‘Steven Universe’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 4, Episode 8: ‘Gem Harvest’
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. In this week’s episode, a mysterious man shows up at the barn, and the Gems host an autumn feast. Gem Harvest was written by Raven M. Molisee, Paul Villeco, Hilary Florido, and Lauren Zuke, and directed by Kat Morris and Ricky Cometa.
Elle: Hoooo boy, this episode comes at a weird time that could not have been anticipated when it was planned, right? Here in this moment between an election dominated by reactionary white conservatives, and a holiday where many of us have to deal with our more conservative family members, we look to Steven Universe for a moment of relief… and they give us an episode about spending Thanksgiving with a conservative family member. I have to say, it’s not what I was looking for.
Katie: I absolutely agree. When I realized where they were going with it, I think I might have actually whispered, “Oh. Oh no.” under my breath. In any other year this would have been still a little too simplistic and rose-colored a lesson, but certainly it wouldn’t be quite so cringeworthy to watch. But with the last week and a half, man. It hits really close to home, especially with so many people in the real world sending the frustrating message that some people need to meet some other people halfway. To reiterate your opening remark, Elle… hoooo boy.
Elle: I have great respect for this show’s message of love and understanding, but I currently don’t have much patience for hearing that old white men who panic about immigrants and treat your queer friends like freaks need to be approached that way. Uncle Andy’s just afraid of change… which would be easier to sympathize with if people who fear change weren’t currently in the process of burning this country to the ground.
But let’s start at the beginning, and talk about the better stuff that happens in this episode, like Steven arriving for a sleepover at the barn and finding that Lapis and Peridot have taken up farming, despite a total lack of understanding of how vegetables work.
Katie: So there were lots of good moments of Lapis and Peridot domestic cuteness (although I managed to find this scene weeks ago when they premiered it at NYCC). I might have lost it just a little at “Steven! I’m on a tractor!” Classic Peridot. That and “Then what’s the point of corn!?”
Elle: They remain the cutest, and I love that Peridot’s attitude was that growing vegetables would come easy to her since she had so much experience growing gems. Which didn’t exactly seem to be wrong --- the corn was high and the pumpkins were big --- it’s just that vegetables are no good at being your soldiers or your friends. Except for the pumpkin (which I think is actually a fruit?) that grows from a seed Steven licks.
Katie: Then Steven’s plan for the pumpkin pup went pear-shaped when it wouldn’t go to Peridot and Lapis, only for Steven to cause it severe emotional trauma and have it run to them anyway. So basically if you thought the logistics of the Watermelon Steven were creepy, you’re gonna think this scene is unnerving, too. It also has the very Lapis line “It’s only just come into existence… and it already doesn’t like us.”
Elle: Poor Lapis. I was glad when the pumpkin pup went to her, even if it took the traumatic sight of Steven violently making a Jack O’Lantern to get it there.
But I think this is when the plane showed up, right? So we’re back at Uncle Andy. When he first showed up, I thought maybe he was Greg’s father. The resemblance was clear, and I wasn’t sure if we’d had any clue who originally owned the barn or not. I also thought maybe he’d seen gems before, but then he just calls them hippies.
Katie: I think there was a throwaway line in the first episode with the barn where Greg says it was his aunt and uncle’s (that I only caught because Cartoon Network did so many mini marathons of this show over the summer). And in the flashback episode where Greg met Rose, Pearl says something about how they should throw Greg over the fence because “humans belong on the other side of the fence.” I guess the gems really kept to themselves for the most part before Greg came back into town. Of course all this also begs the question that if Greg could have lived in the barn, why didn’t he do that instead of living in the van? It doesn’t really matter for the episode at hand, I’m just wondering these things.
Elle: Considering Greg is now rich and apparently still lives in the van, I think it’s safe to say at this point that he just really likes that van. As much as I didn’t find Andy endearing, I did like how touched he is to learn Greg has a son. And I liked that he assumes Garnet must be Greg’s wife because she’s big. He’s clearly got Greg’s number on that at least. It was also cool to learn that Greg changed his name to Universe from Demayo. I loved how he reassured Steven that Universe is absolutely their real name, even if it wasn’t his original one.
Katie: So this is going to sound like a backhanded compliment, but I will give it to them that Andy… could have been worse. Okay yeah that does sound bad. But what I mean is that after him blowing up about the plane engine, he does calm down, recognizes that he overreacted, and eases up around the gems. I still don’t like the setup, but I was glad that mid-episode he figured out on his own that he was being a jerk. The conflict for the rest of the episode was less on him thinking the gems were weird and more him bummed out that he doesn’t seem to fit in with his cousin and nephew’s new family.
Elle: Totally. And it becomes clear over the course of the episode that Andy understands that disliking change is his problem, and that it alienates him from other people. He also clearly doesn’t do well with people in general, since his immediate reaction is to jump in his plane and fly away. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Gems decide to welcome Andy into the family with a feast --- despite Pearl pointing out that their Greg is the better Greg, which is a nice touch --- and that leads to an attempt to celebrate all human milestones, including all marrying each other.
Katie: Just when you thought this show couldn’t get more gay.
For real, I was just as panicked as Steven in that moment, and breathed such a sigh of relief when Andy didn’t freak out at that. I didn’t need the old white guy to be homophobic for laughs on top of not trusting immigrants and homeless people. So him laughing and finding them charming… yeah, that was a good call by the writers. The fact that Andy later mentions “Aunt Deb and her partner” without batting an eye was a nice touch. And I did like that he took the wedding cake as an opportunity to serve cake first because why not.
So is this a good time to mention who Andy is voiced by? Because that is definitely Dave Willis, aka the voice of Carl on Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
Elle: It’s been years since I watched that show, so I had a terrible time placing the voice, but when someone filled me in it all clicked. Dave Willis is great at playing gruff and aggrieved guys with no patience for weirdos. He was a great choice, but then this show is always great at picking voice actors.
I feel like as we process this episode together, we’re finding more positive things to say about it than seemed likely when we started this recap and were still reacting emotionally from having just watched it. I still think it’s not a great moment to introduce this character, but once he’s there, I have to admit that Steven would absolutely go after him when he flies off. Steven extends his hand in love and sympathy to people who have literally tried to kill him and destroy the Earth. This is who he is.
Katie: I feel like if they had cut out some of Andy’s more overtly close-minded conservative lines and just had him be mad about strangers in his barn messing up his stuff, it wouldn’t sting so much. It would actually make the gems going out of their way to make him feel included seem like a fair thing to do. I’m also giving the show a lot of leeway because they made wrote and made this episode so many months and months ago (probably over a year ago, considering the show’s weird schedule); even knowing that the election would have just ended, I can’t imagine they expected these particularly unreal nine days of frustration and hurt when they wrote this for Thanksgiving.
But you know another thing I liked? The gems’ dinner conversation. It says a lot about their dynamic that they started making jokes on top of each other basically telegraphing their messy history with Peridot and Lapis. Their high five was a great moment (that is most definitely going to be giffed by Tumblr before the night is over).
Elle: I liked that too. And even if this wasn’t my favorite episode (and I agree with you that cutting a few lines would have helped a lot), I was happy to spend some time with Steven, Greg, and the Gems after a few months.
Apparently there’s another episode coming the week after Thanksgiving, and beyond that I don’t know what the future holds. Except that Aunt Deb and her partner have to show up in their RV at some point, right?
Katie: They better!