Steven Universe Recap (x2!): Keeping it Together

The Week of Steven continues with these two recaps.  As usual, there are spoilers ahead.

I’m going to really quickly go over the episode before the most recent one: ‘Rising Tides, Crashing Skies’.  It is, in my opinion, one of the show’s weakest episodes.  It is this way for one reason: Ronaldo.  I’m not sure why so much focus is placed on the most obnoxious character in the show (yes, more so than Lars or mayor Dewey).  It may be time that they accept they can’t really make a conspiracy theorist of this stripe into a likable character.  If they’re desperate to make one, I would turn them towards Jeffrey Combs’ Question on Justice League Unlimited.

Ronaldo’s exclusive webumentary is the episode’s framework for examining how the people of Beach City have adjusted after the evacuation.  As it turns out, they’re completely fine.  That’s another reason why I wonder this episode was deemed necessary.  I suppose there is one point I can think of: in attempting to center the crisis around himself, Ronaldo accuses the gems of causing all the danger in the city and needlessly risking citizens’ lives.  Pearl then points out, as a fascinating reminder, that they were there long before there was a Beach City.  In a way the citizens have encroached on the gems’ territory.  It’s a good way of justifying the close vicinity of their home to a populated area.

Peedee serves as his cameraman for much of it, which keeps me asking why we don’t get episodes focused on him instead.  As a hard worker who’s growing up too fast, he could provide a nice counter to Steven’s childishness and Connie’s shyness.  I know that adding anyone other than Connie or Greg into the core group would be unwieldy, but if I had to pick someone it would probably be Peedee.  He certainly seems like he could be the best middleman between the gems and the citizens, at least compared to Ronaldo’s egotistical babbling.

Okay, moving on to the much better episode ‘Keeping it Together’.  This one has the gems and Steven revisiting the kindergarten to search for Peridot and finding both her and a a horrific part of her mission on Earth.

Pearl explains how kindergarten works to Steven.  The large machines there, called injectors, deposit gem ‘seeds’ deep in the earth where they incubate and suck the ‘life’ out of surrounding material.  This explicitly confirms the method of reproduction they basically revealed when Amethyst’s origin was explained: gems are viral organisms.  The injectors themselves are clearly based on bacteriophage viruses.

As you may or may not know, viruses invade host cells and replace the machinery inside with their own genetic code.  Eventually the cell ruptures and releases a new tide of viruses that go off to start the process again.  In our case the Earth is the host cell, which would be bad for us.

Though Peridot escaped, Garnet and Steven discovered her experiments: monstrous fused body parts created by the shards of different gems forcibly stuck together and buried for incubation.  Garnet is so horrified at the sight of a forced fusion that it nearly splits her into Ruby and and Sapphire.  The only question here is what these monstrous experiments best represent.  Off the top of my head, rape and arranged marriages come to mind the most.  Garnet states that they are remnants of rebellious gems from the war, so it could also be a good way to talk about the forced cramped communities that can form during a military occupation.

When we consider the show’s constant message of inclusiveness and positive queer identities, I think the best way to look at it is that home world represents stubborn governments that won’t allow things like marriage equality to exist.  The experiments are what happens when social and legal pressure forces queer individuals into relationships they never wanted simply so they could appear ‘normal’ or ‘ordered’.  It’s really dark stuff and I’m glad a show appropriate for children can address it so skillfully.

The last point I want to bring up is informed both by gems’ viral reproduction and their ability to be fused in at least two ways.  The show has done a great job of setting them up as organisms that are capable of great variation without breaking my immersion.  By comparing them to single-celled or viral organisms, it opens up a large body of possibilities.  Their immortality and lack of need for sustenance?  Viruses are similar; they can go dormant for a very long time and do not consume ‘meals’ as we would think of them.  Fusing?  We may have seen something like it already on Earth a few times.  A lichen is a successful collaboration between algae and fungus.  Our cells contain mitochondria, which at some point may have been organisms themselves before they were absorbed in an act of adaptive cooperation.  The subtle melding of magic, cartoons, emotion, and biology in this show is masterful.

Final note:  Peridot has helicopter fingers.  Amethyst needs to turn into dogcopter for some aerial combat.  NEEDS.

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