STEVEN UNIVERSE Recap: “An Indirect Kiss”
If you’ve been watching Adventure Time for a few seasons, you may remember the episodes Steven Universe creator and showrunner Rebecca Sugar storyboarded/wrote (it’s a board-driven show, like most of Cartoon Network’s current successful toons). Episodes like “Incendium”, “What Was Missing”, “Burning Low”, and a true series highlight “Jake The Dog” (seriously, the “Finn The Human/Jake The Dog” half hour special is incredible, and if you haven’t seen it and have even a passing interest in the show, give it a run) were some of the series’ best. Sugar gave these characters true development through really emotional situations. In some of the episodes, too, her style bleeds through in the faces and expressions the characters have that convey emotion better than anyone would expect from such simple designs.
Thus far in her current project, Steven Universe, we haven’t seen a ton of the emotional territory that stuff Sugar is involved in can bring us into. There’s been some– most things that have to do with Rose Quartz, Steven’s mother, can get there. Character development for Steven himself has been, well, there, but it hasn’t been drastic. Until now. Now is “An Indirect Kiss”. Now we know something Steven might have thanks to his (well, his mother’s) gem that isn’t fleeting and pretty much accidental (like his rapid aging, or his cat fingers).
The episode has Steven hanging out with once big-bubble-mate and friend Connie on a picnic. Steven is depressed, Connie is curious as to why– and also curious as to why there’s a fence around the lighthouse now, so Steven breaks into his story. Amethyst, playing on that same cliff the picnic is happening on, accidentally falls down immediately after assuring Steven that she won’t because the part of the cliff she’s on breaks off. As a result of the fall, her gem is cracked.
Now, if you watch the show, you should be aware, but if you’re not someone who watches regularly or doesn’t pay enough attention, the Crystal Gems– Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl, at least– aren’t human. The human bodies they have are essentially illusions, vessels that house their gems and allow them to exist with Steven and do the few missions and jobs they do to keep order in the universe and for other gems everywhere. So if a gem breaks, the entity held within the gem– in this case, Amethyst– also breaks. The fall and crack does a lot of damage to Amethyst, morphing her human body in a variety of ways. At first, when Pearl and Garnet rush over to see if everyone’s okay (and when Pearl decides the cliff needs a fence to prevent this from happening– solving one of Connie’s mysteries at the picnic), Amethyst’s eye has become all bulged and googly. She thinks it’s cool. It’s not.
Pearl and Garnet explain that Steven’s mother, the legendary gem Rose Quartz was a woman who cared deeply for those around her, and so when those people were hurt, she felt real pain. Rose’s tears were healing, so whenever someone she loved was in pain, she wept, and that person would be healed. Steven, now housing his mother’s gem, should, by association, have this power as well, and so to heal Amethyst, he begins his mission to cry onto her gem and make everything okay. But, after a failed attempt (which includes a really good magical girl transformation-esque sight gag), there’s doubt that Steven could do what his mother could so the decision is made to take Amethyst to a spring that flowed with Rose’s healing tears.
Once the group arrives at the spring to find the fountain that had the tears flowing through it, all they find is overgrown brambles everywhere. After breaking through the bramble patches, and seeing Amethyst’s body morph even more– her speech is now in reverse and her foot is where her head should be (and vice-versa)– the fountain is found, but there’s an issue: it’s bone dry. Garnet and Pearl run off to find the issue while Steven is frustrated by his inability to cry.
There’s an incredibly touching moment here as Steven hangs around the fountain which is covered in statues of his mother, and he mourns her as best he can, having never met her. He expresses how he wish he had, because then the place they were in would make him sad, and then he would cry. And then I almost cried. This is gold– this is something shows should strive to do, creating an emotional element so you feel something because of and for a character. Television should make you feel sometimes. This is brilliant stuff.
After we see Connie crying, and sharing in how we all feel after Steven’s mournful speech, the brambles wake up and try to attack the two. Amethyst’s body is wrangled in thorns and Steven tries his best to rescue her from them. It’s futile, and the two end up in the fountain. Amethyst’s body is sprawled everywhere, and Steven holds what he can, beginning to finally cry as he finds that he won’t be able to save her and that he’s about to lose someone so close to him (the backwards-sounding “haha, you care about me!” that Amethyst utters here is a nice touch for her character and to show the dire circumstances– she’s dying, but she’s still keeping that tough, super cool front she always has). Steven’s tear drops onto the gem and… does nothing.
Just then, the fountain bursts and flows full of healing water, saving Amethyst at the last minute. Steven is convinced his tears had to have something to do with it, but Garnet and Pearl explain it was all them (although, this is Steven’s memory, so they’re a little meaner than they most likely actually were about it).
Back to the picnic, and Connie offers Steven his backwash-filled durian juice box back (who the heck makes durian juice boxes?) that he traded for a chance to wear her glasses and tell the story, but he refuses, feeling pretty down. He’s convinced that this means he’s powerless, that his gem means nothing, and that because of it, he’ll have to stop hanging out with Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl– something he dreads. He cries. She takes a sip, and something weird happens.
This part gets me so excited about this show. So excited. You have no idea.
The juice box has Steven’s backwash in it, and Connie, ingesting some of that– hey, this is where the episode title comes in, by the way!– starts to complain of a headache, assuming her glasses just need adjusting and that she needs a trip to the optometrist. She takes them off to a shock– she can see. She has sight that she had not had before. Steven’s spit did this.
Steven has a power.
This is massive. The show has had the gem give Steven powers in the past but they’re gone at the end of the episode. This is the end of the episode– and he just got it. This has to be something that he just has, and will have, and that’s why it’s huge– we finally see that Steven’s gem is there for a reason outside of just it being his mom’s. It gives him power. He cares so much about those around him, and finally, he can do something to help them if they need it. This opens up a whole new can of worms. What else can the gem do that Steven hasn’t unearthed yet, that can remain with him? What will Connie tell her optometrist? What next?
This ended up being one of the best episodes of the show so far. It brings us into territory the show hasn’t truly explored yet, and it made you feel about these characters. The show’s usual humor is there (especially in Steven’s recollection of Pearl and Garnet’s telling him that he didn’t save Amethyst and the magical girl gag) but it’s a bit heavier. It’s something I feel like shows like this must do more often. Make your audience feel about your characters and they’ll keep coming back.
Also? I love Connie. She was great in “Bubble Buddies” and great here and I hope she’s around more often. Steven needs someone cool to hang out with that’s his age (and someone who can stick around and adventure with him). She seems to fill the role perfectly.
I also love that the Lion was not a one-off thing, by the way. Lion is great.
The show’s next episode is going to be the show’s first half-hour special and the promo looks like the episode is going to be full of more of this kinda stuff— earth-shattering reveals and new stuff that’ll change everything from now on.
The show has finally gone somewhere I had always known and hoped it would go, being a huge fan of Rebecca Sugar’s Adventure Time episodes and what those did with those characters. If this is a look at what the show is going to be doing from now on, the future is oh so bright for Steven Universe and if you’re not watching, what are you doing? Watch this show.