16th Jun2015

‘Steven Universe 2×06: Sworn to the Sword’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“Why won’t you just let me do this for you, Rose?”

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After an uneven front end and a lengthy break, season 2′s first week-long Steven Bomb of new episodes starts with ‘Sworn to the Sword,’ a heartfelt success that touches on selflessness, friendship, and the relationship between “special” and “normal” people in science fiction and fantasy. A brand-new opening to a remixed theme song plays us in, highlighting that all four Gems have completed steps in their personal journeys.

‘Sworn to the Sword’ starts with Connie and Steven jamming together(while eating jam tarts) on one of the hands of the Crystal Temple. The themes of equality and teamwork have always been prominent in Steven Universebut this episode further textures them by interrogating the idea that special people have more value than normal ones. When Pearl agrees to train Connie in sword fighting, recalling season 1′s  ‘Steven the Sword Fighter,’ she brings to the process all her own emotional baggage related to her relationship to Rose Quartz. She pushes Connie to consider herself expendable, highlighting Steven’s importance as a stand-in for her own reckless behavior with regards to protecting Rose.

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Garnet and Amethyst’s ten-second cameo in ‘Sworn to the Sword’ begins with Amethyst shouting “Yo Steven, WHY ARE YOU STANDING THERE ALL SAD LIKE THAT?” and succeeds in re-grounding the show in the Gems’ lives after a spate of episodes in which they didn’t really feature. Amethyst and Garnet candidly inform Steven of Pearl’s reasons for trying to mold Connie’s mindset, explaining that she threw herself into harm’s way for Rose on many occasions and now sees this situation as a surrogate. Pearl confirms it herself by shouting Rose’s name in place of Steven’s while arguing with the kids about whether or not Connie should endanger herself.

The episode’s two songs, one a jam about jam, the other the tear-jerker Pearl and Connie number “Do It For Him,” are delightful, and in concert with the gorgeous backgrounds at Pearl’s fencing arena they make ‘Sworn to the Sword’ a pleasurable experience both visually and aurally. The way the episode gets into Connie’s character also feels both natural and exciting. She’s a huge nerd, so learning swordplay from an ancient alien is, of course, an irresistible lure for her, but she also has heartfelt and thought-through reasons. “The Earth is my home, too!” she tells Pearl when the Gem hesitates at the prospect of instructing a human. “Can’t I help protect it?”

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That’s where the episode really succeeds. Steven challenging the idea that anyone is expendable on anyone else’s behalf is a great moment, and he and Connie proudly declaring themselves “jam buds” to a perplexed Pearl is almost as funny as the earlier fast cut to Steven reading “How to Talk to People.” ‘Sworn to the Sword’ could easily have been a retread of ‘Steven the Sword Fighter,’ or of Pearl’s feelings for Rose, or just a lazy way to integrate Connie into the core ensemble, but instead it’s a bright little anthem of friendship, devotion, and how love can transform us into better people. It’s sad and sobering, though, to realize that Pearl was probably in love for millennia and that only ten years, give or take, separate her from the moment she lost Rose.

I’ve written before about how Rose Quartz’s death, the gem in Steven’s belly button, is the structuring absence that gives the show and its characters their form. We’re slated to learn more about Rose soon, and it should help to deepen our understanding of that hole at the heart of Steven Universe‘s world.

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