Thursday, May 30, 2024

That Will Be All For the Latest Steven Bomb

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Here we are. The end of the road for Steven Universe‘s latest run of episodes. It’s been a good one. We’ve seen Blue Diamond introduced, Greg kidnapped, the Gems travel through space to a human zoo, Amethysts and an Agate, and the human zoo itself. In the confusion of the pain caused by the Choosening, Greg and Steven tried to slip through the open door leading out of the zoo, only to be caught by an Amethyst guard. Uh oh! What’s going to happen to the Universes?

Bo and Gretchen have fused into Betchen one more time, and we’re here to cover the excellent, emotional conclusion to the latest Steven Bomb. *sniff* We’re not crying.

Spoilers through Steven Universe 4×15, “That Will Be All”

“That Will Be All”

The episode opens with Steven and Greg dumped into a room full of Earth Amethysts of all shapes and sizes. We also see a couple of differently colored gems in the background, but what’s that? They have our Amethyst captive! This is terrible! All that work to find Greg and they failed now. What’s going to happen to our heroes?

What’s going to happen is Amethyst’s dream come true, as Greg and Steven’s capture turns out to be a giant prank Amethyst set up. That’s right, the other Amethysts love her! Turns out she fit right in with them. She found out her facet and gem cut, which may seem like a small detail, but it’s the mark of her identity and place in the “Amethyst family” or Famethyst, as she calls them all. She found out that they all waited for her to pop out, and best of all, she feels right at home.

To say Amethyst has struggled with her identity since the beginning of the show is an understatement. We pointed it out in our initial reaction post that Amethyst’s origin has been a bit of a sore spot for her. She woke up alone in the Kindergarten and has struggled with feelings of abandonment and feeling like a mistake ever since. Jasper showing up and calling her an ‘overcooked runt’ exacerbated her feelings of inadequacy. Amethyst spent two whole episodes trying to prove she deserved to be made and was stronger than Jasper (3×22 “Beta” and 3×23 “Earthlings”).

Smokey Quartz went a long way in proving that she didn’t need to go it alone. She embraced her Earth origin and could accept herself as valid, beautiful, and powerful without needing to conform to “Quartz soldier” standards. Leave it to the Crewniverse to talk about self love, body positivity, and gender non-comformity all in one go.

We love our Earthling baby.

Still, the show had not addressed Amethyst’s experience of abandonment and loneliness. Like Steven, she is kind of an outsider to the Crystal Gems in some ways. She does not share Pearl’s and Garnet’s experiences of the Gem War, and they actively hide things from both her and Steven. Her traumas and pain are not their traumas and pain.

Meeting other Amethysts terrified her at first. In “Gem Heist”, you can see how worried she is about fitting in and being found out as an ‘imposter’. Meeting more of her own kind would bring up all of her insecurities about being a ‘real’ Amethyst. What if they’re all like Jasper? Cruel, violent, ‘perfect specimens’ of their kind.

Thankfully, they’re not. They’re goofy, high energy pranksters who like to run around and be loud, just like our Amethyst. We’re not kidding with how much alike they all are. These Amethysts resemble her right down to the self-deprecation and feelings of inferiority. This showed a bit when they first arrived at the zoo, too. The empathy they show for the zoomans last episode is likely baked right into them, too, as our Amethyst can be remarkably compassionate when the chips are down. Basically, Amethyst meets the rest of her kind and discovers that she is not a mistake. She’s exactly who she was always meant to be. And hearing that they waited for her to pop out? That must have been so validating. She wasn’t abandoned like she always thought. We can’t underscore enough just how meaningful this interaction must be for our Amethyst. We’re so happy for her!

But wait, there are more than just Amethysts! Turns out the Beta Kindergarten gems also call Pink Diamond’s zoo home. We get a bunch of Jaspers, including a sassy, skinny one, and an ecstatic Carnelian overjoyed to not be the shortest gem anymore. It looks like Jasper was the only Earth gem not banished to guard duty at the zoo. Not surprising since she is a “perfect Quartz” but it still raises the question of how she ended up under Yellow Diamond’s command, as we mentioned in our recap of “Gem Heist.”

The joyful reunion doesn’t last long before Holly Blue Ajerk comes calling. You know what? Jerk is too tame an insult for a person who walks into a room and immediately starts beating people. She also establishes that even among the already discriminated Earth gems, there is further discrimination against gems from the Beta Kindergarten. Peridot provided a taste of that in “Beta” but here we see this discrimination in action with her “hideous off-color Betas” remark. We really dislike Holly Blue and hope the Earth gems end up with the Crystal Gems at some point. They deserve better.

