Steven Universe Recap: “We Need to Talk”
Rebecca Sugar giveth, and she taketh away.
The Recap: After accidentally meeting Stevonnie for the first time, Greg tells the kids about the first time he learned about Gem fusion – and his own attempts to fuse with Rose.
It was only a matter of time before our collective visions of Rose Quartz were dashed. They had to be, for the sake of Rose existing as a three dimensional character and not just an untouchable goddess on a pedestal. That her flaws wound up tied to what others remember most about her (her love of humans) is just a painful little stroke of brilliance. Rose is a puzzle of a Gem.
In some ways this episode was a struggle to discuss in a unified fashion, comprised as it is of so many tantalizing loose ends (I feel I better throw in up top how many brilliant comedic moments this episode whips out before things start getting heavy, from Pearl’s smugness during the fusion scene to the pitch-perfect audio nerd response to mic dropping to Amethyst chasing a stick). The heart that moves the central plot forward is Greg and Rose struggling to understand each other as equals, but for an episode about speaking there is an awful lot that’s left unsaid – fitting, then, that they whisper truths in each other’s ears without yet meeting eyes. In fact, the blocking of nearly every scene calls focus to the characters facing toward or away from each other: Pearl refuses to look at Greg as she goads him on after the song, what seems to be Garnet’s first genuine conversation with Greg is punctuated by his seeing her eyes, and Rose and Greg are shot from very high and low perspective angles respectively during their duet.
And while I was over the moon at the idea of Tom Scharpling and Susan Egan singing together, the lyrics of that duet ended up being a punctuating reminder of the early inequality between them: Greg’s singing a specific question to Rose, while her freestyle verse is in the general (human man), standing for the idea of what he is rather than Greg himself. By the end, as the camera comes closer into his increasingly troubled eyes, he seems to be honestly pleading her to tell him what (if anything) makes him special to her over other humans.
They’re laughing and together and doing all the things that Destined Romantic Couples do, but they’ve never actually talked. They don’t know each other, and the more Rose tries to play the Manic Pixie Dream Girl the more their charmed relationship seems like a flat excuse for the real thing (Hollywood romance writers take note). They took a chance back in “Story for Steven,” but Garnet’s advice in “Love Letters” has proven true anyway – it’s not really love until they talk and take the first steps to understanding each other as equal individuals.
But even with that touching and hopeful final scene (capturing both the euphoria and terror of contemplating a life with someone), we know almost nothing. Rose seems genuinely saddened when she realizes how she’s hurt Greg and determined to get to know him (and clearly she makes good on that impulse, as we see in “Lion 3”). But there’s a lot unsaid in those moments – in particular I find myself stuck on “I’m not a real person.” On the one hand it applies well to the gap of biology and whole cultures between our own lovers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was more to it as well.
Of the very little we know of Rose, one thing we’ve seen over and over is that she’s secretive. She has a hidden cache of weapons. None of the Gems knew about Lion. Steven himself might be a long con unbeknownst even to Greg. In this very episode Rose says it’s “good” that Greg knows nothing about her (referring, I imagine, to her role in the rebellion and the way it clearly continues to haunt her).
There goes a popular theory that Rose is former Gem royalty of a sort, a “Pink Diamond” who reinvented herself as Rose Quartz and broke away from Homeworld. Whether or not that proves true (there are certainly some compelling bits of evidence), reinventing seems to be something Rose is doing constantly. She’s a caretaker to Amethyst, a role model to Garnet, a confidant and idol to Pearl (probably. Hold that). And she tried to be the winsome mysterious lover she no doubt saw in movies (she catches on to the Marx brothers reference pretty quick and loves music, so I imagine she’s absorbed humanity largely through pop culture) for Greg until he out and out demanded she stop. And perhaps that’s what ultimately ended up being special about him.
It’s hard to say anything, with all these gaps – none more glaring than the one revolving around Rose and Pearl. This makes three episodes now (“Rose’s Scabbard,” “Sworn to the Sword,” and this one) that feature Pearl’s feelings for Rose as a major component. And yet, even when we have Rose there in person it’s hard to gauge the dynamic of their relationship. There are a few suggestions, particularly in the fact that Rainbow Quartz is a highly compatible fusion (like Garnet, she is completely humanoid except for having extra eyes). But Rose is so flippant in both of her flashback appearances, always laughing and putting on a cheerful front, and we have yet to see a real one-on-one conversation between the two without an audience.
That fact makes it almost impossible to get a handle on their relationship. Is Pearl’s jealousy childish, coming in the wake of reassurances from Rose about Pearl’s importance? Is it stemming from the fact that Rose is acting as though nothing’s changed, while Pearl’s inferiority complex resurfaces and she begins to fear Rose is tossing her aside for Greg (her heart wrenching “I think he’s her favorite too” seems to imply so)? Their fusion dance is certainly one of the most intimate we’ve seen, even ending with a kiss (Rose’s hair is blocking the lip touch, but you can see Greg trying to mimic the motion as he dances with Rose), and yet… and yet. These are very conspicuous blank spaces in the writing, and I don’t think for a moment that this is just forgetfulness on the part of the writers. Something is coming to a head – it might be during tomorrow’s episode, or it might be months from now, but there’s a key piece of information about these two that’s being withheld. I am, dear readers, most confessedly afraid of that day.
Just for the sake of ending on a positive note, I couldn’t be happier to see Greg and Connie forming a support network for one another – though it comes entwined with that slightly sad and thoughtful shot of Steven, seeming to realize for the first time that there’s a loneliness to having a foot in both worlds. Aaaaaaaaand we’re back to sad. That’s Steven Universe for you. Just think about tiny Amethyst playing the drums, it’ll be okay.
There’s one more episode left in the Steven Bomb, its contents shrouded in mystery. The Wikipedia summary says that the Gems are having a sleepover, but if this week has taught me anything it’s that the innocuous summaries are the ones to watch out for. Let’s go together.
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Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; they spent this entire episode trying to figure if the duet scene felt like a Chasing Amy homage on purpose. 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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