Sunday, July 14, 2024

Gushing Over Reunited, Part 2: The Attack

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Now that Betchen (Bo and Gretchen) have gotten the Steven Universe happy big gay wedding out of the way, it’s time to jump into the action of “Reunited.” No, we don’t mean Garnet’s honeymoon. Or, maybe this still counts? We feel like Garnet might like a good fight on her honeymoon. Or to roleplay as Lonesome Lasso and Sally Mae. Anyway, we’re getting off topic. On to…

The Return 2: Electric Boogablue

There were many hopes for this episode and the return of Blue and Yellow Diamond to Earth. Would Lapis return? Lars and the Off-Colors? Jasper? Would we see new fusions? Would one of the Diamonds beat Alexandrite down like Thanos does Hulk in Infinity War?

Not all of this happened, but what did happen exceeded our expectations and then some. “Reunited” was the culmination of 5 seasons of this wonderful show. The Crewniverse put so much effort into building up this moment; Steven Universe as a whole is a master class in foreshadowing, and this battle fully showcased the team’s skill in that regard. With all the hard work out of the way leading up to it, they could give us a rip-roaring final fight stuffed to the gills with surprises and badass moments. With all the foundation laid down, the Crewniverse was able to deliver triumph after triumph and it was amazing. The fusion known as Betchen is pretty damn satisfied with everything that went down.

Like any good fight scene, the fight against the Diamonds gave each of our cast of characters from the Crystal Gems (both A and B team) an epic closing moment on the arcs built since their first appearances. Garnet stood up to Blue Diamond, who she first formed in front of. Peridot stood up to Yellow Diamond again and tossed soda cans with reckless abandon. Lapis returned to throw a barn and declare herself a Crystal Gem (so much more about this later). Connie launched herself right into the action. Bismuth got to fight alongside her friends, who all used the modifications she used to her weapons. Bismuth also got to throw Peridot at Blue’s face. #goals, amirite?

As little as single sentences closed entire books on the incredible character arcs they’ve all been through in satisfying ways. How amazing was Pearl’s, “I do it for me!” after all this time? That’s right, Pearl, you Diamond-seducing boss. Even Lion and Greg got in on the action. Well, Greg tried anyway. To be honest, they should have just let Greg at Blue. This all could have been solved quicker with the signature Universe charm.

And Lapis. LAPIS. (Yeah, you know Lapis is going to get her due with Gretchen involved in this discussion.) She’s going to save most of it for an in-depth essay about her continued healing arc, but there’s still plenty to say. Starting with: damn does she know how to make an entrance!

Before the “deus ex Lazuli” comments start, can we take a moment to appreciate how well foreshadowed Lapis’ return was? We know she was watching the Crystal Gems (and Peridot in particular); it’s entirely possible that the red and blue flowers that wash up on the beach after Garnet re-forms are a gift from her to let them know she’s watching (Gretchen likes to think so). We also know that she’s considered returning but didn’t know how to control her fear. So really, her arrival shouldn’t have come as a surprise nor is it really a ‘deus ex machina’—which implies that that the heroes literally could not do anything to save themselves without outside intervention, which we know wasn’t true.

Lapis helped turn the tide, but Steven delivered the final blow (more on that in a second). More than that, this was culmination of her seasons’ long journey through healing from her trauma and fear. She willingly destroyed the home she had taken all the way to the moon in order to help save her friends. You know what that is? That’s growth.

More than any show we know of, adult programming included, Steven Universe has hammered home again and again that one choice never ultimately defines someone. Rather, it’s the sum of and directionality of one’s choices that make people who they are. Mistakes happen along the way. Healing isn’t linear. Continued upward progress matters more than tiny steps backward or the occasional plateau. Choices and behavior always have a context, and turning a complex issue into a black and white matter of 100% good or evil when the reality is gray only hurts people. That applies equally to Rose, to Steven, to Bismuth, and to Lapis.

Lapis’ final choice doesn’t magically transform her into a good person that she wasn’t before she came back. She’s been on this trajectory since the end of season one. Proudly declaring herself to be a Crystal Gem is the culmination of several seasons’ worth of unpacking and processing her trauma, not a single defining moment disconnected from everything that went before. This choices was as much a product of her previous choices as it was a different one.

