‘Steven Universe’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 4, Episodes 10-11: ‘Steven’s Dream’ And ‘Adventures In Light Distortion’
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 is. Hopefully you can keep up with us as we keep up with the show.
In the latest episodes, Steven has strange dreams that lead him and Greg to Korea, then he and the Crystal Gems have to travel across the galaxy. Steven’s Dream was written by Jeff Liu and Colin Howard, and directed by Joe Johnston and Ricky Cometa. Adventures in Light Distortion was written by Raven M. Molisee and Paul Villeco, and directed by Kat Morris and Ricky Cometa.
Elle: Here’s the thing about Steven Bombs: It’s not just suddenly having a solid week of new episodes that makes it feel explosive, it’s the way they immediately drop in with big dramatic revelations that play on your curiosity and your emotions in equal measure. Steven’s Dream is a perfect example of what I mean.
Katie: Agreed. I’m not sure who chooses the schedule for the show, but how they set up these big plot points to be Steven Bombs is clearly purposeful.
Elle: We’d all been curious about the Palanquin since back in Buddy’s Book, and now here it is. Here are two of them in fact, but we’ll get to that. As the title implies, Steven’s journeying in his dreams again, and he’s also crying great streams of tears in his sleep, which is quite an affecting image.
Katie: It is. We also get to see him spend more time with Greg, which confirms that not only has Greg still not gotten a house, but he does still have enough saved up to buy a fancy gold watch. I know the scene is focused on setting up the main conflict of the episode, but we’ve talked before about Greg’s uneven upgrading since he got rich and that came to mind here.
Elle: I don’t buy into the idea that Greg spent all his money on the destroyed boat and one extravagant vacation. Greg is totally still rich; he just feels really comfortable living in that van. But at least he has a TV hooked up in the van, and that movie he Steven are watching about aliens stealing cows is a fun touch.
Katie: Yeah, and it’s cartoon show logic so Greg can be as rich for as long as the writers want and his van can be as capable a home as the writers want it to be.
But I totally missed the alien stealing cows movie detail! Man, talk about foreshadowing.
Elle: Oh for sure. The other character touch I really liked is that when Steven asks Connie to bring over the book where they say the thing that he’s now dreaming about, she already knows the correct pronunciation of “palanquin.” That’s very Connie. But of course she manages to know everything without it ever being annoying --- she’s always just being as helpful as she can be, especially to Steven.
Katie: I was wondering if they were going to make the connection between the dream and the image in the book, but I like that it both made Connie pro-active in her one scene and made it way harder for the Gems to dismiss his dream.
Speaking of the Gems, besides Amethyst sporting her ponytail again (which I loved from “Steven vs. Amethyst”), the episode also reminded us that she came along well after pretty much all of the Gem War stuff, including Pink Diamond being shattered. With the timeline revealed in bits and pieces throughout the series, I was glad they had that moment to remind viewers who was there.
Elle: I like that too. It also goes a long way toward explaining why Amethyst is so much “the kid” among the Gems. It’s not just that she’s younger; she wasn’t around for most of the trauma that still affects Garnet and Pearl. The scene of the latter two refusing to tell Steven about the Palanquin was rough. Especially Garnet, who clearly knows more she can’t say, which of course becomes clear by the end.
I was expecting Steven to take Lion and go by himself to find the Palanquin, but it was cool that he turned to Greg instead. Sometimes you don’t need teleportation when you have a rich Dad with a pilot in the family.
Katie: It’s also a little curious that Greg went with his cousin’s biplane for a trip halfway round the world instead of using a sliver of our fortune to buy two plane tickets. But I guess another Uncle Andy appearance was charming enough.
Can I just say how charming the Korea montage was? It went by so quickly, I’ll have to rewatch the episode just to enjoy those tiny moments alone. And that gag at the end where they tour a Korean animation studio that happens to have an artist working on familiar character designs (only to have Greg hastily rush Steven out) was such a silly meta touch.
Elle: I loved the Korea montage! It made me want to visit Korea, or at least eat some Korean food. The latter is probably more attainable in the immediate future.
