Steven Universe Review: “Love Letters” (Season 2, Episode 3)

 

steven-universe-love-letters-jamie
Love burns.

“When I saw you rise like an ancient sea nymph, a white-hot steel pierced the deepest artery of my being! You, you are a cardiac surgeon and I am your transplant patient, and you stand poised over my chest, holding my still-beating heart, hesitating, waiting, wondering!” – Um, I think this letter speaks for itself…

Airdate: April 23, 2015

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Hellen Jo

Plot: While working his mail route (involving dropping off Sea Pals at Steven’s house), Jamie manages to catch Garnet walking out of the ocean. Immediately, his heart starts missing a beat, his heart starts missing a beat everytime… uh, where was I? Oh, yeah, he becomes infatuated with Garnet and pens a (very verbose) letter asking her out on a date. Just one problem – Garnet ain’t interested. So it’s up to Steven, Connie, and Garnet to reject him, be it by a simple letter, or through pose thick enough to insulate a house in Montreal.

Review:

Love. It’s in the air. It’s all you need. It comes quickly, whatever you do. It will tear us apart. And most of all, it’s the answer.

If I could sum up Steven Universe in one word, it would be love. A love for Earth, a love for the ideas that drive our modern society, a romanticism of reform, an admiration for the people around us, familial love, platonic love, romantic love, forbidden love, love that builds us up, love that brings us down. It’s a beautiful emotion that drives us to our best, but also a toxic state of mind that surrenders us to our id.

But what is lo… actually, no, I’m not going there. How do we know when we’re in love? What if we’re just devoting ourselves to a lost cause without actually providing any insight into our “target”? What if we’re just trapped in a state of (I don’t know how else to put this) lust?

Thus, the stage is set for what is largely a four-man performance – Steven Quartz Universe, the heart; Connie, the bookish intellectual; Garnet, the alien enigma, and Jamie, the romantic working-class hero.

It’s strange, though, because Jamie was one of the first non-related humans that we met in the show, debuting in “Cheeseburger Backpack” (ironically directed by romantic partners Sugar and Jones-Quartey.) His debut precedes Connie’s by a whopping five episodes, yet with the exception of two small cameos (the “Mirror Gem/Ocean Gem” two-parter), he all but drops off the map until this episode – all while Connie became the show’s most prolific and beloved human character.

I bring her up because it’s her and Steven’s actions that help drive the episode. Consider how their relationship developed. Steven’s rationale for meeting Connie was somewhat ambiguous – he did want to return a glow bracelet, but initially tried to approach Connie by impressing her. Whether it’s a result of his general lack of peers his own age or a small crush is left to one’s own interpretation – I think it’s a combination of both. Connie, meanwhile, became intrigued with him as the two tried to escape their bubble, culminating in him taking down a corrupted gem (“HE WAS INCREDIBLE!”)

Since then, the two have grown ever closer, taking down several obstacles together, and even fusing into Stevonnie, one of the most “humanoid” Gem fusions ever. (Yes, it’s a 3/4ths human fusion, but still.) It gets to the point where a casual viewer might wonder if they are best mates or a couple. Hell, I still ask that question once in a while, and I’ve been religiously watching for the past two years and change!

Anyway, it makes sense that the show’s established partnership winds up involved in one character’s infatuation over the other. Jamie, back from the cinematic mecca of Kansas, is back on the job, chatting with the duo. Just then, Garnet ascends from the water like Venus, walking with a purpose. All it takes is one look, and Jamie is transfixed – this goddess ascended from the water into his mind.

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 11.38.03 AM

The writers seem to toe the line between invoking a sense of sensuality with Garnet and parodying the idea thereof here. I mean, this show seems to be (read, is highly) liberal when it comes to ideas of romance, and the show doesn’t seem to insult Jamie for finding Garnet appealing. Yet, the execution, the focus, the delivery of the entire scene takes it all over the top. And clearly, Garnet herself is seen as unaware of this infatuation, or at least unflappable about it initially (hey, future vision is one hell of a power.)

On a larger level, though, a relationship between Jamie and Garnet would be quite a shock, for a few reasons.

For one, as brought up in the show, Garnet is herself the manifestation of polar opposites – working-class, passionate tomboy Ruby and upper-class, feminine stoic Sapphire. They strike what is effectively a perfect balance as Garnet, and while there have been additions to that partnership (Sugilite, for example), the intent in those circumstances is more to achieve a goal rather than a long-term partnership. (It just so happens that Sugilite was a pure id, and that went quite a bit far…) There’s a stability to Garnet, and the status quo does not need to be filled.

Secondly, even if you discount Garnet’s composition and take her as her own individual, she is in many ways a foil to Jamie. From what we’ve seen, Garnet is composed (at least externally), rather pragmatic, laconic, and stoic.

