Steven Universe Review: “Friend Ship” (Season 2, Episode 14)

 

Pearl and Garnet trapped in a room about to compact them.
“I got a bad feeling about this.”

 

Cast in this unlikely role
Ill-equipped to act
with insufficient tact.
One must put up barriers
To keep oneself intact.
– 
“Limelight”, Rush.

AIrdate: July 17th, 2015.

Written By: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu

Plot: Pearl finally has her pulse on Peridot’s every move. There’s just one issue, though – her attempts to take Pearl down on her own only serve to push her further and further. You see, there was this thing that happened a few episodes ago that cut through the Crystal Gems like a knife. Anyway, they manage to corner her (sort of) in an old Gem Ship, only to wind up stuck there thanks to the angry nerd. Facing possible death, Pearl is forced to face her inner demons.

Review:

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends, Steven Universe (thanks, Cartoon Network). And today, we take another stop at ROCK BOTTOM! Here, we take a look at the moral and ethical depths of a character, their psyche, and the impact it has not only on themselves, but those surrounding him/her, the people surrounding them, and the grand plot as a cohesive whole.

In short, welcome to the end of the Week of Sardonyx, starring Pearl as, well, Pearl.

While Pearl has scraped Rock Bottom before, the Week of Sardonyx was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back. Her prior callousness mainly impacted a kid so forgiving that it’s almost unreal. This time, though, she dared to cross Garnet, and the results were disastrous. Not only was Pearl practically abandoned, Garnet came undone and turned into a borderline divorcing couple for a night, Greg’s attempt at feigning a holiday was ruined, and Steven had to watch Onion get propelled out of his mother’s body. Emotional turmoil for everybody!

But all good displays of psychological trauma must come to an end, and so must the story arc. So let’s cap it off the way it started with everybody’s favorite Zim deconstruction, Peridot, and have her and Pearl enter psychological breakdowns simultaneously! Continue reading

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Steven Universe Review: “Cry For Help” (Season 2, Episode 10)

Sardonyx Silhouette

“She’s taken my time, convinced me she’s fine
But when she leaves, I’m not so sure.

It’s always the same. She’s playing her game.
And when she goes, I am to blame…”
“Cry for Help”, Rick Astley.

Airdate: July 13th, 2015.

Written By: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu

Plot: Amethyst and Steven’s routine of lounging around in front of cartoons is interrupted by Peridot, who managed to get to the Communications Hub to send out a message to Homeworld requesting backup. Deciding that the last attempt to destroy the hub only resulted in too much trouble, Garnet instead decides to ask Pearl to fuse. Enter Sardonyx, a showman who manages to take out the hub with precision. Amethyst takes on a whole load of guilt… all while the hub keeps going up.

Review:

A full disclosure is necessary before we begin – “Cry for Help” was the first Steven Universe episode I watched on it’s first run as a fan.

Don’t get me wrong – I watched one or two episodes first-run before, and was quite impressed with what I saw. Hell, I even contemplated reviewing it back in 2014, thinking of the show as “quite awesome” in (on reflection) somewhat hyperbolic terms, because I was intrigued with what I saw up to that point.

But it would be months before I actually sat down to watch it. It was in late spring/early summer 2015 that I began checking out episodes that had already aired. And I was far more impressed than I was before. “Rose’s Scabbard” ultimately was the point of no return – as soon as I saw that, I was going to be damned if I didn’t begin watching this show.

So it’s July 13th, 2015. Donald Trump was still regarded as that goofball from The Apprentice who was but a foot sandwich away from leaving the primary in disgrace. (Any day now…) Leicester City were in a turbulent position in the Premier League, preparing for another season where they would fight off relegation. Kevin Spacey was hailed as one of the all-time greatest actors ever. Half of the Wachowski sisters wasn’t publically known as a sister.

It was still a weird time, people.

So what was I treated to for my opening salvo as a Steven Universe fan? Pearl crossing a moral boundary of one of the Crystal Gems related to one of the show’s main themes.

More specifically, sobbing foodstuffs. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “We Need to Talk” (Season 2, Episode 8)

Steven Universe We Need To Talk

“Is this torture?” – Rose, getting straight to the heart of what makes love tick.