Soon enough, they head out into the beautiful countryside to find the Palanquin. But like I mentioned before, instead of the ancient pink one they’re looking for, they find a blue one in perfect condition. And that’s a bad, bad sign.
Katie: So this is one of the episodes that got leaked and put on Youtube, and a couple weeks ago I stumbled upon a video in my “Recommendations” with a screenshot of Blue Diamond. I am so bummed out that I knew that was coming, because that blue Palanquin would have been such a surprise.
In any case, we see the veiled form of Blue Diamond and her Pearl knelt at the pink Palanquin. This is the first time we really get to see any indication of the Diamonds’ relationships to each other, and considering how unfeeling they’ve been portrayed in the past, seeing Blue Diamond mourn Pink Diamond like a sister was surprising.
Elle: I’m continually amazed how dedicated this show is to making its villains sympathetic. It’s one thing when it’s Peridot or Lapis or even Eyeball Ruby, but this is a Diamond! She’s 100% comfortable, happy even, about the Earth being destroyed, but she’s still crying real tears over losing someone she loved.
She’s also huge! I mean we knew how big the Diamonds were already, but this is the first time we’ve actually seen one on Earth in the present, and certainly the first time we’ve seen a Diamond next to a human, so her height felt really impressive. It was also interesting to see more of her Pearl, for a better idea of what Pearls are “supposed to” be like.
Katie: I think even previously we’ve only seen Blue Diamond as depicted on the moon base or in the storybook-like art of “The Answer.” And even hunched over, Blue Diamond was really big.
Speaking of humans, Blue Diamond and Blue Pearl hear Greg and Steven from the shrubs. The writers have set up Greg’s character at this point that when he tells Steven to stay behind, you get that he recognizes his son is not prepared to face her, even if they can pretend they’re just ordinary humans. And the fact that he stands up with no fear in the face of his wife’s enemy says a lot about him, too.
Elle: It’s Greg being incredibly brave and protective, but also goofy because he’s Greg. But then when he starts talking to Blue Diamond about loss and mourning, they seem to have a surprising moment of real connection. Unfortunately that works out badly for him, because Blue Diamond still thinks the Earth’s destruction is imminent, and decides to save Greg by kidnapping him to space.
Katie: I feel like I’m going to find new nuances to Lisa Hannigan’s performance in this scene everytime I watch the episode. Her soft-spoken surprise at humans even getting close to understanding how she feels sounds sweet for a split second until you realize it’s actually really condescending. Besides the weapon she says is hidden inside the Earth (a weapon I assume is not the cluster?), she drops a few more nuggets of detail about Pink Diamond. Like calling Earth “your planet,” and kidnapping Greg as a way honoring Pink Diamond’s memory.
Elle: Oh, I absolutely assumed she was talking about the Cluster. It was destroyed after Peridot’s last communication with Yellow Diamond, and the Rubies never made it back to Homeworld, so I don’t think there’s any reason the Diamonds would assume it’s been neutralized? At least I hope not, because another super-weapon inside the Earth is the last thing we need.
Katie: The other thing I was thinking was maybe even though it’s bubbled, the Diamonds think they can reactivate it remotely? I assume we’re going to have this explained later in the Steven Bomb.
In any case, Steven races after the Blue Palanquin, leaps up to grab it, and gets hit with the recoil as the ship shoots off to space. The scene with Garnet was intense, not least of all because she admits that she knew Blue Diamond was there and that’s why she couldn’t go with him. Considering what we saw in “The Answer,” both sides of Garnet is clearly terrified of her.
Elle: Honestly, I hadn’t even thought about that aspect, but Sapphire in particular had a whole relationship with Blue Diamond in her old life before Ruby. That’s heavy stuff. And yet when Garnet finds out that Blue Diamond took Greg, she doesn’t even hesitate to declare that they’re going to space to find him.
Katie: And that brings us into the next episode, Adventures in Light Distortion, where Steven and Garnet have rushed back to tell Pearl and Amethyst what happened in Korea.
