own future vision. It is, in fact, these vocalizations that open the episode. Somebody unaware of the prior one’s events and the title would be lured into thinking that we are about to enter Elysium when in reality, we enter hell. In fact, it can even be interpreted as pretending to write the prior episode off as a dream for but a second, only for us to snap back to “reality”.

But that’s not necessarily Sapphire’s power. For she comprehends the possibilities of what the future will yield, for good or for ill. She found one particular strategy that she liked, implemented it, and it turned out to be a decent success. Besides that, however, she is in no visible rush to escape from prison – it will happen. It’s all just a matter of “when”, not “if”. It is this logic that can serve to provide more effective outcomes… that is, assuming everybody acts as expected.

steven-universe-jailbreak-ruby-sapphire.png

This time, though, they do. Sure, this is rather lucky, but consider that Future Vision gives Sapphire a variety of futures to explore. It makes the ensuing reunion effective. Ruby and Sapphire do meet up and provide a quick check on each other as they embrace.

Ruby: Did they hurt you?
Sapphire: No, no – I’m fine. Did they hurt you?
Ruby: Who cares?
SapphireI do!

The two dance, glow, and within seconds, become a rather tall, three-eyed, English-accented gem.

steven-universe-jailbreak-garnet-refused.png

I mean, this twist wasn’t the most surprising thing in the world. On the Steven Universe Subreddit, there are tons of post before the fact speculating about Garnet’s enigmatic persona, and how she might very well be a fusion. And on the 12th of March, in 2015 AD, those fans were vindicated with a surprise on par with, say, the Cubs winning the World Series. We expected it, it was just a matter of when.

Garnet, of course, is rather pleased that she’s herself again (heh), and after giving Steven the path to Pearl and Amethyst (gotta love future vision), goes up against Jasper mano-el-mano. This turn of events does not please Jasper, albeit not because there’s a jailbreak – but because two of the prisoners became one.

“Fusion is just a tactic to make weak gems stronger!”

As I mentioned back in my review of “The Return”, Jasper gave off something of a Cavalier-esque vibe, at least to me. Much like the Cavaliers aligned themselves with the House of Stuart and support for the more Catholic-styled reign of Charles I, she aligns herself with Homeworld authority and takes a strong askance on any sort of rebuttals to Homeworld social order.

Her attitude to fusion is simple – it’s a tactic of war to gain the upper hand where no upper hand exists before. In a strange way, it takes a very individualistic, selfish attitude, that teamwork is pointless if the individual components are physically disadvantaged, be it of size of otherwise. Jasper already felt like she had the upper hand, what with being able to split Garnet apart… albeit with technology. Hypocrite, much?

How do you rebut that argument? Easy, bring up the tool… or rather, point out the flaws in her logic. Through, what, a Picard-esque speech?

Well…

“I’ve seen what you really are!” “He, he, he… no, you haven’t”…

This is Garnet, back together.
And I’m never going down at the hands of the likes of you

Because I’m so much better
And every part of me is saying, “go get her.”
The two of us ain’t gonna follow your rules.
Come at me – without any of your fancy tools.
Let’s go, just me and you.
Let’s go! Just one-on-two! 

Oh, my god, “Stronger than You”. If any song is to be credited as Steven Universe‘s signature song, it is this one. I mean, personally speaking, I don’t consider it my favorite – I would argue in favor of “Here Comes A Thought”. However, I will cede that there is a damn fine reason why “Stronger Than You” is, by a mile, the most remembered song in the Steven Universe canon.

In fact, there’s more than one.

For one, consider the song’s lyrics. What we have here is not only a love song but an argument that love will stand against war and scorn. I mean, the song is downright defiant – no matter how Jasper tries to put miles between Ruby and Sapphire, the two have an emotional connection that will never die. Whether through future vision or sheer unadulterated id, the duo will reform and do so with a new determination. “I am their fury. I am their patience. I am a conversation.” And that conversation has the end result of Garnet. Sure, the duo might not always be in sync, but damn it, the end result is what drives her.

But the love seen in the song isn’t just between Ruby and Sapphire. Consider the climax of the song… one where Jasper has beaten Garnet into the dirt, only for her to rise…

This is who we are… this is what I am
And if you think you can stop me, then you need to think again.
Because I am a feeling, and I will never end
And I won’t let you hurt my planet
And I won’t let you hurt my friends!

Yes, the elements of Ruby and Sapphire are present here, how they will go down swinging if at all. However, I like to think of this particular verse as the Crystal Gems’ mission statement. Against a society that seems to think too much and feel too little, the Crystal Gems have a passion that they wear on their sleeve. Earth is their home, they are a community that cares about one another. Lapis warned them to fight Homeworld at their own peril. Garnet’s response turns that around – touch Earth, you get your visor shattered with a punch to the face.

There’s also the little fact of Garnet getting into Jasper’s mind – But I think you’re just mad because you’re single! Some people with a more cynical outlook might argue that it strictly endorses fusion and all that entails, but I don’t agree with that. I look at it as a simple declaration – there’s no hint that Jasper has found somebody that she shares a special connection with, whether out of her own arrogance or because Homeworld disavows interpersonal relationships. And, again, I think it’s Garnet’s attempt to try and mess with Jasper’s mind. Yeah, try me. You are alone. You are going down.

