‘Steven Universe’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 4, Episode 7: ‘Onion Gang’
In this week’s episode, Onion introduces Steven to his unique group of friends, and things get a little weird. Onion Gang was written by Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff, and directed by Kat Morris and Ricky Cometa.
Elle: Here we are at what looks like the last episode before a hiatus, and what do we have? An Onion episode!
I used to think there was eventually going to be some kind of explanation for Onion, but beyond getting to know his family, I no longer think that’s likely. Onion’s just a weird little kid, and like Steven, I’ve come to accept that that’s okay. But the perfectly balanced Steven Universe touch is that even as Onion has become more sympathetic, he’s never completely stopped being creepy.
Katie: Onion is such a tough character to get a handle on, which seems to be intentional on the writers’ parts. I know I’ve seen fans discuss how Onion is very likely some form of neurodivergent --- his slightly off behavior, missing of social cues, lack of vocal communication, etc.
And that doesn’t make him any less unnerving at times, but it’s nice to see Steven “let’s try some empathy” Universe come around to Onion, and apparently they’ve been hanging out off screen since their playdate so many episodes ago. One of my favorite parts of this episode was discovering that Steven and Onion’s routine now is for Steven to narrate their time together, because that makes sense for the two of them.
Elle: Yeah, it works really well, and aside from just giving Steven something to do, it obviously helps him be more thoughtful about what’s going on emotionally with Onion, since Onion’s not very good at sharing that.
But there’s also a little bit of self-aggrandizement in Steven’s assessment of himself as the bigger kid who generously hangs out with Onion because he feels bad that Onion doesn’t have any friends his own age. That assumption comes back around (more than once, even) over the course of the episode.
Katie: I’m also going to cut Steven some slack because the town is really small, and as far as we know there aren’t any other kids other than the teens and Peedee. But you’re right that Steven still sees their hangouts together as him doing a kindness, albeit a kindness that he enjoys.
But we quickly learn that Steven isn’t Onion’s only kid friend, as Onion pulls Steven through the town into the forest.
But before we see where they’re going, get we possibly the best surprise visual of the episode and that is Vidalia and Yellowtail’s painting session. More and more I desperately want to see an episode about that marriage.
Elle: I loved that moment so much. I’ve wondered about their marriage, in part because he gives the impression of being older than her --- he looks like Santa Claus, and she’s maybe 40. And my first thought when I saw him posing for her in his underwear was, “Thank god she still thinks he’s hot.”
But anyway, Onion and Steven get to the woods outside town, where they’re accosted by mysterious kids in creepy masks that reminded me of Asuka from NXT. Steven doesn’t understand what’s happening, but Onion clearly does, even if he takes a minute to let on.
Katie: I’m not a wrestling fan like you, so my first pop culture connection to their introduction were the double crossing trick-or-treaters from Nightmare Before Christmas. Then they took their masks off and my immediate thought was the Stranger Things kids, but slightly off-design.
But yeah, Onion’s gang is sort of every ragtag group of young friends from every American coming of age story, but ever so slightly unnerving and off. And yet for Steven’s part, he mostly takes it in stride. “Oh yes, you’re all named after foods. This makes perfect sense because this is an Onion episode and things get weird in Onion episodes.”
Elle: So we have Garbanzo, the only one who speaks (but all he says is his name), Pinto, who’s presumably his baby sister since she rides in his backpack, Squash, and of course Soup.
They really do seem like the perfect group of friends for Onion, in that none of them talk, and they seem to spend all their time playing with bugs or pulling pranks and scams. I was honestly surprised that the go-cart wreck when Garbanzo fakes his death with a ketchup packet didn’t turn out to be some kind of attempt at insurance fraud or something.
Katie: Yes, definitely. That said, as offputting as these kids are, it does seem like a very kid-in-summer thing to do to play out a death scene. Truthfully, I was more surprised Steven fell for the ruse at first, until I remembered that Steven is used to people in his life nearly dying a lot. This is the kid who saw one of his space moms get stabbed in front of his eyes and another space mom get split in half. And as the show has stated before, humans aren’t like gems, they’re fragile and soft.
But it does say a lot about Steven’s life that not only does he fall for this make pretend death scene, but his first instinct when Garbanzo wakes up is that Pinto must have healing powers of her own.
Elle: I was surprised they did a “kids in a trenchcoat pretending to be an adult” gag, mostly because it just seems like Bojack Horseman hands-down owns that joke now. But I liked all the polaroids of people reacting to what’s under the trench coat.
The best one, of course, was Garnet giving a thumbs up, because nobody is more strongly in favor of multiple small people combining into one tall person than Garnet.
Katie: It’s a mix of Garnet being pro several small people as one person and also Garnet seeing their prank coming with future vision. My boyfriend also hypothesized that Garnet knew Onion would eventually show Steven the photo (also via future vision) and so the thumbs up was for him. In any case, that third photo beat was super funny.
But then we get to arguably the weirdest of the activities with Onion’s friends --- the picking of, racing with, and then ritualistically smashing of the bugs. Considering how much Steven has had to grapple with his mom’s destroying of life recently, this was probably not a good activity for Onion to choose.
Elle: Definitely not. It also doesn’t help that Steven’s friendship with Centipeetle has probably made the line between a bug and a person seem considerably thinner for him than it is for those other kids. So all around, it made a lot of sense for him to freak out and run home at that point. Although personally, the part that I found most disturbing was that all of the bugs they were racing came out of the pot that Soup wears on her head.
Katie: But a nice touch in that scene was Onion not joining in with egging Steven on --- in fact, Onion seemed to recognize how uncomfortable Steven was in the moment, which feels like some pretty big character growth for him (and that his relationship with Steven isn’t one-sided).
But as Steven goes home and tries to call his other friends, as you mentioned before, there’s that sense that maybe Steven is the kid who needed someone to hang out with him.
Elle: Yeah, I was really surprised how much this episode ended up making Onion seem like a decent kid with empathy, considering that I think the last time we saw him, he was sneaking into the arcade in a ski mask with a crowbar. But it’s clear here that he really cares about Steven and his other friends too.
When it turns out that the rest of the kids are from families who only summer in Beach City, and now that it’s fall they’re all leaving, it becomes clear that Steven wasn’t entirely wrong about Onion being lonely. So while the episode began with the idea that Onion needs Steven, and then turned around toward Steven needing Onion, it basically resolved with them understanding that they both need each other. In short, that they’re friends.
Katie: It’s funny that you interpreted that last scene as them leaving with their families, since I just assumed they rode the rails alone like the No Home Boys.
But absolutely, the nicest thing about this episode was getting to see Steven and Onion as really real friends. This series is so good at letting characters and relationships grow. Onion tearing up and hugging Steven in the last moments of the episode... what a heartwarmer.
Elle: It really was. And if this is the last new episode we get for a little while, it feels like a pretty nice place to leave off. And as for you and me, we might have to find something else to do during the hiatus. I enjoy these back and forths too much to give them up entirely.
Katie: Totally. This has been a super fun summer (and September) of Steven Universe and I’m not sure I want to wait for new episodes to do more Together Breakfasty stuff with you!