Jamie is… none of those things.

I mean, consider what he did during Season 1B – he was trying to make his big break in the film industry. That’s the romantic gamble that we as Americans have – to get our faces onto cinema screens. Hell, it’s the basis of La La Land, and that movie won several Oscars, even taking home Best Picture for about two minutes. It’s all part of the American Dream – that anybody from even the most humble of origins can grow up to become the next great actor, a superstar athlete, or even the President of the United States.

For most of us, however, success is fleeting. Jamie made his gamble, and it didn’t pay off. That, to me, is the act of a true romantic. He disperses of limits, writes like he’s the reincarnate of Shakespeare, delivers his lines like he’s reciting a monologue. He is but a player in the stage of the world…

…and his failure to achieve his dreams, at least right now, has utterly trashed him.

The issue isn’t his goals – it’s that he shoots too high and too rapidly in reaching them. He thinks with his heart probably a bit too much, simultaneously a blessing and a curse. His whole life was gambled in Kansas, and he’s gotten his limit in heartbreak. The idea of one more rejection letter would’ve sunk him. His gamble in writing a letter to Garnet was a huge one… and one that tragically can’t be, will never be.

Not helping matters is that the quote above is just half of his letter. Hey, at least he gets his point across… eventually.

Unfortunately, Steven and Connie notice just how fragile Jamie is, and decide to let him down gently… by editing Garnet’s rather laconic rejection letter. (“Dearest Jamie: No. The end. Forever, and even after that. Yours truly, Garnet.”) Steven and Connie try and sugarcoat the breakup with tons of metaphors and flowery prose, complete with a parting complement of his hair…

…and it backfires.

First off, I should delve off onto the side that, again, this does seem to be a cliche with Abrams and Jo episodes – characters wind up shaving off a couple of IQ points in trying to resolve a conflict, and as a result, create a quagmire. In cases such as “Fusion Cuisine” and (to a lesser extent) “House Guest”, it can prove to be a major detriment. Other times, I can see where the writers are going.

Here, I have a mixed opinion as to why Connie would try and write a letter rooted in soap opera tropes. I’ve always seen Connie as rather bookish, but she does have her weaknesses on the television, such as Under the Knife. If anything, I would’ve tried and based the letter off of, say, the controversial last book in The Spirit Morph Saga. (They described a cake for 50 pages!) Still, I do like characters that are flawed, and Connie messing up here is less egregious compared to her debacle in “Fusion Cuisine”.

Now, back to Jamie’s infatuation going into hyperdrive. Honestly, a part of me thinks that Jamie’s misunderstanding of the letter was a defense mechanism. The rejections he received through the months wore him down, and this, this, became his shot at an emotional renaissance. Or, who knows, maybe he was just so crazy in love that he picked up on the hair compliment and knew this love was meant to be. (Also, the further he falls in love, the more scenery he eats.)

Just one problem… “I didn’t write that!” With that sendoff, and in no uncertain terms, Garnet tells him to get lost. “I am not, nor will I ever be, interested! Go. Away.” Not only is it a rejection, not only is it from the woman he’s enamored with, but it’s direct to his face, and about as forceful as possible. As you might imagine, Jamie completely breaks down and effectively shuts himself off from the world.

I mean, I don’t blame Garnet – if I rejected a woman’s advances via a letter only for her to come to my window and act like she’s in a subpar Shakespeare production, I’d likely call the cops. (Unless they were playing “Solsbury Hill”…) But damn if I don’t feel just a little for Jamie – Steven and Connie really screwed up, and in turn, shattered the man.

He flew too close to the sun too quickly and got burned as a result.

The day after, Garnet does manage to assuage his heartbreak slightly in a rather intriguing manner… a Picard-esque moral wrap-up!

Garnet: “Love at first sight” doesn’t exist. Love takes time, and love takes work. At the very least, you have to know the other person. You literally have no idea of who or what I am.
JamieBut, I bloom for you, like a camellia under moonlight.
GarnetNo, you don’t. You make a very convincing lovesick fool. You convinced these children. You even convinced yourself… you’re a fantastic actor…

Well, that’s a bit to unpack here.

Give Garnet kudos – she at least gives Jamie (and, by extension, the viewer) a lead as to the difference between love and lust, and how the mind can make us believe the former in lieu of the latter. Infatuation is perfectly natural, but the confusion can deprive us of logic in execution. For a man as romantic as Jamie, who likes to soar high and fast, that can be damning – to himself and to others.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to bring up an episode from later in the season – that being “The Answer”. If you want to avoid spoilers, please hit command+F (on Mac) and type up “For all of a sudden, it was just the two of us.”

Here we go.

