‘Steven Universe’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 3, Episodes 22-25: ‘Beta,’ ‘Earthlings,’ ‘Back to the Moon,’ and ‘Bubbled’
Welcome to Together Breakfast, the feature where Elle Collins and Katie Schenkel come together to dig in and relish every last drop of Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe. With the current nightly summer schedule, we’re going to be doing a couple of these a week, and two to three episodes per column. It may be hectic, but hopefully you’ll keep up with us as we dive headlong into the world of the Crystal Gems.
This time, Peridot takes Steven and Amethyst on a field trip, things with Jasper reach a climax, and the Rubies return from Neptune. Beta was written by Hilary Florido and Lauren Zuke, Earthlings was written by Raven M. Molisee and Paul Villeco, and both were directed by Kat Morris and Ricky Cometa. Back to the Moon was written by Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff, Bubbled was written by Colin Howard and Jeff Liu, and they were both directed by Joe Johnston and Ricky Cometa.
Elle: We have a lot to get through this time around, but I think we have to start with Peridot and Lapis Lazuli being adorable domestic partners and artistic collaborators. I’m not sure how much time has passed in-world since we’ve seen the barn, but it’s pretty amazing what they’ve done with it.
Katie: Sometimes this show throws the fans a bone, and after all the drama of Bismuth (and frankly, the scenes that come right after this), I very much appreciated this moment of getting to see the Peridot/Lapis friendship. Between them bonding over Camp Pining Hearts and learning how to art all on their own... precious. I don’t think we’ve ever seen Lapis smile so much in one episode. And can we talk about Peridot’s bow tie??
Elle: That bowtie works so well for her. And Lapis seems to be doing really well. I’ve referred to her before as the April Ludgate of Steven Universe, and I thought that was really driven home in this scene by her deadpan explanations of the meaninglessness of her art pieces. I’m sorry --- of her meepmorps.
Katie: I don’t know if we’ve said it in the recaps, but I’ve come to think of Peridot as the Paris Geller of Steven Universe, which is also shown in her growth from a pure, cold antagonist into an adorkable high maintenance good-hearted friend.
I especially liked that before she took Steven and Amethyst to Jasper’s Kindergarten, she had the wherewithal to make sure Lapis was doing okay... by shouting up at her, “Hey Lapis!! Are you okaaaaaaay??” And then asking what season of Camp Pining Hearts she was watching.
Elle: Oh my god, she is totally Paris Geller, you’re right! I also loved how sincere but inept her attempts to cheer Amethyst up with humor were. And when that doesn’t work, of course, that's when she decides to take her and Steven to where Jasper was made, just to show Amethyst how much worse it is than the Kindergarten Amethyst comes from. Which is a very Peridotty idea of what will make Amethyst feel better. And of course it doesn’t help when they actually find the hole that Jasper came out of.
Katie: It’s interesting how Peridot’s belligerence with Jasper during “Jail Break” makes sense now --- she knew Jasper was made from an inferior Kindergarten. Of course, she just happens to be the most well-crafted gem out of that Kindergarten, to the point where after Peridot realizes how perfect Jasper’s hole is (that sounds wrong no matter how I phrase it, by the way), she tells Amethyst she can’t possibly fight Jasper on her own.
And that’s when they realize all the corrupted monster gems are being held prisoner there. And that’s when they see Jasper.
Elle: It made sense that Jasper would be here. Not just because it’s where she’s from, but because she dislikes Earth so much that of course she would build her headquarters in a place that had been reshaped by Homeworld. Plus all those holes turn out to be perfect for putting Monsters in.
After the last few episodes, the confrontation between Amethyst and Jasper at the beginning of Earthlings was exactly what needed to happen, including the part where Amethyst accepted Steven’s help, and his explanation of how alike they are. And of course that led to the most surprising and exciting moment of the episode. What did you think of Smoky Quartz?
Katie: She (they? It’s always hard to tell with Steven fusions what the pronouns are) was the perfect result of the “Steven vs. Amethyst” episode. After they fight each other in that episode, Steven and Amethyst both were more honest with each other than they’ve ever been. So Steven’s speech to her about how they’re both not like anybody and it sucks, but they help each other, was another time in this show that the moment felt earned. And their fusion felt earned, too.
A lot has already been said about fusions as a metaphor for queer love and for non-binary/trans people. Jasper tells the both of them in this episode that “to come out misshapen, to reshape yourself outside your purpose” is a disgrace --- you can’t get more blatant a metaphor than that.
And then Steven and Amethyst fuse into a big, unapologetically joyous representation of everything Jasper thinks is wrong... so to answer your question, yeah, I’m a fan of Smoky Quartz.
Elle: I loved that Smoky Quartz was noticeably irregular in form, specifically the double arm on one side. It felt like a manifestation of Steven and Amethyst’s shared comfort in being unique and even flawed. Plus they could do amazing yoyo tricks, which was awesome, as was the idea that a shield and a pair of whips combine into a yoyo. It’s not at all intuitive, but as soon as you see it, it makes perfect sense.
