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Steven Universe Recap: “Sworn to the Sword”

So who’s your favorite Gem, and why is it Pearl?

sword

The Recap: Eager to help defend the Earth and Steven, Connie begins taking sword-fighting lessons from Pearl. Things go awry when Pearl’s old wounds begin filtering into her lessons, leaving Steven afraid that Connie might be prepared to go too far to protect him.

Hey readers! Just give me a second. I want to tell you all about how glad I am to be back, and how fiercely I missed you, and how we’re all going to get through this together. I just have to stop my throat from making these guttural wailing noises first.

Right, let’s start small. Connie is really rocking the Gohan look this week, I will never get tired of hearing Deedee Magno Hall sing (and in fact, the “Do It for Her” sequence might have stronger visual composition than “Stronger Than You”), and if this is the Monday opener I’m never going to make it to Friday. With that out of the way, let’s dive right into the meat of things: man, there was a whole layer cake of messed up going on in this episode, wasn’t there.

In retrospect, Connie and Pearl are a terrible pair to put together precisely because they’re very much alike. Both seem to have found themselves thrust into a situation alongside individuals who they perceive as “better” than them (for Connie because she’s a human, for Pearl – hold onto that thought), both are intellectually gifted but lonely and somewhat socially awkward; and, most importantly, both funnel their inherently passionate nature into identifying with romantic fictional ideals. Much of Connie’s bonding with Steven in her last few appearances has been via her favorite books, while Pearl tried to become Rose’s knight. This episode is the combination of those two passionate, extreme personalities being mixed with a cocktail of Connie’s traces of inferiority complex/low self-esteem and Pearl’s mountain of unresolved grief.

In fact, I want to spend the bulk of today digging a little into Pearl’s character, not least because she’s already reaching Anthy Himemiya levels of damning fandom assessments. Up to now we’ve seen that Pearl’s biggest weakness is her obsessiveness and perfectionist nature – once she’s set on a plan she follows it to an extreme, and gets short tempered with anything or anyone who deviates from what she’s determined to be the best, most logical course of action. The trouble is that while Pearl clings to the image of herself as a logical being she’s increasingly affected by her emotions while refusing to acknowledge that fact (shades of Spock, methinks).

And ever since finding Rose’s Scabbard and Peridot’s invasion, Pearl seems to be becoming increasingly unstable. Take a look at “Space Race” versus “Sworn to the Sword.” Both cases revolve around Pearl failing to take the differences between Gems and humans into account, but by the latter episode she’s willing to put Connie into mortal danger and has to be dueled back to her better senses, while in the former she was “borrowing” Steven from Greg and came back as soon as things started looking dangerous for him. And let us not forget that while before Pearl wanted to share the beauty of space with Steven, she’s now actively conflating him with Rose on an increasingly regular basis.

Pearl’s current difficulty with reality is, in fact, threaded through the visual direction of her musical number. She paints the kids a grand picture of her struggle to protect Rose in battle, cutting the image off – or maybe choosing not to remember – what we later find out would have been a dire end to that scenario. She confuses Steven/Connie with herself/Rose almost from the word go, something that begins to bleed into her transposing her own circumstances onto Connie throughout training – which is, no coincidence, when she starts with the talk of dying for a cause. And while the camera up to that point had put every image of Steven and Connie on equal plains whenever they were together in a shot, it starts to tilt from there to looking down on Connie and increasingly drawing away and making Pearl into a distant, ominous figure – capped off in Connie’s solo verse where Pearl’s eyes are entirely absent as Connie speaks Pearl’s own battlefield mentality and her outlook on humans. It’s a chilling moment showing both how dangerous Pearl can be without others to ground her, and how much damaging power a respected authority figure can wield if their student is lead to follow them without question. And Connie is susceptible not just because she respects Pearl but because she’s falling into a fantasy without really understanding the consequences for herself or for Steven.

But while all of that is dire (and while Pearl is unquestionably in the wrong in how she treats Connie here), I can’t help but sympathize on the whole. There have been hints throughout previous world-building episodes (as a few of you eagle-eared readers have already noted) that the Homeworld operates on a hierarchical or caste system, and that Pearls are pretty low on the ladder (Jasper’s comment about “defective Pearls,” and now Pearl’s own statement about not being “made” for fighting). It’s quite possible that Pearl had little sense of self-worth or self-determination when she wound up with Rose, and that part of the reason the concept of knighthood so appealed to her (a funny little incongruity, given Pearl’s general disinterest in human culture) was because it gave her a narrative framework by which to define her growing feelings for Rose (and yes, romantic feelings, do we have to have this discussion again? Can I throw out Pearl’s stated desire to live a life together with Rose after the war, a civilian life, and leave it at that?).

At the same time, living by a narrative framework means that deviations from it can be hard to deal with, and Pearl’s means of doing so seems to be… well, not dealing with it. She remains cold to Greg and bristles when Amethyst or Garnet (who was actually there during the war) bring up Rose in any way that might challenge Pearl’s image of her, and has over time allowed her own memories to take on a very…well, a rose-tinted glow. She remembers “glorious battle,” not being defeated over and over again. She doesn’t remember how Rose must have felt about suddenly having a knight (I cannot believe for a second that Rose wanted her to do this without thought for herself, or that they didn’t talk about it). And she cannot deal with the fact that there was no way she could’ve protected Rose from Rose’s own choice to bring Steven into the world. We’re watching a crack that’s been a very, very long time coming, held together before now by her honest love for Steven and the desire to protect the plant Rose treasured. There’s a popular fan theory that if something were to “poof” Steven he would come back as Rose. I wonder if that’s not the closure/wake-up call that Pearl needs right now.

On the bright side, Connie and Steven are coming along beautifully as a team. There’s the beautiful choreography of their fight scene, of course, but the much earlier “jam session” has a lot of fun in the sound design by swapping which sound is coming from which instrument and who takes the harmony. The new opening looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more of Connie interacting with the Gems directly and not just through Steven, and I couldn’t be more jazzed about that.

Oh, and since I’ve very little doubt that we’ll be seeing them again before the week is out, I’m going to lay my cards down as a massive proponent of the “Homeworld Gems are eventually redeemed” theory. Jasper in particular simply has too much Vegeta in her blood not to be. And given that the title of tomorrow’s episode is “Rising Tides/Crashing Skies,” I think we might be confronting that theory sooner rather than later. Stay strong, readers.

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Vrai is a queer author, pop culture blogger, and founding member of the Bird Mom Defense Squad. 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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