Sunday, May 26, 2024

Meet the New Crystal Gems on Steven Universe

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What’s this? A new episode of Steven Universe only one week after a Steven Bomb ended? You know what that means! Bo and Gretchen are back! And today we’re here to talk “The New Crystal Gems,” the first of three confirmed episodes set to on Fridays at 7 P.M. on Cartoon Network. Weird, right? Weekly episodes, what a concept. We hope it catches on. We like the Bombs, but sometimes the audience needs that week between new episodes to breathe. That and we get time to actually analyze and theorize.

Speaking of, let’s get to it. Betchen fusion dance begin!

Spoilers for 4×16 “The New Crystal Gems” below

“The New Crystal Gems”

The episode opens with the Crystal Gems returning to Earth after rescuing Greg. Connie runs out from the temple to greet them, and Steven gives a quick, excited recap of the mission. Amazing how he sums up in ten seconds something we wrote 4 days worth of reviews about. And trust us when we say we had to hold back.

He apologizes to Connie for leaving without her (which Connie of course is totally okay with) and asks how things went while they were gone. She says nothing happened. Also, she restocked the cereal and cleaned around the house, much to Pearl’s delight. You’ve done well with your pupil, Pearl. However, she eventually begins the story proper of what happened. This would be a short, disappointing episode otherwise. “I cleaned up and nothing happened. The end.”

The rest of the episode is told from Connie’s POV, starting with the phone call with Steven before he left. Connie wanted to go with him to rescue Greg but Steven asked her to stay and protect Beach City instead. She enthusiastically agreed, of course, because Connie is amazing. One question we have, though; did she at least tell her parents before grabbing Rose’s sword and running off? Connie had no idea how long Steven would be gone. Maybe Pearl and Dr. and Mr. Maheswaran have an understanding now after helping with the gem mutants at the hospital? We’d trust the Crystal Gems after that. Then again, it’s a silly question. Parents only exist in cartoons when they absolutely need to.

She runs off to the temple, and when she arrives senses something amiss. There are noises coming from somewhere inside! Thank goodness she has Rose’s sword ready in case there are monsters. Only, when she bursts into the bathroom, she instead finds Peridot and Lapis inside. Also, Peridot is in the toilet. We approve wholeheartedly of this joke returning.

Steven Universe peridot toilet
You spin me right round, baby, right round…

Both sides react defensively, wondering why the other is there. Lapis and Peridot tell Connie about Garnet asking them to watch over Beach City, while Connie tells them about Steven asking the same. Surprisingly, it appears that Connie has never met Peridot and has not seen Lapis since “Ocean Gem” (1×26), when Lapis nearly drowned her. Lapis and Peridot have lived in the barn for a while, and we assumed Connie would have met them at some point by now. Then again, she has school, at least we think so? School belongs in the same area as parents on cartoon shows.

By the way, Lapis is brutally dismissive about nearly drowning Connie. What the heck, Lapis? Seriously, we expect more from you by this point.

Peridot comes to the conclusion that they must copy the Crystal Gems in order to properly protect Beach City, right down to copying the gems themselves. Peridot decides she must be Garnet since she’s obviously the best boss, Connie decides to be Steven (even though she’s clearly the Pearl, or is Peridot the Pearl?), and Lapis goes along with the suggestion of being Amethyst. She even cracks a joke! The role of Pearl is left to the pet pumpkin. We have things to say about this later.

After a reluctant group pose, our new Crystal Gems are ready for action!

Connie stakes out the town from the porch of the temple house. Which should not be possible since there’s a giant cliff blocking view of Beach City from the house. Is this an overlooked inconsistency or just the way Connie tells the story. We guess that’s up to the viewer. Everything appears okay, and she reports to Horatio Caine Perigarnet, who threw on a pair of shades to complete the look and gives Connie a classic Garnet thumbs up. We love you so much, Peridot.

Cue CSI Miami intro.