Now I’m going to stretch out the metaphor you just mentioned and hope I don’t break it. In the real world, some people who are uncomfortable with their own queer inclinations will speak out against it, but then the suppression of their own desires causes them to manifest in unhealthy ways -- conservative politicians sharing drugs with male sex workers in rest stop bathrooms and that sort of thing. And I think you could argue that we see the fusion equivalent of that in this episode, when Jasper -- jealous of what she sees as everyone else’s powerplay of fusing -- makes the terrible choice to fuse with one of the corrupted monster gems.
Katie: I’ve been waiting for her to fuse with one of the corrupted monster gems ever since we saw her tracking the two down in the snow (sidenote: I’ve seen some fan theories guess that those two monsters were Biggs and Crazy Lace based off their coloring, so we’ll have to see if that comes up in the future).
I really thought Jasper’s original plan wasn’t to train them like animals, but fuse with them. And you’re totally right about the extended metaphor here, and despite her being really terrible to our heroes pretty much since her introduction, it’s sad when she makes that desperate move to fuse again. And then when the fusion breaks and the scared corrupted gem runs away, Jasper whispering, “Nobody I fuse with ever wants to stay” really makes you feel sorry for her.
Elle: Very much so, and then when she starts becoming corrupted herself and refuses Steven’s help as it spreads, there was a moment when it hit me: Oh, this is probably it for Jasper. This is the last Jasper episode, at least for a while. And as awful as she’s been, that felt a little sad in that moment.
I thought it was really well handled, though. I liked that Peridot was the one to poof her, finally proving her proficiency with her metal powers. And I loved Amethyst calling Jasper “sis” as she bubbled her gem.
Katie: I thoroughly enjoyed Peridot in the background the entire episode, just desperately trying to lift that metal and finally getting her moment (after a really lovely hero speech about Earth being great, no less).
But before she stops Jasper, we get one final piece of the puzzle from a pre-monster Jasper --- that Rose Quartz did something (that we find out next episode) to her and Jasper’s Diamond, Pink Diamond. And that’s why Jasper was so obsessed with getting Steven.
Elle: Yes. Pink Diamond is another thing there have been a lot of fan theories about. In fact, there were some fans who thought Rose Quartz had formerly been Pink Diamond herself, but we’ve known that’s not the case for a few days, since Bismuth talked about Rose being a quartz soldier.
And sure enough, we do get more answers -- distressing answers for Steven especially -- in Back to the Moon, which starts where Earthlings ends, with Peridot, Steven, and Amethyst returning to the barn and finding out the Ruby platoon is back from Neptune.
Katie: Beta ending with a “Surprise, it’s these red nuggets again!” moment admittedly did make me laugh. And we finally found out that they have names! … that Steven gave them. I want to give the show a Good Job sticker for doing a Snow White reference and naming the leader Doc. Army and Navy also got a chuckle out of me.
Elle: I just love the Rubies. And I have to fully confess to my bias here: I’ve had a bit of a crush on Charlyne Yi since like 2009, when she was just a weird YouTuber and recurring Conan O’Brien guest. So getting to hear her voice these five nearly identical but totally distinct characters, who have these great comedy bits, sometimes playing off of each other… It’s just everything I could want. I particularly loved Eyeball, the grizzled veteran of the crew, and her huge crush on Jasper.
Katie: Eyeball’s weird nervous energy in her first appearance makes sense since we now know she was super nervous to meet the Quartz soldier she idolized.
Of course she doesn’t get to meet Jasper, but she does get to meet Amethyst doing her most convincing Jasper impression. We’ve been getting a lot of good Amethyst episodes in the last week or so, and seeing her have to improvise answers to the doting Rubies (while the Crystal Gems played along) was fun.
Elle: It really was. This episode also answered an important unasked question. Because we’ve seen Amethyst shapeshift into larger forms -- most notably the Purple Puma -- but recently she’s been dealing with her small size being a weakness. So I think it was important to see how hard it is for her to maintain a larger form for any length of time. And in this case, she had to keep Jasper’s shape for an entire trip to the moon, so the Rubies could check in with Yellow Diamond from the moonbase.
Katie: And this was also right after a big fight (once where she was in a new fusion) and she even says that she’s exhausted and would like to do nothing for a week. For her to still pull off the ruse for as long as she did … the kid’s a trooper!
So they make it to the moonbase, where Eyeball points out the picture of Pink Diamond, and tells the story of how Rose Quartz shattered Pink Diamond. And Steven is visibly horrified by the revelation.
Last week, after “Bismuth” aired, there were some responses to the episode that called out Rose Quartz as being unreasonable and sanctimonious in the face of Bismuth’s passionate plan to end the war with the Breaking Point. But if Eyeball’s story here takes place in the early days of the war (which I think it does, considering little details in her story), then Rose’s refusal of Bismuth wasn’t a holier-than-thou attempt at moral superiority... it was her knowing what it means to destroy another gem and never wanting to experience that again. That’s huge.