She needed space (*snort* gotta love the literal pun there) to think about and solidify her feelings about Earth and the Gems. She needed to face her fears on her own, to learn how to cope with them and control how she engaged with them.Like Ruby, she needed to find herself and what her story meant alone before coming back and joining the team for herself. If she hadn’t done that, she wouldn’t have been so strong and fierce as her own individual person. And damn was our girl, fierce

Only someone who has learned healthy ways of coping with her own depression can stand up to an onslaught of manipulative grief. Blue weaponized her pain and Lapis said, “Not our pain to bear, back off.” And that’s an equally important message as Steven’s compassion. Empathy has limits, especially when the other person seeks to burden you with their own pain in an unhealthy way. Yes, Blue was in pain. Her grief was valid. And, it wasn’t her place to make everyone else suffer because of her hurt. Extending compassion to someone in pain isn’t the same thing as them trying to make you suffer the way they are. Lapis showed us that.

At the same time, and best of all, this final fight completely validated and rewarded the choices Steven has made in the name of love, sympathy, and compassion. Even if we take the boundaries into account. Every mistake, every low point, and every moment of self-doubt this poor kid has persevered through was proven to be worth it. He learned, listened, and loved his way to this confrontation, and we couldn’t be more proud of him.

Because “Reunited” was also the culmination of Steven’s arc. All his friends came together, driven by his faith and love for them, to stop the greatest threat they’ve ever faced. Who expected the Cluster to return at all here, let alone fully in control and on Steven’s side? Everyone jumped to his defense without a second thought. They did so because Steven has earned their love and trust. How? By first extending love, trust, and compassion to others. Steven Universe as a show and him as a character have always promoted the importance and benefits of kindness, compassion, understanding, and healing, and now we saw how those choices and themes rewarded Steven.

The segment in the mind-ghost space (sure, go with it) was the perfect way to ultimately end the fight while also giving Steven arguably his biggest moment of peace over violence. How fitting that he ends the fight not by beating the Diamonds physically, but by literally breaking through the layers of grief Yellow and Blue built up over thousands of years? Even against the most dangerous threat he has ever faced, he went with his first instinct of healing and reconciliation. Damn if it didn’t work. Of course it did. Steven’s a miracle worker.

This was also his shining, climactic moment with his friends. Here’s where “For Just One Day Let’s Only Think About Love” continues to be a perfect tone setter for the entire episode. We talked in the first half of our review about Steven’s role as emotional support for the Crystal Gems, and he took this role to its greatest level yet within the mind-ghost space. He lifted everyone’s flagging spirits when they most needed him to. He bolstered them against the fear and doubts beginning to creep in.

Speaking of,“For Just One Day Let’s Only Think About Love” also framed the battle between the Crystal Gems and the Diamonds as one between love and hate, joy and pain, happiness and sorrow, fear and hope. Their conflict was not decided because one side or the other was physically stronger. It was decided because one side was stronger in the real way. After 5 seasons of minor conflicts in the battle between hope and doubt, hope won out.

We’ve seen fans try to attribute Steven’s power to Pink Diamond. We won’t pretend there’s no validity to it, or at least to aspects of it. Awareness of the mind space seemed to be a Diamond-only power. Blue and Yellow did stop fighting only after recognizing Pink Diamond’s aura. But we still hold firm that Steven has unlocked and developed these powers not because of her, but because of himself and the influences in his life. He deserves the majority of the credit. The rest goes to Greg. Greg was the one who raised Steven to be this way.

Rose/Pink had a lot of curiosity about Earth, but she wasn’t exactly empathetic. Knowing exactly how to encourage others to be their best selves and keep fighting isn’t a gem power. Intuiting exactly what people need to hear, and then saying it, isn’t either. Rose may have been excited about diversity and uniqueness, but she didn’t really set out to help anyone be their best selves. Or go out of her way to love and show compassion to them when they weren’t or challenge them to be better than their worst instincts. That’s all human, which just makes Steven that much more powerful as a character because some of his greatest ‘weapons’ are ones we can access, too. We can all be like Steven, and some of the greatest battles we’ll ever fight in our personal and political lives could do with some Steven-ing up.

Pink/Rose chose their way, and it was a way of war and violence. We’re not saying the Crystal Gems were in the wrong. Sometimes you have to choose the hard, violent way in the face of the most extreme subjugation. Rose ultimately fought for the right reasons and had good intentions. Those were still her choices and her instincts, and they almost always oppose the choices Steven makes. We wonder how many times we have to see Steven choose the opposite of his mother before we stop attributing the good in him to her.

Steven has now done what Rose would have thought impossible: he ended fighting with the Diamonds through peaceful means.


So what happens now? You mean other than Lapis and Peridot getting their Crystal Gem Stars?

Totally the reason they got poofed and we’re not even mad.

Great question. A lot of fans have talked like it’s all over. Steven added two more giant women to the mom collection and now it’s on to a White Diamond conflict. We have to disagree. Oh, we have no doubt Blue and Yellow will eventually come to love Steven just like everyone else. Right now, though, that’s not at all what happened. Right now they are happy to have “Pink” back, and it’s a matter of how they deal both with learning Steven isn’t truly Pink and that he isn’t leaving Earth.

