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Steven Universe gets “Bubbled” in a chilling season finale

Illustration for article titled Steven Universe gets “Bubbled” in a chilling season finale
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After “Jail Break,” it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect all Steven Universe finales to be eventful, Earth-shattering events. But “Log Date 7 15 2” is a much lower-key episode, more interested in capping Peridot’s transformation into a Crystal Gem than in following up with Yellow Diamond, or even resolving any of the big outstanding threats. “Bubbled” follows in season two’s footsteps, focusing primarily on Steven floating through space with Eyeball and dealing with some (but not all) of the emotional fallout from yesterday’s episode. Storyboard team Colin Howard and Jeff Liu turn in a two-character piece that’s occasionally a bit on the muted side, but still has jokes and a solid Steven Universe gut punch of an ending.

Let’s get something out of the way: Doing a “characters floating in space episode” creates a high bar. For me, it strongly evokes Futurama’s “Godfellas,” one of my favorite episodes of television ever. (Sadly, Steven does not meet God in this episode, which I guess would take the form of some kind of encounter with Rose?) And an episode focusing primarily on Steven’s interactions with a new Gem—one who tries to kill him after some (some) initial friendliness—is going to fall a bit short in the wake of “Bismuth,” which has the weight of Crystal Gem history, Uzo Aduba, and a 22-minute run time behind it. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to love about “Bubbled.”

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Spending some time with a Home World Gem who we’ve seen in other incarnations (unlike, say, Peridot, who might be one of many but is still unique in our eyes) is an important thing for the show to start doing at this point. It’s a good reminder that for all that the Home World grunts threaten Steven, they’re just as in the dark as he is—and, in many respects, he’s in a more privileged position than they are, with respect to the details of the rebellion. Charlene Yi’s growl does a lot of work to differentiate the gruff, angry, greedy personality of this Ruby—she might be the same kind of Gem as the timid Leggy, but they’re on different emotional continents. Rather than spacey goof, Eyeball is a long-time combat vet, and her goal is to find Rose Quartz.

Steven attempts to be obliging, but it’s not surprising that Eyeball refuses to trust him, considering that he and the Gems have already tricked her platoon several times. For all that Steven can show photos of himself (in a very cute visual moment) and show off his shield and tell Eyeball that, “Yup, it’s me. The mighty Rose Quartz,” she requires an actual demonstration of his abilities, which comes back to bite him. (More on that in a bit.) Steven has taken great care to unidentify himself from his mother, particularly around newer Gems (Bismuth, Jasper) who have never spent time with humans. Here, he claims that title because he thinks it will make Eyeball feel better, but it just leads her to pull out her blade and try to kill him when Eyeball gets hit with a rock and cracks her Gem. (Cue Steven: “Ay yi yi,” or rather “Eye eye eye.”) This is probably my favorite thing about the episode: It’s Steven healing Eyeball that confirms his identity to her, and which in turns causes her to turn on him.

Even with all of Steven’s charms, and even with the very obvious argument that, were she to remove his Gem, Eyeball would have no way of getting home, she chooses to attack him anyway, and Steven is forced to fling her out into space—not quite as bad as shattering, but not pretty. I’ll admit I find it hard to be super devastated by this development, because I fully expect her to be back. But it’s still a tough choice for Steven to make, and something I suspect he’s not particularly proud of having to do. He sees everyone as a potential friend, but a lot of this season has been about testing the boundaries of that worldview, from Kevin to Jasper to Bismuth to Eyeball. Which is why it makes sense that “Bubbled” concludes on an affirmation that Steven’s approach, limited as it may occasionally be, is the future.

Spent, depressed, and collapsed into an even smaller bubble, Steven is summarily saved by the Gems, commandeering the Ruby ship. The whole sequence here is lovely, especially the way the boarders communicate that Pearl did something amazing with the ship to find Steven, using only her and Amethyst’s tear-stained faces. It helps that the show finally makes actual use of “Love Like You” in an episode. Surprisingly, the primary lyrical anchor here seems to be Rose, singing to Steven in the wake of his newfound knowledge about her shattering Pink Diamond. Steven Universe still needs to invest some more time interrogating what happened, but the shot of Garnet looking off into the distance as she talks to Steven is excellent, and effectively communicates the gravity of the situation:“She didn’t always do what was best for her. But she always did what was best for Earth.” Steven asks if that was the case even if it meant shattering someone, and the way Estelle says “yes” is heartbreaking. I can’t imagine this is the end of Steven grappling with what Rose did, or at least what he thinks she did.

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This is all great, but the best thing about “Bubbled,” and the note I want to end on, is the art. I don’t go into a ton of detail on specific visuals in this space often (partly because it’s not what I think I’m best at talking about in these, partly because, other than specific moments, the visual style is relatively consistent), but the look of open space here is really worth writing home about. (Update: We owe these beautiful, beautiful backgrounds to Steven Universe art director Elle Michalka. Thank you!) Howard and Liu, and the show’s background designers, invest all of the space vistas with a certain beauty and scale that’s hard to achieve on television period, let alone with the resources of Steven Universe. This episode might not be up to the pinnacle of Steven Universe’s best, but it’s still worth gaping at.

Stray observations:

  • Part of the overall plotting shifts make sense, since the first season was conceived as one big order, while all of the upcoming episodes basically blur into each other once you move past the production standpoint. Still, seasons are at least nominally important types of divisions in television shows, so it feels worth talking about here.
  • New facts about Steven’s bubble: he can stretch and manipulate it, seemingly at will. It has some semblance of gravity. It can generate oxygen.
  • “What, no signal? Come on, I’m right by a satellite!”
  • Eyeball wants to be given her own Pearl.
  • She also explicitly remembers Rose Quartz’s “huge sword,” presumably from when she shattered Pink Diamond. But Bismuth took great care to point out that Rose’s sword couldn’t shatter Gems, which leaves two possibilities—either Rose just used a different sword (maybe the truly enormous one hanging in the Forge?), or she didn’t actually shatter Pink Diamond. But Eyeball thought she saw that too…
  • What would even happen if someone removed Steven’s Gem?
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