Sometimes, when watching Steven Universe, I get the impression that Rebecca Sugar’s animated series operates on a strict balance of joy and angst. For every character high there is a bittersweet moment reminding us that life’s never quite perfect. After a week of romance and (somewhat) anxiety-free antics during this week’s “Heart of the Crystal Gems” arc, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop in the arc’s finale “Reunited.”
The shoe dropped — but not quite how one might expect. What matters is that “Reunited” was one Steven Universe’s best episodes to date, and while it certainly answered some questions, it still leaves some unanswered.
[Warning: Major spoilers for Steven Universe’s “Heart of the Crystal Gems” arc ahead.]
The episode opens with a musical number that intertwines euphoria and anxiety as the Crystal Gems prepare for Ruby and Sapphire’s wedding. While Bismuth polishes her suit of armor and Ruby and Sapphire hide from each others’ eyes prior to the ceremony, Steven and Pearl fret about the elephant in the room — despite the celebration, it still really hasn’t sunk in that Rose Quartz was Pink Diamond.
The ceremony goes off without a hitch: Peridot is a dutiful flower girl, dispersing petals to Greg’s beautiful guitar arrangement of “Stronger Than You,” Garnet’s empowering love anthem. With Steven officiating and all of Beach City in attendance, Ruby and Sapphire exchange their vows, reinforcing their mutual commitment to each other and desire to exist together as Garnet. The dialogue is earnest and beautiful, and at the reception Steven can’t keep his eyes dry.
Unfortunately, instead of earnest tears they’re a signal that not only Blue Diamond’s weepy aura, but Yellow Diamond annihilating instincts, are near as well. The two godlike beings attack the beachside party, but this time the Crystal Gems aren’t their target — it’s The Cluster, the conglomeration of gem shards forced together by the Diamonds. Blue and Yellow intend the intend to break through the Earth’s crust and use The Cluster as a Gem weapon, destroying the Earth in the process. Steven isn’t able to keep The Cluster calm this time, but when its sinewy arm breaks through the surface, the Diamonds that are ready to square off against.
It’s almost impossible to not get “The Return/Jailbreak” (in which the Crystal Gems are captured and Garnet is revealed to be a fusion) vibes during the beach-set fight between the Crystal Gems and Blue Diamond, which finds the Cluster dealing with Yellow Diamond in the background. The big difference is which Crystal Gems are around to fight. This is a team. This is a family. And this is a different Steven — a guy who finally has a clear grasp on who he is and who he’s fighting for.
The climactic moment of the episode is a beautiful sequence that exists within a sort of captive dreamscape — while Steven is able to separate from his physical body, Connie and the rest of the Gems are trapped figuratively (and perhaps literally) within their heads, consumed by thoughts of protecting themselves and their friends. As Steven passes through them on his way to reach the Diamonds and reveal Pink Diamond’s true fate, their tune changes: particularly moving is Pearl’s driven, “I do it for her, I do it for him, I do it for me!”
Eventually, Steven gets through to the Diamonds. Finally, everyone knows that Pink Diamond wasn’t shattered, including those who mourned her the most. With his friends, family, and the Diamonds carefully watching over him, the secret is finally out.
With Blue and Yellow Diamond at least momentarily halting their assaults on the Crystal Gems, the end of the episode felt like a breath of fresh air. The worst happened, but… things are okay, at least for now.
The preview that followed the episode hinted at what’s to come, and at the very least, Blue and Yellow learn more about the ramifications of their colonial actions on the planet, and the heartfelt intentions of Rose’s Rebellion.
Just because the current Big Bads of the series have been momentarily placated doesn’t mean that things will slow down in Steven Universe. There are still loose ends that need tying: we still haven’t met White Diamond, and Lars and the Off Color Gems are still in space (presumably acting as the gem corollary of the Guardians of the Galaxy en route to Earth).
But for now, Steven Universe has pushed through one of his most difficult revelations to get to the core of the show itself: healing, wellness, and growth. While explaining years of trauma to the Diamonds won’t be simple, it feels as if this arc’s finale brought us back to a place where Steven has come to terms with his mother’s identity alongside the rest of the Crystal Gems.
The episode itself is healing: watching all of Beach City from Garnet to Mayor Dewey to Jamie the Mailman simply be joyful at Garnet’s wedding perfectly epitomizes the fact that the series itself is made of love No matter what comes next, Steven and the Crystal Gems are going to be just fine.