‘Steven Universe’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 4, Episode 13: ‘The Zoo’
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. We’ve got a whole week’s worth of new episodes happening, and as usual we’re doing our best to stay on top of it. Hopefully you can keep up with us as we keep up with the show.
In this episode, Steven and Greg find themselves trapped in a seemingly idyllic but tightly regimented society of captive humans. The Zoo was written by Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff, and directed by Joe Johnston, Ricky Cometa, and Elle Michalka.
Katie: We begin with a tearful reunion between Greg and Steven. I know an ongoing joke among fans is how much Steven cries, but considering the stress the kid has been under, especially in those first two episodes in this Steven Bomb, some tears seem appropriate in this moment.
Elle: Absolutely, especially when he describes what he was imagining the zoo to be like --- that he expected Greg to be chained to a wall in a cage. Instead, this habitat is pretty nice, at least on the surface. And the people there are nice too. They’ve already braided Greg’s hair, and they’re excited to meet Steven, who they’ve heard about as the boy who wants “the bits!”
Katie: I’m trying to figure out just how long Greg has been in the zoo. Maybe a couple days? I’m wondering how long it took them to learn about the bits. Although with such a small community and no new people for so long, it makes sense that they learned as much about Ga-reg as possible even if it’s only been a couple of Earth days.
Elle: Greg is clearly fascinating to them, especially since they’ve never met anyone from Earth, let alone been there. Steve’s noticeably unnerved by all of this from the beginning (which is frankly understandable), and wants to escape as quickly as possible, but Greg tells him it will be easier to search for the door at night. Just then, they all start getting very gentle instructions from their earrings that guide them through their evening routine.
Katie: I was really expecting the montage of their daily instructions to be really creepy and cultish, and oddly enough the zoo humans are only faintly unnerving compared to full on “this is not okay.” I mean, there’s nothing particularly bad about rolling down hills, doing stretching exercises, and smelling flowers. I laughed a bit when the most unnerving bit was how small their splashes were when they played in the water.
Elle: I just want to go ahead and say: I’m worried about these humans. With Blue Diamond on her way back, it’s hard to imagine the Crystal Gems and the Universes escaping without some kind of massive calamity. And even if that doesn’t happen, it’s also hard to imagine Steven being comfortable leaving all these humans in captivity, even if it’s all they know.
But is there even room in the Ruby ship to take them? And could they ever adjust to life on Earth anyway? Would they all just go back to Beach City and get jobs? I know they’re not going to die, because this isn’t a show where that could happen, but I do wonder how things will turn out.
Katie: I am also just very skeptical about their whole deal. Like, I recognize that Agate mentioned how it took a while for their ancestors to find stability in captivity, but how in the world do they not have a concept for pain? How in the world have they never felt jealousy in any form before? I feel like philosophy and/or anthropology scholars would have a field day analyzing this episode. Granted, Steven Universe likes to take an optimistic viewpoint on human nature, but no memory of interpersonal conflict for generations seems questionable.
Elle: There’s also the fact that they’re racially diverse even though they’re a small population that’s lived in a limited area for thousands of years and should probably be one shade of medium brown by now. But I’m willing to suspend that bit of disbelief in the name of this show’s admirable commitment to having all sorts of different people onscreen at all times.
Katie: I also appreciate that their uniforms are non-gender specific.
Elle: Totally. So Greg and Steven do find the door, but they’re caught banging on it by two people who literally have no concept of doors. And they again refer to the incident Agate mentioned last episode (which you were right would come back up), in which the door opened so that a Gem could help someone who was hurt. Which leads to an attempt at explaining what “hurt” is, but that gets interrupted by… The Choosening.
Katie: You said earlier you assumed the humans wouldn’t get killed, but there was a good 30 seconds in this episode where I was prepared for The Choosening to go all The Giver on us and have it be systemic euthanization. But no, instead it’s systemic mating, which seems to freak Greg out just as much. His “there’s always a catch” about utopias was a nice lampshading of the trope.
Oh yeah, and this leads into the show’s second casual reference to polyamory after the Thanksgiving wedding cake a few episodes ago.
Elle: It says a lot about Greg that he’s matched with J-10, a beautiful young blonde woman who’s thrilled to be matched with him, and he’s not the slightest bit tempted for even a second. But when he explains that on Earth you get to choose your own partner, everyone chooses him, which literally leads to a complete breakdown of society. And that in turn leads to the door opening and Amethysts rushing in.
Katie: For real though, this has apparently never happened before? I’m not sure I buy that, show. But in any case, the Amethysts do rush in and work on calming them down, which makes me think they’ve at least been trained on how to be gentle and nice to the wee humans.
Elle: The episode ends with Steven and Greg being grabbed by an Amethyst and told they’re in big trouble. Which reminds me that we’ve only got one episode left in the Steven Bomb, and it still feels like we’re a long way from getting everybody back to Earth...