Summer of Steven Masterpost #3 - Steven Universe Recap S03E17-21

Welcome to the third week of Summer of Steven! This time the plot is in full swing, with all the revelations and twists that entails.

S03E17 – Gem Hunt

It’s Connie’s first Gem mission! She and Steven, under Pearl’s watchful eye, warp to the Great North (most likely Canada), looking for a Gem monster. It quickly turns out that there are two monsters, and that they’re anxious about something to the point they don’t care about our heroes. They run off, splitting up, and Connie, eager to prove her worth, suggests they do the same.

Thus begins her and Steven’s big trip, following the monster trail, which, thanks to the snow, isn’t very hard. Connie is very happy to put to use the knowledge she learned from the survival books she read, and it’s very much her episode. While Pearl and Steven do get a chance to shine, this episode is an important step in her becoming a crucial member of the team. I really hope this means that, come next version of the opening, she gets to be one of the Crystal Gem members singing the opening lyrics.

And in case you're wondering after watching this episode, yes, tea made from pine needles (specifically, needles of a white pine) does help with Vitamin C and A deficiency: they have more Vitamin C than six lemons. Live and learn, huh? And you can make them not taste terribly with honey! Though I doubt they'd need a vitamin boost that fast.

Getting back to the main plot, the duo finds one of the monsters, cornered and thus even more anxious. And so is Connie, who freezes during the encounter. This is her first proper encounter with a Gem monster, and it suddenly becomes way too real. Luckily, she manages to snap out of it and do her job: get to the walkie-talkie and call Pearl.

And then we learn what, or who, scared it: goddamn Jasper. That water punch Lapis hit her with sent her really far. She's been hunting and poofing Gem monsters for purposes revealed in the next episode. She ignores the duo and the arriving Pearl and goes off into the blizzard.

S03E18 – Crack the Whip

Garnet and Pearl warp back to the Great North to search for her, leaving Amethyst to hold the fort and watch Steven… and Connie, who was supposed to have a sword-fighting lesson with Pearl. Tsk. Very irresponsible of you, Pearl.

She and Steven continue training, and at first it seems like Amethyst is going to be teaching them how to fight in her more flexible style, but this gets interrupted for a snack break, which in turn becomes an actual break. It’s really enjoyable to see Connie have fun with Amethyst but as I think we’ve all been trained by fiction, it’s only a prelude to danger and heartbreak.

And so it happens here, when Jasper appears to pretty much declare war. It is revealed that she’s been building a small army of corrupted Gems and attacks Steven, Connie, Amethyst and Lion. Amethyst rather easily dispatches the first monster she sent alone, but when Jasper arrives with the last one, she focuses on the Gem soldier, leaving the other three to deal with the other corrupted Gem.

And she regrets it. Unlike her, Jasper is a soldier Gem built according to Homeworld specs and Amethyst is fighting an uphill battle. This, along with the Jasper’s remarks of her inferiority, has a shattering effect on her psyche. At this point it’s also clear that, whatever is planned for Jasper in the show’s future, it’s on hold until she is defeated. It’s clear war and combat is all she understands, and unlike Peridot, she’s not likely to persuaded to abandon her beliefs.

Jasper poofs Amethyst, forcing Steven and Connie to focus on her and fuse into Stevonnie. They didn’t even intend it consciously, it just happened. This two are really in synch. Using the two skillsets at their disposal, and using Lion as their mount, Stevonnie defeats Jasper and forces her to retreat.

This has crushing effect on the reformed Amethyst, who was grappling with issues of being useful for a long time. After last season’s “Reformed” it seemed like she might be over them, and she has grown over the course of the series. But her defeat, later to be saved by the two kids she was supposed to be protecting, plus information she got in “Too Far” from Peridot of how she was “supposed” to be, brings back her fears and issues. It’s heartbreaking to watch, even as Steven and Connie celebrate their big victory, and Michaela Dietz nails it. And the irony is that Stevonnie won because they followed Amethyst’s advice of going with the flow of the combat, but she didn’t see it.

S03E19 – Steven vs. Amethyst

Those issues get addressed in this episode, which serves as the show’s version of Civil War. Amethyst is in a low point after Jasper pretty much pulverized her, and it gets worse when she participates in Pearl’s training with Steven. While she starts out chill enough, Steven’s continued successes over her only get her more depressed. Finally, when in his attempts to cheer her up, he lets her win at a video game, she has enough.

