In the twenty-third episode of the fifth season of Steven Universe, I am a mess, and somehow, all of this happened in TWENTY-THREE MINUTES. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steven Universe.
Trigger Warning: For brief discussion of abuse
I am… I don’t even know, y’all. To say this was A Lot is both an understatement and completely true. It’s… wow. WOW.
I’m just gonna start at the beginning because it’s the only way I can think about this.
Yo, is Steven Universe ending??? Because I have no idea what the master plan is for this show, and this episode felt like a finale, complete with a massive cliffhanger at the end. “Reunited” brings back practically every Beach City character who has ever appeared on the show, sometimes for a line, other times for just a visual cameo, and it served as a lovely reminder of how far these characters have come. The weirdness of the world is apparent to the citizens of Beach City, and thus, there’s no longer any weirdness in the idea of two gems getting married. Y’all, that’s fucking beautiful, and my lil’ queer self can’t ignore the greater implications for that. This show has been literally and metaphorically one of the gayest things I’ve ever experienced, and it’s not hard to see myself and an ideal world in this scenario. If you see the gems as an exploration of the Other, of a world that must exist in secret in a “normal” world, then this wedding is a celebration not just of love, but true, caring acceptance. The gems are an accepted part of Beach City, so much so that no one questions the ceremony at all. It is presented within the universe and to the viewers as so completely normal, and that means everything to me.
But there’s another meaning here that is delivered through Steven’s opening song, which is seriously going to be in my top 5 songs on this whole show. It isn’t hard to see how Steven’s message works in our own world, where every new piece of news seems to tip us further into this hellscape, dystopian timeline. I used to be much more dutiful about reading up on the news, but I can’t these days. It’s too intense. Too real. Too disheartening. Because of this, I’ve found comfort in something Steven asks the others to do at the start of “Reunited”: to choose to feel joy. I struggled with that for a long time because did that mean I was lying to myself? To others? To the world? If I chose to have moments of joy and escapism, was I a dishonest person?
I see escapism as self-care these days. I view my breaks from the world, my detachment from the unending feed of nightmares, to be a way to survive. Because I do want to fight injustice and change the world for the better, but I don’t know how to do that if I give into cynicism and terror and rejection. So, for the wedding itself, Steven asks everyone to think of something else. It is not a denial or a lie; it felt clear from the lyrics that Steven is well aware of how brutally complicated this situation is. And I do appreciate that! I am feeling better and better about the Rose Quartz reveal because the writers are not shying away from the jagged edges around this truth. What Steven asks for is for the people of Beach City and for his family to simply delay the inevitable, to allow themselves some joy and happiness. Why? Because it reminds everyone else what they are fighting for. You fight for joy! For love! For companionship! For friendship! For community!
So, for me, there are multiple meanings to the marriage of Sapphire and Ruby, but I also don’t want to ignore the very literal, obvious power of this: two women getting married on a major television show for children and GETTING TO KISS ONSCREEN. I know this is a broken-record-utterance, but could y’all imagine having something like this when many of us were children? To have a relationship affirmed and celebrated with song and dance (I CAUGHT ONE OF NANAFUA’S BODYGUARDS VOGUING), to watch these two women be so fully in love with one another??? Bless you, Steven Universe, for being so unapologetic about this. I AM A MESS.
The Other Reunion
I have one small quibble that might be proven to be unnecessary in later episodes, but otherwise? This fight is a masterpiece. It manages to pull to in multiple story threads—the Diamonds, the Cluster, the colonization plot, Pink Diamond and Rose Quartz, Steven’s powers—to give us a highly stylized battle that is LAYERED in meaning. The inclusion of each of the characters in this battle is intentional, purposeful, and significant, too, and they are not just here for the fight itself. That’s not an easy thing to pull off! It’s also one of the reasons why I felt so bewildered by how much was packed into this episode. It’s never boring or confusing, and yet, “Reunited” manages to accomplish so much in a drastically short time frame.
