24th Apr2015

‘Steven Universe S02E07: Love Letters’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

Garnet: “Start with the letter N.”

Connie: “Huh, okay.  What next?”

Garnet: “The letter O.”

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Steven Universe giving love at first sight the brushoff feels kind of shaky just a few weeks after the show waxed rhapsodical about it in ‘Story for Steven.’  Granted, Jaime the Mailman cuts an especially dismissable figure with his overblown confessions of love from afar.  Equally understandable is his crush on Garnet, an immortal space babe with perfect hair and more composure than God.  Laying a reasonable foundation, though, isn’t enough, and for the second time the show pretty much waves off the opportunity to do anything with the hook of “human is attracted to Gem.”

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Like ‘Story for Steven’ there isn’t really anywhere that ‘Love Letters’ can go other than where it does, and the only character development we get is that Jaime is a failed actor and Ruby and Sapphire are exclusive to each other.  From a comedic standpoint the idea of Garnet on a date is golden, and she could just as easily have delivered her characteristically blunt “No” over dinner(or lunch, if she wants to keep it casual) at the Crab Shack where her stoniness and Jaime’s florid style would have been in actual conflict.  It feels baffling to take, as the show does, such an indirect route to such a definite conclusion.

Having Steven and Connie act as the intermediaries for Garnet’s message to Jaime seems like an excuse to stretch a thin plot over 11 minutes.  They don’t really learn a lesson about playing with people’s feelings or distorting another person’s words to suit their own agendas, and the one they do learn(don’t project value onto an imagined relationship), while valuable, feels disconnected from their role in the episode.  There’s some mirroring about the ways trying to make stories out of life can distort your perspective, but it doesn’t really come together cleanly.  Garnet’s place in the structure of ‘Love Letters’ works well because for the first nine minutes she just goes about her day and refuses to participate, spending her time searching the ocean floor for the still-absent Malachite.  (She’s a very good swimmer).

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Lamar Abrams and Hellen Jo deliver beautiful work in their shots of the temple and the beach.  I wrote last week about how Steven Universe thrives on the small stage, and while it may not hold true in terms of plot and character this week it certainly does in terms of visual flourishes.  From the picturesque spot where Steven and Connie sit taking selfies-

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-to the subdued low-angle shots of the temple goddess’s elbow and the lunacy of Steven’s imagined version of thespian Jaime, Abrams and Jo are on point despite the lack of new locations or set-pieces.  Selling an episode on the strength of viewer investment in a virtually unknown character’s feelings is a tall order, but even though ‘Love Letters’ doesn’t really deliver it DOES manage to continue the show’s recent run of great jokes.  Garnet’s dictation, Steven’s quiet knuckle-cracking, and Connie’s enthusiasm for forgery all help to keep the tone light and the episode moving.  ‘Love Letters’ is a mixed bag without a clear direction, never really able to decide if it’s about Jaime, Steven and Connie, or Garnet at a point when what the show could really use is a shot in the arm.

It’s a shame.  Garnet often feels like the most complicated of the Crystal Gems, an iron-willed zen warrior with an acutely Saharan sense of humor and a deep but quiet capacity for affection.  When she’s being used in ‘Love Letters’ those qualities are more or less on display, but while they produce good jokes they don’t give us anything new in the first episode to address her nature(she’s a fusion of two Gems involved in a romantic relationship with one another) since the two-parter of ‘The Return’ and ‘Jailbreak.’  Also, the show’s hard and fast dismissal of the idea of more than two people being in a relationship is a disappointment when in so many other ways it’s been at the forefront of portraying unconventional love.

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