TV MISERY: ‘Steven Universe’ Season 2 Episodes Ranked

Steven Universe FeaturedSteven Universe has a new opening credits sequence, and that makes a huge difference in the experience of watching the show. It first shows up before Sworn to the Sword, after a Crystal Gem’s physical appearance changes in the prior episode Reformed. Gone is Steven’s goofy, inexperienced demeanor at the start. Gone is his sense of humiliation when his guardians tousle his hair. Gone is Connie standing agape in a dress as Steven zooms by, a book-loving schoolboy astonished by this magical boy. And, essentially, gone are the separate title cards for each character.

The new opening credits exhibit the show’s increasingly progressive leanings. Steven is cheerful and excited throughout the montage. Connie runs exuberantly with Rose’s sword after Steven, not simply standing in awe. Greg chills beside Lion, riffing on his guitar. And all the gems gather together by the beach, a unified family instead of an isolated bundle of individuals. It’s a significant reform from an irritating, problematic opening scrawl into a statement of positive communal solidarity. (It also has an adorable extended version here.)

Peridot

Anyway, you know the drill! I rank episodes! You catch up and watch new episodes premiering every night this week at 7 p.m. on Cartoon Network! Our relationship is clearly defined!

Rising Tides Crashing Skies - Steven Universe#26. Rising Tides, Crashing Skies (2×07)
Written by Lamar Abrams & Hellen Jo

“That was very poorly edited.”

Agreed, Garnet. A follow-up to the political satire of Keep Beach City Weird, but without as much devilishly on-the-nose deconstructions of socio-political behavior, there simply isn’t much to Rising Tides, Crashing Skies. No sense of gravity. No greater insight to weirdo Ronaldo. Not even a significant dose of giddy humor. Why is this in my face?

Reformed#25. Reformed (2×05)
Written by Raven Molisee & Paul Villeco

“Do you understand that cartoon show?”
“I don’t understand anything anymore.”

Amethyst is the most low self-esteem, physically anxious of the Crystal Gems, her sense of denial and frustration with herself coming out most literally in Reformed. As she notices Garnet’s frustration with her lack of seriousness, she increasingly tries to palette herself to others’ expectations of her, to her increased bodily strain. This episode never reaches a practical conclusion besides Amethyst finding what form feels comfortably, only slightly altered from her original appearance, but a subtler shift in a constructive direction for her self-image.

Keystone Motel#24. Keystone Hotel (2×12)
Written by Raven Molisee, Paul Villeco & Rebecca Sugar

“Well I gotta drive over to the next state, Keystone.”
“You mean the Keystone state?”
“Right, the state named Keystone.”

The interpersonal rupture set off by Pearl’s actions in Cry for Help are so literally on display in Keystone Hotel that there’s very little room for surprise in illustrating Garnet’s personal discord over the betrayal. Perhaps it’s that Ruby and Sapphire have yet to be as smartly sketched as fused self, instead reduced to elemental figures of fiery rage and chilly despondence. It’s all played a little too much for laughs, not sufficiently conveying the dread over what’s happened, but there are cute and sweet moments scattered throughout, mostly showing Greg and Steven’s playful dynamic.

The Answer#23. The Answer (2×22)
Written by Lamar Abrams & Katie Mitroff

“So, what was it? The answer?”
“Love.”
“Wow… I knew it.”

It’s corny. It’s schmaltzy. Of course The Answer is a story Steven would adore. Low on humor and unpredictability, The Answer plays like a fairy tale in a similar manner to Story for Steven. Its minimalist aesthetic makes up for the lack of gut-busting humor in portraying Ruby and Sapphire falling in love. The most interesting thing about this episode is seeing how Garnet reacts to her sudden improbable existence, seizing it with enthusiasm in the same way as Stevonnie. She also shares Stevonnie’s cobbled-together appearance at first, a woman still figuring out who she is and who she wants to be.

Nightmare Hospital#22. Nightmare Hospital (2×16)
Written by Raven Molisee & Paul Villeco

“I haven’t needed actual glasses for almost a year!”
“What? Your eyesight just magically got better?”
“YES!!”