Combine that with one of the most memorable instrumentations in the entire show. I mean, you hear this song once, you won’t forget it for a long, long, long time. It flows so perfectly to create an aura of empowerment, kickassery, and Renaissance. I mean, look at that latter verse. Just as it seems Garnet is down, the music briefly gets quiet before picking up to the tune of Garnet pulling herself up. I mean, damn. It’s orchestral, it’s soulful, and it has a damn fine rhythm.

The cherry on top is Estelle’s vocals. Estelle, for the uninitiated, actually had a #1 hit in her native UK with “American Boy”. And she carries that attitude of defiance and devotion in her timbre. Garnet will sing again, but here, her voice takes on that of the romantic warrior. Devoted to her revolution, devoted to herself and her components, and devoted to the themes that bind them.

I use little hyperbole when I say that, while many other episodes and scenes put Steven Universe on the map, this song did more than any other scene to give the show its critical acclaim and cult following, all while summing up its themes of love in three minutes. We’re talking about a song that has at least 15M clicks on Youtube (that’s CN UK’s posting of the fight), got released as a limited edition vinyl single to test the waters of a Soundtrack re-release, and even got it’s own freaking music video.

All I can say about “Stronger Than You” is simply, within a span of three minutes, Rebecca Sugar and Estelle Swaray formally cemented Steven Universe‘s place in the pantheon of mid-2010’s Pop Culture. Thus, while it isn’t my personal favorite, I do consider it by a mile the most important song in the SU canon.

steven universe lapis lazuli jailbreak

Of course, not everybody is as resilient as Garnet. While she’s encountering her own renaissance, Lapis Lazuli has resigned herself to the depths of despair, deprecating herself in the belief that she caused all of this. While irrational, consider that if she hadn’t been released, Homeworld might not have had that intel to drag themselves back to Earth. For a tragic character as Lapis, this self-loathing is natural. She just wants the conflict to be over, even if the end result is being jailed for a long, long time. Every attempt to take down Homeworld has ended in one way… arrest, death, and at best, self-imposed exile to a faraway planet.

Take a look at her when it seems the ship is going down. The look on her… everything just screams… “You happy, Steven? You happy, Crystal Gems? You fought them again. This is the end. I knew it.” And not a single word is said. Granted, that’s because Estelle is still singing her heart out, but I think that makes the scene that much more powerful. Garnets euphoric and defiant attitude being blasted through our speakers as Lapis resigns herself to the fate that awaits her.

After surviving the crash, though… that‘s when the interesting aspects of this episode really crank up. Livid, Jasper decides to damn the values she once fought for to the side, and all but demands that Lapis fuse with her. With her mission trashed, she might as well defeat the Crystal Gems, whether or not her principles stand the fight. In her quest for a hypocritical success, she tries to sell herself to Lazuli by appealing to her Id – that the Crystal Gems treated her like a old Walmart mirror.

Trapped betwixt two sides of a conflict she despises – where even Steven defied her, causing some understandable disappointment – she makes her decision. She fuses with Jasper to form Malachite…

steven universe jailbreak malachite

…and proceeds to drag her down into the depths of the Atlantic.

steven-universe-malachite-in-the-ocean.png

You see, as I and the show have mentioned before, fusion is not just a commentary on sexual partnerships. Nay, fusion is used to symbolize any sort of relationship between two people, be it a one-off to achieve a goal, an expression of friendship, or in the case of Garnet (to start), a long-term romantic partnership. This fits the former whilst coming off as an antagonistic relationship. Jasper’s goading Lapis on, pressuring her to fuse.

Much to Steven’s dismay, she takes up on it… but not to get her revenge on the Crystal Gems. Just look at her face.

steven universe jailbreak lapis lazuli and jasper

 

She knows the game that’s being played. She knows she’s the football in a match between two teams fueled with vitrol but each other.

Once Malachite forms, she drags the new fusion to the depths of the ocean. This is a woman who had enough, was mad as hell, and has resolved not to take it anymore. It’s not a ringing endorsement of the Crystal Gems, but here, Lapis declares herself tired of the nonsense, the selfish motives, the wanton irrationality. It’s here that she plays Jasper like a fiddle, negating any sort of victory she may have had whilst exposing her as a complete hypocrite.

Malachite couldn’t work. Ruby and Sapphire, despite being of different classes, are basically a partnership of intellectual and spiritual equals. They build up on and work as co-equals. Jasper and Lapis were never co-equals and could never be. They feed off of contempt for and power over each other. “Now, you’re my prisoner!” It serves as a fantastic contrast in the mantras of Homeworld and the Crystal Gems. Generally speaking, the latter thrive on love. The former operate on unsympathetic power.

