This episode represents the antithesis of what I love about Steven Universe: It talks a lot, but doesn’t say much of anything.
Steven: Onion sure was having a phenomenal time jumping with Steven on his couch, but after two hours of jumping, he decided that it was time to, perhaps, stop and do something else? Ah, so Onion decided he wanted a snack, and he knew he could help himself to anything in Steven’s kitchen. Including Steven’s favorite limited edition chips. Onion smelled the chip, savoring its delicious aroma. But no snack could satisfy his hunger – for power! Oh, looks like your dad’s home, huh? I guess this round of Onion Tales has come to an end. See ya! Epilogue: Things get a little lonely for Onion, not knowing any other kids his age. But luckily he had his friend Steven, who would kindly donate some time to a youth in need.
Yes, this is basically the entire episode. It is kind of interesting how Steven uses his “narration” to lead Onion into (or away from) certain activities, but it doesn’t quite hold up for the whole episode. Although it is a whole lot better than Onion just controlling the entire narrative.
Steven: Oh, Onion. Need someone to hang out with again? Come on in! Oh, I see! Onion wanted to come in, but he paused in the doorway. He needed to take his shoes off, but he didn’t know how!
It turns out Steven’s misinterpreting Onion, but he soon realizes that Onion’s trying to take him somewhere…
Into the heart of darkness!
Steven: Who are you? Your slow and eerie approach is making me uncomfortable!
It turns out they’re just the titular Onion Gang, and appear to be mostly harmless despite their occasionally creepy antics. They’re also all silent characters (with the exception of Garbanzo, who only says his name to express himself). Their names are Soup, Garbanzo (with Pinto), and Squash.
Steven: Onion, this whole time I thought you were just a lonely boy, but you have a whole pantry of friends! Thanks for bringing me here.
Then they start actually doing stuff. Like freaking Steven out by faking an accident using a packet of ketchup (I’m not sure if I think Steven should be able to tell the difference between blood and ketchup after the Frybo incident, or if that would just make him more confused).
Steven: Wait, he’s gonna be okay, right? It was just a little spill!
Steven: Garbanzo? Is this really happening? Oh, Pinto, I don’t know what to say! This all happened so suddenly. I’ll call a medical professional!
Steven: It’s a miracle! Pinto has healing powers- why’d you nudge me and wink like this was all…a big joke? I get it. Good joke. Y’all…y’all really got me with that.
Steven, it’s alright if you don’t like their sense of humor. I don’t either.
And this is why I’m not too keen on this episode. This show can do lots of fun and interesting stuff without much dialogue when it has a mind to! So the fact that Steven talks over most of the episode is kind of indicative of the lacking execution (and really, the lacking emotional core). Onion’s friends aren’t interesting; they’re basically the same character as him, and Onion isn’t a very good character to begin with.
Steven: Man. I always thought when we weren’t hanging out, you were just sitting alone on the boardwalk, Onion. How long has this been going on?
Then the requisite falling out comes courtesy of a bug race. Steven’s beetle wins…and then they pretty clearly want him to smash the bug.
Steven: I can’t do it! Bugs may be weird, but I don’t want to kill one! I’m sorry, I’m going home!
And I don’t blame him for leaving! We find out later that they didn’t actually hurt the bug (much like the case with the mouse and the snake in “Onion Friend”), but if that’s supposed to be a joke, it’s still pretty insensitive and in poor taste. I guess I haven’t hung out with really little kids much in recent years, but I don’t recall ever meeting any with that cruel a sense of humor, and if I did, I’d do what Steven did and stop hanging out with them (if not tell their parents that they may have a budding sociopath on their hands).
Unfortunately, summer is ending, so all of Steven’s human friends are busy preparing for the next school year.
Steven: Looks like the lonely boy with no friends his age is actually me, Steven.
That’s not “no friends”, that’s just “you’re growing up and your friends have stuff to do, too”. Personally, I never had many friends my age (or at least my grade), either – most of them were a couple years older. It’s actually not an uncommon predicament when you’re homeschooled. But it’s okay to not have a ton of friends your own age! Once you graduate, age is just a number anyway.
Then Onion comes back around, because of course he does.
Steven: No, Onion! Just leave me alone. You don’t have to play with me anymore. What are you doing? No, Onion! Onion, listen. I figured it out. The only reason you hang out with me is because you feel bad for me, isn’t it? You don’t have to lie to me to protect my feelings. Those kids out there in the woods? You understand each other, and you don’t even talk! They’re your real friends. So just go. I don’t need you to pity me. That’s the one thing I can do by myself.
Of all the motives you could possibly ascribe to Onion, Pity would be the last one on my list. I mean, I get that Steven’s feeling sorry for himself because he’s lonely, but it still feels contrived considering that we aren’t even given a reason why the Gems aren’t around.
So Steven runs after him after he sees that his beetle is okay.
Steven: Guys, I’m sorry! It was me! I was the lonely boy! I- hey, what’s going on? Wait, are you guys…leaving? I’m sorry about being weirded out before! You don’t have to leave! Oh, I get it now. You guys only come to Beach City during the summer months, and since the fall’s starting, it must be time for you to go home.
I still say he shouldn’t feel sorry for not hanging out with the kids who have a sense of humor that doesn’t jive with his, but since they’re leaving, I suppose it’s only right that he should say goodbye to the kids that he did at least have a few good times with.
Steven: Onion felt really sad about his summer friends leaving. But, then he started to feel a little better. He remembered all the great times he had with his friends, and all the cool stuff they did together. And until next summer, he had his pal Steven to hang out with. If he wants to.
It’s a cute note to end the episode on, and it almost feels like a conversation that might actually happen between a little kid and his older friend/babysitter. Though I still have a hard time believing Onion is actually human.
Until next time…