Airdate: June 18th, 2015
Written By: Hilary Florido, Katie Mitroff, and Rebecca Sugar
Plot: A moment of dancing while sifting through old records causes Steven and Connie to fuse. Again. This time, in front of Greg. In spite of being stunned, he tries to reassure Connie and Steven that he himself knows about fusion.

It’s some years ago. While filming a music video for his record “What Can I Do”, Pearl decides to fuse with Rose Quartz to show off a power that humans don’t seem to have. Staggered, Greg is further taunted by Pearl by claiming that since he can’t fuse, the love between him and Rose won’t last. A determined Greg decides to get at the heart of this – by trying to fuse himself. But is Rose the goddess that Greg thinks she is?

Review:

I’m not even going to bury the lede here – “We Need To Talk” is a Platinum episode of Steven Universe. Between its fantastic pacing, it’s breathtaking visuals, some beautiful dialogue, and it’s complete and utter humanization of one of the show’s most mysterious characters, it’s probably my favorite of the “flashback” episodes up to this point, and is bound to remain in my top 20 for quite a while.

So, why should I review this episode, then? Can’t we all just go home, eat some popcorn, and watch America slide further into the depths of insanity? Well, no – there is so much in this episode to pick apart, so much to analyze, that leaving it in the dumps would just be a waste.

It’s another one of those “sequel” episodes – directly, it follows up on “Story for Steven”. Indirectly, though, it fuses elements from the “Rose’s Scabbard/Sworn to the Sword” duet, “The Message”, and “Alone Together”. The end result, in contrast to my previous review of note, is a jam-packed episode that actually has enough balance to follow through on every promise laid out by Hilary, Katie, and Rebecca.

Yes, Rebecca Sugar penned this. Prepare to start on the road to heaven, while taking a detour down the road to hell. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Keeping It Together” (Season 2, Episode 7)

Steven Universe Keeping It Together

“You’re a civilified part-gem too, after all.” – Garnet, inadvertently inviting Steven onto a path of psychological trauma!

Airdate: June 17th, 2015
Written By: Raven Molisee and Paul Vilecco
Plot: Still on the hunt for Peridot, Garnet invites Steven on a trip to the Kindergarten to try and track her down. They do manage to come across her as she rises up from an inspection period. As Pearl and Amethyst try and track her down, Garnet and Steven choose to investigate further. The results are… less than pleasant. Particularly when fused parts of Gems come tumbling down on the two.

Review:

On occasion, there pops up internet comments that talk about Steven Universe being dark and gritty television. Even as a fan of the show, I have to wonder who, in particular, thinks this. I mean, it’s a damn good show, but I don’t think it’s that particularly dark. If anything, it’s the most optimistic thing on television right now. There are days when it honestly makes The West Wing look gritty in comparison. You want dark and gritty television? Breaking Bad would like to speak to you.

If anything’s dark about this show, it’s via subtextual and psychological elements – the analysis of autocracy, the negative side-effects of social castes, and the hell of war. Yet even then, Steven Universe manages to take a relatively optimistic analysis of these things, largely showing the antagonists in a sympathetic/tragic light or ending with a major burst of optimism that they shall overcome. Even the show’s more sobering episodes, such as “Rose’s Scabbard”, contain that hint of hope at the end, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s only really “dark” if you sit and think about it for too long. (Which, given that I penned 3000+ words about two episodes so far, includes me. I have no life.)

Still, if these posts praising SU‘s “darkness” were coming off of “Keeping It Together”, then they are coming from an understandable place. I am not going to mince words here – even with a relatively bright last scene, “Keeping It Together” is the single darkest episode in the canon. Yes, darker than the one where Pearl trained a child soldier, Pearl almost let Steven fall into the eternal unknown, and darker than the one with the soldier who has militant attitudes.

Two words – forced fusion. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Sworn to the Sword” (Season 2, Episode 5)

A frame from the Steven Universe episode "Sworn to the Sword"

“It was here that I became familiar with the human concept of a knight – completely dedicated to a person and a cause. This is what you must become, Connie – brave, selfless, and loyal.” – Pearl. Oh, this is gonna be a happy episode, right?

Airdate: June 15th, 2015

Written By: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu

Plot: After seeing Connie ward off a flock of seagulls (they flew so far awaaaaayyy), Steven encourages her to take up sword fighting under Pearl. Despite Pearl’s initial reservation, she takes up on the offer. However, in spite of Steven and Connie thinking they’ll make a great team, her teaching methods are unorthodox and a bit self-sacrificing… by which I mean, her methods are borderline suicidal.

