‘Steven Universe’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 3, Episodes 1-2: ‘Super Watermelon Island’ and ‘Gem Drill’
Welcome to Together Breakfast, the new feature where Elle Collins and Katie Schenkel come together to dig in and savor every last drop of Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe. This week we have a double episode, in which we visit a watermelon civilization, learn what’s become of Malachite, and finally drill into the Earth to deal with that gigantic cluster that Peridot’s been so worried about.
Part One, "Super Watermelon Island," was written by Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu, and directed by Joe Johnston and Jasmin Lai. Part Two, "Gem Drill," was written by Raven M. Molisee and Paul Villeco, and directed by Kat Morris and Jasmin Lai.
Elle: "Super Watermelon Island" opens with an homage to the beginning of the first episode of Lost, with Watermelon Steven opening his eyes as he lays on his back on the island, just like Matthew Fox did on that show. I think they repeated the same moment on the series finale of Lost, but let’s be honest, we all spend a lot less time remembering that one. Anyway, I enjoyed the mystery of whether this was regular Steven in a watermelon body, or just a Watermelon Steven who thinks he’s the real Steven. And it was a lot of fun seeing the civilization that the Watermelon Stevens have established since their last appearance.
Katie: See, I never got around to watching Lost, so if that opening was a reference to it I totally missed that. What struck me about the first scene on the island was how much it reminded me of a video game --- you wake up as a character with no real knowledge of what’s going on, you meet an NPC (that adorable watermelon pup), and you walk into a town where everyone seems to know what to do but you don’t. Even the music during this part sounded more 8-bity. It was very Ocarina of Time to me... except for the part where Watermelon Steven was sacrificed to the giant monster by the townfolk.
Elle: Yeah, I can totally see the video game vibe there too. I love when there’s a little nuclear watermelon family and the mom and dad are both Stevens. On one hand, that’s not a big deal at all (it’s not like watermelons have gender), but on the other hand it feels like something that only this cartoon would do. And the idea of these cute little watermelon people having a religion where they paint Steven’s star on somebody’s chest and sacrifice them to Malachite is simultaneously funny and pretty creepy. And how exciting was the reveal of Malachite, by the way? The title and opening made me think this was going to be more of an interlude episode that doesn’t forward the ongoing plot, and then suddenly there she was.
Katie: I wish I had that surprise! Cartoon Network put out a preview clip that was the Malachite reveal (including Watermelon Steven holding out his arms), so even when they started painting the star on his chest I knew where it was going to go. This might be a lesson for me in “Don’t watch every promo Cartoon Network puts out”!
But yes, that was still a great reveal and pretty scary at that, especially since you don’t realize until right after that Steven is both himself and can wake up... but poor melon guy whose body he was controlling. I do wonder if the religion was founded around protecting themselves from Malachite or if it was an earlier formed part of their community that incorporated systemic sacrifice as the need came for it.
Elle: With the way these episodes are scheduled, I’m never sure if they’re made knowing where the season breaks will fall, but I thought it was a nice touch to start in this strange watermelon-filled setting (even though we’ve seen the island before, it’s a whole different world now that it’s been settled) and then when Steven wakes up in his own body, we’re immediately back where we left off in January, with Peridot and the drill and the barn and the impending Cluster. This scene included my favorite line of the night, which is Peridot’s sarcastic, “Wow, you’re a real anarchist.”
Katie: Hee hee, it’s hard not to love Peridot at her most Peridotty (which usually includes sarcasm). I also like how the Gems trust Steven’s instincts in this scene. Steven tells them that he was inside one of the watermelons and he saw the watermelon village, “they have a lovely community,” and Malechite was there, and the Crystal Gems immediately believe him. In season one, they would have dismissed it as all a dream, and it shows real growth that they trust that he and his powers are right.
Elle: Oh, for sure. It’s great how much a part of the team he is now. It’s also clear how much better the Crystal Gems are doing since all the interpersonal drama they had last season. When they face Malachite, they don’t hesitate to fuse into Alexandrite, nor do they have any trouble making it happen. Sidenote: Garnet’s fusion dance will never not make me smile. And Steven rallying the Watermelon Folk to battle is also a really nice touch. Those little guys have a lot of heart.
Katie: I like that we don’t have to hear Steven’s grand, heroic, St. Crispin’s Day speech in English to know it was effective. And I like that Steven chose not to disobey their wishes that he stay behind because, one, he might not have been able to rally the forces if he didn’t, and two, he might not have be able to get off the island in time if he didn’t. I also found the Jasper part of Malechite to be very interesting in this episode --- the way Malechite talks about the benefits to being what she still considers an abomination is sort of fascinating.
