Onion is one of the most confusing characters on Steven Universe, and it’s not because he doesn’t talk. More than any of the Beach City residents, Onion has resisted easy characterization, moving between mischief that borders on straight-up evil (do people still jokingly claim Onion he’s White Diamond?) and a more misunderstood, sweet child who just exists within a family context that Steven doesn’t quite understand. Onion masters Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff come down heavily on one side of Onion for “Onion Gang,” an episode in which the threatening side of Onion is reduced to a couple of throwaway jokes in the service of something a lot more straightforward and emotionally sincere: Onion is good.
Steven, it turns out, has been donating some of his time to Onion, who he perceives as a lonely boy in need of company after the events of “Onion Friend.” But rather than jumping up and down in the temple, Onion drags Steven to a little glen where Steven meets Onion’s “pantry” of friends: Garbanzo (voiced by Abrams), Garbanzo’s baby sibling Pinto, Squash, and Soup, all of whom are silent, like Onion (except for Garbanzo, who only says his own name).
Most of the episode consists of the Onion Gang’s shenanigans, from riding a soapbox derby car around Beach City to pretending Garbanzo is dead after crashing the car to standing on each other’s shoulders to pretend to be an adult (a prank hereby known as “the Vincent Adultman”). The Onion Gang, of course, has a slightly cruel side, which they expose when they, uh, expose themselves to flash local businessman Suitcase Sam and take a photo of his expression. They add the snapshot to their wall of shocked people—everyone except Garnet, who flashes them a thumbs-up (I’d guess she assumes they were a fusion of several children?). For the most part, “Onion Gang” is visually fun, but it really shines in little moments like the awkwardly angled photo of Garnet.
The members of the Onion Gang basically have their own show—a silent comedy about playing children with a slight taste for morbid humor bordering on the daily comic strip level—except that Steven shows up to narrate everything. Zach Callison narrating Onion’s life is funny mostly when it conflicts with Onion’s actions, or presents Steven trying to envision Onion’s mysterious inner life (“but no snack could satisfy his hunger… for power”). But otherwise, his presence steps on what could be a really sweet, mostly-silent episode. (I’m thinking, of course, about BoJack’s silent episode.)
After a bug race (where everyone picks out a racer from Soup’s pot helmet), Steven is asked to participate in the ritual of smashing the victor’s bug, which you can totally imagine being a fun thing for kids—especially slightly creepy ones. Steven, distraught at the prospect of killing something, runs off, only to discover that Connie and Peedee are both too busy with school and work, respectively, to hang out with him. (Gosh Steven, get a job. The emotional beat here—that Steven feels like he’s being pitied by Onion for having no friends, and later realizes that Onion just wanted to introduce Steven to his other friends before they left for school—is more than a bit off, I think.
I get the neatness of the reversal, since Steven has always approached hanging out with Onion as something like a chore. And Steven’s penchant for drama makes his emotional reaction slightly more plausible. But Steven has so many friends! And he usually doesn’t care if anyone is older than him, younger, or his own age. Off the top of my head, he could have gone to The Big Donut to hang with Lars and Sadie, called Buck, explored some conspiracies with Ronaldo, or even just hung out by himself. Steven’s levels of gullibility are, I guess, pretty exaggerated all around in this episode (including the initial ambush by the Onion Gang and the ketchup gag), and I haven’t been quite sure whether to take him as playing along with Onion or genuinely duped. Anyway.
Onion jumps through the screen door to give Steven the bug he was going to smash, which is the best Onion moment of the episode—a very weird, singular gesture of affection that still feels slightly unsettling. Steven returns to the glen, only to discover that the Onion Gang is packing up their suitcases of weird stuff, because they have to go back to school. (The class implications of people summering in Beach City while Steven and Onion are townies are low key kinda interesting, and would be cool for the show to explore at some point down the road.) And Steven tells Onion to, essentially, not cry because it’s over, smile because it happened. This is sweet enough, but it still feels a bit like a generic emotional lesson for Steven Universe, if perhaps a more relevant one for kids who are leaving summer camps.
Onion responds positively with a clear-cut display of love for Steven, which makes it clear that, contrary to his occasionally evil appearances, he’s a good kid. This is nice, but a little simple—it’s hard to read Onion as having gone through a character arc like Lars and Sadie’s, simply because his appearances are so bizarre (and he doesn’t talk or express his feelings much, even physically). Oh well. I’m willing to hold out for the next great Onion episode to get even more of a sense for how he thinks, the way “Onion Friend” opened up more of his psyche. Until then, this episode is a fun way station on the way to the next layer of Onion.
- This is the second episode in a row to open with lots of jumping in the temple.
- Steven and Onion run past Onion’s house, where Vidalia is making a lascivious portrait of Yellowtail.
- Of course Steven assumes Pinto has healing powers, rather than just realizing Garbanzo poured ketchup on his face.
- Steven’s idea of being an adult: Buy a car, stay in a fancy hotel… vote?
- How many times has Steven said “I… I can’t do it”?
- And that’s the real end of the Summer Of Steven. We’re on hiatus for the foreseeable future now, so I’ll try to spend a bit more time than usual reading/hopefully responding to comments while we all collectively catch our breath. Aw, buddy! I’m sure the show will be back soon. Maybe.