Holly Blue sends the quartzes out to greet Blue Diamond, and Greg and Steven slip out among them. They escape into a massive chamber filled with bubbled Rose Quartzes. Yeah, we noticed that look on your face, Greg. Now’s not the time for that. Steven starts to cry, and we know what that means. Yep, Blue Diamond is in the building. She enters the room and grieves while staring at the bubbled Rose Quartzes. She doesn’t grieve long before Steven Universe drops one last bomb.

Enter: Yellow Diamond. And do we have a lot to say about this.

So many Rose Quartzes. We want to see them join the CG at some point.

Yellow immediately starts in on Blue, wondering why she came back to the zoo so soon and why she won’t shatter the bubbled Rose Quartzes. The conflict between the two becomes immediately clear. Blue Diamond wants to preserve Pink Diamond’s memory. She wants to preserve the Earth gems, the Roses, and Earth itself, because they alone remain of her friend. Yellow, on the other hand, wants it all gone. She wants to destroy everything of Pink Diamond so she can forget. Her anger and stubbornness about destroying Earth thereby receives much needed context.

Neither one of them understand the other’s perspective, either. Yellow’s response to Blue’s vivid grief is to ask her Pearl to sing Blue a song to ‘make her feel better’. She then chimes in with the song “What’s the Use of Feeling Blue,” because telling someone their feelings are useless is helpful.

The song actually highlights their differences really well. Both are acting out of their grief over the death of their friend Pink, but with vastly different mechanisms. Yellow hyper-corrected to repressing her feelings. She uses violence and control to lash out. One could even say she’s fixated on the future to avoid the past.

“How can you stand to be here with it all?
Drowning in all this regret?
Wouldn’t you rather forget her?
Won’t it be grand to get rid of it all?
Let’s make a plan of attack
Start looking forward and stop looking back”

Blue, on the other hand, fixated on her grief and obsesses over the past. She can’t move on, can’t forget. She refuses to stop mourning, as she believes it would be a betrayal of her love for Pink. There’s a neat play of words in the song that highlights just how different their perspectives are. At first, you think Yellow is singing “What’s the use of feeling blue” (feeling sad), but by the end, you realize the lyric actually is “What’s the use of feeling, Blue”. What’s the use of feeling at all? Blue feels everything; Yellow tries to feel nothing.

We’d be remiss not to bring up “Mindful Education” (and no, not just because it’s Gretchen’s favorite episode this season). Stevonnie struggled with overwhelming thoughts and feelings of guilt, but the same principles of mindfulness apply to grief. Accept your feelings, let them be okay, breathe, be present in the moment. Don’t get bogged down by what you can’t change (the past) or what you can’t predict (the future).

Neither of the Diamonds are living in the present. Neither are coping with their feelings in a healthy manner. Rather than accepting them and eventually finding healing, Blue clings to her grief as if it is the only way to honor Pink. Yellow, on the other hand, refuses to accept and experience her feelings, resulting in her lashing out at others because she’s not coping. Basically, Yellow and Blue need to take a lesson from Garnet about how to cope with distress and pain.

“That Will Be All” doesn’t stop there with the comparisons to grief in past episodes of Steven Universe. Remember this?

Many fans expected Pearl and Greg’s coloring foreshadowed something, and now we know what. They step into the same roles as Blue and Yellow Diamond surprisingly well.

Pearl and Blue are obvious; both drown themselves in their grief, always looking back and unable to move on from the death of a loved one. Each dedicate their lives afterwards to preserving the legacy of this person. For Pearl it is protecting Earth and raising Steven. Blue maintains the zoo and the gems Pink Diamond created. They focus on the past to the detriment of the present. The comparisons between these two stand out strongly.

Greg and Yellow Diamond is a harder case to make. The parallels here exist not so much between the personalities of Greg and Yellow Diamond, but rather the roles they play in the lives of Pearl/Blue Diamond. Each grieves over the same person. One contrasts the grief of the other. Just like Yellow’s grief is no healthier than Blue’s, Greg’s is no better than Pearl’s. He has tried to move on, but as we see in “Mr. Greg,” he has not managed to. All he has managed to do is bury his sadness and let it build.

The difference here, of course, is Steven. He allows Pearl and Greg to find a healthy way past the grief they feel for Rose. Will the Diamonds find their own Steven eventually? Will Steven himself fill that role? We don’t think it’s crazy. Blue already has one positive grieving experience with a Universe. Also, how fitting would it be for the son of the woman who shattered Pink Diamond to heal the wounds caused by that incident? That’s pretty much what Steven Universe is about; Steven healing the wounds between Earth and Homeworld caused by Rose’s war.

With the end of Yellow Diamond’s song comes Holly Blue Agate escorting Sapphire and company into the room. Blue Diamond is immediately suspicious when told Sapphire completed a requested delivery from Earth. Obviously, since Blue never made such a request. Sapphire nearly freezes up (har har), but Ruby is there for good girlfriend hand-holding support, and Sapphire makes up a quick explanation about seeing a future request for human specimens. Blue says it’s true. Obviously, she just took Greg after all.

