“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.
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.