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Steven Universe Recap: “Reformed”

Monster hunt! Monster hunt!

conflict

The Recap: A corrupted Gem is loose in Amethyst’s room. Amethyst gets “poofed” (that’s getting her physical form disintegrated in Steven-speak) and rushes through multiple quick-fix regenerations in an attempt to impress Garnet, doing harm to herself and letting the monster get away in the process.

This week feels like the ending of a trilogy of sorts, following up on fellow Amethyst exploration episodes “On the Run” and “Maximum Capacity” and ending our unofficial power-up sequence for our main Gems (which I can only hope means new ones will be joining the team. I refuse to give up hope – and I’m not convinced that the slinker isn’t Peridot, either). Setting the action in Amethyst’s room gave the background artists an opportunity to go into amazing overdrive, both with a wealth of tiny onscreen details and a wonderful visual metaphor for burrowing into Amethyst’s psyche as the episode goes on. It’s good, good stuff. But this is at heart a character study episode, and that’s where I’m looking to dwell today.

Garnet and Amethyst’s dynamic is one of the least explored among the central Gems, a quiet that always sat somewhat off with me (it might be more or less apparent from scene to scene, but there’s always a sense of division between “Pearl&Amethyst” and Garnet – from “Story for Steven” to “Secret Team”). This episode might be the one of the first times we’ve really seen Garnet and Amethyst together without Pearl, and it’s quite the eye opener.

While Garnet is undoubtedly the most “balanced” of the team thanks to her fusion status, she’s not perfect, and many of the downsides of her personality come out in how she interacts with Amethyst. Garnet’s bluntness is a mark of authority that Steven, Pearl, and the townspeople are impressed by – at worst it’s fodder for some wonderful one liners and harmless confusion (see “the children are playing with swords”). To Amethyst, it’s a challenge.

Likewise, Garnet’s stoicism makes her a kind of mirror that the people around her feed from: Pearl wants to see it as a reassuring strength (hence all the clinging, I’d warrant), Steven wants to see it as wisdom and a sort of reassurance of his own positive view of the world. But Amethyst is still carrying around an enormous burden of self-loathing, so to her Garnet’s silences are confirmation of all her worst fears about herself. All this combined with and complicated by her respect for and even slight fear of Garnet’s strength, starting a right vicious cycle of wanting to be respected by someone she admires while also feeling like that person is constantly looking down on her.

And on Garnet’s side, while her points are valid they’re phrased… well, they’re phrased for Pearl. For someone who can back away from their emotions and prioritize what needs to be done in a tense situation (and… also fumbles it pretty spectacularly in telling Amethyst to examine herself by continuing to let the conversation come back to Pearl). But Amethyst is already in an emotional place, and so what Garnet thinks is logic only manages to read as aggression – wholly in tone without any of the meaning of it coming through.

The use of Steven and the quiz works pretty brilliantly as a through line for bringing this all together. It’s both a bit startling and heartwarming to see Steven so accidentally come into his own as the most empathetic member of the team, accurately reading Amethyst even as she teases, purposefully diverts, or gets outright defensive about his questions. The on-the-nose specificity of the quiz (which is, I confess, a pretty good joke for anyone who spent an absurd amount of time taking those often generic things at that age) pays off with aplomb when it leads Steven to his realization about Amethyst’s fear of introspection – and those brief seconds of clarity in Amethyst’s own expression sell a wealth of the non-verbal storytelling SU has become increasingly adept at (as well as uncommented on verbal details – dig the fact that Amethyst pulls the word “loquacious” like it’s no thing, but probably doesn’t think of herself as smart because Pearl’s already The Smart One).

While on one level it’s a disappointment not to follow Amethyst on her journey through her emotional baggage, I really can’t imagine a way to accomplish it without cheapening it. The show is locked to Steven’s perspective, to begin with, but beyond that the issues at stake here (self-loathing, lack of confidence, aggression as a coping technique) aren’t ones that can just be shuffled off in one day – even if that day is the longest moment of self-reflection you’ve ever had. Amethyst isn’t “cured,” and the episode isn’t interested in showing us that she’s magically overcome her every hang-up. What we’re seeing instead – what we’ve seen over the course of the episodes I mentioned above – is Amethyst’s gradual willingness to face the things that cause her pain, and also to look at how her reaction to those things affects those she loves (it’s telling that she flips from teasing and fishing for attention to verbal aggression when Garnet accuses her of hurting the team). And even being able to start sitting comfortably with who she is, never mind who she might be, is a massive step worthy of that wonderful, heart-melting final scene.

The next episode, if Wikipedia is to be believed, is another two-parter (“Rising Tides” and “Crashing Skies” which…yeah). However, I can’t seem to find air date info, and at time of writing there doesn’t seem to be the usual ultra-short preview clip available either. It could be that they’re building suspense with silence, or we could be looking at a short break. Either way, know that I’ll be gnashing my teeth with you in solidarity until next time. Stay strong, readers.

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Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger still trying to understand why random strangers on the street don’t appreciate their fictional psychology skills. You can read more essays and find out about their fiction at Fashionable Tinfoil Accessories, or remind them of the existence of Tweets.

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