It feels like it's been forever since we were treated to a new episode of Steven Universe — and the first half of tonight's double premieres, "Super Watermelon Island," doesn't quite feel like the return we were expecting.
Things get real, real weird in "Super Watermelon Island"
Instead of a reunion with Steven, Peridot and the rest of the Crystal Gems, we're dropped right onto Mask Island, where some silent anthropomorphic watermelons go about their day-to-day. (You may remember them from "Watermelon Steven," an episode from way back in season one.)
There's some other weirdness at play here in this opening scene, too: The watermelons participate in some odd rituals, like bowing to a statue of their god and leading their chosen one directly to a cliff ... where he's met by Malachite.
Yes, Malachite is still alive, something that Steven reveals after waking up from his dream. In a way, that's good news: The Gems have been looking for her — mostly to save Lapis Lazuli, the nicer half of the fusion — since she sank to the bottom of the ocean in "Jail Break."
But it mostly means that there's a fight ahead, because Malachite is bad news. Garnet, Pearl and Amethyst immediately prepare to take her on; she's super dangerous, after all. It's definitely not a good idea for her to be running around, wreaking havoc on Earth.
"Steven, it's too dangerous for you," Garnet says before leading the team to Mask Island. This isn't the first time we or Steven have heard those words from his fellow Gems, but it's especially hard to accept this time. Steven was the one who discovered that Malachite was back, after all.
All of this leads to the big centerpiece of "Super Watermelon Island," a fight between Malachite and Alexandrite. Steven Universe's action scenes are always fun to watch thanks to how balletic they are; there's a certain musical quality to how the gems exchange blows. It helps that they have to dance to get into formation.
Steven Universe's fight scenes are musical, even without music
There's no song to go along with the battle, sadly, but at least we get to see Lapis Lazuli again. Just like Malachite, the poor, martyred gem wasn't really dead after all. Can't quite say the same for Jasper, though.
For those less into Steven Universe for the action and more here for the heart, the first part of the half hour has some of that too; Steven's Watermelon self (please explain this to me if you get it because, uh, I really don't) leads his fellow melonheads into battle. Yeah, it leads to a bunch of their deaths, but Steven gets to play a hero for a hot second, just like he wanted.
"Gem Drill" is a lovely little road trip — to meet the Cluster
But Steven really gets to prove himself in part two, "Gem Drill." It's a stronger episode in part because of the focus on Steven — on top of being the the show's star, he's its most constantly changing character — but also because we get some great moments with Peridot, our newest Crystal Gem, as well.
The previous set of new episodes, which aired last fall, gave Peridot a heartfelt arc as she grew closer to the earthbound Crystal Gems. Now that she's been brought into the fold, she allows herself to get even more vulnerable. The senior Crystal Gems deem the Cluster the real enemy after a crack in the earth ends their battle with Malachite, and Peridot casually switches between neurotic know-it-all and Steven's protective caretaker as they team up to take it on.
Teaming up brings them closer together — literally. The pair plunges underground inside of Peridot's cramped drill, a journey scored by some god-awful road trip jams.
Like any good road trip, Steven and Peridot get to know each other way better during their dive down to face the Cluster.
"What was it like?" Steven asks Peridot about being born on the faraway Homeworld.
"I didn't exist," Peridot answers, "and then I did." Typical for the Peridot of old — but a new Steven Universe arc means character development! She continues, in depth, admitting she still has "feelings" for the place she left behind in favor of Earth. Vague though that may be, it's a major breakthrough for a character who used to scream all of her lines.
Peridot opens up, and it's great
For the softhearted: Make sure you have tissues ready when Peridot admits that the Crystal Gems have taken the place of anything she might miss on Homeworld. Aww. (And hold onto some more for a little later on, when Steven tells her he loves her.)
This little heart-to-heart might be the episode's first great moment, but things get intense fast. Once the drill hits the Cluster, Steven gets his time to shine. Both episodes demonstrate his knack for communicating with the most taciturn of animate objects — as well as his extreme levels of empathy for them. Peridot tries to penetrate the Cluster to get rid of them, but Steven's physical reaction suggests he's connected to the Gems' enemies in some unbreakable way.
That bond, whatever it really means about Steven's connection to these ultra dangerous gems, helps him take down the Cluster without killing them off; he talks to the Cluster's shards and gets them to bond with each other instead of destroying Earth. (As in the previous episode, Steven's dream state plays a huge role in solving the problem.)
Steven is full of secrets
It's nice when a cartoon doesn't shy away from the realities of fighting and violence and whatnot, but it's also nice when one of its stories highlights the fact that destroying your enemies isn't always the answer.
"Did you destroy the Cluster?" asks an anxious Pearl when Peridot and Steven re-emerge from miles below ground.
Steven's even-keeled response: "No, I talked to it!" May he stay young and innocent forever, please.
Now that the Cluster has been taken care of, though, it's hard to predict what's next for the series. With three more episodes to go, anything can happen: We could see more from Lapis Lazuli, or find out what happened to Jasper; we could also, I don't know, get another Beach City mystery-solving filler episode starring Ronaldo. It'd be nice to watch some lower-intensity stories after these plot-driven, setpiece-filled premieres, though.
There are two important things on my wishlist for the rest of this month's "Steven Bomb": a dope song to rival "Peace and Love on the Planet Earth" and more hangs with Peridot. She is officially the best Gem, give or take an Amethyst. (Feel free to pick a fight with me in the comments about this. I can take you.)
- Seriously, Peridot went from grating to endearing at record speed. Bless that tiny green fireball for bringing the heart and the hilarity every time.
- I'm super intrigued by how much Steven is growing, demonstrating new powers and whatnot. I love a cartoon with continuity.
- As much as I love spending so much time with Steven and the Gems, I really do miss the side characters. Here's one more thing for the wishlist: that next week's new episode really does deviate from the central storyline; I could use the breather and am dying to check-in with some of my other Beach City faves.