In the second episode of the third season of Steven Universe, Steven and Peridot face the Cluster. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steven Universe.
I’m not the kind of person who believes that there isn’t a time for violence, that violence is never the answer. I’m mostly a pacifist, and I say “mostly” because I once got a bully to finally leave me alone after I punched him in the face. That was my answer then, and it worked gloriously in my favor. I’d do it again. Does that always work? Is it always the answer? There was context to what happened to me that made that the right solution, but I don’t know that I can come up with some sort of framework to apply to other situations.
I went for a run after I watched “Gem Drill,” and I couldn’t stop thinking about this episode. Even I went into this being unsure what the Gems could even do about the Cluster. So once Peridot started drilling into it, I figured that was the unfortunate solution: the whole thing would have to be destroyed. What else could they do? The answer seemed to be violence. If Peridot didn’t eliminate the Cluster, then Earth and everyone on it would be destroyed. But the more I considered this dilemma and the way both these characters usually approach problems, I realized how cool it was that this was what we got in the resolution.
See, there’s a moment in this episode where Peridot begins to profusely apologize to Steven for not being able to save the Earth. Even then, she refers to everyone else as being inferior to her. It’s evidence of the intense indoctrination she’s experienced because even though her redemption arc is mostly over, there are still remnants of her old way of thinking. Yes, it’s important that she has changed as much as she has since she was introduced; it’s incredible what the writing team has pulled off here. At the same time, it’s much harder for her to see things from a different perspective. She’s used to a world with a strict hierarchy, and she is used to enforcement of that hierarchy through violence. Thus, it makes sense that Peridot would seek out solutions that involve violence. It’s what she knows well! When faced with the monumental task of the Cluster, her gut instinct is to destroy it all. They’re just gem fragments, aren’t they? They aren’t actually worth anything.
Yet Steven, who takes after Rose Quartz in so many ways, approaches this differently. Granted, he’s the one haunted by the screams of all the gem shards, but still. Steven is a natural diplomat because he’s so deeply empathetic. He wants to understand everyone and everything around him. And when he’s faced with the sheer cosmic horror of billions of souls crying out in pain and terror, he is the first one to ask them, “Hey, what do you want?”
Companionship. They want to be whole. And given how much wholeness plays into Gem psychology, it makes sense why a giant pile of gem shards would want to form into one single being. It’s what Gems are supposed to do! (Which makes the hypocrisy around fusion even more ludicrous.) Thus, the resolution to this conflict isn’t some massive battle or a violent end. Steven teaches the gem shards how to talk to one another, how to find comfort and love and companionship in the people all around them, all who are going through the exact same form of trauma. TOGETHER. He more or less helps them form a community, one that takes care of each other through bubbling.
It’s certainly a strange end to this plot, but thematically, it totally works for me. The gem shards aren’t destroyed, and the Cluster no longer poses a threat to Earth. For now, that is. I have no idea how long this solution will last or if another Gem will come along and corrupt the entire thing. But the character interactions between Steven, Peridot, and the Cluster make this episode so wonderful for me. We get to see how much Peridot has developed and how she still needs to grow. She expresses her first desire for friendship with Steven and the Crystal Gems. She accepts her role as rebel and protector of Earth. And Steven, too pure for this world, solves a catastrophic problem by talking to it.
My gods, do I love this show.
The video for “Gem Drill” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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