16th Jul2015

‘Steven Universe 2×16: Onion Friend’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“What can you do? Kids gotta express themselves.”

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Steven Universe, like many fantasy shows, is centered around a mystery. Over the course of two seasons that mystery has come to define the show, permeating its balletic action and complex character dynamics with a gnarled, inscrutable flavor of dread and uncertainty. I’m talking, of course, about the mystery of what the heck is up with Onion.

‘Onion Friend’ makes a strangely satisfying case for a simple answer: Onion’s just a weird kid. Remarkably little happens over the episode’s course. Onion steals some Chaaaaps from Steven, Steven chases Onion to a garage full of paintings of Amethyst, and Steven and Amethyst spend an evening at Onion’s house. It thrives in its details, in its easy, lived-in mood, and in its smart decentralization of the ongoing conflict between Garnet and Pearl. Amethyst has been on the conflict’s sidelines from the beginning. A creature of habit, ‘Onion Friend’ shows how much Garnet and Pearl’s disunity has upset her sense of place and home without ever featuring the other two Gems.

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Steven’s adventures with Onion form a loopy faux-horror backdrop for Amethyst’s quiet cooldown with Vidalia, Onion and Sour Cream’s mother and a friend of Amethyst’s from way back. Vidalia’s relaxed attitude, worn but genuine affection for her family, and willingness to exist in a state of chaos give Amethyst the perspective she needs to accept conflict in her own life. That conflict, Vidalia posits, is just part of having a family. People get mad at each other, they do things to upset one another, they might even abrade one another at fundamental levels, but it’s possible to accept all this and to keep on living.

This is Katie Mitroff and Lamar Abrams’ first time at bat together. Abrams’ previous storyboard partner, Hellen Jo, produced reliably stellar work, but Mitroff and Abrams are far from a disappointment. Onion’s house is a combination between well-used home and labyrinth of the bizarre with its garage full of portraits of Amethyst, its hidden passages, and its flickering lights. Onion’s penchant for the weird seems much more understandable in light of his laid-back artist mom, his sea-obsessed dad, and his relatively lonely existence. Given free reign to express himself, what young boy wouldn’t come out a little odd? His gift to Steven of a G.A.L figurine, kept in a brightly-lit room symbolically hidden from the world, acts as a cute reminder that Onion is still very young and that his selfishness and too-open personality are mixed with that special sweetness unique to children giving away beloved toys. Like Amethyst, Onion just wants to know that he’s loved.

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‘Onion Friend’ is a lovely episode with a low-key tone that acts as a breath of fresh air after the emotional one-two punch of ‘Cry For Help’ and ‘Keystone Motel.’ Zach Callison, a bright light even in a show replete with perfect voice actors, sells Steven’s “older kid forced to entertain bizarre youngster” panic with hilarious verve while also showing his maturity by stomaching discomfort to give Amethyst time to express herself and unload her worries. So many children’s shows tell kids that family is good, that it lifts up and supports us, but not many have the emotional finesse to explain that family is also hard and lifelong work.

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