Yellow Diamond asks if that’s what Blue wants, and then asks Sapphire if the Cluster has emerged yet, reinforcing again that the Diamonds do not know it was bubbled. She says this gives them time and dismisses the party. So yeah. The Diamonds will go to Earth to “rescue” more specimens. Remember that cow abduction movie from “Steven’s Dream”? Looks like it has a double application.

As Holly Blue escorts the group back to their ship, she spends basically the entire time raving about Yellow Diamond. ‘She’s so strong and confident, I wish I worked for her, I totally don’t think Blue Diamond is weak and losing it.’ We imagine there’s a lot of this going on right now. While she probably tries to hide it, Blue’s grieving can’t be much of a secret. With Homeworld society built up as a pretty rigid and emotionless one centered around the Diamonds as perfect leaders, Blue’s inability to move on has to look worse in the face of Yellow’s ‘leadership’. And by ‘leadership’ we mean domineering attitude and penchant for violence. It makes us wonder about the influence of each individual Diamond on their underling gems, rather than all of them as a whole.

The procession makes it back to the ship and it looks like they’re in the clear. All Greg and Steven have to do is sneak back on…and they’re caught. Of course. Rather than blame the four gems clearly trying to sneak them away, she blames the Amethysts. She then pulls a whip from her gem which makes perfect sense for her role while also making some truly awful implications. Go back and take a look at the expressions of the Amethysts when she pulls that whip out if you don’t believe us.

Maybe this wasn’t so innocent after all.

As awful as Holly Blue acts, it’s worth exploring why she might act the way she does. We learn (or rather have reinforced) this episode that each gem is programmed with a role before they emerge. Yellow Diamond mentions Holly Blue’s in her song: an Agate terrifies. Holly Blue came into existence to enforce rules through fear. Her gem weapon is a whip, a weapon used throughout history to hurt and terrify. She has her role in Homeworld’s caste system. Those above her are revered unconditionally, to the point of refusing common sense. Those beneath her are always to blame for mistakes and should be physically punished for doing so. We do not excuse her behavior, but rather just want to point out the circumstances driving it. It underscores the abusive, demeaning setup of the Homeworld caste system that was explored in other ways in the preceding episodes.

Two episodes of Holly Blue acting like a shit finally catches up to her as Garnet returns and the Crystal Gems lay the smackdown on her. We love the impressed “oohs” as Amethyst spins the whip around Holly Blue to restrain her. You know that felt good for Amethyst, and we’re sure the Famethyst loved watching it happen. The Earth quartzes laugh and wave goodbye as Holly Blue threatens to tell the Diamonds. If the humiliation she just received wasn’t enough, Pearl seals the deal with an epic tongue lashing.

Speaking of which, you know Pearl spent every second on the station planning that speach out, word for word. Every snide comment directed at her from Holly Blue, every demeaning eyeroll. She’s probably channeling some bitterness from when she used to serve on Homeworld, too. Pearl’s lovely piano music theme playing underneath makes it that much more epic. Bo does feel a little bad for Holly Blue, though. Again, the woman may be a shit but she’s just doing what she was created for.

We’re still hoping for a Diamond Voltron.

Hooray! Our heroes did it! They fly away from the zoo (check the way Blue Diamond’s arm ship is relaxed while Yellow’s makes a fist), and Greg says this was the third-craziest weekend of his life. We’d find that weird if he wasn’t a former rock star that had a kid with a sentient polymorphic rock. We still want to know what those first two crazy weekends were, though. Greg tells Steven he hopes he found what he was looking for. Steven says he did, because he found his dad. Aww.

Delightful Little Gems

  • Every Rose Quartz other than ‘our’ Rose was bubbled, meaning Homeworld basically purged that type of gem from use.
  • WE KNOW WHAT LAPIS GEMS DO! They ‘terraform’! No wonder Lapis has so much power. Controlling water would help you control the landmasses and shape the world to the Homeworld gems’ specifications.
  • The Diamond’s pupils are black diamonds.
  • The Pearls are amazing. Blue Pearl gives off such a vibe of phantasmal sorrow. Yellow Pearl is the smuggest little shit to yet appear on Steven Universe. Both perfectly capture the images of their Diamonds. Major applause to the amazing Deedee Magno. This episode was yet another showcase of her brilliant voice acting.

Lingering Questions

  • Is Amethyst’s gem weapon related to Holly Blue Agate’s? They both have whips. Does this make Agate a form of Amethyst? Maybe an upgraded/Era 2 version?
  • Did anyone else think that the scale of the Diamond’s size felt different from when Yellow was first introduced? We mentioned that the animation weirdness would return, and Steven Universe has never put much emphasis on consistent character size.

