STEVEN UNIVERSE Recap: “Mirror Gem/Ocean Gem”
Last week’s episode of Steven Universe, “An Indirect Kiss,” was my favorite episode of the show to date, and that was a title that the episode kept for a week, because it got one-upped.
“An Indirect Kiss” was important. It set up that Steven had healing spit. It set up that Connie no longer needed her glasses thanks to said healing spit, and it set up that the show could hit you hard, right there in the gut, if it really had to.
“Mirror Gem” and “Ocean Gem,” the show’s first-ever half-hour special (a running time saved for really big episodes nowadays on the quarter-hour-heavy Cartoon Network), is more important in that it ruled. Steven’s spit is back, Steven’s gem is doing things again, Purple Puma makes an appearance, and there’s another gem! Where “An Indirect Kiss” broke the show’s boundaries and gave you an emotional ride while you watched Steven struggle with his own perceived uselessness (which would later be rendered false) and wonder how things would be different if he really did ever know his mom, “Mirror Gem/Ocean Gem” establishes that the show can totally make some really cool dramatic scenes, and cool big battle scenes.
We begin as Steven finds out through Connie for the first time about summer vacation, because he’s also just now finding out about school, two things he’s never experienced before in his life. And, so, with Pearl’s help, he haphazardly begins building up his own school so he can, when the time comes, also go on summer vacation. The two build up some desks, chalkboards, anatomy models, lockers, televisions, microscopes, and what have you– but, of course, having never been to one, Steven has absolutely no clue how school actually works. He’s disappointed that, since school is a mystery to both him and Pearl, no one will be able to “teach little Stevie now.” But, you know Pearl, and you know that if she can teach Steven anything, she’s sure as hell jumping on that chance.
Pearl summons a gem-powered mirror that the Crystal Gems found some time back at the Galaxy Warp. The mirror can view and capture essentially anything throughout Gem history and play it back to the viewer to help better understand it all, or so she claims. It doesn’t actually work, though. The gem on the back is cracked, and nothing is playing, so, Pearl calls off school and an excited Steven begins his “summer vacation.” Taking a run through Beach City, he runs into Lars, Sadie, and Mayor Dewey– and eventually, suddenly, the mirror kicks in and tells Steven to watch out for the Mayor’s truck by replaying something Lars had said earlier. The mirror does work, and it’s recording things Steven says and does as well as the same for people he meets along the way (including a fart noise from Steven that helps mess with the Mayor’s speech). It uses those recordings to talk to Steven, even creating new sentences and reactions.
Excited about his new friend and new discovery, he rushes home to show the Gems, who are busy sitting around and messing with Pearl’s school-supply-symmetry. A note about this scene, because it’s pretty cool and it’s easy to notice when it begins: the colors are much, much darker here. When Steven enters the house, everyone seems to be just sitting in the dark, with no lights on, and there’s a dark, purple tint on everything. It’s a cue more than anything– it’s making sure you know: this isn’t gonna be a big ol’ happy scene. Something happens here. And it does, too, because this is where the episode takes a huge turn from “Steven messing with a cool magic mirror and making it into a fart machine-slash-best friend” to “Steven discovering that the mirror isn’t just a mirror and refusing to listen to his superiors when they probably know what’s best, and starting up some big stuff that could be bad for everyone.”
The mirror starts speaking to Steven– but only Steven. He tries to show the Gems how it talks, but it’s quiet until he speaks to it nicely, and turned away from Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. Once he explains that it’s “like a person,” the three are visibly terrified, and that’s only more pronounced when it actually starts speaking to Steven. That’s because, as Pearl says, it shouldn’t be able t0, it should just be taking orders. It’s an anomaly, and it needs to be fixed. This is a weird scene, because it puts the Gems in an odd light: when Garnet goes over to take the mirror, the mirror starts screaming (it had Steven yelling “nooo!” recorded from earlier), and you wouldn’t think something would be screaming at the good guys like that when it’s seemingly so innocent. There’s a bit of this in this episode– the Gems are supposed to be good, but there’s some questionable stuff revealed.
Steven refuses to give the mirror over to Garnet simply out of compassion. It’s screaming “no” as Garnet tries to take it, and he knows it doesn’t want to go with her, so he holds on, and eventually hits her, sending her glasses flying, revealing her three eyes as angry as you’ll ever see ’em.
He’s totally grounded.
Steven runs to the beach, away from the Gems, and asks the mirror how he can help it. It finally begins showing something original to Steven, something not made out of his own words, and it explains that he should rip the broken gem out of the back of the mirror. So he does. So he releases another gem.
Lapis Lazuli is released from her mirror prison by Steven, and is immediately shocked that he’s a Crystal Gem– because he helped her. He’s obviously confused, because to him, the Gems are good. They’re his guardians, after all. But they imprisoned her, never let her go, and never cared for who she once was, so when the show up, she attacks them and tries to get Steven to run away with her to freedom. He refuses, because he’s a child, who is confused and finding out right now that maybe, possibly, his mother’s comrades might not be the force for good he knew they were and she escapes, alone.
Let me take a second to tell the people in charge of music for this show that they are absolutely incredible. Aivi and Surasshu so some amazing things for this show and the music used for the scene where Lapis attacks the Gems is an amazing bit of chaotic distortion going into some piano keys and it’s wonderful.
