Just a week after the fall special, we get another seasonal Steven Universe, this time a flashback to the winter after Steven was first born. It’s more of an ordinary Steven Universe episode than anything resembling a traditional Christmas special, and “Three Gems And A Baby” is a bit less funny than that title makes it sound–but that still means it’s a pretty good episode of Steven Universe. Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff take their time building to the moment Greg and the Gems began to grasp one of the most important parts of the show’s premise: what Steven is.

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As the flashback opens, Greg is trying to get through his first winter with baby Steven, a challenging prospect given that not only does Greg know nothing about how to take care of himself (let alone a human child), he’s also repeatedly, forcibly confronted with the reminder that his partner is gone, and that they’ll never have a full nuclear family the way Vidalia does. (Greg’s brief, sad look at their family photo is one of my favorite smaller touches from this episode.) And as befitting Steven and Greg’s story time rules from the framing device, he has a song prepared: “Ready For This,” a gently melancholy expression of anxiety over the monumental task of parenting Greg finds himself facing. (I saw Rebecca Sugar and Tom Scharpling perform this at New York Comic-Con, and it was very sweet.)

Learning to care for something new means all sorts of new practices, like letting Steven’s gem breathe–practices that you would think would come with a guide from the other half of his family. The Gems come over to Vidalia’s house loaded with gifts, still in the rawest stages of their leaderless, post-Rose grief. (Amethyst is obliviously peppy, while Pearl is noticeably downcast and Garnet is doing her best to keep it together.) Their gifts are rather appropriate: a razor from Garnet (he’ll need it later, thanks to future vision), adult diapers from Amethyst (he can just shape shift to fit into them), and a dictionary from Pearl (so Steven can learn to talk, since he doesn’t possess language skills).

It’s nice to see a bit of a reminder of what the Gems were like before their relationships with Steven made them more human, almost by force. (Pearl, in particular, is much colder and closer to observing her original function, and it’s good to get a reminder of how far she’s come.) But that also means “Three Gems And A Baby” can feel a bit like a bit more of a throwback than a flashback, with each Gem trapped inside a single character trait for the duration of the episode as they each respond to Steven’s gem glowing with their own biases. Pearl wants to communicate with a trapped Rose (and almost tries to pull the gem out of Steven), Amethyst tries to get Steven to shapeshift, and Garnet decides that Rose is trying to unfuse from parts of Greg. (Steven isn’t a fusion, right? Or if he is, he’s at least he’s a new type of fusion.)

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And so, panicked and unsure of what to do, the Gems kidnap Steven and rush him out into the cold. Pearl tries to soft-pedal it when Steven questions their actions in the present, but Amethyst is, as ever, blunt: “Nah. We straight-up ’napped you.” Amethyst is by far the best part of this episode, especially since all of the good Amethyst episodes in the past few months have mostly been quietly emotionally devastating rather than goofy showcases for Michaela Dietz’s voice acting. (The moment when she shapeshifts into a baby, makes Garnet hold it, then begrudgingly says, “All right, I get it. This rules” is easily the best moment of the episode.)

We’re not learning much new here (other than that Steven cried the first time he met Ruby and Sapphire), but that’s not really the point. As Greg barrels down a snowy hill with a sled and dog in tow (but not a dogsled), it’s clear that there’s more than enough goofy stuff to justify spending an episode of Steven Universe on this moment. The point is to fill in the blanks of how he and the Gems became committed to raising Steven in a sort of blended family (just like Vidalia’s, come to think of it). It might be filling in some dots we could have connected on our own, but that doesn’t mean it’s not new for Steven.

As Steven reminds everyone at the end of the episode, they really have changed a lot since then. Steven is much bigger (and can talk now), but that doesn’t mean he’s done changing, or done needing Greg and the Gems to support him as part of his family. The value of this episode lies in remembering that that wasn’t always the case. You can only really understand how far you’ve come by taking a moment to remember where you’ve been–blizzards, dogs, and all.

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Stray observations:

  • One weird thing about these episodes coming right after each other is that it looks like we’ve just gone from the end of summer straight through fall and into winter and… nothing really happened? I know we’re at a sort of calm point in the show’s overall narrative, but this level of tranquility seems kinda unlikely.
  • “Hey, I’m 14 years!” It will never stop weirding me out that Steven is 14 instead of, like, eight.
  • Vidalia’s parenting book is called Babies, Huh.
  • I was really hoping Steven was going to get his first burst of stubble at the end of this episode so we could see him use that razor.
  • “That’s longer than I was a toilet.” We’re getting a flashback episode where Amethyst spends a couple of months looking like a toilet, right?
  • “There wasn’t really a big idea, just a bunch of smaller ideas that never came together.”
  • I’m assuming this is the last new episode of the year, so I’ll see you all in 2017 whenever we get new Steven!

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