She asks if she’s capturing “the Garnet” correctly, and we get our first look at Lapamethyst, who has combed her hair so it covers her left eye and gives her best try at an Amethyst voice. This is amazing. There’s also Pumpkin with the party hat as Pearl’s nose, and Connie has donned Steven’s red shirt with the yellow star. A car horn alerts them to trouble, and Connie realizes the sound is coming from the car wash. Time for the Crystal Mimics to spring into action, complete with their own version of the title theme.

They arrive at Greg’s car wash to find Buck Dewey waiting with his father’s campaign van. The head was vandalized and he needs someone to clean it. Hmm, down with Dewey eh? If you know the Fandomentals by now, you know we’re rooting hard for an episode focused on someone running against Dewey. With Greg still in space at this time, Connie thinks they should run the car wash until he returns. Then she gives an awful water pun.

Perigarnet compliments her for it, and Lapamethyst gives a thumbs down while yelling “buuuuurrrrrrrp”. They’ve got the essentials down, anyway.

They clean the van using their powers, which was so cool that a line of cars await them the next day to receive the same treatment. However, things spiral out of control when Perigarnet tells Lapamethyst to crack some jokes to play the role right. Lapamethyst does this by spraying everyone watching with water, even Connie when she objects. Peridot gets angry because she thinks Pumpkin is the only one taking their role seriously.

Perigarnet then lifts Yellowtail’s truck into the air with Yellowtail still inside. Connie tells her to put him down, and Perigarnet yells back, to which Connie tells her Garnet wouldn’t yell at people this way. Lapis agrees and decides she should fill the Garnet role instead. She even adopts her own suave accent, and it’s amazing. We approve of Lapigarnet.

This leads to a physical fight between Lapis and Peridot, where both try and seize control of Yellowtail’s truck. Did everyone else notice how much stronger Peridot’s metal powers have become? She very much holds her own against Lapis. The fight eventually sends the truck crashing into the car wash sign. Poor Greg. Gems break everything he owns at some point and he never complains. He’s such a great guy, no wonder all the Zoomans want to Choosen him.

Connie tries to give a version of a Steven speech (we’re fighting, but we love each other, so let’s do it for love), which is adorable but not quite Steven-esque enough for the rest of the team. She says Steven would have given a better speech, and Peridot points out that she didn’t even cry. Any good Steven speech ends with tears, Connie should know that.

Back at the temple, Peridot blames everyone else for what happened at the car wash, again claiming they are terrible in their roles. When she suggests Lapis now be Pearl, Lapis gets upset and claims Peridot should be Pearl. Again, we have things to say about this. They start trading insults until Connie finally snaps and tells them to can it. When Lapis says that’s not a “Steven” thing to say, Connie doesn’t care. She does not have his patience or ability to “babysit a bunch of superpowered children”.

When Lapis tells her she and Peridot are thousands of years older than Connie, Connie tells them to act like it. Right on, Connie. She tells them to be the gems they’ve been for thousands of years, because they can’t solve Beach City’s problems while trying to be someone else. They will never be the Crystal Gems. They should just be themselves to solve problems, because they have their own way of doing things. It may not be a Steven speech, but it’s just as inspiring in its own Connie way. Though it’s really sad when she says they are just the “Crystal Temps”.

When the episode returns to Connie telling Steven the story, Greg’s car wash looks good as new. All except the sign, anyway. They couldn’t fix that. When Greg says he’ll give his sign guy a call, Connie tells him to hold off because the Crystal Temps made one themselves. Is it a little weird? Yeah, but it’s also really cool. And Greg being the good guy he is, he immediately loves it.

Our heroes save the day, and celebrate with their own victory pose!

Lapis, Peridot, and Pumpkin…and Connie!

Delightful Little Gems

  • Everyone notice Sadie and Lars holding hands? D’awww.
  • We love the recreation of the season 1 opening theme, with Connie copying Steven running ahead of the Crystal gems.
  • Connie wore Steven’s clothes and slept in his bed. They are SO cute.
  • Not only did Connie not cry, but NO ONE SANG. These three were terrible Crystal Gems.

