Steven Universe Recap: “Message Received”
I see what you did there, double-meaning episode title.
The Recap: The crystal Peridot stole from the moon base turns out to be a direct line to Yellow Diamond, shattering Steven’s trust in her and making him question why he bothered at all. The Crystal Gems’ fight to reclaim the communicator is ultimately a failure … but when Peridot is faced with Yellow Diamond directly, she finds herself (to everyone’s surprise, including her own) swearing to defend the Earth.
I’M FULL OF EMOTIONS, PLEASE STAND BY.
Okay, it’s good. We’re good. Everything is good. And also terrible. But good! Oh, what an episode. It’s not quite “Jailbreak,” but it’s pretty darn close. I don’t think I’ve ever given Crewniverse writer Raven M. Molisee props in these recaps before, and in hindsight that’s a pretty grievous error—not least because she’s penned some of the show’s heaviest hitters. “Rose’s Scabbard,” “Keeping it Together,” and “Warp Tour” are all Molisee episodes, as well as the excellent one-of-two-parters “The Return” and “Mirror Gem.” This, then, marks the first time Molisee has written the second half of a dual episode, and proves to be more than capable of hitting the lowest and highest emotional beats for not just Peridot but all the Gems.
Watching this episode is almost exhausting. The show has trained us as viewers to look at tragedy just out of the corners of our eye, to catch a glimpse of darkness in a heated moment like Amethyst becoming Rose or Pearl watching Steven fall only to return to that gentle, relentless optimism. By contrast, the underlying ugliness of Peridot’s predicament is on tap within the first two minutes, and it doesn’t let up until that climactic argument with Yellow Diamond. It is hugely stressful, and it is also exactly what the show needed for this arc.
The easiest go-to rule for reading character development on this show is “as long as Steven believes in them, they’ll probably come around eventually.” They might be petulant, or momentarily cruel, but their good hearts will respond to his. That mandate is the very soul of the show, and it’s never really been tested til now (arguably there’s Jasper, but Steven’s mostly too terrified of her at this point to think of her as a lost or worthwhile cause). The scene in the truck is amazing work by both performers: Zach Callison (who I also don’t give nearly enough credit to despite his unfailing talent at anchoring the show) gets to play a new and painful range of emotions, and Shelby Rabara is downright terrifying as Peridot turns on a dime into her chilling, worshipful rant—and the “great and lovable Peridot” histrionics were a cute nod at the fanbase’s expense while also being quite in-character (and yes, she’s also great during her big scene with Yellow Diamond, but I’m starting to get a little self-conscious of these love letters at this point). Really, the balance of comedy and anguish at nearly simultaneous heights play off each other fantastically here, with the contrast heightening the effect rather than detracting from it.
Steven’s doubt is a sneaky move at having your cake and eating it too, walking a very fine line of being an ultimatum rather than lip service and saved by how ambiguously Peridot’s been played up to now. As Garnet says, there are people who will never come around no matter how kind or patient you are with them, and there is a point where their inability to change is no longer worth the effort or the damage it might do to you. Had Peridot not come around, Steven would’ve been more than justified in walking away to protect not just the Earth but himself.
But she does come through, in a moment that makes use of an old writing trick: surprise keeps a narrative fresh, but sometimes setting the audience up to want something and then delivering that very thing can be unbelievably satisfying. It isn’t surprising that Peridot only becomes aware of how much she’s changed once she’s reminded of the reality of Homeworld rather than her rose-tinted impressions of it. It’s not out of left field that her tendency to run her mouth would crop up in a heated moment. It was a practically foregone conclusion that, after sinking this much time into the character, she would ultimately remain a part of the team. But execution is everything. The moment where Peridot introduces herself by her name as an individual and has to be prompted for further designation is a beautiful snapshot of how far the character’s come without even realizing. And the escalation of the scene, weaving in several small trip-and-recoveries before the final blowout, plays with tension so well that Peridot’s big stand is as much a catharsis as it is a triumph.
Yellow Diamond, meanwhile, is a fantastically versatile design. In profile she does indeed bear the regal air that embodies Peridot’s devotion … right up until she moves. In action, those beautiful features contort easily into cruelty, into uncanniness (that long neck stretches right on past elegant into eerie). And yes, even into comedic rage in a moment that would put Handsome Squidward to shame. Yellow Pearl is a delightful comedic edge as well, an assurance that apparently all Gems under YD are conditioned to be smirking brats who delight in someone besides themselves getting in trouble. Her expressions are pure gold, bolstered by the almost gangster-moll lilt to her voice. The moment of “not all Pearls know each other” that comes right on the heels of casting Deedee Magno Hall for both roles is a restrained but clever moment of meta humor. I kind of want to see how far they can take it (Blue Pearl didn’t get a chance to speak, after all).
Speaking of casting, Patti LuPone. While her high status likely means Yellow Diamond’s appearances will be very rare, it makes for amazing casting. All the gravitas of those years as a grand dame of Broadway come to bear in a voice that is imposing even when it is roaring, petty, or played alongside ridiculous facial animation. And while I can’t imagine we’ll hear her sing—the show’s made too much at this point about how antithetical something like music is to the Homeworld ethos—that’s one dynamite ace to have in your writing room back pocket.
Since today’s episode was a purge of all the ugliness left unaddressed under the surface—Peridot still has a long way to go in terms of building empathy, something she just barely started in “Too Far,” but now that the Gems know where she stands under pressure it seems likely they’ll be more willing to try and actively talk her through her misconceptions—it’s likely that tomorrow will be something of a breather, if past Steven Bombs are any indication. Maybe not full on comedy, but at the very least a chance to step back and reflect on the big consequences that will come because of this episode (not least of which is the new opening sequence we’ll be needing). Yellow Diamond is sure to send reinforcements when her Cluster doesn’t come to fruition. And also, Malachite? Monster Gem slowly losing their sense of not just individuality but personhood? Out there in the ocean? Are we coming back to that soon? Just … just wondering.
No word yet as to whether tomorrow will kick off another hiatus or if we’ll get back on a regular weekly schedule, but I promise to let you know once I do.
Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; they may have shed a single tear of pride for their fictional rock child. 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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