Review:

Ever since I reviewed “Rose’s Scabbard” back in May, I’ve made it no secret that it is my single favorite episode of Steven Universe. Time and time again, I’ve argued that the episode is not only the pinnacle of character pathos, but manages to take a scenario that would be the height of melodrama and hit the perfect beat – between the fantastic score,  the fantastic visuals, the sobering climax, and the ambiguous ending, “Rose’s Scabbard” is known to reduce fans to tears. It was the episode that secured my fandom, and I will never regret it.

However, as I mentioned in the review, just because I think it’s my favorite episode doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the objective best. Not that I don’t think “Rose’s Scabbard” is a remarkable eleven minutes of television – it is. But I have entertained the idea that the show has produced episodes that, on a technical level, are better. In my head, I think of at least two episodes that raise that possibility. There’s “Bismuth”, the half-hour third season special that gave us the titular character and how she impacted the Crystal Gems.

And then there’s today’s episode, “Sworn to the Sword”. Coincidentally, it is the sequel to “Rose’s Scabbard”… as well as two other episodes – “Steven the Sword Fighter” and “Full Disclosure”. Continue reading

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… Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “The Return” (Season 1B, Episode 26)

steven-universe-the-return

“E-vac-u-ate!” – Mayor Dewey, putting “get out of dodge” succulently.

AirdateMarch 12th, 2015

Written By: Raven Molisee and Paul Vilecco.

Plot: Lapis’s warning was rather prescient, as a hand of death makes its way from space into Beach City. The town bails out, and Steven is sent along to keep them calm and help them carry on. However, Steven encounters a disquiet when he realizes the sheer scale of the conflict and that the Crystal Gems may have thrown themselves to the wolves.

Review:

Well, after two long years, here I am – the end of Steven Universe Season 1.

And what a season it was. I mean, consider that the show was advertised as “some kid rooms with aliens, eats ice cream, and acts like a dork”. Now consider that Season 1B has exposed our protagonists as psychologically messed up, unsure of what the hell they’ve been doing or will do, and you start to realize that either Cartoon Network’s marketing department is incompetent, or Sucrose played them (and, by extension, us) for fools. In a good way.

With Steven Universe cementing itself as a more (albeit not exclusively) serialized dramedy in Season 1B, it was imperative that the two-part finale serve as the coda to the themes that this season was built on. Now the question is – what does “The Return” do to make said coda as effective as possible?

The answer – it focuses on Steven. That’s a good sign.

(And it’s written by the duo that’s partially responsible for “Rose’s Scabbard”. Even juicier!)

Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Rose’s Scabbard” (Season 1B, Episode 19)

Pearl clutching onto Rose's Scabbard.

“It held your mother’s sword. Nothing else could fit so perfectly.” – Pearl, not even trying to hide her crush on Steven’s dead mom when talking about the titular scabbard. And believe me, it just gets more unnerving from there…

Airdate: March 9th, 2015

Written by: Rebecca Sugar, Ravin Molisee, and Paul Villeco

Plot: At the Strawberry Fields, Lion unearths an old scabbard. Pearl instantly recognizes it as one to Rose’s sword and begins waxing quite a bit of nostalgia over it. Determined to have Steven comprehend its importance, she takes Steven to the storage cave where the sword is said to reside… and is shocked when Steven not only knows how to access the armor and weaponry, but that the sword lay in Lion’s mane. In fact, Pearl is quite shocked that Rose even had a lion in the first place.

A breakdown ensues.

Review (WARNING – LONG):

In 1990, the Pet Shop Boys released a single entitled “Being Boring” – a song about a man’s idealistic worldview being compromised by the inexorable march of time. Once mingling amongst the crowds of parties inspired by “a famous writer from the 1920s”, he reflects on having formed his own path of unfathomable success, all while many around him, including a particularly close friend, died. In spite of its comparatively weaker chart performance at the time, “Being Boring” has become Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s most critically acclaimed song, and it’s quite easy to see why. It combines beautiful vocals, with Tennant at arguably his most introspective; rather melancholic themes of love, friendship, loss, saudade, and an ironic sense of regret; all wrapped around gorgeous instrumentation.