There is also a lot of emotional navigation ahead to truly overcome the mistakes of the Rebellion and the grief that followed. We still have thousands of bubbled gems who were corrupted by the Diamonds’ attack on Earth. And what about all the other Cluster experiments, or even the Cluster itself? Don’t you think it’s worth dealing with the horrors the Diamonds were willing to accept as part of their ‘grieving process’? Plus, we have a whole ship full of Off-Colors and Lars headed toward Earth, Gems who were oppressed and marginalized on Homeworld. The caste system that kept Gems like them in hiding still hasn’t been abolished. It’s safe to say there’s plenty to dig into even if the Diamonds no longer wish to destroy Earth.

There are critics who dislike the entire idea of Diamond redemption, regardless of how it happens. We understand. You have to be careful when navigating redemption arcs regarding vicious, oppressive tyrants. Lean one way and you excuse and justify their actions. Lean the other and you don’t actually give a good reason for them to switch sides. It’s definitely a delicate balance. Can the Diamonds actually come to Steven’s side without it feeling forced or insensitive to their crimes?

Can we at least see how it plays out before we denounce the entire thing, though?

The promo for the next episode already gives us reason to rethink what we know about the Diamonds. If they didn’t know their attack corrupted gem life on Earth, it raises questions about a lot of other things. Why did the attack corrupt the gems then? Did White Diamond do it? Was Rose’s shield responsible? How will Blue and Yellow feel about what they did to those gems? Combined with “Pink’s” survival, this may be just the catalyst for them to truly reflect on gem culture as a whole and perhaps seek to change it.

Now that it’s clear corruption will be the focus of Steven Universe’s immediate future (three cheers for Centipeedle returning!), undoing that damage may be the first step towards Blue and Yellow atoning as best they can for their actions so far. We’ve seen the show handle unintentional damage to others from good intentions in the past. Why not take on unintended casualties and damage when the intent truly was to hurt, just not in this way? And why not, as part of that process, dig into the ways that those who have done that damage can participate in reconciliation and healing?

We have an idea of how that might go, if Steven Universe chooses to go in that direction. The Diamonds were the only ones aware of the mind space, and we think it likely will use this space to heal the corrupted gems, or at least to help with the healing if they have any idea how. There’s obviously a limit to how much the Crystal Gems or the audience can forgive the Diamonds. They have thousands of years of ruling a fascist empire under their belts. They’ve committed war crimes and atrocities they can never really be forgiven for.

But does that eliminate any possibility of them turning their lives around? We hope not. Steven Universe prides itself on trying to reach everyone. It’s trying to teach lessons of love and peace to kids. Fiction is full of stories where bad people find a better way. Shouldn’t we at least keep our minds open to the Diamonds being able to do the same? If they can’t be reached, the show will deal with that later.

Or maybe the Crewniverse will settle them into some middle ground between ally and foe. Full ‘redemption’ and unrepentant villain aren’t the options. It’s not unreasonable to think, at least in the short term, that Blue and Yellow can both continue life as they have while also agreeing to leave Earth alone out of love for Pink. This dynamic could even open up more complicated stories around the idea of family you love yet have complicated relationships with because of bad things about them. We can all sympathize with that these days.

Whatever the case, the Crewniverse deserves a chance to try. Considering how well they handle everything else they’ve done, we’re both very optimistic.

Random Thoughts

  • The visual styling of the Cluster with its ‘muscles’ made it looked like a skinned human arm, which sounds gross, but was actually quite beautiful.
  • Yellow and the Cluster arm wrestled. The Crewniverse did that. Before you wonder, it was absolutely foreshadowed. Remember the arm wrestling arcade game?
  • Peridot throwing cans at Blue and screaming “fight me” was the epitome of angry smol.
  • We salute the proud tradition (dating all the way back to “Laser Light Canon” 1×02) of yeeting the angry smol at the enemy.

  • So many pop culture references we can’t even name them all, but we loved it.
  • That moment where everyone helps Steven hold the shield to protect them all from Blue’s attack? That’s what being a Crystal Gem is all about.
  • Dewey x Jaime? Who would have seen that ship coming!
  • Greg saved Cat Steven!
  • Our response after seeing the promo: CENTIPEEDLE. CENTIPEEDLE. CENTIPEEDLE.
  • Yet another Diamond appearance without so much as a hint about White Diamond. If they go through an episode discussing the corruption attack without mentioning her, then something very strange is going on. The Crewniverse will have a trick up their sleeve regarding White.

Images Courtesy of Cartoon Network

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