Between this and Fusion Cuisine, this show faces an issue in depicting Connie’s parents’ intense concerns, often falling back on typical notions of overprotective control. Still, the blunt force of Connie affirming her identity outside how her mother has defined it, along with their communication and reconciliation at the end, make this a resonant episode. Steven’s twinge of longing at the end, too, helps convey the lack of a mother-child bond in his life.

When It Rains#21. When It Rains (2×19)
Written by Lamar Abrams & Katie Mitroff

“Lets run into this corner! Oh no, we’re cornered!”

In the earlier stages of her arc, the show treats Peridot like a bratty child, which she is, but When It Rains struggles in putting us through the same baby steps as her. Every explanation here is clumsy, starting with the typical notion of Peridot mistaking thunder and lightning for the apocalypse to learn about unpredictable life on Earth. In selling the notion that we cannot thrive on our own, but in cooperation with other, the show’s laying a necessary groundwork for the Peridemption, however obviously it may translate

Historical Friction#20. Historical Friction (2×14)
Written by Hilary Florido & Lauren Zuke

“How can a guy have no faults? To be human is to be flawed. A real hero must struggle.”
“That’s so beautiful, and also totally not represented by Mayor Dewey’s script.”

This may be Pearl’s turn to show how her mistakes in Cry for Help have affected her, but Historical Friction is more fun for spotlighting Steven and Jamie’s acting ambitions. The message is pretty obvious: People aren’t flawless, they make mistakes, and that’s a reason to celebrate them. It’s not that promising a story, but it’s fun to see the duo’s playful stage show – I rather like Jamie’s over-articulated romantic energy – and Pearl beaming with pride in Steven’s maturity is sweet note in showing how adults can be inspired by their young.

Sadie's Song#19. Sadie’s Song (2×17)
Written by Raven Molisee & Paul Villeco

“Barb! I knew you delivered mail, but I didn’t know you delivered Sadie!”

Sadie’s Song would make a rather wonderful Mother’s Day double-bill with Nightmare Hospital, both focusing on the overreaches and excesses of intense motherhood. I’ve long found it odd that we haven’t seen a true Sadie showcase, her character often lumped in with, or obviously overshadowed by, Lars. Sadie’s Song sure does convey Sadie’s private sense of strength, best fostered in her own time and place, not in the spotlight. It also feels inevitable that Steven would perform in drag with zero sense of humiliation, and even a fair degree of audience adoration.

P.S., Can we just say Barb from Stranger Things moved to Beach City and became Sadie’s mom and not have to deal with the horrible anguish that macabre show needlessly inflicted upon us?

Full Disclosure#18. Full Disclosure (2×01)
Written by Raven Molisee & Paul Villeco

“We can build a moat. I can be the crocodile! Jazz Hands!”
“No. You always say you’ll be the crocodile, but you never commit.”

Steven is least himself when he’s keeping himself bottled up… and when he’s taking the poor, anti-social advice of oddball Ronaldo. You can’t fault Steven for being worried about what burden he places upon other people when talking about what he’s been through. Most of us are worried about bringing people down by communicating our fears and depressions to them, but that’s a paranoia easily moved past when we actually start the conversation. But then, we usually don’t witness our friends being dragged down under the cruel weight of the ocean.

Steven's Birthday#17. Steven’s Birthday (2×23)
Written by Lamar Abrams & Katie Mitroff

“Oh my gosh! Did he get even smaller? Steven’s microscopic! He’s reverted back to a zygote!”

If Connie and Steven’s singularly close friendship often feels uncomfortably romantic for their young ages – do any pre-teen romances work out in the long run? – that also makes for some intimate drama between the two of them. In Steven’s Birthday we see Steven again struggling with being not-quite-human in his relationship with Connie, trying to be older for her, but at cost to himself, physically and emotionally. What makes Steven and Connie’s friendship special is how consistently in sync they are with each other, and it’s adorable to see them struggle to figure out what their relationship means going forward.

Joy Ride#16. Joy Ride (2×02)
Written by Hilary Florido & Katie Mitroff

“I only wanted to see you laughing… in the pizza rain.”
“Is that a reference to something?”