Elle: Totally. I’m sure that even now on Tumblr there are fans writing long posts about how Rose Quartz was a terrible hypocrite for telling Bismuth that nobody should have the power to do what she herself had already done. But the truth is that the real world is far more complicated than that, and I love that the world of Steven Universe is just as complicated and morally complex. From what little we know, it seems that Rose went through a profound moral evolution even as she led her revolution.
But Steven, like a lot of those fans on Tumblr, is still a kid, and nobody wants to hear that their mom once assassinated someone. And he’s so used to hearing stories that present Rose as saintly and loving. So it’s no wonder he freaked out like he did
Katie: But he doesn’t get any of the answers he’s looking for in this episode, because the Rubies get tricked into going back to Homeworld, but they pop their heads back out to offer a ride a moment after Amethyst finally gets to turn back into herself. And then, surprise Sardonyx appearance! But Steven gets sucked out into space! It was a rollercoaster there at the end.
Elle: It really was! It seemed like things were come to an easy conclusion with the Rubies leaving and Amethyst finally able to resume her own form. And then suddenly it was a huge cliffhanger!
Katie: I’ll admit, right after the episode on Tuesday I looked to see what the plot synopsis for the next episode was on Wikipedia and the slightly vague “Steven gets stuck in a bubble” made me breathe a sigh of relief. I mean, I could guess he wasn’t going to die, since he’s the title character and all, but I was still concerned.
Unfortunately, his bubble wasn’t falling towards Earth, but inconveniently floating out into space.
Elle: I really loved the opening of the episode, which so perfectly portrays Steven’s disorientation as he regains consciousness. The whole spinning-off-into-space thing freaks me out so much on a gut level that I was unwilling to see the movie Gravity, but I trust this show enough that I was able to handle it. And of course once the bubble runs smack into Eyeball, there’s a lot more to think about than the vast void of the unknown.
I love the way Eyeball paces around the outside of the bubble like it’s a little planet as she rants about how messed up things are.
Katie: The sound design and animation with Steven and Eyeball separated by the bubble were so good. Pretty much the whole episode was a big conversation between the two characters, but the way the visuals and audio come together keeps the scene dynamic.
Elle: Definitely. And I’m going to again shout out Charlyne Yi for bringing such real emotion to a character as inherently ridiculous as Eyeball.
Katie: Then we have Steven trying in vain to get Eyeball to believe he’s what Rose turned into, since he thinks it might give Eyeball some closure after coming so far. For the first time, he’s trying to convince her of the truth instead of a trick, so of course this is the one time she doesn’t buy it, even when he shows what a striking, pouty resemblance he and his mom share.
Elle: I never really thought about Steven resembling his mother (he looks so much like Greg), but that shot where he holds up the picture on his phone was pretty convincing. Also, Steven’s interaction with Eyeball really displays how bottomless his compassion is. Here’s this soldier that’s totally loyal to a government that would love to see him and everyone he loves dead, and it never occurs to him for a moment not to let her into the bubble, not to do his best to comfort her, or not to heal her gem when it cracks.
Katie: Once Steven heals Eyeball’s gem, you can tell his plan is about to backfire and he doesn’t realize it, even when Eyeball starts laughing in maniacal bitterness. Which leads to the darkly funny animation of dagger-wielding Eyeball chasing a panicking Steven around what is essentially the insides of a hamster ball.
Elle: I loved that moment! It was so perfectly animated, and lightens the mood of a very dark scene without undermining what’s happening.
But then of course Steven has no choice but to eject Eyeball into space. I suppose it’s unlikely that we’ll see these Rubies again. Although on the other hand it’s not like they’ll starve or suffocate, so they may get picked up by whatever Homeworld ship is on its way to Earth next.
Speaking of ships, the Crystal Gems show up in the Ruby ship to rescue Steven, which I figured they would. Because the Crystal Gems have a space ship now, which is going to be interesting going forward.
Katie: I quietly gasped the moment I realized they were playing the ending credits song “Love Like You” over the scene of the Crystal Gems hugging Steven with relieved tears in their eyes (and then Steven realizing he really was safe again and starting to cry himself). The song was totally unexpected and so totally perfect for the moment.
Elle: It really was a beautiful moment. And the conversation that followed between Steven and Garnet, about Rose’s actions during the war, was everything it needed to be. I loved how careful Garnet was to point out that everything they have was only possible because of the tough choices Rose made. And that killing Pink Diamond wasn’t the best thing for Rose, even if it was the best thing for Earth.
I didn’t realize until I looked it up after watching that this was the official season finale (even though the Season 4 premiere is the next night), but it makes a lot of sense. This really was the conclusion to so many threads that we’ve been following. And now that we’ve reached it, we get to see what comes next, as the Summer of Steven draws to a close.