Closing Thoughts

Whew! What a week we’ve had. We’d only been given mere tastes of Homeworld lore in the past, so we’re not quite sure how to handle this feast of worldbuilding. A human zoo, the revelation of Blue, seeing the Diamonds raw emotions, the Rose Quartzes, the Amethysts, seeing the caste system on display. Yet for all that we got, we still have so many questions. How did Jasper end up with Yellow? What happened to the eyeball ship that was docked at the zoo? Will the Crystal Gems rescue the zoomans and team up with the Earth gems? What’s going to happen when Yellow and Blue find out the Cluster was bubbled? And where does White Diamond fit into all of this?

It looks like we’re going to get more answers as the season goes on, though. Because no matter what else happens, Rose’s legacy and the Gem War continue to hover just out of sight. The more we see this season, the more hopeful we are that a reconciliation between Homeworld and Earth, or at least a relative peace, is possible. Such an event would tie together so many thematic threads: Steven as healer and mediator, Rose’s legacy of violence turned to peace, learning forgiveness and choosing healing, learning how to grieve and move on. It would be a poignant place to land, and we know the show could do it justice. We can’t imagine the show ending any other way.

There’s one other question worth raising based on these episodes and that’s the question of purpose versus choice. Over and over again on the zoo, various Homeworld characters reinforce the idea that gems are created for one specific purpose that they must fulfill. They’re ‘born that way’. Even seeing the Famethyst seems to support this idea, as this is the first time we’ve seen this large a group of gems who all happen to be strikingly similar in personality, even as they have their own unique quirks. Creation for function seems to be part and parcel of the Homeworld caste system. You’re made to do one thing and that only. Stepping out of line is anathema. This is the only life Homeworld gems know and they are never exposed to anything else.

And yet, our Crystal Gems defy that system. None of the Crystal Gems are serving their ‘intended’ purpose on Earth, and a huge part of that is because of their personal choices once exposed to something new. Pearl chose to be a fighter instead of a servant. Rose chose to defend Earth instead of Homeworld and shatter the Diamond who was likely her leader. Compare that to Holly Blue’s sycophantic behavior toward the other two Diamonds. Sapphire and Ruby chose to spend most of their time as Garnet rather than live alone, and by doing so, neither of them fulfill their intended Homeworld purpose. Fusion itself only exists on Homeworld to fulfill a specific purpose, and we saw Peridot’s confusion about Garnet simply existing.

We see the same with Lapis, Amethyst, and Peridot. Each of these gems has chosen to do what they want with their lives instead of fulfill what Homeworld tells them they ought to. The message then, is that fulfilling a specific function in society is not the sole purpose to being alive. Doing what “you were created to do” only goes so far. In fact, the existence of the Crystal Gems prevents the audience from excusing the Homeworld gems for their behavior. “I’m just doing what I was made for” may explain a character’s actions, but it does not excuse it when we’ve spent years living with a team of gems who defied that very system. We can understand where Holly Blue and Jasper are coming from without excusing their problematic behavior. We love how the Crewniverse nuances it’s antagonists without justifying them.

Some fans create theories around Rose and Pink Diamond, how one or the other was created for the purpose of rebelling in order to fulfill some grander purpose we are not yet aware of. We can’t say this is impossible. We’re not the Crewniverse, after all. Still, a twist like that would oppose one of the central themes of Steven Universe; the idea that anyone can make the choice to be better. Rose made this choice. The other Crystal Gems did because of her. Lapis and Peridot make this choice as well. Jasper has yet to but likely will in the future. Even good characters like the Amethysts can eventually make the choice to fulfill the good within them. To diminish the choices these characters made as part of some preordained plan by one Diamond or them all toward some sinister end…we’re not a fan.

We also wonder about the original purpose of what we call gem ‘weapons’. Were they originally weapons? Or were they functional tools that were weaponized because of Homeworld’s colonial ambitions? Some definitely seem to be weapons regardless, but most of them could also be used for more peaceful activities, like Peridot’s metal manipulation or Lapis’ terraforming. Do the lower caste Homeworld Gems even realize they have gem weapons? Or do they, like Peridot, believe that they’re defenseless? It would go a long way in explaining why the Amethysts feel so powerless against Holly Blue Agate (that and their soldier mentality of obeying orders). They probably never imagined an Amethyst could fight and beat Holly Blue the way our Amethyst did, and you hear it in their cheering.

Anyway, lots to think about! We hope you’ve enjoyed this Bomb as much as we have! We’re happy to say that last week, Cartoon Network announced that Steven Universe will be returning to a weekly time slot starting next Friday, February 10th. Three cheers for weekly episodes!! We’ll be here to talk about them, and we hope you’ll be back to talk about them with us.

Betchen out.

Images Courtesy of Cartoon Network

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