Aside from the blissful virtue of inspiring a Pizza-centric Prince cover, Joy Ride is a relief after the heavy conflict of last season’s finale. Rely on Beach City’s cool kids to give Steven the playful release he needs after the emotional release of Full Disclosure. As much as Steven’s grown through last season, he’s still a kid and much in need of a little irresponsibility.

Too Far#15. Too Far (2×21)
Written by Hilary Florido & Lauren Zuke

“Hey Amethyst! Check out this… rhythmatic pulverizer. HAHAHAHAHA! That’s funny! I’m so funny!”

Peridot puts up a veneer of ignorant anger, but she can’t hide her growing respect and compassion for her ostensible captors. Too Far really pushes how little her learned prejudices are based in actual experience. Pearl is not a servant, Garnet is not a dominating war machine, and Amethyst isn’t defective. Genetically speaking, sure, but Steven Universe doesn’t care about who we were genetically made to be, but who we choose to be. It’s a lesson Peridot doesn’t totally learn by episode’s end, still denigrating her cohorts to her tape recorder, but admitting the gaps in her emotional knowledge to the one gem she’s most deeply cares for, Amethyst.

Catch and Release#14. Catch and Release (2×18)
Written by Hilary Florido & Lauren Zuke

“Look, over there! Another planet to betray!”

Wholesale character transformation is the goal of the last 9 episodes of Steven Universe: Season 2, so it makes sense to start Peridot tentative redemption arc with a physical redefinition of character. The Peridot that menaces Steven and the gems from Warp Tour to when she’s poofed in Catch and Release is more ostensibly adult and confident in her ability. When she reforms, she’s an entirely different person: anxious, neurotic and plainly over-confident, overcompensating for her sudden physical inferiority. She becomes a boundless source of comic enthusiasm, fumbling about the temple on her hands and feets, but Steven sees through her facade of anger and petty rage to see the fear driving her actions.

Friend Ship#13. Friend Ship (2×15)
Written by Joe Johnston & Jeff Liu

“Have a great weekend! I mean, I hope her weekend is not so great?”

Finding a resolution for the Sardonyx arc is tough, as the whole stream of episodes devoted to Pearl’s betrayal have emphasized how messy and inconclusive resolving deep conflict is. Friend Ship is only ever going to be a good step forward (“FOOT JOKE!”), but it’s positive in forcing Garnet and Pearl to communicate their way through it. If the problem is really going to be solved, it has to come through honest conversation. It’s tender, but not too sweet to imply rosy attitudes altogether. It’s the only logical resolution there can be.

Love Letters#12. Love Letters (2×04)
Written by Lamar Abrams & Hellen Jo

“Your knuckles are so quiet.”
“My hands are polite.”

Of course they are, Steven, you softball. Love Letters may be focused on mailman Jamie’s lovelorn seeking of Garnet, but in her brevity of appearance it’s actually a really strong Garnet showcase. Connie and Steven aren’t at all sure how to manage matters of the heart harshly. “I watched some episodes of a torrid soap opera once, so I’m confident that I get the gist of romance,” Connie says, scarcely even self-aware of her active relationship with Steven. But in Garnet’s affectless refusal, we get a sense of her both as an individual and as a walking romance. She’s at once a confidently mediated relationship and a secure, aromantic individual. It’s a moment of pure admiration towards her.

Chille Tid#11. Chille Tid (2×10)
Written by Lamar Abrams & Lauren Zuke

“FffFfuuuhhhnNnn???”

The dream logic in Chille Tid is a fun catalyst for casual psycho-analysis of its characters – clearly Pearl’s got some messy, terrifying issues tied between Greg & Rose – but this thrust of this episode is Steven’s concern for Lapis. Trapped in an underwater psychic dungeon of her own making, Lapis is so virulently devoted to fighting Jasper for Steven that she blinds herself to Steven’s intense compassion for her mental-emotional well-being. It doesn’t have quite as successfully clenched a horror kick as Keeping it Together, but the dread of a constantly combative relationship is there, waiting to be capitalized on. It’s also hilarious to see Pearl’s adverse reaction to the disturbing science of sleep.