Elle: My favorite thing in this first scene is Pearl saying, “Our Greg?” and Amethyst replying, “What other Greg is there?” It’s another moment that shows how Pearl has finally accepted Greg as a part of their family, quickly followed by a joke about how Amethyst doesn’t know many people. But the Gems quickly figure out that if Blue Diamond has taken Greg to space, he’ll probably end up in the human zoo that Pink Diamond started when she was in charge of Earth.
Katie: There’s a moment here where Pearl says, “When I used to serve” and then pauses before saying “Homeworld” that leans into the theory that Pearl was Pink Diamond’s Pearl before she rebelled with Rose. I’m interested to see if this week finally confirms that theory.
Elle: It would make sense. Not that we’ve seen much of Gem society, but we know that Yellow and Blue Diamond each have a Pearl, and we haven’t seen any other Gems who do. And we know that Rose Quartz was originally a warrior, so it would seem odd for her to have one of her own. The more I think about it, the more I want to see the courtly romance about how a chamberlain fell in love with a knight and together they decided to bring down the kingdom. But if the show never gives us that, I’m sure there’s already fanfic about it.
Katie: Back in the episode, the Gems prepare to leave Earth in the Rubies’ spaceship. I was glad to see Steven call Connie to let her know what’s going down, since she’s part of the team as well even if they don’t have time for her to get there. And leave her, Peridot, and Lapis in charge of protecting the earth has me really hoping this Steven Bomb ends with an episode just about their adventures while the others are off-planet.
Elle: I was surprised they didn’t just let Peridot fly the spaceship, since she’s the only one who knows how it works. But Peridot did rebel against Homeworld a lot more recently than the others, and taking her might be risky. Plus for all that they’ve welcomed her into the group, she’s not quite a part of the family, and this is something of a family trip. But in retrospect, they should have at least let her recalibrate the spaceship’s settings.
Katie: Yeah, things start getting tricky when Steven learns the trip should take decades to get there (not to mention going back) unless they use the ship’s more modern Gemworld tech. And since his dad is in trouble, of course he going to use it without really knowing what it does. This part of the episode is the little comic relief we get, with the Crystal Gems squished into different gem sizes thanks to how the ship bends light.
Elle: Right, first they’re all Ruby-sized, and when Steven starts messing with the controls, we see them switch to Jasper or regular Amethyst scale, and become Diamond sized and hit their heads on the ceiling. I’m really curious about the setting where they look like tiny elves with big heads. That’s not a kind of Gem we’ve seen before, but knowing this show we eventually will. But once Steven starts adjusting the controls manually, things get really weird, with the Gems getting stretched out and squashed and Amethyst turning into a giant hot dog. And then the whole thing goes offline.
Katie: The next part was easily the most unnerving as a viewer, with everything on screen slightly double vision, the Gems seemingly poofed and unable to reform into their bodies, and Steven thrust back in his seat by the sheer force of the ship. It’s a really tense scene, not least of all thanks to Steven trying to talk himself through it and losing all hope of seeing his dad again. The “I want my dad!” cry at the end hit me a lot harder than I expected on a personal level.
Elle: That was definitely rough. I mean, it was perfect for the show, but it was rough to watch. The image of the four gemstones rattling lifelessly against the back wall of the ship as Steven gets increasingly upset was particularly unnerving. Which says a lot about how this show has trained us to look at those particular rocks and see characters that we care about. And of course we know, deep down, that Steven and the Crystal Gems aren’t going to die helpless in space, but the suspense in a scene like this is built so perfectly that we feel that fear anyway.
Katie: I had to remind myself that at the very least we have more episode of this Steven Bomb before they’re all doomed. But yes, Steven manages to stop the ship and finds out that the Gems weren’t poofed at all, but their consciousnesses were trailing behind the ship due to the sheer speed. I’m glad we got to see Steven picturing that in his head because it’s a great visual.
Elle: It really is. I also love how much Amethyst was into it. But that brings them to the Space Zoo, which looks like a huge pink crystalline space station. And that brings us to where we’ll pick up with the next episode.
Katie: Well I for one am glad to have Steven Universe back on my TV. With all the bad stuff out in the world, getting to do these recaps with you is certainly a bright spot, Elle.