Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iSteven Universe/i gets to “Know Your Fusion”
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What is it like to be a new fusion? From our two primary examples (Stevonnie and Garnet), it’s a wondrous, but also scary and disorienting experience. Stevonnie spent an entire episode finding themselves, while Garnet got a whole musical number. Smoky Quartz, on the other hand, just had to fight Jasper. Bum rap, if you ask me. Thankfully, we close out this month of Steven Universe episodes with a slightly closer look at Smoky, and at the nature of fusion in general. Hilary Florido and Lauren Zuke imbue “Know Your Fusion” with depth, nice character moments for people who don’t exist often, and comedy. Mostly comedy.

That starts from the beginning of the episode, with Steven and Amethyst planning to show off Smoky Quartz to Garnet and Pearl. Their enthusiasm is infectious, but it’s also highly amusing. (Steven: “We should go soon, too, before they get suspicious.” Cut to Pearl: “Those two are acting very suspicious.”) They do their brief rehearsed pitch, but Pearl and Garnet don’t quite catch on, so Steven and Amethyst just fuse, leading to a hilarious sequence of Smoky showing off her yo-yo tricks, Pearl shrieking, and Garnet shouting with joy while clutching Pearl. This is perfectly executed chaos, combining Smoky’s obvious glee with Pearl’s shock, all backed by Estelle screaming in the background. Also, the yo-yo tricks (“walk the dog,” “jog the dog,” and “dog-walking is just my day job until I finally get that callback”) destroy the house (and the TV!), until Sardonyx forms and takes Smoky to her room in the temple.

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“Know Your Fusion” is an odd episode of Steven Universe, because it’s basically two fusions hanging out for a while. Sardonyx and Smoky may be composed of the main characters, but we haven’t spent a ton of time with either of them—even flashback episodes rely heavily on Tom Scharpling, and have access to the voice cast for the rest of the Gems. This episode is, instead, primarily a duet between Natasha Lyonne and Alexia Khadime. Sardonyx keeps asking Smoky rude questions trying to really “know” who she is, but that line of questioning really tells us more about Sardonyx herself. The entire Sardonyx aesthetic was decently developed in her first appearance in “Cry For Help,” but her preciousness is really great here, complete with Khadime’s voice acting when Sardonyx begins to split, realizing that Garnet and Pearl have allowed their own excitement to steal Steven and Amethyst’s thunder.

It’s been a while since we got a full-on Steven Universe meta gag, but the ones that make up Sardonyx Tonight—Sardonyx’s late night talk show—will do. Sardonyx uses clips from “Giant Woman,” “Coach Steven,” and “Super Watermelon Island” to illustrate some of the more powerful qualities of Opal, Sugilite, and Alexandrite, respectively—complete with captions reading “Footage courtesy of Cartoon Network,” before forcing Smoky to engage in weird mini-games mimicking those fusions. The Sugilite one, called “You like that, little man?” (“Because everybody loves a callback”), is by far the best, mostly because it’s slightly disorienting to actually hear Nicki Minaj’s voice on the show. (She’s not actually in this episode, though Sardonyx assents to the fact that they might still have to pay her.) Also, Sardonyx strongly suggests, in a slightly discomforting shot, that you are, in fact, a creation of her mind, part of the audience that she made herself. I can see why this kind of thing would bother some people—it distracts from the internal flow of the narrative—but I love it.

The showbiz parody also fits in quite nicely with even the little we know of Sardonyx’s personality. (I mean, she does wear a tuxedo.) That comes out in several of Khadime’s line readings, like the vaguely condescending, affected way she says, “Seen it, lived it, loved it,” which sounds like anyone who has ever worked in Hollywood. (It’s way too close to “dahling.”) Sardonyx’s confidence here also contrasts well with Smoky’s insecurity, which Natasha Lyonne effectively evokes underneath the bluster and jokiness. We’ve spent the last two weeks learning about the ways Steven and Amethyst are similar in their anxieties, so having that be one of the shared aspects of their fusion makes sense (after all, most relationships some amplify bad qualities along with the good). And Lyonne, along with the boarders, allow Smoky’s discomfort to build slowly over the course of the episode, until Sardonyx realizes all at once that she’s taken the stage—and unfuses in the process.

As the room begins to fall apart (it can only exist while Sardonyx is together), Smoky saves Garnet and Pearl, who learn that her yo-yo can grapple in addition to hitting stuff. We still don’t know a ton about Smoky, other than that she’s easily intimidated and a little insecure underneath her sunniness, good with quips, and take-charge in a crisis—all things that are true of both Amethyst and Steven, to varying degrees. So as much as Sardonyx Tonight failed at eliciting the kind of knowledge Garnet and Pearl wanted, it also succeeding in telling us a bit more about Smoky. And we’re rewarded with the sight of all four Gems piled up on the floor (with Steven on the couch). So Steven and Amethyst can start telling the story right, from the beginning.

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Stray observations:

  • I’ve watched this episode three or four times now, and I still don’t really understand why Garnet couldn’t ask Steven and Amethyst what they were up to. Is there something really obvious I’m missing, maybe related to future vision?
  • Steven and Amethyst’s banter is just great at the beginning, especially the way Steven says, “Pick it back up, pick it back up.”
  • I can’t list all of Smoky’s quips, but my favorite is: “I guess you could say she had a… short fuse.”
  • Best Sardonyx line: “That’s a nice yo-yo, but I want to know the yo-you.”
  • In addition to Sardonyx’s interpolation of “Strong In The Real Way,” there are also slight variants on the themes for all of the fusions in the score, which is a nice touch.
  • The strength rankings on the mallet test, in order: Pearl, Stevonnie, Garnet, Opal, Sugilite.
  • Pearl asks Amethyst and Steven if they use the whip like a flail. Amethyst: “It’s better than a flail.” Steven: “It’s a toy!”
  • And that’s the end of the Nuke! It’s been a blast, but I’m going to take a long nap now.
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