This episode (and the finale arc in general) makes excellent use of the goodwill the show’s built up over the past 50 episodes, because by now I care about all the quirky townspeople when they’re forced to evacuate in the face of an ominous pointing finger which doesn’t seem to take a scratch from Rose’s laser cannons.
The animation in this episode is just brimming with emotion and characterization and I can’t. Also, Garnet is the only one with the composure to tell Steven that he should evacuate with his dad and I still can’t.
Garnet: Steven, I know you don’t think we trust you. I know more often than not, we treat you like a human child. The truth is, we rely on you. Your voice inspires us, binds us, reminds us why we promised to protect the planet. You must now be that voice, for them. If anything happens, you need to be there to protect them, like your mother once did. It’s your destiny.
Steven: I won’t disappoint you.
Garnet: I know.
Of course Steven wouldn’t have gone unless he saw some other important thing to be done, and of course the Gems’ first instinct is to protect Steven. It makes perfect emotional sense, even if it isn’t quite perfectly logical. I mean, if the Crystal Gems can’t turn back Peridot (which seems increasingly likely), what would Steven be able to do without them? If the Gems return in force, they’ll destroy the planet one way or another, so the best case scenario would probably be a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Garnet: We did everything we could. Alright, pull it together!
I still can’t.
Steven: Maybe when Peridot gets to Earth, she’ll see how nice all the people are, and she won’t want to hurt anyone.
Greg: You’re just like your mother…
Steven is just too precious and I must protect his chubby little smile. Also, in case you were wondering (because it becomes increasingly relevant), yes, all of the (pure) Gems are female, because when a species is mass produced I guess you might as well make them all the same gender.
Greg: The Gems should be telling you all this stuff, but I get it, I mean, they don’t want you thinking of them like that…
Steven: Like what? Dad, like what?
Greg: Like aliens, Steven! Aliens who invaded Earth! […] All they do is try to make up for it, but they just can’t forgive themselves. You understand? Look. They were doing something awful to the planet, and your mother couldn’t stand it anymore. She told me that’s why she had to turn on her own kind. She gave up everything just to stop what they started and drive the invading Gems off of Earth.
Steven: She saved the world, that’s good!
Greg: No such thing as a good war, kiddo. Gems were destroyed. People, too. In the end, she could only save a handful of her closest friends. If it weren’t for her shield, man, I don’t know…
The whole “alien invader” thing isn’t really a surprise to an attentive viewer, but it is a children’s story, so you have to spell things out at some point. What is somewhat new is the perspective Greg provides on Rose’s actions. He knew an older and wiser Rose who’d had a lot of time to reflect on her choices, enough time to recognize both the good and the bad things that came of it all.
Steven: I gotta go back. Turn the van around!
Greg: No way, the Gems don’t want you going back!
Steven: I know they’re just trying to protect me, but I need to protect them! I have Mom’s shield, they need me!
Greg: I need you, too!
I think on some level, Steven did need to see that the people of Beach City would be okay, and if he’d just stayed with the Gems to begin with he probably would’ve been overwhelmed by the weight of their expectations. The very fact that it’s his choice to return and fight with the Gems makes all the difference.
Steven: Dad, please, I have to go back. I have to! They don’t have my shield – do you, do you understand?
Greg: Yeah, okay. Just…be careful, or I’m gonna run fresh out of family.
Steven: Stay with everyone and keep them safe.
Then Steven randomly decides to call Connie, and the mundanity of leaving a message just breaks me.
Steven: Hey, Connie, it’s Steven. Just seeing what you were up to. I don’t know if you knew, but there’s some crazy stuff going on with a giant space hand, and we all might die, so uh, I guess call me back when you get this, and talk to you soon!
WHY. Aside from my heart, THAT IS A TERRIBLE MESSAGE TO LEAVE FOR YOUR BEST FRIEND.
Anyhow, Steven arrives on Lion and the Crystal Gems haven’t made any progress because they don’t have any heavier ranged weapons to try on the ship.
Thus we meet this jerk, Jasper.
Jasper: Neither of you saw Rose Quartz? Oh, what a shame. I hoped to meet her. I was looking forward to beating her into the ground. But this is all that’s left of her army? Some lost, defective Pearl, a puny overcooked runt, and this shameless display? Hm, what is that?
Peridot: It calls itself “Steven”.
Lapis: He’s just a human. He isn’t a threat at all! He’s not one of them!
It seems Lapis Lazuli was press-ganged into service, evidently because she had just come from Earth and had some experience with the Crystal Gems…but she’s still doing her best to protect Steven.
Then they decide to just fire the ship’s cannon at them.
Pearl: Steven, get out of here!
Garnet: I won’t let you risk your life!
Steven: But this is my home, and you’re all my family! I’m…I’m a Crystal Gem, too!
Steven isn’t fighting out of a sense of duty or guilt, but because it’s his home and his family and that’s just what you do.
Jasper: That shield – that symbol! You! You have the power of Rose Quartz!
But that also kind of wipes him out, so Garnet steps in to defend him now that Jasper is taking a vested interest in the fight.
Only to get poofed in what seems to be a rather painful manner.
Jasper: Rose. Why do you look like that? Why are you so weak?
Lapis: Don’t hurt him!
Jasper: You knew about this!
Lapis: It wasn’t relevant to the mission!
Jasper: Forget about the mission. […] Yellow Diamond needs to see this…thing.
Jasper: I was there, you know. At the first war for this garbage planet. I fought against your armies. I respected your tactics. But this? This is sick! I don’t get what you’re planning, Rose, but look! Your base is taken, your armies are ruined. You have failed!
Jasper is a soldier who thinks only of battles, won or lost, which stands in stark contrast to Rose, and to Steven, whose first thought is for the things they’re protecting.
Next time: Jail Break…