Part of the reason Garnet is the best (or at least most popular) character on Steven Universe is that she’s the most mysterious. For most of the first season, Garnet was relatively distant compared to Amethyst and Pearl. She served as the team’s de facto leader. She displayed extremely cool powers like future vision. And she rarely spoke. (This helps explain why Steven spends an entire episode wondering what Garnet gets up to in her spare time.) So an origin story for Garnet sounds like it could be pretty appealing, and fill an obvious fan desire to know more about her.
But giving Garnet a flashback episode also raises the possibility that “The Answer” will fall into the pitfalls that plague most modern superhero origin stories—over-explanation, narrative determinism, and just being boring. In that respect, “The Answer” doesn’t really tell us anything we couldn’t have guessed, or anything that we really needed to know. It fills in a couple of blanks, but the outline of the story were pretty obvious—Ruby and Sapphire, two Gems originally serving their explicit purpose, fell more in love with their relationship than they did with their design. When Steven asks what the answer is and Garnet replies “love,” Steven nods knowingly, and it’s exactly what we would have expected.
That doesn’t mean “The Answer” is bad, just that it’s a bit slight. Befitting an episode framed as a birthday story to Steven, it feels like a nice little present to the fans. Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff do a great job rendering the episode in a slightly abstracted style, like a fairy tale. (Almost every Gem that isn’t Ruby, Sapphire, Rose, or Pearl is drawn as a silhouette in the same manner as, say, Pearl’s projections in “Sworn To The Sword.”) This works quite well visually, though in some cases it would have been cool to see a bit more detail, particularly with something like swashbuckling young Pearl.
Garnet describes Pearl as Rose’s “terrifying renegade Pearl,” which, in addition to a funny suggestion that Pearl is infamous among certain Gems, is also a great line delivery by Estelle. Garnet narrates the entire episode, filling in her voice for that of Blue Diamond and most of the other Gems, and it’s a good opportunity to let Estelle do voice work that’s more fun than intense, more soft and warm than cool and competent. In particular, touches like the way Garnet expresses the Gems’ disdain (“Disgusting!”) is funny, yet still conveys how hurt she must have been to hear those sentiments.
Maybe “they” makes more sense than “she,” since at that point in the episode Garnet is still closer to the sum of Ruby and Sapphire than something new and more. Here we get our first look at both of them pre-fusion. Sapphire comes to Earth as a “rare aristocratic Home World Gem” with no care for her own well-being and a decided dispassion. Ruby is, likewise, equally committed to her purpose as a Gem, though in this case that’s merely being a common soldier, one of three Rubies to serve as part of Sapphire’s guard. (The three Rubies fuse into one giant Ruby, clarifying that the practice of fusing into new types of Gems is what Home World culture views as abomination, not simply the act of fusing.)
Broadly speaking, “The Answer” is about the rupture of fate. In trying to do her job, Ruby fuses with Sapphire and finds herself on the receiving end of Gem hatred. Learning to see herself as an equal to Sapphire requires re-calibrating her sense of self. Sapphire predicts the end of the rebellion and the destruction of her physical form, but those things don’t quite happen. Sapphire only loses her physical form as the result of her fusion with Ruby, and in the void created by the failure of her future vision, literally freezes to the spot, unable to see far beyond herself.
Over the course of their brief solitude, Ruby and Sapphire each learn a bit about themselves as individuals. That’s why the best moment of their interaction is when Sapphire reveals her eye and Ruby inadvertently catches on fire. The immediacy of the attraction is very sweet, and it makes a solid segue into the ensuing song about normal relationship things (Ruby says Sapphire is different, she swears, and Sapphire has never fused before, she promises). It’s deeply color-by-numbers for this kind of love story, but it’s still deeply earnest, and allows our prior commitment to the characters to inform our response.
If there’s a real problem with this episode, it’s that that vacuum is too easily to fill. It still feels a bit difficult to get a bead on Ruby and Sapphire as individual characters. Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl (and now Peridot) are all complex enough that we can understand their actions in a wide variety of situations, and have several different desires and (occasionally conflicting) values that allow us to understand them as full people. Ruby is still mostly a hot-headed fighter, and, by her nature, Sapphire is cool and difficult to read. That, mostly, is still it. Ruby and Sapphire were one thing, then they chose to be another thing.
And so, standard “getting to know you” montage and basic plotting aside, the origin of Ruby and Sapphire is primarily a clear-eyed look at the constraints of fate, combined with a conscious decision to push back against them. This is who Garnet is, what Garnet is. But that doesn’t really matter. The only fact that matters is the one Steven Universe has been teaching us to pay attention to above all else—the fact of their love. Ruby and Sapphire fall in love with the act or state of fusing, with love itself. And that’s all they need to know. As Rose puts it, “You already are the answer.”
- I love, love that this was pegged to what could have been a throwaway joke in “Jail Break” about Steven’s birthday.
- The Rubies each have their gem in a different spot, which is either a nifty little detail, or something we’ll learn more about down the road.
- “The Answer” takes place 5,750 years ago, meaning Garnet is basically as old as the Jewish calendar. Nice.
- “There’s still time.” “That is a nice thought, but no.”
- Welcome back to Steven Universe coverage in 2016. We’ve got another Bomb on our hands, so I’ll be reviewing every episode in a (hopefully) timely fashion. I’m looking forward to it! See you all tomorrow.