“The Answer” – coincidentally, also written by Lamar Abrams (alongside Katie Mitroff this time), serves as something of a rebuttal to this episode. The example given, strangely enough, is that of Ruby and Sapphire. The whole episode revolves around Ruby the guard and Sapphire the blue blood (heh) coming in contact with each other by accident, smitten from the start. Ruby’s defiance of Sapphire’s fatal precognition then leads to the genesis of Garnet – by all accounts, the show’s embodiment of a stable love. Things snowball from there.

While “The Answer” is one of the most beloved episodes of Steven Universe, there are some fans who view the episode as a tad hypocritical given Garnet’s argument in “Love Letters”. And, to be fair, I can see that argument. I’ll get to “The Answer” more in-depth in that review, but my argument is this – the Garnet from that episode was a lot more brash-looking, not quite as stable and confident, and the fusion even shocked the duo at first. Also, the point of view there may give off a slightly skewed and quickened (though no less moving) story. Love, even at first sight, does take work.

Jamie doesn’t know about Garnet – what she is, what her interests are, her background, her life. Sure, her statement is meant more to ward him off, but it’s also strangely philosophical. Ruby and Sapphire work because there is some development from “love at first sight” – they slowly get to know each other’s philosophies, interests, etc. Jamie just wants to love forever, without any comprehension of the partner he wants to dance with. Looks can deceive, and the two could, would fall apart.

Taking that into account, the contradiction between the two episodes is somewhat understandable. Many an artist has deconstructed or reconstructed the themes present in an earlier work, and “love at first sight” is prime for analysis.

For all of a sudden, it was just the two of us.

The great theme of this episode, other than the mirage of “love at first sight” being exactly that, is to pace yourself with your passions. Garnet’s parting line – “Start with local theatre” – connects to his lack of experience, both in the art of love and acting. He yearns for it, but he needs to hone his craft a little bit more. Engage in your passions, but shooting too high might disappoint.

I think that’s a rational message for many a child or a teenager watching the show. They’re naturally bound to take on more dramatic, romantic themes. And that’s fantastic – part of youth is the unbound idealism before the cynicism of adulthood rebuts all of it. Still, try and temper it once in a while. After all, we all have to start somewhere. Even Rebecca Sugar, considered by fans to be an icon of the decade, was but a mere revisionist on Adventure Time (for about a month).

And as for love, hey, maybe things won’t work out with your crush. Get to know them and see if they’re interested, or if you two are compatable.

That does fit in with Steven Universe‘s ideas about love – it can bring us up, but a poor execution can delude us, can bring us down. As much as I joke about the show being written by a bunch of idealistic seemingly-bohemian liberal hippies (at least the third part of that is true), there is a sense of pragmatism that does exist amongst the writing crew when it comes to execution.

“Love Letters” is something of a hidden gem (heh) in the Steven Universe canon. Overlooked by many fans as a simple comic romp, it does serve as a microcosm of the show’s exploration of its themes, the deconstruction of love and reconstruction thereof, and helps flesh out a side character. Controversial as “townie” episodes might be, this episode is, in my opinion, a pretty good example of getting it right.

Tidbits:

  • One very silly note about Steven ordering a bunch of Sea Pals – it very vaguely reminded me of the South Park episode, ironically titled “Simpsons Already Did It”, where Cartman and friends order brine shrimp marketed to give off the visage of a sea-ciety of sea people. A series of misunderstandings including the death of their teacher later, they do manage to generate an entire sea-ciety. The point is, I’ve been watching a lot of South Park on Hulu lately.
  • Mad credit to Jamie – after handing Steven and Connie his letter, he’s so in love that he actually begins to quote Curly as he runs off! I don’t know about you, but damn if this show doesn’t depict the art of being in love perfectly.
  • Question – since Jamie let all that mail fall in the ocean, can’t he be charged with something? I mean, that’s a federal job, and mail tampering is a federal offense. (Hey, he’s gotta get freed up for local theater somehow!)
  • This episode also marks the debut of Barbara, played by Kate Flannery (Meredith from The Office). Barbara’s not a particularly interesting character, even though we do get some light shone on her in “Sadie’s Song”. Give her credit, though – she actually managed to find Steven’s house. Flannery, by the way, currently stars as Carol in OK K.O.! Check it out.

Wrap-Up:

Favorite Character: Jamie professes his undying love to Garnet in the rain, complete with anime-style faces. If only he played “Sledgehammer”…

Best Character: Jamie, the lovesick fool…

Memorable Quote: “Start with local theater.” – Garnet. So simple, yet so encompassing of the whole episode.

Verdict: Silver. It’s certainly light Steven Universe, but it’s a rather well-done light Steven Universe. I’m going to land this down at #37 in the rankings, right between “Tiger Millionaire” (hey, Amethyst angst, that sounds rather prescient) and “Watermelon Steven” (another Abrams/Jo-penned episode).

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