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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Steven Universe: “We Need To Talk”

Illustration for article titled iSteven Universe/i: “We Need To Talk”
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Someone in the comments yesterday suggested that the theme of this season was shaping up to be the nature of fusion and what happens when the process is abused. I think it might be a little premature to argue that’s the concrete, main theme of the season—fusion has been an increasingly visible part of the show, woven into its texture along with, say, Pearl’s instability and Connie’s desire to be part of Steven’s world. But it is, for sure, a major undercurrent of the episodes airing this week. Where yesterday’s episode provides an extremely concrete look at fusion gone wrong, “We Need To Talk” pokes at the limitations of the process and asks if, in at least some cases, it might not be the most important thing at all.

We start out with a very sweet little scene of Steven, Connie, and Greg having a jam session while sorting through Greg’s record collection (a place I would really love to spend some time). While dancing to The Philosophy Majors (my new favorite fictional band ever), Steven and Connie accidentally fuse, leaving Greg agape at a quickly deformed Stevonnie. As much as the rest of the episode is about Greg, let’s take a second and appreciate how sweet this moment is—pretty much any time Steven and Connie dance, sing, or play music, it will be beautiful, something Greg seems to understand at least as well as we do. He responds to this apparently impossible thing pretty well, by telling Steven and Connie the story of the time he tried to fuse with Rose. Flashback time!


The bulk of “We Need To Talk” is pretty simple. During a shoot for a music video (which is pretty great, because it lets us see the beginnings of the Gems as a band, and also Rose sings), Pearl convinces Rose to fuse with her, ostensibly to add something special to the video, but really to rub in Greg’s face that he’s incapable of fusion. After some consternation and a pep talk from Garnet, Greg tries to fuse with Rose and instead has an emotionally intimate, vulnerable conversation with her. That’s it.

Accordingly, “We Need To Talk” lives in the little moments between the characters—between Greg and Garnet, Greg and Amethyst, and especially Greg and Rose. His history with each of the Gems is complicated, but wasn’t as much so when he was just a young musician in love with the large, otherworldly woman living on the beach. Tom Scharpling brings a renewed earnestness to Greg here, as he gives Amethyst a bag of pop rocks for her to chew on in exchange for playing drums and practically begs Garnet to teach him how to fuse.


The flashback episodes so far are framed as stories told by Greg, something that explains their relative simplicity and allows for some slight exaggerations to the characters, as well as longer looks at their earlier designs (Garnet’s, in particular, is amazing). In the same way that Greg’s old friend probably wasn’t quite such a jerk—falling victim to the exaggerations of memory—the Gems here are embodying archetypal roles in ways we haven’t seen in a while, allowing us to ask questions about the way he perceives them. Was Rose this condescending toward humans? (More on this in a second.) Was Amethyst so close to being a feral child? (Actually pretty easy to believe.) More importantly—was Pearl really so mean to him?

In case it wasn’t obvious that Pearl was—and might still be—in love with Rose, “We Need To Talk” makes it unbelievably explicit, as Pearl aggressively dances to fuse with Rose into Rainbow Quartz, mocks Greg for not being able to fuse with Rose in a way that’s reminiscent of nothing so much as an ’80s teen movie, and literally drops the mic on him. (What do you guys think of Rainbow Quartz? Her design is cool, and the placement of her extra eyes is a little reminiscent of Malachite, but on the whole she just… kinda looks like a bigger version of Pearl with some of Rose’s coloring?) Pearl is clearly deeply possessive, something that comes across as a little childish here, and borderline unhinged everywhere else. My assumption is that there’s more we’re not seeing here, something Rose did for Pearl that explains the other Gem’s undying affection—but until we see it, it’ll be tougher and tougher for the show to expect us to be just fine with it continuing to hit the same Pearl beats. (Coincidentally, Pearl Beats is the name of my new DJ program.)


On the other hand, it’s a little shocking, and honestly kind of great, to start to see ways that Rose was just as flawed as any of the other characters on the show—or at least had the same capacity to hurt people by accident. Greg is absolutely right to be concerned that she doesn’t take him seriously. Certainly, even over a decade later, the other Gems haven’t gotten over the fact that they don’t consider humans worthy of serious consideration. Rose clearly sees humans as ephemeral toys, objects of amusement that will wither and die in the blink of an eye before. Rose loves humans: they’re all so funny! This might be a sensible attitude for a very old, powerful Gem to have, but you can see why Greg is hurt.

So their conversation, in which they get closer to actually working through this issue together, is some pretty powerful stuff. It suggests that the most important thing isn’t even that Greg and Rose are compatible, or that they get where the other is coming from. Instead, the important thing is just “talking,” namely being willing to believe that each partner is acting in good faith and wants to understand what the other wants. Without that foundation of trust, healthy relationships of any type are bound to turn rotten, but with it, Greg and Rose start a relationship that finds the most powerful type of consummation imaginable: Steven.


This episode doesn’t add much new information for the viewers (other than the glimpse of Rainbow Quartz, which is not as big of a deal for me as I imagine it is for some of you), but it does allow Greg to become aware that Steven can fuse with human beings,and establish an important connection with Connie. This, maybe even more than “Sword To The Sword,” confirms that Connie is just as important as Greg to the show now, which is pretty damn important. None of us know the future (except Garnet), but I imagine that, while a lot of “We Need To Talk” is slight, that connection will be very, very fruitful down the road.

Stray observations:

  • Some other great little touches from this episode: Greg’s Marx Brothers reference, Rose’s oblivious answer of “Just ask Garnet” when Greg questions their future, Garnet throwing the stick to get rid of Amethyst.
  • My favorite moment in this episode, though, is the way one of Rainbow Quartz’s two sets of eyes appears to still be smirking the way Pearl was.
  • “Fusion is the ultimate connection between Gems.” This is a philosophical difference between the Crystal Gems and home world, right?
  • “Aw, geez, what am I doing? These things are expensive.” Poor mics.
  • Greg, asking about fusion and his body turning into light: “Metaphorically?” Garnet “Literally.”
  • Best line readings of the episode: Garnet, “Yes it did.” Pearl, “I think he’s her favorite, too.”
  • “I barely know you.” “That’s a good thing.” This is pretty strong fodder for people who have been predicting that Rose was really important in Gem hierarchy, and maybe did some pretty bad things before she decided to abandon Gem-kind for Earth.

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