05th Jan2016

‘Steven Universe 2×22: The Answer’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“There’s still time!”

“That is a nice thought, but no.”

Love is a key component of the fabric of Steven Universe, a force the show treats as both weapon and comfort. It’s also a subject the show has displayed immense maturity in dealing with, but there’s very little to get into when it comes to ‘The Answer,’ an episode focused on the story of how Ruby and Sapphire got together. The show’s usual high standard when it comes to backgrounds and colors can’t cover for the episode’s lack of anything interesting to say and the staleness of its romance subplot. We get a little more about the nature of fusion, a glimpse of the rigid class structure of Gem society, and a bewitching look at Blue Diamond, one of the series’ antagonists and a thoroughly beautiful animated creation. What we don’t get is anything that feels necessary.

The impulse to explore every crack and cranny of a fictional setting is an understandable one, but seldom an advisable road to travel. You miss the forest for the trees, as the saying goes, and in a season of consciously-raised stakes these detours feel more and more superfluous every time they crop up. In the story’s central conceit, too, is a potential flaw. Garnet’s appeal as a character comes in large part from her easy confidence and the sense of mystery which surrounds her. Showing her early jitters doesn’t tell us anything new so much as it breaks into a completely different story. The story it does tell is one of love at first sight and lightning-speed alliance switching. It’s too flat to invest in, a paint-by-numbers Romeo & Juliet with half a cast and one short act.

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Giving some Gems in the cut-out world of Garnet’s story top-notch animation and leaving others jointless silhouettes results in a hamstringing of both spectacle and immersion. Likewise the decision to have Garnet voice everyone but her halves and the other Crystal Gems. It’s a shame, because spectacle and voice work are typically two things Steven Universe has in spades. ‘The Answer’ feels thin in the same way ‘Story for Steven’ did, trading too heavily on its place in the show’s mythology and offering little characterization. The end even nods to this predictability when Steven affirms he knew the story’s lesson right from the beginning, but merely waving at the story’s superfluity doesn’t seem like an excuse for actually telling it.

Indulging a desire to explore characters by playing their old home movies feels like a misstep, and what’s worse it leaves Ruby and Sapphire still largely undefined except as cardboard cutouts. ‘The Answer’ is a few beautiful moments, most notably the first glimpse of Blue Diamond’s gigantic flying city, strung together by a dully predictable musical number and some pat messages about love’s power to defy fate. Occasionally gorgeous, intermittently engaging, it disappoints in the precise way that driving past a childhood home often does. The image is not the memory.

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3 Responses to “‘Steven Universe 2×22: The Answer’ Review”

  • Zach W

    So while I agree that going siteseeing in a show’s world/mythology can often be detrimental I don’t feel like that was the case here. I think that this was a good and very important episode for a bunch of reasons. While, yes, a lot of Garnet’s appeal comes from the confident and awesome person she is now, I think that it is really good to show that they weren’t always like that, especially since this show is aimed at kids, and it does nothing to detract from who the character is now.

    I think that going back to talk about how Gem society worked and aspects of the first war is good as it presents opportunities for parallels to the present with the looming specter of conflict ahead. I suppose we’ll see how that pans out.

    I think the most important thing about this episode was how they portrayed ruby and sapphire’s relationship. It was great for a kid’s show to portray a positive gay relationship between them. Showing not only the wonder, confusion and solidarity of Ruby and Sapphire as they began to discover their relationship but also the adverse reactions from everyone around them for what they were was a great lesson. I don’t think that the relationship was a whirlwind, love at first site type thing. It seems that way because we know Ruby and Sapphire stay together as Garnet for thousands of years but from just that episode it seems like two confused people struggling through a new experience together.

    I also think that Steven Universe has always been more about having a nice show with a good message(tm) more than anything else. The first season was super slow to build towards any sort of plot. I think that the plot has always been there and holds everything together but it never feels like the priority. I don’t think that is good or bad. It is just the type of show that it is so I never mind when things go meandering as much as I would like to just have every episode be about the main plot.

  • I suppose the disconnect is fundamentally that this show is not being made for me and does not present its story in a way I can connect with. I’m actually wrapping up my coverage tomorrow.

    Something I think the first season has which the second season lacks is an ability to blend its plot with its meandering. The plot of season 1 could emerge slowly because the show was building it as it went, establishing new things and revealing new secrets. Season 2 front-loaded its conflict in a conscious bid to raise the stakes, then began stagnating. It’s not that I begrudge it it’s style and pace, you know? It’s that I think it’s actively in conflict with itself and that it’s made an unpleasant bed to lie in by choosing a big, dramatic foundation and then ignoring it.

    • Zach W

      I think that is true regarding season 1 vs 2. By having the plot emerge as a side product of the wandering adventures it felt special. It was always a great surprise to find out more about the world and the plot that was unraveling in the background. By moving the plot forward it created a tension between what the show was, and continues to try to be, and the expectations it has created by having a more central plot. I think the show still has to find the right balance between the slice of life and exploratory stuff that seems to be the default and the more cohesive plot that has emerged. I’m pretty ok with it since I enjoy both modes but can see why it is a problem for some viewers.

      I’m sad to hear that you’ll be stopping reviewing children’s shows. I always enjoyed those reviews since they were different from my take and made me consider things about the shows that I hadn’t previously. I guess I’ll just have to branch out and watch more stuff so I can read your other reviews!