The ship isn’t the only thing that explodes at the end of “Jail Break.” Steven Universe itself is at a crisis point. By subtly building the Gem mythology and developing the characters over the course of the season, the team has earned a certain level of trust, and they could take the show in essentially any direction. It’s possible to imagine Steven Universe shifting gears almost entirely within its genre, taking visual cues from Jasper to have this next run of episodes be much more similar to, say, Dragonball Z. Steven could have to grow up way too fast—maybe not something that any of us would want for him, but something that does happen, and might in some respects be more emotionally honest.
“Full Disclosure” is an exploration of one of that possibility, practically chomping through “brooding” cliches for anti-heroes who have to keep silent on the truth about the world to protect the people they love, damn it. One on level, it’s unlikely that the show is going to move in this direction—after all, yesterday’s episode showcases a song all about the benefits of collaboration—but it’s still an adjacent set of tropes that the show finds worth interrogating. So the obvious fun that boarders Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco have with this possibility, using the reappearance of Ronaldo to mock the self-importance required to stand on top of a hill, Rorschach-style, and contemplate how weak all of the puny humans are, makes sense. (Please keep keeping Beach City weird, buddy.)
But Steven has really been through some serious stuff now, and has very real worries, most of which can be explained thus: He doesn’t know he’s in a TV show, let alone one made for kids. We’re aware that Malachite is probably going to be stuck at the bottom of the ocean for at least a few episodes, because Steven Universe can’t sustain, and has little interest in sustaining, that level of tension. We know that it’s highly unlikely that any of the main characters will die. (Seriously, guys, this is the sweetest show on Cartoon Network, how did you all think someone was going to die yesterday? Don’t be ridiculous.) But Steven doesn’t know those things. Greg doesn’t know them. Of course he’s going to freak out. His parenting skills, saying “Steven, I’m supportive and very proud of you, and I’ll be right back” before going off to freak out in his van, is another great look for Tom Scharpling this week, and bodes well for Greg being a bigger and better part of the show going forward. He might trust Steven and the Gems, but he also has a lot of justification to be a concerned parent.
The vibe throughout most of the rest of the episode is similar to the montage of possible Steven deaths from “Future Vision,” but played less for comedy than for horror. The electric pieces of the ship are reminiscent of Peridot’s robots, and threaten to stab Steven at any moment. Every too-long shot of the ocean suggests that Malachite could come crawling out at any moment, and like Steven said, Jasper is a pretty serious foe. Even the sky isn’t really safe for him any more. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, for Steven especially, everything has changed. (Remember that he still hasn’t confronted the Gems about their role in the invasion of the Earth.)
And Steven tries to change himself in response. After some indecision about how to handle Connie’s phone call, he makes the rather poor decision to take life advice from Ronaldo, who has gone to the top of a hill to “brood.” Steven is no Angel, though. The song he sings (based around his insistent ringtone and titled “Full Disclosure”) is classic Rebecca Sugar, calling to mind, among other things, Adventure Time’s “I Remember You.” Zach Callison isn’t Estelle (who is?), but it’s still a pretty good way of representing his mindset, and why he might not want to talk to Connie. Visually, much of the song is given over to recapping the events of “The Return” and “Jail Break,” which would have more of an effect of we hadn’t just seen them. We’re still in shock too, Steven. It’s just unfortunate for “Full Disclosure” that it has to air the day after “Jail Break.”
The uncharacteristic full cut to black in the middle of the episode after the song presages a surprisingly effective sequence that came this close to convincing me that Steven and Connie really were going to be on the outs. Steven telling Connie he doesn’t want to be friends is a real gut punch. He’s acting out what he thinks he’s supposed to do, which is funny for the sight gag with the blinds, but it also might have real consequences for his friendship. It’s the mark of good storytelling that, in retrospect, there was no way that everything wasn’t going to be okay with them—but that we come close to believing it anyway, in a heartbreaking moment where Steven stands atop the ship, his face obscured. The shot lasts a moment too long, like a showdown before a gunfight. There’s real tension, because at least at the time, they want fundamentally incompatible things.
Thankfully, Steven is incapable of really cutting off ties with Connie, and turns all comic weepy as he falls apart (before another full cut). Connie is totally accepting of Steven—she wants to be a part of his universe, and he doesn’t get to make unilateral decisions about relationships that involve more than one person. Besides, even Greg is more or less back to normal after expending all of his anxiety. Yes, everything is different, but Steven and the Gems are the same. And if the fundamental idea of the series is about their ability to overcome obstacles as a family, then it shouldn’t matter too much whether Malachite is coming after them or ten Yellow Diamonds.
Still, even as Greg drives Steven and Connie back through the rebuilding Beach City, there’s a sense that something about the show has fundamentally changed, a sense bolstered by the music accompanying everyone returning to the boardwalk. We’ll be able to spend more time with carefree Steven and the rest of the townspeople without having to worry too much about Gem stuff, but it’ll still be there in the background. Something is different. We just don’t know exactly what. Not yet.
- It’s a nice touch that the episode-ending star zooms back out from where it was at the end of “Jail Break” (another thing that would have worked better with a break between episodes).
- Why does Greg have that super-intense CD, anyway? And what’s on his relaxing music CD?
- Could Steven just tell Connie his phone message was a dream? “Eh, she’s too smart for that.”
- Poor Ronaldo. He suggests, if briefly, that his brooding is an excuse for not having any friends. You can hang out with me, Ronaldo. I’m not a snerson!
- Is there a history to Amethyst’s crocodile jazz hands? Can we get a full episode about them?
- You guys still playing “Stronger Than You” on repeat? Same. Though it has serious competition from the song Rebecca sings over the closing credits, which after yesterday looks like it’s going to be a thing now?
- And that’s the end of the Steven Bomb! I have no idea if there’s a new episode next week—if so, I’ll be here—but until then, I think I’m going to take a nap.