Lingering Questions

  • They didn’t pick up the Rubies! Steven, why did you lie to us? Why didn’t they pick up the Rubies? You can’t leave them helpless in space like that!
  • Geez, Connie, you couldn’t let Steven and Greg change out of their clothes first?
  • Connie also raises a good question about the earrings they got from the zoo. Are those piercings, or clip-ons?

Closing Thoughts

It’s no surprise that the first episode after such a story-heavy Bomb was so lighthearted. When looked at as nothing more than a fun breather, “The New Crystal Gems” worked just fine. We are always happy when Connie gets an episode, and the entire fandom has eagerly awaited her interactions with Lapis and Peridot. Would we have liked a bit more of a problem to solve than washing a car? Sure, but the episode was still fun. We loved the impressions, we loved the life lesson at the end, and we had a good time. There’s nothing wrong with just having a good time watching Steven Universe.

Besides, don’t mistake the goofiness as meaning there’s nothing worth digging into.

One thing that will probably see little attention is the continued classism shown by both Peridot and Lapis in their disdain for “playing” the Pearl role. Which they then foisted onto the pet pumpkin who can actually do very little helpful for the team. We think the Crewniverse definitely implied something unpleasant about their lingering Homeworld discrimination here. Pumpkin is a goofy pet, adorable, but mostly exists to look cute and not get in the way. Gee, kind of a familiar stereotype given the Bomb last week, huh?

For all the respect Peridot might have gained for Pearl after their robot fighting competition, she still looks at Pearl as “just a Pearl” and beneath a Peridot like herself. Peridot’s feelings of superiority are often played as (very funny) jokes, but we should always keep in mind that they are a lingering effect of her life on Homeworld. We saw that Lapis feels the same way, which is not surprising since she’s barely had any interaction with Pearl or any other Crystal Gem. She was literally ‘frozen’ in time in the mirror for thousands of years and has only now started to evolve and grow. They both still have a lot to learn about Earth and unlearn about Homeworld.

We kind of wish Connie had volunteered to be Pearl. She certainly knows how amazing and capable Bird Mom is, to the point that she made Pearl proud for her organization and housekeeping while Steven and Co. were gone. We also don’t want to blame either Peridot or Lapis too much for this continued lack of respect for Pearl. They’re relatively new to the team and still shedding those harmful perceptions reinforced throughout most of their lives. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t acknowledge it. Certainly the Crewniverse still thinks we should otherwise they would not have made such a point of it this episode.

And is it just us, or is there something really interesting about the cone pumpkin wears? It is striped yellow, blue, and pink…now where have we seen those colors before? We’ve never quite thought about this before in this way, but Pearl’s color coding has elements of all three of the Diamonds we’ve seen on the show thus far. Maybe it’s the bomb, but the colors stood out much more. Perhaps a hint to Pearl’s origin and status when she served…Homeworld. Maybe she worked for all three of the Diamonds!

Alright, back to the episode. Many complaints still exist among fans about how suddenly and easily Lapis and Peridot became friends. Some might have mistaken their recent appearances as meaning their problems had been solved entirely off screen, and we can’t blame them. This episode shows us that isn’t the case. No matter how playful and calm their interactions have been, it’s not entirely conflict free. To this point nothing had tested their relationship since they agreed to share the barn. They had no conflict, no stress, nothing but time to take tentative steps towards reconciliation and forgiveness.

Their arguments here may seem like silly nothingness, but just look at how easy they fell back into physical conflict with each other over something so simple. The tiniest bit of force pressing on their friendship briefly broke it apart. What would have happened if there was a real danger to Beach City? How could they have cooperated to defeat a corrupted gem, let alone any force sent by the Diamonds to kidnap the citizens of Beach City? As much as one of those threats would have been more exciting, Peridot and Lapis may not be at that level of cooperation and teamwork yet. They have come a long way, but they have much further to go. Hopefully the Crewniverse will let us see some of it in upcoming episodes.

