Ahh, you guys, look at that awesome new title sequence! I know a couple of people predicted that there would be a new version of the theme song now that all of the Gems had changed their appearance—hats off to you. This is a little sad, but seeing the new theme for the first time might have been the single most ecstatic moment I’ve had in a long time (my roommates, watching the show with me for the first time, were amused). It encapsulates one of the best things about Steven Universe—the way the show is willing to evolve as it progresses, willing to comment on and wink at its own history and finding fun and seriousness in itself at the same time.
It’s also packed with lots of great new touches for the characters, and for the people of Beach City. (Greg’s new electric guitar!) One of those details? Connie, rather than carrying a book, bespectacled and confused by Greg’s van, is holding a giant freaking sword. (I mean, the thing is basically at Cloud Strife proportions.) Which is a nice in-roads to sharing the jam snack that is “Sworn To The Sword”—which, if it’s not the best episode of Steven Universe, is at least pretty damned close.
So much of this episode is about fleshing out little details about Connie—the way she raises her hand before pleading to Pearl to teach her (in a relatively long, motionless shot for this show) before we cut back to Pearl’s watering, excited eyes, her excitement at warping, the fact that she’s the one who challenges Steven to race to the sky arena. And it all stems from Connie trying to protect her friend’s jam snack.
Connie’s passion for sword-fighting could have seemed like an arbitrary way to shoehorn in this plot/bring back holo-Pearl (from the first episode of this show I ever wrote about) while also giving the other important full-fledged human a relationship with the Gems that isn’t quite mediated by Steven’s presence (quite the opposite), but it’s seamlessly integrated into her character with just two lines of dialogue calling back to her love of fantasy. Of course Connie would love to learn how to use a sword—what nerdy kid wouldn’t? Steven makes the same connection we do instantly, allowing for a very funny shot of his starry eyes opening. “Steven has an idea!”
And what an idea it is. One of the brilliant things about this episode is that it takes the kernel of a relatively standard story—a supernatural hero’s human significant other (for all intents and purposes, that’s what Connie is) gets shunted to the side in battle, treated as a Faberge egg requiring protection. That Steven is the one thought to be too valuable for battle makes a lot of sense, but the quick shot of a distorted, hologram Connie putting her life on the line for Steven in the same way is scary—she doesn’t get to reform the way Amethyst did the last episode! Steven doesn’t want Connie not to fight, though. He just wants to be on her team.
Steven’s discomfort is all about the way Pearl asks Connie to relate to him, changing Steven from an equal to a liege. ”Do it for him,” Pearl urges—and Connie repeats after her, ending the song with “I’ll do it for him” instead of “I’ll do it for you.” In this respect, “Sworn To The Sword” draws on not only Connie’s anxieties about being a human caught up in crazy Gem stuff, but also her friendship with and feelings for Steven and her general nerdiness. In the process, we see a rare instance in which the show’s general ethic of caring for others might go too far, captured in what might be the single best song on the show to date.
I’ve come close to tearing up every single time I’ve watched “Do It For Him” to date (at least 20 if I’m being honest with myself, though probably more). Many of Steven Universe’s fully integrated pieces of music have a sort of uplifting determination to them, showcasing several characters committed to a cause or activity (“Stronger Than You,” “Strong In The Real Way,” “Have A Little Faith In Me”), and “Do It For Him” brings that to its emotional peak. We’re watching Connie more fully integrate herself into the ensemble, acquiring a skill that will allow her to participate in many of the action sequences (how excited are you to see her swing that giant sword from the new credits?), and naturally extending the commitment she makes to having Steven be a part of her life at the end of “Full Disclosure.”
There is so much going on during “Do It For Him” that it’s almost staggering. Of course, time is passing, and Connie is learning how to sword fight—getting noticeably better (but also pretty beat up) in the process, visually demonstrating the kinds of sacrifices she’ll have to make in order to become an effective warrior. We see a projection of a scene that may or may not have happened during the actual original Gem wars, as Pearl fights off a combatant (credited solely as “Gem Warrior”) who looks a bit like Jasper. And Pearl is inadvertently revealing why she took on Connie as a student, and why she breaks down at the end of the episode—she’s trying to give Connie the same all-consuming passion she had for Rose Quartz.
It’s easy to see why Pearl and Connie found each other, forming a relationship that does appear to be genuinely independent of Steven in some respects, and will hopefully continue to be so in the future. When Pearl outlines her notion of respect, status, and authority—embodied in the concept of a knight, “completely dedicated to a person and a cause”—we understand even more how adrift Pearl is. She muses to herself that she was only a few thousand years old when she began fighting with Rose, a woman we increasingly gather she loved. What’s 10 years in the wake of a relationship that powerful, for a person that old? Rebuilding those bonds takes time.
If there’s a weak point to this episode, it’s that we already have a pretty good idea of Pearl’s feelings for Rose (but more on that later this week). Still, Pearl is communicating an ethos here, a way of living that unifies a lot of what we’ve seen from the character rather than merely providing new information. Discovering the human concept of a knight, with its attendant ideal of devotion and commitment, allowed Pearl to give words to her feelings for Rose, and how she felt compelled to act in her service. Grace Rolek expresses that same commitment as Connie, brings herself to the top tier of the voice cast as she sings her heart out and negotiates the boundaries of Connie’s friendship with Steven.
There’s a tangible benefit to that expression and communication when they fight off the holo-Pearls, showing that only is Steven is capable of effortlessly using his shield (thanks Uncle Grandpa!), he and Connie prove themselves an adept fighting team, destroying several enemies and even surprising Pearl, who realizes that their bond, like her bond with Rose, will actually allow them to be stronger in tandem.
None of that, thankfully, means this episode isn’t funny. Pearl’s face when Steven and Connie proudly declare themselves to be jam buds continues effective Pearl distortion. (Also noted in Steven Universe humor: “Garnet, master of comedy.”) And“Do It For Him” cuts to a gloriously over-the-top moment of Steven reading a book called How To Talk To People, which apparently only has two directions. Step One: Think of what you want to say. Step Two: Say it. If that continues to be the lesson of Steven Universe, these crazy kids might just be okay.
- There are so many details during “Do It For Him” that it’d be hard to nail down all of the interesting ones, but here are two: When Connie enters the house for the second day of training, there’s a book on the table called Get Fit. And of course Steven brings out juice and orange slices. He’s so maternal!
- Steven can effortlessly use his shield, confirmed not only in the new opening titles, but also in a stunning moment in the heat of (fake) battle.
- We’re going to see the mid-air and underwater dueling exercises, right? It sounds like oodles of fun.
- What do we think Connie told her parents she was doing?
- Welcome back to Steven Universe coverage, just in time for another Steven Bomb. I have one last question: Won’t you share this jam with me?