The Recap: Steven and Lars are taken to Homeworld, where Steven is put on trial for the shattering of Pink Diamond. The more his public defender, Zircon, questions the facts of the case, the more mysteries about Pink Diamond come to light: how, exactly, do you shatter a Diamond?
Yellow cuts the questions short, allowing Steven and Lars to escape in the confusion. They meet a misfit bunchof “off-color” gems who attempt to hide them in an old Kindergarten; and when Lars discovers that robonoid scanners can’t see him, he steps up to protect the others at the cost of his life.
Steven’s tears bring Lars back to life, but also turn him pink; and that, in turn, makes Lars’s hair into a portal just like Lion’s mane – so alike that the portals are connected. Back on Earth but with Lars and his new friends stranded, Steven now has a direct route to the heart of Homeworld.
A quick note: “Wanted” was the billing name for the hour-long premiere of season 5, which actually consisted of the episodes “Stuck Together,” “The Trial,” “Off Colors,” and “Lars’ Head” strung together. But that’s a bit wordy for a post title.
Season 4 of Steven Universe saw some standout moments, both in its mini-arcs and individual character building episodes, but by and large it was a season about experimenting: shaking up the comfortable writer-artist teams, solidifying the formatting of concentrated, written arcs for Steven Bombs (which itself ascended into the pseudo-mini movie we have here), and finally making a concerted effort to push forward on worldbuilding and stalled characters like Lars. The results were hit or miss, but it showed a crucial awareness on the part of the crewniverse. Whether or not the rumors about season 5 being the last one turn out to be true, the continued desire to push and better themselves speaks well of the team’s respect for their craft and desire to better themselves as artists–especially now that the show has played its biggest card by introducing access to Homeworld.
All of that experimentation paid off, because this opener is one of the strongest outings in a while. The animation on the premiere and “The Trial” are particularly stunning, with consistently on-model character designs. I wouldn’t normally harp on the latter–the earmarks of individual borders is one of the more endearing elements of the series, but it had gotten to a point where the Peridot Effect was beginning to spread to a rather unforgiveable degree. Lastly, the first and last episodes are something of a crew handoff–“Stuck Together” was written and boarded solely by Lauren Zuke, while “Lars’ Head” is the first outing for new crewniverse member Madeline Queripel.
“The Trial” makes a meal of its color palette, with each gem popping off of the plain black and white surroundings in full vivid hues. That’s necessarily lessened during the somber portions in the Kindergarten, where it was occasionally unclear what was meant to be coloring versus lighting effects, but even that amount of contrast is effective. In fact, “The Trial” might be the strongest individual episode of the bunch. It wields the contrast between its uncharacteristically blank backgrounds and animated actors well, knows how to get effective mileage out of cameos while also keeping the tension of the scene going, and turns one of the central assumptions of the last season on its head.
While things couldn’t have kept on as they were, I found I was loathe to leave that room. It’s for the best that we see relatively little of the Diamonds, the better to keep their mystique, but at this point all I want is to watch Blue and Yellow interact all the time forever. More seriously, the small slice of Homeworld we’re allowed to see is somewhat disappointing, not that different on immediate impression from any old futuristic human city with a post-apocalyptic ground level, but there will likely be plenty of time this season to correct that initial impression. The outline of White Diamond, being or symbol or whatever she is, has already proven to be an intriguing teaser.
We also now have more than half a dozen new characters of potential importance, the largest number introduced in a cluster since the early days of the show. Each new face is distinct in design and well performed, as has come to be expected from the show, though some of the misfits shade a bit close in design to the existing Crystal Gems.
It’s also a comparatively short time for each new character to shine, meaning some fair better than others: Flourite and Rutile are the clear design standouts among the Off Colors, while Padparadscha’s gimmick starts to wear thin quite quickly; Martha Higareda’s voice is unexpected but a charming match to Topaz’s bulky design and her emotional outburst not necessarily out of nowhere (since we knew too little about the character to make that call), but potential sedition is brushed off awfully easily in the name of moving the plot forward; by contrast, we’re able to learn a lot about what kind of gem Blue Zircon (Amy Sedaris, always a bona fide delight) is as we watch her begin to passionately question Pink Diamond’s death, practically unable to help herself.
That courtroom scene is damned efficient, through one character and less than five minutes, at unraveling many of the built-up theories from past seasons. It’s been a while since the show pulled the rug out like that, questioning elements much of the viewership had come to take for granted and opening a central issue for the season. While this episode seems to point to Yellow Diamond as being highly suspicious, she’s almost too obviously so. Meanwhile, it was restated quite forcefully that a sword was involved. I am not saying Pearl, collector of swords and without a named former owner Did A Murder, but I’m saying the show might be saying that.
Then there’s Lars. The decision to put him on this arc was a good one–previous experience with his character has shown that he’s too stuck in his groove to be able to make serious changes under his own will, so forcing him into extraordinary circumstances was a way to finally kickstart a jump forward in development. And while death was always a possibility from the minute they started this arc with his failure to protect someone, I confess I didn’t think they’d actually go through with it.
Impressive isn’t exactly the word for Lars’s death scene, yet it’s the only one I can seem to think of. The bluntness and lack of heraldry around the moment of impact, one that would’ve been a survivable injury for Steven or a Gem, followed by Steven’s silent realization that Lars’s heart has stopped (and later, that it hasn’t started again) is really pushing the limitations of its timeslot by trusting its audience to understand without words. It’s a bold move, and it had the appropriate gravitas despite being theoretically predictable.
Even more impressive, the revival side-stepped cheesiness despite being straight out of Pokemon: The First Movie. Again, silence is the crew’s friend, as we’re encouraged to realize things in the moment along with Steven. And the implications of what’s happened to Lars might be some of the show’s darkest. Alright, Lars is now a zombie, given that he has no heartbeat and no desire for food. Presumably he will never grow and, if Lion is any indication, he’s not going to die either. There’s not even any indication that there’s a way for Steven to undo what he’s done. Which is fascinating for a character like Lars, who ultimately means well but historically lapses back into self-preserving (and -defeating) behavior frequently, and will no doubt require making him and his new scar a more permanent part of the recurring cast. It is also very dark and very sad.
Even if this is SU’s attempt to gear up and answer All of the Questions, it’s doubtful that it’ll be able to maintain that pace for a full season. It’s already been established that the Off Colors can go into hiding, code for “they’ll be fine when the show wants to take a more meandering pace,” and it would be beyond odd for the show to start breaking from its cycle of intensity followed by breathers now. Plus, Steven has to tell Sadie what happened to Lars, and no way are the writers going to pass up that painpertunity.
When exactly we’ll be seeing any of that is as clear as always. Another Summer of Steven might be in the works, or we could well hear nothing until Fall. The ways of Cartoon Network are inscrutable and self-defeating, and mere mortals cannot fathom them. Keep an eye on that app, though. They seem to like sneaking totally-not-leaks on there. In the meantime, take care of yourselves out there.
Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; they’re busy consuming bad live action dramas like potato chips. You can read more essays and find out about their fiction at Fashionable Tinfoil Accessories, listen to them podcasting on Soundcloud, support their work via Patreon or PayPal, or remind them of the existence of Tweets
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