14th Jul2015

‘Steven Universe 2×14: Cry For Help’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“I’m just so excited to be here. You see, I haven’t exactly been myself lately.”

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‘Cry For Help’ is a compact, emotional quarter-hour of television showcasing each of the Gems and how tentative their connections to one another remain even after a season of growth and change. Ameythst is the show’s eternal troublemaker, but in this episode she plays the straight man to Pearl’s selfish schemer. After a long run of episodes essentially retreading Pearl’s character work(she’s insecure, suffers from feelings of inferiority, and has lost part of her sense of self in the wake of Rose’s death), ‘Cry for Help’ advances the clock by pushing the idea that Pearl is searching desperately for something to re-ground herself.

What she latches onto is fusing with Garnet, a living representation of the close personal connection she now feels deprived of. Sardonyx, voiced with showboating polish by Alexia Khadime, is a towering, tuxedo-clad Gem synthesizing Garnet’s low-key penchant for jokes with Pearl’s unbridled enthusiasm and slightly goofy demeanor. Her intro, following a really spectacular dance sequence, is lively and unique. It helps that the scene is spiced with nods to how the show’s fandom has developed and how eager fans have been to see this particular fusion showcased. Sardonyx literally jokes “Was I worth the wait?” before demolishing the communications tower repaired by Peridot and used to drive the episode’s plot.

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Sardonyx’s presence, though, isn’t just fanservice. Being a part of her existence is something for Pearl to cling to, to seek safety within, and when that sensation ends she refuses to accept the situation. Pearl twice recreates Peridot’s repairs on the transmitter array to trick Garnet into fusing again. Amethyst, who harbors feelings of rejection over Garnet choosing Pearl to fuse with instead of her, exposes Pearl’s subterfuge. Garnet’s icy rage at having had her trust betrayed, her special regard for fusion compromised, and her search for Peridot sidetracked is heartbreaking to watch. Pearl’s stammering justifications and slow crumpling inward are, if anything, harder.

Amethyst’s feelings of exclusion and unworthiness at Garnet’s unwillingness to form Sugilite, Nicki Minaj’s gloriously out of control engine of destruction, show just how complex a concept fusion is within the show’s mythology. It’s easy, and I think not incorrect, to read it as a stand-in for sex, but there’s a whole world of intimacy both including and outside of sexual relationships. Fusing is generative, creating new life, but it’s also an escape from solitude, an expression of friendship, and an opportunity to find joy in the many kind of human (or mystical lesbian space rock) connection. There’s another element at work, though, and it drives Amethyst to defend Pearl’s deceit; Garnet isn’t just stronger than her companions by virtue of being a fusion, she’s also never forced to deal with doubt and isolation like they are.

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Watching these characters fight is brutal. When Garnet blanks Pearl at the episode’s close, while Estelle and Deedee Magno-Hall voice conciliatory Crying Breakfast Friends in the background no less, it feels like a punch to the gut. Resolution and reconciliation are inevitable, but the last moments of ‘Cry For Help’ suggest that the status quo has shifted permanently, that even if Pearl and Garnet must eventually reunite, it will be bittersweet to see them do so.

Also, the running joke that no one but Steven gets anything out of watching Crying Breakfast Friends kills me every time.

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