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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A chilling Steven Universe isolates Steven in space

Illustration for article titled A chilling Steven Universe isolates Steven in space
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This is the first time that a threat to a core member of the Gem squad has carried over multiple episodes—even when someone has been on the verge of shattering, it’s always been resolved within the 11 minute running time. But Greg’s absence is acutely felt now, and will drive the rest of the week’s arc. It doesn’t matter that they’re almost certainly going to get Greg back, the Gems don’t know they’re in a TV show, and their friend’s kidnapping is a big deal. Steven is overwhelmed by it too, an emotion that provides the spine for the rest of an episode that puts a lot of weight on Zach Callison.

Understandably, the episode starts with Steven in crisis, a headspace he occupies for most of “Adventures In Light Distortion.” When Pearl and Garnet reveal that Blue Diamond has almost certainly taken Greg to a human zoo started by Pink Diamond several thousand years ago, he’s adamant that they go into space and get him back.(The Gems agree with him, obviously, but no one really thinks to take a moment and work through how they want to approach the mission.) When Peridot tries to explain the gravity engine that works by “bending reality” and change the settings the Rubies had placed on the ship, he brushes past her. And when Pearl tells him that they won’t get to the zoo for 70 years, he rashly pushes the button to start the gravity engine.

For the bulk of the episode, Steven tries to figure out how to get the engine to work appropriately. First, the light that composes the Gems’ bodies flattens and warps based on the settings (the ones Peridot tried to warn him about), producing a lot of good physical comedy and bizarre shapes. (Like the Korea fashion montage, this is another incident where it feels like the show is just giving the storyboarders an opportunity to do some fan art in the best way.)

The last couple of episodes of season three established something of a house style for the space-set scenes, which delineate themselves from Earth via thicker lines, more abstracted backgrounds, and a generally more intense musical background. (The sound design is on point here, too—there’s some thudding as Pearl navigates through the asteroid field, and smacks as the Rubies fly up against the windshield.) There’s a certain flair for the dramatic here, starting on Earth with the way the shots cut progressively closer to Garnet’s face as she says, “We’re going into space, and we’re not coming back without Greg.”

But the real visually dazzling material comes when Steven tries to fix the Ruby system preferences and accidentally sends the reality bending gravity engine into overdrive. Space bends into a variety of shapes and patterns, frames seem to bump up on top of each other, and everything looks like it should be in some kind of ’90s 3D movie. (It’s a bit reminiscent of the way the Cluster is rendered in “Gem Drill.”) This is all window dressing on top of the fact that the ship is on a collision course with the zoo, sending Steven spiraling into a serious moment of weakness.

The past season or so have given Steven reasons to be cocky—most of the stuff he tries works, so why not this? Plus, the additional emotional stakes are higher than they’ve ever been for him. So Steven crying for his dad is really a brutal emotional moment, especially with the Gems seemingly poofed and unable to comfort him. He has to persevere himself. Thankfully (obviously), Steven manages to stop the ship, and the Gems reappear just as they reach zoo, a floating space station that looks like a pink sword. Time for a “Gem Heist.”


Stray observations:

  • Pearl referring to Greg as “our Greg” is very sweet. Also, Pearl’s “In what way is this funny?” is kind of too-classic Pearl.
  • Garnet, after the ship hits two of the Rubies: “We should really do something about them.”
  • Not sure if we had confirmation on this before, but based on this episode Greg is 40, which means Steven was born when he was 26.
  • The lines showing the size of Rubies and the Gems lagging behind the ship are an excellent touch by storyboard team Hilary Florido and Lauren Zuke.
  • Why didn’t Pearl just go use the controls? She might have been small, but she had hands!
  • Wouldn’t the engine necessarily warp at least one of the Gems if you set it for a different type of Gem? Like, I can’t imagine the setting for Garnet is the same as the one for Amethyst?
  • Hey everyone, sorry for taking so long with this one! I’d scheduled it for today because I thought that was when the episode aired—somehow I’d missed it was airing with “Steven’s Dream.” The review for “Gem Heist” will be up at the usual time today.