We also think the lesson of “being themselves,” while a cliche part of children’s programming since the dawn of time, was also meant to parallel Steven’s struggles to find his own way. Connie and company did not copy the Crystal Gems just to have fun. They believed they had to do things exactly like them in order to succeed. The Crystal Gems have successfully defended Earth for thousands of years. Why not do things exactly like they do?

It wasn’t so long ago that Steven did the same. He is Rose Quartz’s son and has her powers. He spent the majority of the first three seasons trying to follow his mother’s lead as a Crystal Gem, and the other Crystal Gems encouraged this in many ways. While they could not be sure which of Rose’s powers Steven would eventually inherit, from the moment Steven summoned Rose’s shield they began expecting of him what they expected of their former leader. It was unfair to everyone involved, but they had no other framework for how to handle Steven. We saw in “Three Gems and a Baby” (4×10) that the Crystal Gems didn’t even know what Steven was.

Only recently has Steven found his own way separate from his mother. The pedestal he and the Crystal Gems placed her on has gradually been deconstructed so that they (and we) can view her as a real person rather than a perfect symbol to live up to. Steven still wants to make his mother proud but he will do so in his own way.

Connie, Lapis, and Peridot went through an abbreviated version of the same process in this episode. They are not the Crystal Gems, nor should they try to be in order to be successful. They were best off being themselves. The day will come, and probably very soon, where real crisis hits Beach City, and the Crystal Temps will be just as important to stopping that crisis as the Crystal Gems. It’s good they were able to learn this lesson now rather than during said crisis.

We also saw considerable improvement of Peridot’s metal powers, had Connie confront Lapis and Peridot about their immaturity, and gain valuable leadership experience. The complaints we’ve seen about nothing happening certainly ring hollow. Things certainly happened, and just because they happened in a goofy, not entirely serious situation like washing cars does not mean they are not meaningful and valuable to Connie, Lapis, and Peridot. Steven developed the same way. Remember cookie cat? Or, *shudder* cat fingers? Steven gradually developed his powers and leadership on non-critical missions the Crystal Gems felt comfortable with taking him along for.

Discounting the Crystal Temps’ development here is unfair. Not everything needs to be a life-threatening crisis to make a person grow. And we shouldn’t discount just how much growth Connie evinced in this episode. She was prepared for danger, sword in hand, and ready to confront whatever she might find lurking in the beach house. She’s clearly been practicing her fighting stance. She was confident, in control, and demonstrated a gift for leadership that we would not have guessed would come out of the shy, bookish nerd we first met in “Bubble Buddies” (1×07).

Plus, Steven Universe actually did a discount version of the Mom Swap AU. That alone should make a lot of people happy.

Does that mean we don’t feel a little disappointed? Of course not. We don’t get many episodes focused on these characters (which is understandable since they’re not the mains). That raises expectations when they do get episodes, and all of them together could have generated some excellent, meaningful interactions. We could have seen Peridot apologize properly to Lapis. We could have seen Lapis apologize to Connie. They could have compared their experiences with the Crystal Gems. It definitely would have been nice to get a little bit more out of the episode. No arguments here.

Still, we need to judge the episode for what it was, not what we wanted it to be. “The New Crystal Gems” was meant to be a fun little episode for our three replacement Crystal Gems with a nice lesson about not trying to be someone other than who you are. Judged on its own merits it was a pleasant episode with lots of good jokes and a good, if well-trodden message at the end. If this is the kind of episode that disappoints Steven Universe fans, then it speaks volumes about the show’s quality.

We had fun watching it, and even silly Steven Universe has plenty to say. We hope you had fun, too. Though we’re still waiting to see Peridot get her star. Surely she knows where she’s going to put it by now?

Images courtesy of Cartoon Network

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