This is also our bridge into “Ocean Gem” which opens up with the beach water literally just, gone. Poof. Disappeared. Mayor Dewey is distraught because this means no tourism, business owners as well because this means less business– the others are also distraught because their home is all messed up– and of course, he lays blame on the magic people.
Steven, taking the blame for releasing Lapis, decides to leave to go solve the problem he’s created, and he ends up with a crew to help him out. The Gems, Connie, Lion, and his father Greg all set out to find Lapis and get the water back. The Gems ride in Greg’s van, while the kids ride Lion (because what kid rides in a car when the other option is a damn lion?) through the barren, dry sea, in search of Lapis and their beach.
There’s an amazing gag here where Greg puts on some sort of punk music in the van because they need some tunes, and upon remarking that it was one of Rose’s favorites and asking Garnet what she thinks, she opens the door, falls out, and literally just rolls aside the car, stone-faced the whole time. This leads to her riding on the roof instead.
During a slow part of their trip, Steven muses that “gems shouldn’t fight each other” to which Pearl explains the truth– they only fight gems, really. Steven is taken aback by that, and Pearl explains that not all gems are good, some are faulty, damaged, dangerous to others, and it’s their job to capture and neutralize those who could and would harm the earth or other beings. This also kind of contributes to this new look at the Gems and how maybe they aren’t exactly the good guys here, but it does sort of lessen it from “not good people” to “good enough, but maybe they could handle things better.”
Here is where they stumble upon their beach water, made into a tower. Lapis is to blame, and she sees them and tells them to leave. They refuse, Steven asks to help her, and the show’s big battle begins. Garnet, Amethyst, Pearl, and Lion all fight water versions of themselves and Steven, who are all in some way stronger– either more powerful or with the ability to expand or duplicate because they’re made of liquid. This is an awesome battle, and makes me excited for any other big fights in the show, because it just feels big. They throw the powers around, and it makes for a lot of fun. Purple Puma makes a cameo as Amethyst tries to use that character of hers to fight water-Amethyst, but it doesn’t really pan out.
After Greg ends up hurt after helping Steven and Connie from being drowned by water-Steven, Steven takes initiative to stop this senseless violence. He tells Lapis he doesn’t want to fight, but she doesn’t back down, trying to attack him with his water doppelganger. It throws a water-ball at him, and he guards it when his gem wakes up and grows a big rose shield from his arm– powers! More powers! It’s seriously so exciting whenever this kid discovers more powers. I love this.
The shield does more than guard, and it emits vibrations that end up destroying all of the water doppelgangers. Steven requests audience with Lapis, and she brings him up her water tower into space where she explains what she’s doing. She’s been trapped for years, and all she wants is to go home. The Crystal Gems, to her, don’t care about other gems, but in turn, only care about the Earth. She just wants to leave, but they don’t care. Steven talks to her about home, and how he understands how important it is. That’s why he’s here, after all, she’s taken his away. There’s a level of understanding between the two, but she can’t give it back yet. She’s trying to use the water to get home, but she can’t stretch it far enough– if only her gem wasn’t cracked.
Steven remembers his newfound power and licks his hand, slapping spit on Lapis’ back and gem (there’s a really good reaction here from Lapis that’s animated really well and is pretty funny). It works, and her gem is fixed, she grows water wings, and can finally go home. She thanks Steven, and we find out she’s about as humorless as Pearl can be: “no prob, Bob!” “…it’s Lapis.”
She takes off for home, and the water tower begins to dismantle and fall into ocean again. Steven falls, but is saved by Lion and Connie on the way down and the entire rescue team heads for home. Greg’s van is in bad shape, and the open barren wastelands they drove through are ocean again, so we get a callback to “Bubble Buddies” when Steven uses his bubble power again to protect everyone from drowning as they get back to Beach City (more powers! Old powers! Yeah!).
Everyone gets their home back, and their tourism dollars back, and they love Steven and the Gems for it. Mayor Dewey gives Steven a hug. The Gems, though, are worried. Lapis made it home– what does that mean for them? They’ll have to wait and see.
The episode raises big questions. Are the Crystal Gems truly good? Lapis seems to have been neglected for years and years while they could have been helping her. It took pacifist Steven to help her out of her prison. The Gems never would’ve helped. Do they not care about their own kind and instead work as a policing force against the ones they find faulty that just imprisons and never rehabilitates their detainees? They might not be the absolute good guys you’re made to think they are. It’s weird, but it’s hard to look at the Gems the exact same way after this episode. Obviously they’re still good, but, perhaps, there’s an extent to how good they are.
Lapis existing makes me excited for the show’s future too: there must be more like her and the Crystal Gems out there, so I can not wait to meet them. How do they view Garnet, Ametyst, and Pearl?
I’m really excited every time Steven uses his gem for anything. The shield, the spit, the bubble, it’s all really cool, and it’s because we get to see this kid develop right in front of us. He’s discovering new powers and he’s learning so that he can be like one of the Gems one day– or be like his mother, full of compassion and love for all living things. Characters need to develop to make things interesting, and they’re doing Steven perfect justice.
Last week, “An Indirect Kiss” was my favorite Steven Universe episode. Now this one is. It’s been a week. If the show keeps one-upping itself each week, it’s gonna be amazing. If not, that’s fine. This show has shown just how solid it can be and will be. Very little so far has disappointed me from Steven Universe and Rebecca Sugar’s show is having a fantastic first year. I love it. You should too.