Bizarrely, though, that song reminds me of a particular Steven Universe episode – “Rose’s Scabbard”. Now, I know what you might be thinking – doesn’t this connection seem a bit tangential? A pop record and an episode of a cartoon? When you put it that way, it might be. Still… may as well go to another dynamic duo – that of Steven and Pearl.

Full disclosure before we begin – Pearl is my favorite Steven Universe protagonist, and probably my all-time favorite character. Sure, many fans might feel enthralled by Garnet, or might really believe in Steven. Personally, though, Pearl is one of the most complex and well-written characters in western animation – behind the intellect she possesses is a character full of neuroses and faults, yet one that remains lovable.

Makes sense, then, that one of my favorite characters is the main focus of an episode that is cited as a fan favorite.

Yes, Steven Universe has had very few bad episodes. And most of them were more “mixed bags” or “mediocre” than downright bad. (“Fusion Cuisine” and “Horror Club”… aren’t making my hall of favorites.) Still, in this show where so many episodes are beloved, this episode, in particular, is hailed as a showcase of the writers in top gear – which, considering some of the episodes I’ve seen so far, is certainly no small feat.

Why is that? Are the fans overhyping this episode? What do I, some dork with a little review blog, think? Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “On The Run” (Season 1B, Episode 14)

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“This is where I was made, dude. One day, just – pop! – right out of this hole!” – Amethyst succulently and briefly describes her horrifying, horrifying genesis.

Airdate: February 5th, 2015

Written By: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu

Plot: Steven is enthused by his book series, The No-Home Boys, and begins to romanticize the idea of living away from home, especially when he finds out about the genesis of the Crystal Gems. Amethyst is the only one that responds positively to Steven’s newfound enthusiasm – albeit because of her own issues regarding where she came from – and the two run away. Steven finds the life on the road to be less romantic, while Amethyst uses the escape as an excuse to take Steven to her birthplace – the Kindergarten. And thus begins a night of an almost unspeakable heartache.

Review:

The last time I reviewed Steven Universe, we got to see a darker, fallible side to Garnet. Meanwhile, in the real world, the United States of America had just voted to experiment with a real-life simulation of Tropico 4* a new wave of populism. This review is being posted just after the experiment was launched, what with the inauguration of President Donald Trump. (I still can’t believe I typed those last three words as a fact.) How poetic. So, what better way to come back to Steven Universe than by an episode that shines a darker light on another main character?

When you get down to it, Steven Universe‘s central characters are all a part of tragedies pulled together, each one dealing with their aftermaths. From the start, it’s been established that Greg lost the love of his life. Pearl’s mental state is on the verge of a total collapse for various reasons (one of which we’ll see in a few episodes). Lapis Lazuli was trapped in a freakin’ mirror for years. And Garnet and the others, we’ll get to during Season 2 (and 3, and 4).

Here, though, we get a look at Amethyst and what happened to her. And damn, if this episode doesn’t prove that Steven Universe toes the line of tragedy, I’ve got nothing for you.

Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: "Alone Together" (Season 1B, Episode 10)

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“A Gem fusing with a human being? It’s impossible – or at the very least, inappropriate!” – Pearl. She probably thought the same thing way back when.

(Note: for those wondering where my review of “Warp Tour” is, I am going off of the order posted by Ian Jones-Quartey in terms of my episodic analysis. This allows for more consistent continuity in a show that thrives off of it.)

Airdate: January 15th, 2015
Written By: Katie Mitroff, Hilary Florido, Rebecca Sugar
Plot: Steven’s attempts at fusing with the Crystal Gems haven’t been up to snuff. After another failed round, he goes and meets Connie on the beach. There, Connie exposes her unease when it comes to dancing in public. With the two alone, they decide to dance together on the beach. One dance later, the two wake up as a teenager. A teenager. That’s singular.

Review:

Y’know, I’ve been thinking about a witty way to start this review. It’s hard, though. I mean, we’re talking about “Alone Together” – an episode that manages to be both undeniably sweet and still a bit terrifying. While my last review brought up the concept of the “Steven Universe Imperial Phase”, and noted that “Lion 3” was a massive step towards it by introducing Rose as a character, this episode may have very well done more to build the show’s cult following than any other so far, or maybe even since.

And it all is wrapped in one of the show’s central plot threads, the power of…

…fusion. Continue reading