Steven Universe Review: “Reformed” (Season 2, Episode 4)

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Don’t worry. I have an old friend who shares your pain. His name is Mr. McGreg.

“What’s the right answer?” “There is no right answer.” – Steven and Amethyst. Open-ended questions… one’s kryptonite, one’s source of power…

Airdate: April 30th, 2015

Written By: Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco.

Plot: Steven’s attempt to administer a Crying Breakfast Friends personality quiz to Amethyst is interrupted by a mission – catch a mysterious entity within Amethyst’s junkyard of a room. Unfortunately, Amethyst is feeling particularly insecure, and tensions culminate in Amethyst getting poofed and forced to regenerate. Several times. To extents that are less hilarious than the descriptions of said regenerations would leave you to believe.

Review:

“Who wants to watch a cartoon about people crying?

Let’s be real here – chances are, fans who got into Steven Universe during Season 1A were not prepared for the sheer emotional rollercoaster that was to occur. Sure, they got “So Many Birthdays” and “An Indirect Kiss”, but it seemed like Sucrose and Co would come down closer to the side of comedy rather than drama more often than not. Boy, were they in for a shock…

I really got into the show during Season 2, though, so I knew damn well what I was getting into when I began watching on a regular basis. By that point, the show had thrown at a floored fanbase such happy episodes like “Lion 3: Straight to Video”, “Rose’s Scabbard”, and “On The Run” – the latter of which forms the basis for today’s episode, “Reformed”.

Oh, Amethyst… Amy, Ami, Ame… if Pearl is a woman who thinks herself lost without Lenore, Amethyst is a woman who thinks herself lost in spite of her close group of compatriates. With a genesis in the most damning and horrific of circumstances and a deep personality contrast with two of the other three Crystal Gems, it’s a small wonder she’s not suicidal… unless you read into certain actions in “On the Run”.

(That would be heavy work for a kids show. Then again, SU touches on themes of genocide, war crimes, relationships that challenge gender norms and class barriers, and despair, so… make of that what you will.)

Deep inside her is this feeling that she was picked up as a piece of trash, and is pretty much kept by the Crystal Gems out of a sense of pity. I mean – she wasn’t a rebel. She’s not a fusion. Not an intellectual. Not the son of Rose Quartz. In her mind, she’s just a war machine, produced to destroy her home that the Crystal Gems made their sworn mission to defend, come hell or high water.

Today’s issue comes in how Amethyst repairs herself after having her physical form compromised. If “Steven the Sword Fighter” introduced us to regeneration, this episode took us into intermediate studies – the emotional process that goes into one’s regeneration. For now, we know that Gems actually craft their next forms while in their stasis. Hence why Pearl went from a ballerina-esque tutu to a slightly more “action-y” outfit, or why Garnet became more purple after refusing (although, given the impetus of her separation, methinks it was a renewed passion for her genesis and her mission.)

Now, we have Amethyst in her quest for regeneration. And she just can’t get the balance right – in part because of her own self-loathing.

At first glance, it seems redundant. I mean, we had “On the Run” already. Yet, remember Lil’ Butler from “Maximum Capacity”? And how Amethyst wanted to relight the nostalgia of watching the sitcom with Greg only for that to fall apart? When you think about it, it cements what the ending of “Rose’s Scabbard” implied (and what the next episode will further prove) – these characters are mentally screwed up. And not even the episode ending will truly fix it. These characters actually have to grow on a day-to-day basis.

Much of the time, it’s one step up and two steps back, as The Boss would say.

Through the episode, Amethyst is on edge. Practically everything is taken as a slight against her, yet she tries to cover this somber aspect of her personality up with an aura of comedy. I’m sure that I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s kind of an interesting trope – the idea of the funniest characters having the most tragic inner cores. Amethyst takes this character trope to the furthest logical extent without quite turning it into a farce – thus is the power of the Crewniverse for knowing how to create balance. (And foreshadowing!)

Not helping is Garnet and Steven tagging along on her current train of self-loathing – this time, in an attempt to catch a new Gem, the “Slinker”. (What the hell is with the Crewniverse and proper nouns?) Garnet is, well, Garnet – mission-focused, albeit to a fault. Not that she’s a poor leader – far from it, she’s probably the most emotionally stable of the quartet. But it manifests in a stoicism and/or a bluntness that, when combined with Amethyst’s insecurities, can only result in tears. Or, in this case, yelling quite loudly at the Englishwoman before getting poofed.

Or, in this case, entering into an argument with the Englishwoman before getting poofed.

Again.

And again.