After ages of being, as she perceives it, the weakest of the Crystal Gems, her self-worth takes a huge blow when Steven, a rookie, starts overshadowing her. Steven protests that he’s still a weak team-member: he still hasn’t got a handle on his abilities, which half the time don’t work, he keeps forgetting he can float, and in general he’s still a trainee. This turns into an argument over which of them is the worst, which in turn becomes a duel in the arena ruins.

It’s a tough fight, with both of them trying to prove the other is the better Crystal Gem. In a funny twist to the typical fight between two allies, they heap each other with praise, angrily telling each other how awesome their attacks are and how clearly that makes the other better. It’s amazing to watch and very in the vein of the show.

In the end, the fight stops after they both wear each other out, ending up on their backs. It’s only then that they actually talk to each other. As it finally turns out, both of their anxieties come from not being who they feel they were supposed to. Amethyst was (according to Homeworld) meant to be bigger and tougher, like Jasper, and she feels she’s not living up to her potential, thanks to being "born" different. Steven, on the other hand, feels the weight of his parentage, not helped by being continuously called Rose by Jasper. He’s been training to live up to his mother’s legacy.

S03E20-21 – Bismuth

Speaking of his mother’s legacy! We finally meet the bubbled Gem from Lion’s main after Steven accidentally pops the bubble. The titular Bismuth (voiced by the talented Uzo Aduba) is one of the original members of the Crystal Gems, for millennia thought by Pearl and Garnet to be lost. The two are overjoyed to be reunited with their friend, and the initially suspicious Amethyst is won over when Bismuth starts giving gifts. She was the Rebellion’s blacksmith, providing it with their weaponry, and upon reopening the Forge, she upgrades the Crystal Gem weapons.

For most of the episode Bismuth is a delightful, fun character. While initially overwrought by the outcome of the losses suffered by the Rebellion and eager to show Homeworld what they’re made of, once she gets introduced to Gem pastimes she enjoys and shows an easygoing side. She seems like a great fit to the team, even though it’s easy to tell that it’s not meant to be.

And that’s when the main part of the episode’s plot kicks in. Bismuth offers Steven a replacement for Rose’s sword: The Breaking Point. It’s a weapon that’s able, unlike others she made, to completely kill a Gem by shattering their gem instead of just poofing them. She explains that the Homeworld is fighting dirty, so they have to step up their game and be as ruthless as the Diamonds to win. Steven is horrified at that thought and when given the object he refuses to use it.

The problem is, he uses the same words Rose did when Bismuth showed it to her. Rose is the reason Bismuth’s gem was bubbled and hidden in Lion’s mane, having poofed her during their confrontation and she never told anyone about it. And now, convinced Steven is her, attacks him. He manages to poof her, but that’s the closest he’s ever been to death. He promises to tell the Gems what happened and that seems to convince Bismuth that he really is a different person than Rose.

We’ve been learning for a long while now that, though Rose genuinely seems to have been a loving and caring person, she also was very secretive and practical. Of course she disagreed with the concept of the Breaking Point; not only would she find it unethical, it’s also a bad idea on a practical side of things. If the Rebellion started shattering Gems, this would like lead to escalation of the conflict, and the Diamonds would in the end likely obliterate Earth. It would also likely lead to a schism in the Rebellion, with two sides forming around the issue of the use of the weapon. Rose seemed to have been primarily interested in getting the Homeworld to let Earth Gems be and preserving the organic life of the planet. Bismuth, on the other hand, sounds like her aim was taking the fight to Homeworld and destroying the abusive system governing it, and it’s likely there were other Gems like her. Rose was loving and caring but also clearly secretive and not trusting. That’s why she swept the issue under the rug by taking Bismuth out and hiding everything that’s happened. This also means that, while Steven may have made the same decision regarding the Breaking Point Rose did, he’s also very different in that he makes sure to tell the Crystal Gems what happened in the Forge.

The downside is that Bismuth seems to have been created primarily to provide a point of contention with Steven. It’s possible she will return (the show has a history of not wasting important characters and plot points), but for now, it feels like a waste of an interesting character to only use them as an opposition to Steven on a single issue.

And that’s it for the penultimate Summer of Steven week. Next week, we’ll have the big season 3 finale and start season 4 with two episodes. And after that we’ll be back for a more regular, weekly schedule for at least 3 weeks.

Dominik Zine is a nerdy lad from northeastern Poland and is generally found in a comfy chair with a book in hand.