01st May2015

‘Steven Universe S02E08: Reformed’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“It’s just fun to see yourself as a cartoon character.”

640

Steven Universe has often and with mixed results made hash out of exaggerating the Gems’ defining traits, but in ‘Reformed’ the show digs with honesty and compassion into how Amethyst uses that exaggeration to combat her insecurities.  Things get rolling when Steven’s attempt to get Amethyst to take a clickbait personality test snowballs into helping her and Garnet hunt a corrupted Gem, “the slinker,” through Amethyst’s part of the temple.

The backgrounds in Amethyst’s room, crafted by outstanding series stalwart Sam Bosma, make the Gem’s beloved junkscape a landslide of references to everything from Mario to Dragon Quest.  The room has always functioned as a reflection not just of Amethyst’s inner self but of the self she chooses to project, one of chaos carefully structured to appear chaotic.  Amethyst knows her teammates think she’s a clown and a slacker, and if she leans into that impression she can hide from them(and from herself) everything about her personality that she’d rather not deal with.

In pursuing the monster, Amethyst finds herself repeatedly reduced to her gem as her physical form is, in Steven’s words, “poofed.”

640-1

Pearl spent a full two weeks regenerating after her mishap in ‘Steven the Swordfighter,’ but Amethyst pops back into being after about ten seconds.  Her continual regenerations are each more slapdash than the last, but Garnet’s warning that she’s behaving foolishly only drives Amethyst to frustration.  She interprets advice as criticism, resents Garnet’s praise for Pearl’s capacity for forethought, and lashes out instead of engaging in reflection.  Steven, typically empathic, sums it up with: “She doesn’t want to think about herself.”

640-2

Amethyst and Pearl butting heads has always been one of the show’s go-to engines for conflict.  As Steven Universe has developed its characters it has become apparent that the two Gems don’t really have a rivalry so much as a complicated relationship covering admiration, jealousy, categorical misunderstanding, and loving acceptance among other things.  Garnet only needs to mention Pearl’s considered approach to reforming to awaken Amethyst’s insecurities, and her sarcastic diatribe about Pearl’s intelligence, propensity for calculation, and fixation on details showcases how closely she observes the identities of others and how she has, in part, developed her own personality in opposition to Pearl’s.

The idea of Amethyst as someone who consciously presents a disorganized, shallow front in order to disguise a traumatic past and a deep-seated need for acceptance rings through the episode repeatedly.  When she gives Steven flip answers for his personality test, when she reforms herself as an insulting caricature of Pearl, when she shouts at Garnet, “What do you want?  Just tell me and I’ll do that!”, she’s revealing a vulnerable self she won’t allow herself to investigate or understand.

Garnet’s response cuts to the quick.  “I can’t tell you, Amethyst.  You have to figure this out for yourself.”  The Gem monster Amethyst fights has a more than superficial resemblance to her, fighting with whip-like tentacles and boasting a set of jaws that approximate the shape of her hair, and while I feel sure it’ll be back in the near future(perhaps to shed some light on how Gems lose themselves and how they might be brought back to sanity?), in ‘Reformed’ it functions as a proxy for Amethyst’s problems.  That it escapes, beaten for now but waiting in the wings, is indicative of the hard work awaiting anyone intent on living a more authentic life.

The first steps, though, are taken.  Amethyst reforms one last time, but not before taking time out for herself.

640-3

Amethyst’s new appearance is less studiously slovenly, a truer reflection of how she feels and what makes her comfortable.  The show isn’t claiming that Pearl’s approach to life is ideal for everyone, or that Amethyst should give up the trashy hobbies she so obviously loves, but that she should live life for herself and invest energy in figuring herself out.  Steven Universe being what it is, what emerges is an episode where instead of positing an ideal life path or condemning maladaptive behavior, a way forward is shown wherein loving support helps someone find the strength to look inside herself and accept what she sees.

640-4

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Off

Comments are closed.