Elle: We definitely haven’t seen the last of the Watermelon Stevens. Some of them died heroically in battle with Malachite, but there are still a ton of them, and we saw early in the episode that they’re growing babies. Which basically means Steven has his own personal army, at whatever point in the future the actions of Yellow Diamond or someone else might make such a thing necessary. Chekhov’s watermelon people, basically.
Katie: Also (and I think this would be Steven’s first thought on the subject), his own back-up dance crew.
Elle: Which honestly is probably more important. But that brings us to the end of the first segment, with Garnet telling Steven to wake up and go stop the Cluster, which leads directly into the second episode of the night, "Gem Drill." Which opens with the ground shaking, Steven freaking out, and Peridot yelling.
Katie: There’s something really funny to me that Peridot is already on the ladder when Steven wakes up. She has literally done everything she can do outside of using the drill and is just waiting for Steven to wake up and the Gems to get back. She’s just standing up there and it’s a very funny visual.
Elle: I love the joke that all the Gems were going to ride in the drill, but it’s clearly only big enough for Steven and Peridot, which Steven immediately notices. Of course Peridot and Amethyst would have fit, and I suppose that might have been Peridot’s secret plan, but that may just be my shipping instincts talking. Anyway, while this episode resolves the Cluster story, the more important thing is how clearly it underlines how much Peridot has changed, and how much she’s a part of the team now. The conversation on the way down, where she talks about missing Homeworld but having the Crystal Gems instead is really sweet, especially for her.
Katie: There was a lot of good Peridot in this episode. I loved how her little triangle point smushed up against Steven’s face because the drill was so small! But on the more emotional side, totally agree with you about her talk with Steven --- it’s very satisfying to see how well the show has moved Peridot inch by inch towards being part of the family and her openly acknowledging that having the four of them has given her a place to belong was lovely and avoided feeling disingenuous thanks to all that set-up over the past many episodes.
As an aside, I laughed hard when Steven thought they’d hit the Cluster right away and Peridot had to remind him how long it took to get down there, but it felt strange to me that they got down to the Cluster quickly without much of a time skip in the episode.
Elle: I agree, that was a little weird. The other thing this episode was all about was what kind of a hero Steven is. That he was able to have a comforting talk with the Cluster and convince it not to destroy the Earth was the perfect resolution. It was so Steven Universe, and so Steven Universe, if you see what I mean. I’m also starting to wonder about the strength of Steven’s psychic powers. His astral projection into the Watermelon Steven and his ability to communicate with the cluster were both pretty impressive, and don’t seem like standard issue Gem powers. They do build off stuff he’s done before, though, like talking to Lapis in his dreams.
Katie: This episode reminded me ofUnbeatable Squirrel Girl and why I’m such a big fan of it --- the focus on empathy and compassion being the path to resolution. It’s so good and, as you said, so Steven. I’m starting to wonder if part of Rose’s plan to create Steven had to do with him having versions of his power but also having that empathic human side --- empathy that could change the course of a war and stop violence, for example.
But you bring up a good point about his Gem powers --- just how strong are they? Was Rose this strong? Was part of him being a Gem/Human hybrid to strengthen those powers more? So many questions!
Elle: Another question I was left with at the end of this episode: What happened to Jasper? She was laying on the beach unconscious at the end of Part 1, but the Crystal Gems only bring Lapis Lazuli back at the end of Part 2. I hope she’s not in a bamboo cage being guarded by Watermelon Stevens. I feel like that wouldn’t go well for long. I’m excited to have Lapis around, though! She’ll be a fun character to get to know better. Well, maybe not fun, since she generally seems pretty sad and traumatized, but interesting. And I’m sure Steven and probably Amethyst will do their best to cheer her up.
Katie: I only got to watch the episode once, but it looked like when the big chunk of the island the Gems were standing on cracked and split off from the main island, Jasper’s unconscious body fell into the water. But I don’t think we’ve seen if Gems sink or not, so maybe the Watermelons did get her and your bamboo cage theory still holds water (get it??).
But I agree that Lapis should be a very interesting member of the team, if indeed that’s what she becomes. While Peridot gradually came around to the Gems, Lapis has a way bigger grudge against them, no matter how much she likes Steven. At the very least, I’m glad the poor thing isn’t stuck at the bottom of the ocean with the worst roommate ever anymore.
Elle: Okay, I clearly missed what happened with Jasper, but that makes sense. One way or another, she’ll definitely be back before long. In the meantime, I’m excited to see what this season brings. I hope we go back to Beach City soon. And I’m also excited to be doing these recaps with you, Katie.
Katie: I’m excited too, Elle! To be honest, I’m shocked they’ve (apparently) resolved the Cluster issue so early into this chunk of episodes and the commercials only showed clips from tonight’s show, so the episodes for the next three weeks are going to be a total surprise. I can’t wait.
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