Keeping It Together#10. Keeping It Together (2×08)
Written by Raven Molisee & Paul Villeco

“Fusion is a choice. Those gems weren’t given a choice. It isn’t right. It isn’t fusion!”

It’s been some time since the show dipped into the unsettling macabre, but even Frybo and Cat Fingers didn’t dip into the kind of personal torment touched upon in Keeping It Together. From the first moments it seems like an investigation of Garnet as a fusion, a manifestation of two womens’ love, but soon her confidence turns to dread as she discovers Home World’s brutal perversion of fusion. Imagine discovering your lost friends’ bodies have been dismembered and sown together into wretched Frankenstein’s monsters. That’s the degree of horror Garnet has to stomach this episode, and still has to reconcile her existence with the mutants Home World sees her as.

It Could've Been Great#9. It Could’ve Been Great (2×24)
Written by Joe Johnston & Jeff Liu

“I guess we’re already here. I guess we already know. We’ve all got something to fear. We’ve all got nowhere to go. I think you’re all insane, but I guess I am too. Anybody would be if they were stuck on Earth with you.”

Peridot is pretty stubbornly adherent to her inherited beliefs, but she’s not stubbornly obstinate against learning anything new. It Could’ve Been Great shows her new experiences having made her more positive and hopeful in her activities, but her older prejudices still holding strong against the Gems and planet she’s fighting to save. The horror of Home World’s initial plans for Earth do a good job of distancing us from her, casting doubt upon the progress we thought she made. We leave the episode with an undercurrent a dread, fearing that all her education has meant nothing to her.

Onion Friend#8. Onion Friend (2×13)
Written by Lamar Abrams & Katie Mitroff

“Is that Steven? He looks just like Greg! That’s good. He used to be super hot.”

Remember back in Season One when I talked about my frustration with Onion Trade, depicting Onion’s peculiarity and loneliness without making any effort to ameliorate it. Onion Friend makes greater strides, both in depicting how bizarre Onion’s habits and paraphernalia are – his favorite movie is basically Window Water Baby Moving and he stores his pet snake’s food in… his mouth? – and in urging understanding on Steven’s part. But there’s even greater release for Amethyst in this episode, able to expunge her frustrations about home life after Cry for Help through Vidalia’s friendship and their mutually lewd jokes. Their pairing is so fun and beneficial to them both, it’s impossible not to be thoroughly charmed.

Log Date 7 15 2#7. Log Date 7 15 2 (2×26)
Written by Hilary Florido & Lauren Zuke

“If you really want to understand fusion, I can help you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s fuse.”
“OH MY STARS!”

An atypically low-key finale, Log Date 7 15 2 sews rich character detail out of everyday observances in the way an indie character study might. This is the 2nd time we’ve seen Peridot wholly redefined as a character. She’s neither a villain, nor a reluctant collaborator, but a willing refugee of Earth. It’s hysterical seeing Peridot grow fond of the gems, familiarizing herself with Earth’s bizarre social rituals, and fitfully obsessing over her fan shipping theory for kiddie soap Camp Pining Hearts. (“It’s cooler war, Paulette. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”) It’s an episode about growing to understand others through a lens of what you find positive and entertaining, and it basically features Garnet casually propose a threesome with Peridot. Girl knows how to show gems a good time.

Say Uncle#6. Say Uncle (2×03)
Written by Joe Johnston & Jeff Liu

“Okay, I’m ready for this episode to be over now.”

I literally don’t know what just happened. I’ve never seen Uncle Grandpa. I’m never going to look up what his deal is, but I laughed at every second of this episode. Its core lesson is naively simple – don’t fear what you don’t understand – and I’m pretty sure Steven already knew how to trigger his shield, but every shattering of continuity and coherence is a delight, especially as the Crystal Gems fall into an empty canvas of white. The entire episode is a grab-bag incredulous behavior, by both the characters and the writers, but it cuts to the show’s core joys in its appropriation of another’s.

Back to the Barn#5. Back to the Barn (2×20)
Written by Joe Johnston & Jeff Liu

“STOP! Giant Robots shouldn’t fight!”