One of the things I’ve adored about Steven is how so much of his power is rooted in empathy. It’s not a new revelation, and I’ve certainly written about it before. But as the Diamonds descend on Earth to reclaim the Cluster, Steven is able to save the world in part because he has this special relationship to the Cluster. His influence is what allowed it to convene as its own entity, to fight back against Yellow Diamond. Well, maybe “allowed” is the wrong word. Inspired might fit better here. He inspired the Cluster to unite all those disparate pieces, and it fought back all on its own.
And while that’s happening, I was fascinated by the choice for dramatic tension in this conflict. Yes, there’s a very physical fight, but a major reason that it happens is because Steven does not get a chance to explain the truth. How many times has a nuanced conversation solved a conflict on this show? IT’S ONE OF MY FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT IT. So when Steven is denied the chance to reveal that Pink Diamond was not shattered, the fight explodes in waves of sadness and violence. All the Diamonds want is revenge for the death of their own, which is, of course, a rather hypocritical stance, given how many deaths they are responsible for. Actually, that’s a bit limiting; they want submission, too! This colony is supposed to be theirs, and the Crystal Gems have repeatedly thwarted the expansion of their empire.
So there’s a lot at work here, and yet, despite overwhelming odds, the Crystal Gems still choose to fight back. It’s why I enjoy that the wedding precedes this; they know exactly what they are fighting for. For Earth! For the right to live as they please! For fusions! For love! That’s why I said there are layers at work here earlier. You can view this battle through multiple lenses, and each of them make so much sense. For instance, the moment that resonated most with me was Lapis Lazuli’s return and the reveal that Blue Diamond’s sadness does not affect her as it does the others. Why? Because she’s felt so much worse. As an abuse victim and someone who has had to deal with trauma, that moment felt so powerful. So validating. So freeing. Because in that moment, Lapis gets to make her trauma something positive, and that’s her choice. I can’t claim that this would resonate with everyone because those of us who have experienced abuse are not a monolith, but I loved that moment. IT TOOK ME OUT.
The same goes for the shocking… fuck, what do you call it? The “death” of Steven? Perhaps he was just knocked out? I don’t think that’s necessarily important to determine right this moment, but once Steven enters that weird gem spirit realm, THIS EPISODE TRULY ASCENDS. First, it’s wild to even find out that that place exists, though… how is Connie there? Is it really a gem spirit world or just a spirit world in general? Regardless, I am obsessed with the entire sequence. I love that Steven’s presence here helps each of these characters stay motivated. Like it was with the Cluster, Steven acts as this force for goodness and hope, and as he jumps from one “person” to the next, he passes through the spirits of his friends, and they are all reminded of their value. Their worth. Their hope. It’s seriously one of the greatest single moments in this whole show, and I could watch it a thousand times and still feel just as enamored by it.
His interaction with the Diamonds is also rooted in the same sort of empathy. He just wants other people to understand the world around them, and that’s why he is convinced that if he can get the truth to these characters, they’ll finally stop attacking them. It’s a powerful sequence—particularly when his magic bursts from his body and Blue and Yellow Diamond finally realize that Steven wasn’t lying—though it’s got one weird moment mixed in. Steven tells the Diamonds that they are family. Which I don’t disagree with! They absolutely are! But what exactly does this show plan to do with that information? These two might be Steven’s family, but look at the horrific damage they have wrought over the course of thousands upon thousands of years! It is strange to comment on this only because I know I’m not done with the story. It could easily be written off as Steven’s momentary attempt to get the Diamonds’ attention, and he’s not actually considering inviting them into this found family of his. At least, that’s my hope. There are paths of redemption all throughout this show, and Peridot is a fine example of that. If the show wants to do that with the Diamonds, I’m just hoping that that’s not the only way in which they do it. But clearly, there’s more coming, and I’ll wait to make more of a substantive point then.
HI, I’M ALL CAUGHT UP, I’M A WRECK.
The video for “Reunited” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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