Backstory! Character development! Tense confrontations! Ominous ruins! Songs! Train Rides!
Now, my next job is to channel that into something readable, because that series of squeaks is what my immediate reaction to the latest Steven Universe was actually like. This is a big one, giving us more information on what and who the gems are than we’ve ever had, and hinting towards some major plot developments in the not-too-distant future. From the premise I expected a very different episode, thinking that Steven and Garnet running away together would be a fun, stand-alone romp, but I was very, very wrong. This episode has some of the show’s weightiest emotional content yet, and expands on its mythology in fascinating, frightening ways.
And, as ever, it all starts with a silly idea from Steven. He’s been reading his favorite book series, which chronicle the adventures of the “No-Home Boys,” who are two boys with no home, thus making their only sensible course of action to travel around the country solving mysteries. So, when Pearl rather abruptly answers a number of questions that have been on the minds of every regular viewer for months, Steven is mainly concerned with how it relates to his boyish preoccupation.
Pearl explains to Steven–and us–that the three gems we know and love are in fact all that remains of a very small minority who opposed the rest of the gem race, who were bent on using the earth for some terrible purpose which would have destroyed humanity. That’s why they can never return to space: they have deliberately cut earth off from any contact with the rest of the gems, isolating themselves but also protecting the planet they care about. Pearl is still rather vague, obviously to spare Steven from worrying about things he doesn’t need to (Wise move. Remember last week?), so what exactly the other gems wanted to do is left unsaid. It doesn’t sound good, though, and the “Kindergarten” where the episode’s last scenes take place enforces that, an archaic canyon covered with unused, spider-like machines, and holes where apparently new gems where created from the stone itself.
Including Amethyst. Another thing this episode does is throw some light on that confusing, entertaining dynamic between Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. Garnet, Pearl, and Steven’s mother were members of the opposition, but Amethyst was a product of the enemy. It had been hinted at before that Amethyst was somehow different from the other two (“We kept Amethyst”), but never confirmed until now. And boy, did they make us feel it. When Pearl comes looking for the missing two, and finds them in Amethyst’s birth place, Amethyst takes on a kind of wounded-daughter attitude towards Pearl, as opposed to the co-parents thing the three gems usually have going.
She lashes out, and it’s not pretty. Amethyst is harboring resentment over what she perceives as Pearl’s resentment, although she is in fact mistaken. As they fight, Amethyst breaks down, delivering some of the show’s realest dialog to date, including this crusher: “I’m not gonna let you stand there remind me of everything I hate about myself!” Elsewhere, this would all be melodrama. Here, it’s a gut-punch.
It would seem that Amethyst, along with countless other gems, was only created in the first place to assist with whatever that terrible project the other gems were working on might have been. It speaks volumes about nature vs. nurture that she was able to break away from that destiny, but she hasn’t quite grasped how amazing it is that she’s one of the good guys now. She still feels like a mistake; she has the moral compass to understand that what the gems were doing was wrong, but not the wisdom to see that she’s not a part of it anymore.
Pearl knows better though, even if she’s a little insensitive about how she expresses that. She and Amethyst have a heart-to-heart, and we see the problem: Pearl never even considered that Amethyst might think of herself as a part of that terrible purpose of the rest of the gem race, because Pearl never considered thinking of her that way herself. Pearl thinks of Amethyst as possibly the only piece of good to come out of those dark times, and thought that Amethyst was as proud of that as she is. But as they embrace towards the very end of this fantastic episode, it seems that Amethyst has started on the road to seeing herself that way, towards coping with her horrible birth and continuing to live her heroic life. The episode ends with a lingering shot of the empty Kindergarten, suggesting big things in store for the episodes ahead, but for now, the earth gems–all four of them–have fixed their strange, caring relationship, and that’s what matters the most.
Final rating: Great/Mind-Blowingly Amazing.