“Three Gems and a Baby” was about as telling a title as Steven Universe can give an audience. On a show where “Hit the Diamond” is about baseball and “Super Watermelon Island” features the end of a major arc, this was a rare instance where the title makes it clear what the episode is about. Seeing the gems deal with Steven as a baby ranks among the most requested moments Steven Universe fans want to see. The potential for adorableness and good old Rebecca Sugar heartbreak is too great.
How did the actual episode do? Pretty well. This is Steven Universe, after all, one of the best shows on TV.
The episode opens with Steven, Greg, and the Gems sitting around the temple during a snowstorm. They talk about the last time Beach City saw such snow, when Steven was just a few months old. Of course they can’t begin the story until Greg picks up his guitar (one of my favorite running jokes). Greg goes into “I Could Never Be Ready” and we see him struggle to handle baby duty. Greg is not in the best of shape here; he lives in his van, of course, and has to stay in Vidalia’s house because of the snowstorm. He’s tired and improvising. That’s without even getting into the mental toll present mere months after Rose’s death. He’s still classic Greg, though. The man powers through everything with optimism and song.
Then the Gems arrive with presents for baby Steven and the good stuff really kicks in. Mainly because no one involved has any idea yet what Steven truly is. Glimpses of this remain back during season 1, but by then the Gems and Greg have 14 years of familiarity with Steven. Here they only have a few months, and most of that with Greg. The Gems have far less. Amethyst still calls him Rose. No one is sure how much of Steven is a gem, and how much is a human. The Gems, of course, have no more a clue about human children than Rose did and it shows in their terrible gifts.
(Adult diapers. Classic Amethyst.)
The problem exacerbates when Steven’s gem glows after receiving his gifts. Everyone has a different opinion on what it means. Amethyst thinks Rose wants to shapeshift back to normal. Pearl thinks she’s trapped inside of Steven. Garnet thinks she is a fusion. The only agreement to be had is that Steven is a gem, and needs to be with them rather than Greg. Kidnapping road trip!
To be fair, they have no idea how awful taking Steven was, and Greg does agree eventually that Steven should live with them a few years later. And this does lead to Amethyst shapeshifting into a baby for Garnet to cuddle and also revealing her past shapeshifted into a toilet, so all is forgiven in my book.
The various solutions the Gems come up with fall in line with their belief about Steven’s being. Amethyst keeps trying to convince her to shapeshift back to normal. Garnet tries to get Steven to unfuse. The most extreme near-method comes from Pearl. Which leads me to my favorite, or at least most dramatically satisfying (!), part of the episode. Because Pearl is perfect in this episode.
Her tension and resentment towards Greg about Rose has been well established in previous episodes, and carrying that resentment over towards newborn Steven had to happen. Might be unfair, but that baby is the physical manifestation of the misery she experienced every time she saw Greg and Rose together. Steven is everything she lost made real and forced upon her. That shows in every moment Pearl appears on screen. If Greg looks tired, Pearl is downright exhausted, physically and mentally. She hates every moment spent in the house around baby Steven. Her grieving shines through in every sentence, as does her hope when Steven’s gem glows.
So back to her solution. Which is basically to rip the gem right out of Steven’s body. She almost does it, too. Oh, Steven Universe, how you manage to disturb the audience so casually in the midst of cuteness.
It’s a really dark moment, complete with fading the background to black as her fingers grip the gem. Even knowing she won’t do it doesn’t make the moment any less disturbing. It’s a harsh reminder of how dismissive the gems were before Steven worked his amazing empathetic magic on them. They didn’t much care for humans or understand anything about them. The full ramifications of what she was about to do to Steven likely never crossed Pearl’s mind. Ultimately she does not do it because she knows how much Rose wanted Steven, but that doesn’t make it any easier to understand. Not just for her, but everyone.
Steven’s existence is something entirely new (it wasn’t quite me, and it wasn’t quite you…) that Greg and the Gems had to learn about together. While fans always suspected just how difficult that process had to be this is the first time we see those difficulties for ourselves. Raising a baby is hard enough for a new parent without adding in the fact that Steven’s gem side adds further unpredictability. Then you add in the tensions and grief due to his mere existence. Greg lost the woman he loved. So did Pearl. Amethyst and Garnet lost their leader. It’s an awful situation for everyone involved. There was no other way to do face this than together.
That’s what they learned by the end of the episode, and we see the happy result of that cooperation to end the episode. Everyone sits happily together in the living room enjoying each other’s company. Greg and the Gems have grown and changed so much since Steven Universe started, let alone their days raising baby Steven. Greg and Pearl finally reconciled their feelings and began to move past Rose. Pearl and Amethyst changed from arguing rivals to Pearl happily handing over the used teabag for Amethyst to munch on. Amethyst herself has slowly come to grips with her existence and found a measure of acceptance and happiness. Garnet has gradually seen the burden of leading the Crystal Gems leave her shoulders. They’ve defeated Homeworld gems and even seen two join their side.
Steven has brought out the very best in them, and “Three Gems and a Baby” showed the beginning of that process.
Steven Universe will likely dive into some dark places in the near future. We’ll cry, we’ll worry, and we’ll see things happen that tear our hearts out. “Three Gems and a Baby” and “Gem Harvest” before it were wonderful slices of family togetherness reminding fans why they will care so much when that future arrives. The Crewniverse has created an amazing cast of characters, and none more amazing than the central characters it revolves around.
Images courtesy of Cartoon Network