Who would have thought we’d be this close to Home World, this soon? I’d always assumed Steven Universe would show more of its, uh, universe eventually, but that it wouldn’t happen until much closer to the endgame. But here we are, no end of the show in sight (I would hope!), and the show has fully gone into space to the kind of base we’ve only heard about before.
The human zoo is, admittedly, a bit of a relic left over from the Gems’ first era of existence, something the show doesn’t let you forget—Pink Diamond’s visual fingerprints are all over the space station. And accordingly, the Crystal Gems have to deal with their own personal vestiges of their Home World past.
In order to complete the titular “Gem Heist,” our heroes are forced to pretend to act for the purpose they were originally built for. It’s easy to forget that this is the prime directive for Gems, until the Amethyst guards stationed at the entrance literally tell Sapphire to “state your purpose.” To maintain the ruse that they’re there for legitimate reasons, Garnet has to split into a common Ruby and a noble, highly-ranked Sapphire. (They even have the special title “Your Clarity.”) Pearl must return to the subservient role she’s spent so much time escaping from. And Steven—well, Steven just has to be human, but for today he’s alter ego Esteban Universidad.
Gem society is governed by beings made for specific reasons acting out those reasons, ad infinitum—an order given its primary form by enforcer Holly Blue Agate. Voiced by Christine Pedi, Holly Blue Agate is a cruel, matronly figure, obsessed with status and function and making sure everything is just so. She hangs on to every scrap of information about Blue Diamond, and delivers absurd flattery to Gems she considers above her. She’s cruel to the Amethysts, treating them essentially like the villain in a movie about an inspiring, heroic orphan. And she can’t even hear Steven talk, even though they’re speaking the same language.
Agates seem to be Gem attachés of some kind, serving as special assistants gifted with more power and responsibility than Pearls. (Does this mean Pink Diamond had an Agate we haven’t met yet? One who more than likely would have had some kind of relationship to Rose?) So Holly Blue takes the crystalline sense of decor of a Pearl, combines it with authority, and uses it to systematically, if accidentally, break down the Crystal Gems. First, Amethyst gets left at the door with other Amethyst guards, forcing her to maintain a ruse around Gems she’s never met before. Then, Pearl is repeatedly humiliated, called “chatty,” and forced to open doors. Finally, Ruby is insulted, both directly and by Holly Blue’s praise for Blue Diamond, who Ruby takes to be the personal representative of Home World’s disdain for fusion.
Much of “Gem Heist” is about the introduction of Holly Blue. But the very least, Steven is there to grease the proceedings with some fun. He’s the one who comes the closest to using actual heist movie language to refer to the attempt to bust out Greg (“You’re our hacker!” he tells Pearl), and helps Ruby commit to her role by being closer to Esteban Universidad. Which makes it even sadder that at the end of the episode, he’s sent to the actual containment unit (zoo), poked and prodded by robots that examine him, strip him of his clothes, and dress him in a kilt-like outfit with earrings before depositing him in a tropical setting–where Greg already seems to have settled in. What’s the “space zoo” equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome?
- “Gem Heist” is storyboarded by Hilary Florido and Lauren Zuke, who do an excellent job with some of the specifics of the characters’ facial expressions—in particular, I love how everyone looks when they try to wink during the attempted heist. (Sapphire, unfortunately, only has one eye.)
- Pearl: “Is this really going to work?” Sapphire: “No.” (This must be where Garnet’s comedic timing comes from.)
- Ruby is angry that Blue Diamond hates fusion and love. Is it possible that’s because she (Blue Diamond) had some sort of past relationship with Pink Diamond?