‘Steven Universe’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 4, Episodes 1-2: ‘Kindergarten Kid’ and ‘Know Your Fusion’
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. This is the final installment of the Summer of Steven, so we should be back to one episode a week until the hiatus. It’s been hectic, but we’re happy you’ve followed us through this whirlwind.
In the first episodes of season four, Steven helps Peridot capture a corrupted Gem, and Sardonyx welcomes Smoky Quartz onto her own private variety show. Kindergarten Kid was written by Raven M. Molisee and Paul Villeco, Know Your Fusion was written by Hilary Florido and Lauren Zuke, and both were directed by Kat Morris and Ricky Cometa.
Elle: So after all the heaviness and everything that’s gone on these past few weeks, I have to ask: Did you see the Looney Tunes Coyote and Roadrunner homage coming?
Katie: I totally didn’t! The closest thing I came to figuring it out was realizing early in the episode that the beta kindergarten must have been in the Grand Canyon. But then I got spoiled by reading about it online as I was watching, so I didn’t get the pure joy of figuring it out on my own. Still, seeing the episode become more and more of a direct homage as Peridot got more and more frustrated was delightful.
Elle: Peridot does make a perfect Wile E. Coyote analogue, because like him she regards herself as a genius but doesn’t usually think her plans through and finds herself outsmarted by what she considers lesser beings.
I did find myself wondering if the corrupted Gem that plays the role of Roadrunner was once a Kindergarten technician much like Peridot. She seemed interested in the equipment, despite Steven’s guess that she just likes shiny things, and as far as we can tell from her corrupted form, seems to have the same gem placement as Peridot.
And let me step back for a moment and say that this is a big change that’s come in this recent run of episodes --- that the show has now trained me to think about and question who these corrupted Gems were before they became monsters.
Katie: Yes, I’ve notice that about how I view the monsters, too (hence in the last recap when I mentions how the first two gem monsters Jasper captured might be Crazy Lace and Biggs). Part of that is because the writers are so good at making sure pretty much everything introduced in this show comes back in some way down the line, and part of it I think is because Steven is so good at seeing all gems --- whether they be Homeworld enemies, monsters, or even sentient mirrors --- as people, and that affects how we the audience views new monsters.
And after all the Peri-Plans and traps and rolling boulders, Steven points out that the gem monster clearly has feelings and its own reason for doing what it’s doing, even if Peridot can’t understand it from her point of view.
Elle: I loved that Steven felt the need to teach Peridot that lesson almost as much as I love the way he chose to teach it --- by throwing marshmallows at her until she freaked out. Seeing Peri trying to get into the mindset of the monster was also great, with all the frog-hopping and sticking her tongue in the air.
Katie: It’s kind of refreshing that Steven’s lesson didn’t quite work out the way he planned. Peri and the monster didn’t exactly become friends like Steven and Centipeedle did. But it did end up helping Peridot appreciate the Crystal Gems’ methods, and she ended up learning how to bubble gems! And that interesting last moment where the gem got sent to the barn instead of the temple makes me wonder if we’ll see any meepmorps incorporating Peridot’s bubbles.
Elle: Now that’s an interesting idea I hadn’t even thought about. I was perhaps too distracted by the delightful fact that when the bubble appears in the barn, Lapis Lazuli is reading the third volume of what looks like a shōjo manga called “Pretty Hairstylist.”
Katie: That book cover brought a smile to my face, for sure. I love the idea of the two of them getting into Earth pop culture in these very specific ways. Considering how they’ve already begun expressing themselves artistically, I’m anticipating fan fiction might not be far behind.
But that brings us to the second episode of the new season and the last episode in this huge Summer of Steven --- Know Your Fusion! And that opening scene might be one of my favorite scenes in the whole show.
Elle: Amethyst always walks this line in the Crystal Gem family, where sometimes she seems like Steven’s third Mom (or at least his cool aunt), but other times she’s more like Garnet and Pearl’s other child. She’s firmly in that latter category as this episode opens, with her and Steven conspiring over how best to debut Smoky Quartz, while Pearl and Garnet eye them suspiciously from the kitchen.
