Steven Universe Recap: “Alone at Sea”

All aboard the S.S. Misery.
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The Recap: Steven tries to heal Lapis’ connection with the ocean by taking her on a boat trip, but things sour when Jasper tracks them down and tries to pressure Lapis into reforming Malachite.

Well, they topped it. “Monster Reunion” is practically cathartic in comparison to “Alone at Sea,” a prickly and uneasy examination of the fallout from a very toxic relationship. But while it’s very tempting to jump to the intensity of those last few minutes, it would be unfair to ignore the quiet character study leading up to it.

Lapis might be the show’s most internally-focused character, split into a duality between her warm, goofy affection for Steven and the alienating coldness she shows everyone else. This episode is likewise split into watching her from that same arm’s length and then being pulled in by the finale. Lapis is angry and afraid, seemingly all the time: angry at those who’ve hurt her, and afraid of her own power and her capacity for vengeance. She’s a character who could easily go to the dark side (and with her injuries healed, it would probably be quite difficult to stop her), and sees isolating herself as the only way to prevent it.

The fishing scene makes for a pretty metaphor of Lapis’ internal struggles: she unnerves Greg by bringing up the fish, rocks the boat trying to fix it, and when trying to do things the normal way ends up breaking the rod—essentially confirming all of her worst fears in one swoop (thus making it even easier for her to keep blaming herself for everything). Steven is trying his best here, but he’s so determined to see the good in Lapis that he’s almost willfully blind to what she fears about herself—and that means he can’t help her with it.

Now. About those last few minutes. I mentioned that Rebecca Sugar helped create this episode herself, and I wound up doing a little bit more research in light of how the story progressed. Because yes, it’s pretty overt in its depiction of abuse, and that feels entirely purposeful. One of Rebecca’s comments during this year’s SDCC panel was about how she wanted to use the show to teach kids about the importance of consent, and she’s done past work in her comics that suggest this is an issue she cares about deeply (it also feels appropriate to include some commentary on the episode from someone who’s survived abuse).

It’s a powerful scene, with moving performances from both Kimberly Brooks and Jennifer Paz, and downright eerie animation on Jasper in particular—the roundness of her eyes and near-constant baring of her teeth create the image of something desperate, feral and cornered. And while this episode acknowledges that Malachite was a toxic relationship on both sides, with Lapis using Jasper as a source to take out her anger while Jasper emotionally and physically manipulated Lapis into staying fused with her, there’s really no sympathizing with Jasper here. From her Jaws-esque dismantling of the boat through her menacing plea to Lapis, she’s a threat trying to bully her way into something she wants. And even if there is an element of truth to Lapis being “monstrous” while they were fused, there’s a crucial difference—Lapis wants to get away from the person she was, and Jasper’s still trying to chase what was lost. She hasn’t even recognized that she’s a monster, let alone that she needs to change.

There recaps have a policy: I don’t give up on someone until Steven does. His belief in others has always been so unfailing as to provide a pretty solid barometer. This run of episodes, though, has kind of…muddied the waters a little bit. From his consuming hatred of Kevin (a total jerk, but the intensity of his feelings was pretty unusual), to his willingness to shrug off Ronaldo getting dumped for the sake of the overall plan, to describing Jasper as horrible (not wrong, but unusual for him), Steven’s clearly been going through some deep emotional turmoil of late. It’s hard to blame him, with the stress of his new powers, the horrors of war he keeps running up against, and the new boundaries he’s having to learn in regards wielding his power over others. And fourteen is a rough age for developing a moral compass, even when you’re not facing this many issues. But I wonder if the show isn’t trying to nudge us away from always trusting that Steven’s doing the right thing.

Because it is really hard to figure out what’s going on with Jasper right now. This makes only her third appearance (not including as part of Malachite), and less than twenty minutes of screentime overall. There could be a way for her to come back from this behavior, provided she gains the crucial attitude of wanting to change and work to solve the damage she caused in the past…which is currently decidedly missing (I don’t mean with Lapis, mind; Lapis is under no obligation to put up with any of this, and they should probably never fuse again). But it’s hard to gage any of that with what we know at this point in time. And it’s left me really confused about that piece of art they released at SDCC.

Also, I am completely capable of admitting that I just really love Brooks’ work here and want to see more of her on the show … and boy, it would be awfully nice to see a portrayal of a butch woman that isn’t vicious and villainous. Whatever route the crewniverse decides to take, I have faith in them.

The last episode for this week is a flashback with Greg and the Gems, so it’s a 50/50 shot on whether or not we’re getting a breather. See you there!

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Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; their soundtrack for this recap was “No Children.” You can read more essays and find out about their fiction at Fashionable Tinfoil Accessories, support their work via Patreon or PayPal, or remind them of the existence of Tweets.

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