After a bit of a clumsy start, Peridot’s stint with the Crystal Gems is in full gear. It’s exciting seeing Peridot interact with the individual gems because she’s filled with stereotypical assumptions based on her Home World knowledge. For Pearl, that means struggling to prove to Peridot that she’s not just a mediocre, inferior servant, but her own person with her own distinct merits. A robot-fueled face-off is a good vehicle for their mutual brand of irritable competitiveness, and even in failure, Pearl’s proved her own self-confidence after her piercing emotional confession in Friend Ship.

We Need to Talk#4. We Need to Talk (2×09)
Written by Hilary Florido, Katie Mitroff & Rebecca Sugar

“First you need the gem at the core of your being. Then you need the body that can turn into light. Then you need the partner who you trust with that light.”
“Metaphorically?”
“Literally.”

While it’s disappointing to see the season’s only Stevonnie spotting occur so briefly, it paves the way for a more complex tackling of Greg and Rose’s relationship. There’s definitely a concern in Greg, exacerbated by a clearly competitive Pearl, that Rose thinks he’s just novelty boyfriend. As he and Rose actually get to seriously talking about their concerns, with each other and themselves, trying to discover a bedrock for their relationship. Ultimately it’s their mutual confusion over their inexplicably strong feelings for each other that binds them together. Not literally, maybe, but symbols, gestures and metaphors will do.

Message Recieved#3. Message Recieved (2×25)
Written by Raven Molisee & Paul Villeco

“I don’t want to tell her what to do. She should just know. Shouldn’t she?”

The penultimate episode of Steven Universe Season Two encapsulates the universal frustration of trying to convince your friends that Hillary Clinton isn’t the antichrist and your family that Trump is a terrible human being. You can try desperately to sway them, but sometimes there’s no budging their rigid idealogy. What makes Message Received so ingenious is how it reflects this theme in two acts, first viewing Steven’s disappointment, and then Peridot’s more debilitating failure with Yellow Diamond (imposingly voiced by Patti Lapone!). It’s an impressively ground-shaking introduction and denouncing of the show’s most dominating villain yet, and an exciting moment of catharsis for Peridot.

Cry for Help#2. Cry for Help (2×11)
Written by Joe Johnston & Jeff Liu

“Smash is the word one would use to describe what someone else might do. Now the proper words to describe yours truly are: specific, intelligent, accurate, faultless, elegant, controlled, surgical, graceful and powerful! But yes, occassionally, I am known to smash.”

Possibly the quintessential episode in illustrating how far the Steven crewniverse are willing to go with their symbolism for real world experiences, Cry for Help is the launching of an entire arc focused on betrayal within close relationships and the urgency of consent. Even before its devastating finale, this episode is an expert showcase of the desire and intimacy associated with fusion, at first viewed through Amethyst’s regret over how botched her fusions with Garnet has been. They’re not a stable coupling, we’ve learned, but it’s better than a fusion built on lies and deceit. It’s a profound rupture for all three characters, not so easily resolved as the tidy-up ending of a more dismissive cartoon show.

Sworn to the Sword#1. Sworn to the Sword (2×06)
Written by Joe Johnston & Jeff Liu

“Step 1: Think of what you want to say.
Step 2: Say it.”

Capitalizing on a growing trend in Steven Universe episodes being able to generously develop multiple characters at once, Sworn to the Sword is at once an exhilarating Connie expansion and a powerful Pearl portrait. After Rose’s Scabbard, this gives us a more intimate sense of how Rose has shaped Pearl’s psychology. “Did Rose make you feel like nothing?”, Steven asks, open to the possibility his mother had a negative effect on others’ emotions. Connie, meanwhile, passionately immerses herself in sword fighting, but starts losing a sense of self-worth in the process. Steven loves Connie, but there’s no ego in that love; only concern. He helps build a stronger sense of family between him, Connie and Pearl. And Amethyst and Garnet make a hilarious comic cameo. “WHY YOU STANDING THERE ALL SAD LIKE THAT?!”

Come back next Monday for our final Summer of Steven ranking.

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