Speaking of Smoky Quartz, they have a lot more dialogue in this episode than in "Earthlings," and I just want to mention how great Natasha Lyonne is. It’s actually amazing how her voice really sounds like a combination of Steven and Amethyst. And beyond that, you can tell how much fun she’s having in the role.
Katie: That’s exactly what I was thinking throughout both this episode and "Earthlings" --- Lyonne brings a lot of Amethyst’s energy to the character but there’s also a lot of Steven’s sweetness. And on top of that, her Smoky Quartz feels like a character we already know. It’s one of the better fusion voice choices yet.
Speaking of gem fusion voices, after Garnet and Pearl individually freak out over Steven and Amethyst’s surprise, we’re treated to Alexia Khadime’s return as Sardonyx. And while her performance is super entertaining, the most interesting thing about the episode is how it allows us to see two fusions (whose smaller members know each other well) interact with each other. And while the fusions certainly take on characteristics of the gems, the dynamics between the two characters is very different than the four characters separately.
Elle: Totally. And Sardonyx is a much more surprising character in terms of the way her components mix. I like to think it’s Pearl’s inclination toward performance (fencing ballerina that she is) combined with Garnet’s bottomless confidence (itself a product of her two components) that adds up to the supreme theatricality of Sardonyx. It’s also interesting how huge she is (especially compared to Smoky Quartz), but I don’t have a theory on that.
Katie: I do have a theory on that, actually. I think that any fusion involving Garnet ends up being bigger than the others because she’s already a fusion. That’s why Sugilite and Alexandrite are both super huge. And I’m sure Smoky being made up of two of the Shorty Squad members adds to the height difference.
Elle: Should we assume that every fusion has a special room in the Temple? I suppose the danger is that you don’t want to go in that room unless you’re confident in the fusion’s stability. But I’m getting ahead of the episode.
Katie: My guess is that it might just be a Sardonyx thing because she seems to have the power to break the fourth wall --- from the Opal video clip that says “Footage Courtesy of Cartoon Network” at the bottom to asking if they still have to pay Sugilite even though she wasn’t in the episode.
Elle: That’s a very good point. I really enjoyed that all the challenges were based around the other fusions who didn’t appear in the episode.
I was also interested in Smoky’s tendency toward self-deprecation. I suppose it’s related to the specific bond that Steven and Amethyst found just before they originally fused, but it’s interesting that Smoky Quartz seems more able than the other fusions to go to a pretty dark place without popping apart.
Katie: It does seem like their shared use of humor as a coping mechanism kept Smoky together though this. And clearly Sardonyx isn’t trying to be mean, so Smoky is compensating for the lack of enthusiasm for what she is right now (instead of what she might be later after she learns more about herself as a fusion). Her staying fused probably also had to do with it being a very slow progression in everything going downhill. It actually felt very relatable --- when you’re excited about something and the announcement doesn’t get the reaction you thought it would so you try to roll with it.
Sardonyx nails it on the head when she herself realizes it --- Steven and Amethyst had this big surprise and she made it about herself. You can really hear both Pearl and Garnet in Sardonyx’s voice as she’s upset at herself for hurting Smoky. But the important thing (and again, this shows the growth of Pearl and Garnet since the show started) is that once Smoky saves them from the room collapsing, Pearl and Garnet are great about praising Amethyst and Steven and giving them the attention they deserve. They recognized what they did wrong, but immediately shifted course, and the episode ended happily for it.
Elle: Yeah, I loved that too. There was a moment right before Sardonyx split up where she made a total Pearl face, which was a nice hint at what was about to happen. I love that this whole episode was about the central characters spending family time and getting to know each other better, and that the final scene shows them succeeding at that. It’s a great way to end the Summer of Steven.
Katie: This has been a very busy, but very fun summer of recaps. But it looks like we aren’t done with summer Together Breakfasts just yet, since for at least the next few weeks we’re going to get an episode a week again.
Elle: Even so, it's going to be an adjustment having so much less Steven Universe in our lives. Can you imagine, discussing one episode at a time again? But I'll see you back here on Friday, to do exactly that.