Not helping is the fact that the duo are trapped with each other for a long, long, long time. The fact that the two are mutually toxic, using each other for their own satisfaction despite a complete distaste for one another, makes the scene as unnerving as much as the whole “pulled down to the bottom of the ocean” aspect makes it kickass. I honestly think that, if it wasn’t for “Stronger Than You” hitting the perfect beats, this would be my favorite scene in the entire two-parter.

So what’s next? Steven and the duo managed to take over a ship for a few seconds, Peridot managed to eject herself into an escape pod (and I assume land in Stornoway), Beach City is damaged by the crash and ensuing explosion, Lapis and Jasper have damned themselves to a miserable coexistence in the depths of the Atlantic, and Homeworld’s certain to hear about what the hell just went on sooner or later. The board is set for an intergalactic showdown…

…but not just yet, as Connie gets through to Steven’s cell phone. We’re back to reality, ladies and gentlemen, and it’s not quite as pretty as it seemed before. Steven has seen the face of hypocrisy, the malice of autocracy, and the mutually-aided hostage situation that is Malachite.

In fact, Steven has spent much of 1B having his rose-colored glasses scratched. He saw his guardians in more vulnerable states, whether on their own or together; learned of the Crystal Gems’ genesis and the darkness that entailed, and realized that the chains of command carry with them duties that can require paternalism or the facade of Bravissimo. The past two episodes were just the cherry on the top.

But my god, were they damn good final episodes, especially this one!

I’ve mentioned before various episodes that elevated Steven Universe‘s critical standing and watermarks for the show’s quality. “Mirror Gem/Ocean Gem” introduced the more serialized aspects of the show. “The Test” gave our heroes a sense of vulnerability. “Lion 3: Straight to Video” presented us with a first look at the sanctified deceased. “Alone Together” combined euphoria and anxiety within a budding relationship, in particular, one that might seem unorthodox. And “Rose’s Scabbard”, my particular favorite episode of the show, projected pathos and tragedy onto one of the show’s most complex characters whilst adding a sense of ambiguity and a somber quasi-resolution to the surrounding ordeal.

It was “Jailbreak”, though, that cemented Steven Universe‘s role in the animated pantheon. Whether it’s because of how the show handled its protagonists, the epic musical number, the astonishing animation, the moral greyness at the episode’s climax, or the sheer tension throughout, “Jailbreak” seemed to light up the world, giving the show a plethora of new fans. I’m not saying that Steven Universe would’ve faded into obscurity or been relegated to a mere cult hit. But without “Jailbreak”, the sheer amount of fans that the show has today might not be quite as high.

And yes, there have been controversies with more radical members of the fandom. But there have been a lot of fans who have come up with intriguing theories, who put their all into fan art, fan fiction, alternate universes, relationship analyses, etc. etc.

I’m not going to say that it’s the best episode. I’m certainly not going to say it’s my favorite. But for giving the show an increased recognition and for showcasing all of its strengths and themes in 11 minutes, there is no hyperbole when I say “Jailbreak” is the most important episode in the short history of Steven Universe.

It marked the confirmation that Steven Universe was in an imperial phase – everything the show did was gold.

That’s because this episode was made of love.

Tidbits:

  • One teeny tiny little question I have… why does Garnet have an English accent? This is far from a knock on Estelle, Charlene, or Erica – all of them are brilliant performers, and I wouldn’t replace them at all – but I would have figured that at least one of Garnet’s components would have an English accent. It just feels like it came out of nowhere. I know I’m nitpicking in a show about an alien civilization of lesbian space rocks, and one of my favorite protagonists is a Frenchman with a rather English accent. Still, the questions that can be asked…
  • I do feel for Peridot in this episode, in a “dorky antagonist” way. Not only does her intended mission go off track, but three dorks, up to and including a Steven, tie her up, hijack her console, and she barely escapes with her life. The life of an apathetic bureaucrat, everyone.
  • There was a brief theory after this episode aired that Peridot landed in Canada. It seemed to disappear after “Keeping It Together”, but that doesn’t necessarily disprove that Peridot landed in Canada. Maybe she asked Stephen Harper to bum her a ride to Delmarva, or something.
  • Spoiler alert – Steven does hear about the Ballad of Ruby and Sapphire on his birthday, in “The Answer”.
  • Note that Jasper’s eyes are yellow through this episode. Symbolism? Why, you shouldn’t have, Rebecca!

Wrap-Up:

Favorite Scene: “I am made, of-of-of-of-of, love-ove-ove-ove-ove…”

Best Character: Lapis Lazuli. I mean, that revenge, man!

Memorable Quote: “They are really bad for each other.” – Garnet, gunning for the largest understatement in sci-fi history.

Verdict: Platinum, no contest. I mean, this is how you do a first season finale. It’s simply an unforgettable 11 minutes of television.

As far as the rankings, I can put it no lower than #3. “Rose’s Scabbard” will always be my personal favorite, and “Alone Together” is an astonishing episode on its own merits, but “Jailbreak” is one hell of a season finale. It beats out “On The Run”, which slides down to #4.

With that, that’s a wrap for Season 1! A season 1B wrap up is in the offing, alongside a countdown of my Top 12 Episodes of Season 1.

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