One of the things that separates Steven Universe from most other mythology-rich shows is a degree of direction and purpose. There’s never been an element of the Gems’ backstory or wider world that felt like it was written on the fly, or shoehorned in to retcon an accidental discrepancy. Instead, Steven Universe has steadily maintained the sense of a larger, consistent story unfolding just out of view. So after four years of hinting at the culture of Home World, the history of the Gems, and the complex relationship between Rose Quartz and Pink Diamond, our first, intense glimpse of Home World isn’t just escalation—it’s where the show wanted to go all along. In Wanted, Steven finally sees where he came from, and the result is dazzling.
From a plot perspective, the most surprising part of Wanted is the creation of a real central mystery: Who killed Pink Diamond? Steven stands trial for the murder, defended by a put-upon Zircon (voiced by Amy Sedaris). Almost by accident, Zircon unravels several holes in Home World’s version of events, suggesting that the crime might have been committed by someone else—someone like one of the Diamonds. The suggestion that there’s more to the story (and that uncovering the truth could help heal the rift between the Crystal Gems and Home World) is ingenious, and way better than treating Pink Diamond’s shattering than as something everyone just refuses to talk to Steven about. Though Yellow is the obvious suspect, Rebecca Sugar has described the upcoming Steven Universe arc as a murder mystery—so we still likely have a ways to go before finding out who did it and why.
Home World itself is full of stunning visuals, like a brief aerial view of what seems like a Gem megacity (including what appears to be the giant silhouette of White Diamond), the massive, sprawling underground Kindergarten, Steven’s neon pink, almost non-spatial holding cell (which is the “Hotline Bling” video, sorry), and, of course, the imposing sight of Steven dwarfed by Yellow and Blue Diamond, caught up in something he doesn’t quite understand. Nearly all of this imagery builds on what we’ve inferred about Gem culture until now—the emphasis on technological progress, the parasitism, the endless complexity—and while it’s a bit different from my imagined Home World looking like, it’s perfect.
If there’s a weak point here, it’s the introduction of the “off color” Gems, Home World’s very own Island Of Misfit Toys. Of course Steven would somehow befriend the only friendly Gems on Home World, but they feel a bit too flat to really register as characters in this brief appearance. Still, there’s reason to be optimistic about them as recurring players, especially Fluorite, an enormous, grandmotherly, caterpillar-like fusion of six different Gems. (Paparadscha, a Sapphire variant who only predicts things that just happened, feels almost satirically one-note. Still, if we know anything about this show, it’s that every character has some surprising depth we just haven’t reached yet.) Though “Off Colors” is a bit of a slower episode until the final action sequence, it’s still necessary to set up the stakes of Lars’ sacrifice.
Lars, Lars, Lars. Did anyone else see this coming? Wanted’s opener “Stuck Together” is a minor comic masterpiece, tracking the near-futility in Steven trying to get Lars to do anything, let alone take his pants off as a way of lassoing a destabilizer. (It also introduces Martha Higareda’s phenomenal, hilarious performance as Topaz, who is silent primarily because she doesn’t know how to express her emotions.) Lars confesses that he had already ditched his ube roll before getting kidnapped, because he was afraid to let everyone see how much he cared . Eventually, Steven manages to get through Lars, by letting him admit his fear—who wouldn’t be?—and just push through it, together.
This all culminates a genuinely shocking sequence: Lars blowing up a robinoid, only to be flung against a rock, hard. He’s injured enough to be, as he puts it, “away from life.” And after Steven heals him, his slow pulse and seemingly magically preserved body seem to pretty clearly confirm that, even if Lars isn’t quite a zombie, he’s something pretty close. It’s stunning that the Steven Universe team got away with depicting this in so much detail—what’s the last death you can remember in a kids’ show or movie that was this explicit?
“Lars’ Head,” the last episode of Wanted, has one of the best storytelling twists Steven Universe has pulled off since “Jail Break.” It turns out that Rose reviving dead organic beings is the process that created Lion—meaning Steven can now access Rose’s pocket dimension through Lars’ head, turning him into a conduit between Home World and Earth. (Also, his fresh pink look is incredibly badass, complete with facial scar and ripped clothing.) But he has to stay on Home World, lightyears away from his family, friends, and Sadie. His newfound resolve is effective, and poignant—take in the care with which he’s drawn pushing aside Steven’s hand only to draw him close in a hug, or the way he kneels down to let Steven through like some sort of Arthurian knight. (Matthew Moy is really fantastic.)
By the end of Wanted, the Steven Universe status quo has been totally upended. Home World is firmly in play as a setting, the story behind Pink Diamond’s shattering has been blown up, and Lars is firmly in place as the most Gem-embroiled human this side of Connie. More important, Sugar and the rest of the crew have brought down the hammer (or breaking point, as the case may be), with Lars’ real, serious death adding a sense of consequence that has been a bit lacking over the last couple of seasons. When Greg was kidnapped by Blue Diamond, it didn’t feel like there was any chance Steven wouldn’t get him back. Now, who knows? For the first time in a while, there’s no way to know what’s going to happen on Steven Universe—and it’s thrilling.