Every single one of her regenerations is reactionary. Garnet critiques her ability to move stuff in her hovel of a room? Her hands turn into feet. Compares her rapid regeneration to Pearls? She regenerates as a pastiche of Pearl, solely to mock her, but also to get some sort of approval, thinking that Pearl is universally beloved. (Ooh, do the stare from the ninth circle of hell!) Methinks jealousy reigns supreme inside her head, eh? (Or is it an admiration that she refuses to admit?)

Garnet critiques the rapidity of her regenerations and says that it sinks the strength of the team as a whole? Well… she turns into a misproportioned statue from the Pop Art era, too buff, but all without any sort of ability to retain her physical strength.

It bears repeating – this is cathartic. This also ain’t healthy. These regenerations all tie into both her extraordinary lack of self-confidence, her own fragile emotional state, and how she (quite frankly) doesn’t think things through. And once that gets thrown out into the open by Steven (in a somewhat strident way)… well, her next regeneration takes a while.

But the length does count – she comes back as practically her old self (bar a different color shirt). It felt right… and as Garnet puts it, that’s why it’s perfect. Hell, she even pleases Pearl by fixing the errant shoulder strap – thus adding that dimension of jealousy to her earlier imitation.

I will say this about “Reformed” – it is a bit weird to watch for the most part, and in a weird way that puts it lower on my personal rewatch list. What is the cause of this “je ne sais quoi”, I ask myself. Really, I think it has to do with how “Reformed” is structured as an overall episode.

“On The Run” really laid it thick in the back half of the episode, and introduced us to the Kindergarten – the source of Amethyst’s agony and the symbol of Homeworld’s unceasing callousness. “Rose’s Scabbard” certainly has Pearl go over the edge, but the episode is so well-balanced and the ending (if not the overall situation) so ambiguous that it sucks me in every single time. Hell, “Sworn to the Sword” (the next episode) serves a similar purpose as this episode, yet manages to mix in some fantastic character and background development all around, as well as a very, very, very engaging plot.

This episode’s plot of “the slinker” is, personally speaking, relatively uninteresting. There’s little tying it into the grand plot of the show. In contrast to the sword, the Kindergarten, and “Future Vision’s” titular power, it wasn’t a particularly engaging aspect of the episode, and as a result, it all feels just a little bit… emptier than those episodes. Thus, for most of the episode, all it seems like is Garnet and Amethyst at odds with each other, without the added bonus of extra character development.

Here, when you strip the episode down to its bare minimum, it can be summed up in two words – “be yourself”. Which, given the socially left/libertarian ethos of the Crewniverse, makes sense. It’s just been done before and it’s been done in ways that were more intriguing, at least personally speaking. Still, framing it in a “right answer/wrong answer” idea and then deconstructing said idea to get to the Aesop does give us a new dimension.

Overall, “Reformed” is far from a bad episode – it just comes off as somewhat more style than substance. Regenerating Amethyst is more the end here, and the means to that end seem a bit less engaging than this show can handle. It doesn’t quite strike the balance that other episodes taking on pathos seem to. Still, it does develop one of our protagonists, so I certainly can’t hate it at all.

And besides, it is the first of two “pathos/sequel” episodes in a row…

Tidbits:

  • Crying Breakfast Friends is one brilliant bit of self-deprecation by the writers room. I mean, you have these food products sobbing over what to us are the silliest things. Methinks the writers have embraced the elements of melodrama within. Still, the character descriptions and who they’re matched with are quite on the nose. Then again, I’m not the target audience for this show.
  • Sorry, but Amethyst ate car oil with her potpourri. I mean, I know Gems can create their own digestive tracts to enjoy the process of eating, but what did she make hers out of? Asbestos?
  • Serious question – what phone plan does Steven have? I mean, he gets a signal well inside of a mystical alien temple.
  • The answer to these previous two tidbits, though, might be simple… it’s a cartoon, I should relax.
  • Finally, this is the last episode to air the original theme song. Starting with our next episode, we have a new intro, with the theme song slightly remixed and faster paced. Personally speaking, I think it’s a massive improvement. Still, the older intro carries with it the lighter atmosphere of the show’s early days. May we never forget it…

Wrap-Up:

Favorite Scene: Yeah, I liked Amethyst’s pastiche of Pearl.

Best Character: Honestly speaking, I really do feel for Steven. This can’t be easy for him to see.

Memorable Quote: “Is it weird I’m getting numb to this?” Yes, Steven. Yes, it is.

Verdict: Silver. It’s definitely “On The Run”, the Sequel. Not that it’s a bad thing at all, but it’s not as sublime as the parent.

Ranking it, personally, was a bit of a challenge. I guess I’ll put it at #27, right behind “Future Vision” and right above “Monster Buddies”. I dunno, maybe I’ll rewatch this episode in the future and warm up to it. It’s just one of the weaker “pathos” episodes.

Which, given that it got a Silver ranking, indicates just how great this writing staff is.

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