Steven Universe Recap: Cry for Help
I’d forgive Pear, wouldn’t you?
The Recap: Steven’s favorite cartoon, Crying Breakfast Friends, has been interrupted by a strange signal – it’s Peridot, who’s been busy repairing an ancient Gem communication hub and is now using it to broadcast the titular cry for help.
Welcome to Steven Bomb 3.0! It seems that “not like this” will still be in full effect in regard to previously-desired plot elements, that the tears will go hard or go home, and that it’s time to either embrace the fact that our cast is full of well meaning, emotionally complex, and flawed beings who will sometimes hurt each other or go home. Congrats to the people who called Sardonyx as Pearl and Garnet’s fusion, though!
As always, let’s start with the technical details before wading into the emotional anguish.
Sardonyx’s design is an absolute delight – probably my favorite Crystal Gem fusion in a purely aesthetic sense, from her “articulated” segments and magician theme to Alexia Khadime’s magnificently hammy performance (complete with old-school “rich anime girl” laugh). Sardonyx’s persona is both a surprise and completely logical in hindsight: of course Pearl’s joy in being the most knowledgeable and Garnet’s “cool” nature would balance out into someone both fully confident in their own excellence while retaining that performative streak; of course the combination of Garnet’s Future Vision and Pearl’s propensity for holograms would give birth to a love for sleight of hand and illusions. It only makes it sadder that we probably won’t be seeing her again for a long while.
The prerelease materials for this Steven Bomb all referred to it as “Sardonyx Week,” which makes a very ominous kind of sense. We’ve just seen an enormous emotional shift in the relationships between the Crystal Gems, and I think we’ll be seeing the fallout from this episode for the rest of the week if not longer. Not just in the relationship sense either – exactly what are the odds that Pearl’s reconstructing of the communication hub gave Peridot’s message a chance to reach Homeworld ears? And is the team going to be in any shape to confront Peridot the next time they see her, let alone Malachite?
Certainly the bonds between our Gems, at least as we (and Steven) knew them at the beginning of the series, are coming apart at the seams. Pearl’s emotional state is continuing on the downward spiral that started…well, started with Rose’s death, but has really been in high gear since “Rose’s Scabbard.” I pointed out during the last Steven Bomb that present-day Pearl, whenever she comes out of breakdown, seems acutely aware of her need to improve (trying to train both Steven and Connie as knights, for example).
“Cry for Help” adds a new layer to that – the titular cry isn’t just Peridot’s but Pearl’s, as she seems to realize that she’s drowning but lacks the ability to either pull herself out or articulate her need for outside help (remember, Rose could handle everything on her own, which means that Pearl should be able to, which means that if she can’t she really is nothing, which means that Homeworld was right and she’s let Rose down, which means…). Pearl didn’t actively seek out Garnet as a means of propping up her own self-worth, but once the happy accident had occurred (and Pearl had a taste of what emotional wholeness felt like without knowing how to replicate it on her own) she absolutely seized on the idea of trying to get that feeling back. That she thought allowing Peridot’s signal to continue broadcasting, even in short spurts, shows how distraught our expectedly-logical Pearl has become. Taking on a small diversion that is technically harmless (no one got hurt, after all) while being blind to the larger picture (Peridot) is something… well, it sounds more like something Amethyst would do.
Pearl’s shattered expression at the sight of the crumbling tower reveals that she is very, very aware of the trust she breached (ironically, I suppose) in her desire for emotional connection and intimacy. The problem is that Garnet is not Steven or even Connie, willing to forgive and accept a person at their word. Garnet, by her own admission, is rash, and still obviously shaken up by the revelation of the fusion experiments.
She’s feeling raw and vulnerable, and fusion is of the utmost importance to her. Combining those factors, it’s not hard to see how she came to read Pearl’s actions not as a desire for closeness but a trick, a fusion based on a lie and therefore a flagrant act of disrespect to the sacredness of the partnership. A Garnet in an emotionally stable place would be able to see Pearl’s distress and desire for closeness, because Garnet has always been defined by her heightened empathy for her team as by her straightforward stoicism.
But Garnet is under stress as much as Pearl is, if differently, and seems to be coping by narrowing her vision down to concrete, achievable mission items at the potential expense of everything else (she was pretty final in shutting down the suggestion of Sugilite as well, despite knowing that Amethyst has literally reformed since their last fusion).
As for Amethyst herself? She’s about the only raft of upward emotional development we have to cling to right now, and her unexpected walk back into the spotlight is brilliantly poignant. Amethyst’s always been the teenager of the group, both in relative Gem age and emotional state, so it can be easy to write her off when the focus is pulled away from her – we know she’ll have some good sarcastic one liners, that she’ll probably be sullen or full-on embracing the pleasures of life on Earth, and it can be easy to leave things there.
I couldn’t be happier to have this episode remind us that the last Amethyst-centric episode involved her going through a major moment of emotional maturing, and doing so by facing her own need to validate her existence by way of someone else. Michaela Dietz, who hasn’t really gotten a chance to sing since “On the Run,” kills it with “Tower of Mistakes.” It’s fairly unusually for a musical number in the show to occur in such a low key setting – you can still hear the sounds of the tower’s destruction alongside Amethyst’s vocals (compare that to “Sworn by the Sword,” where ambient noise like sabers clashing is cut), and the volume is as low as Amethyst’s quiet realization – but the juxtaposition of its technical prominence only winds up highlighting what an enormously important moment it is for her.
Amethyst, with her history of low self-worth and tendency to lash out rather than face her own emotions, has had a history of short-sightedness. Whether that’s destroying the warp pad as Sugilite or transforming into Rose because that’s what immediately comes to mind as a way to get back at Greg for her own grief, Amethyst’s brand of mistake has almost always been rooted in selfishness. That she’s able to empathize with Pearl speaks volumes about how far she’s come; and while she’s still having trouble articulating those feelings (I’m not sure if it would’ve made things better or worse to confront Pearl alone, frankly), she’s able to express them honestly and without Pearl’s fear of facing potentially ugly conflict.
The way things have been going, Amethyst’s quickly becoming the only one Steven can have an honest conversation with, because she’s faced down at least one facet of her biggest issue (feeling unwanted and monstrous as a Kindergarten Gem, and specifically that Pearl hated her for it). She’s been where Pearl is now, and where Garnet seems to be heading. And I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s just as necessary as Steven in reforming the team (I’m still a little leery of Crystal Gem/Steven fusions, but if they were going to do it I’d say Amethyst is the most logical choice).
As for that last scene… my, but Steven Universe is not fooling around anymore. It seems Pearl’s behavior in the last Steven Bomb (which garnered a whole lot of black and white opinions where we needed grey, but I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about that enough by now) was just the tip of the emotional iceberg – her grief and instability aren’t the only time that the show’s left issues unresolved, but in the early episodes particularly the writing did tend toward letting things wrap up in characters forgiving each other or reaching a new kind of understanding.
Which is nice, and it happens sometimes, but it can’t be applied to enormous issues like this: not to loss, not to breaches of trust or gaps in communication. Those are hard, complex topics, and it takes work on all sides to heal things – especially when every party is at least a little bit right. That Steven Universe has reached that level of writing complexity in a relatively short time span is nothing short of astounding (yes I know Adventure Time has done it too, but that always felt more tied to plot developments than anything). But then, “hey, did you know this show is good” is probably preaching to the choir if you’re reading this.
Tuesday’s episode is “Keystone Motel,” which is summarized as “the Gems take a trip out of Beach City.” Hopefully y’all aren’t leagues ahead of me by the time this recap makes it out (I do apologize for the wait – my human frailty does pick the most inconvenient times to reassert itself). Hope to see you there!
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Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; if you look to the left you can see the smoking crater where their emotions once stood. 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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