It’s no secret that Rebecca Sugar and the rest of the Crewniverse have known where Steven Universe was going for years. But the “Heart of the Crystal Gems” is the sort of arc that really makes you take a step back and appreciate just everything that this wonderful cartoon is doing.
At its core, “Heart of the Crystal Gems” is a story about love: Love of family, love of one’s beloveds, but also about love of one’s self. Steven Universe is in endgame territory and as depressing a concept as that is, the show is working at the height of its powers to wrap up an epic story in a way that you can’t not be delighted by.
As always, Garnet exists at the center of the team here, but what this most recent batch of episodes really manages to encapsulate is just how integral a part of the Crystal Gems Garnet actually is. Garnet isn’t just the strongest member of the Gems, she truly is their leader in the sense that it’s her existence that gave Rose Quartz/Pink Diamond the resolve to fight the good fight. Learning about Rose’s deception is (obviously) enough to force Ruby and Sapphire to split, but their turmoil is what brings the very best out of the rest of the Gems.
There have been unsubtle signs that it was coming, but Amethyst truly does come into her own in a major way during this arc. It isn’t just that she’s the one with the least amount of skin in this particular game; she’s been through enough, emotionally, that the all-too-human drama the Gems are going through just isn’t really enough to shake her anymore. There’s a growth and maturity to her person that’s satisfying and makes the Steven-Amethyst fusion Smoky Quartz’s existence that much more impactful because well, of course Amethyst is the first one to fuse with Steven. He might be an accidental Diamond, but the two of them are both Earthlings who have the most in common with one another and fundamentally understand what it’s like to feel outside of Gem culture.
That idea is what makes Lapis’ surprising return so satisfying. Feeling like an outsider is what makes Steven, Amethyst, Lapis, and Peridot such strong characters. Even though their hearts aren’t always fully in the bag for the Earth, they see the planet as a place that’s willing to have them and accept them as the people they actually are. When Lapis literally drops a barn on Blue Diamond, she isn’t just fighting back against her oppressor, she’s making a statement about her desire to exist in a place that isn’t trying to tell her who to be.
It’s that energy that keeps the episodes about Ruby and Sapphire’s split from becoming too schlocky or overwrought, because you know that the show is eventually coming back to a place that’s speaking about the Gems’ emotional strength. That strength, though, is also what makes the “Heart of the Crystal Gems” so terrifying.
Blue and Yellow Diamond’s arrival on Earth is the sort of shit that people have nightmares about, but the fascinating thing about their return here, though, is how grounded in grief it is. At this point, that misdirect earlier this season has become obvious, and there’s really no way to interpret Yellow and Blue’s fury as anything but profound sadness over the loss of their sister (who may also be their child? Steven Universe is weird like that).
As many horrific things as the Diamonds have assaulted the Earth with, it truly is because they were hurt and betrayed in ways that nobody can really grasp properly. The reason the Homeworld Gems haven’t come to wreck the Earth is that the Gem matriarchy is still in the active process of grieving. They’re hurt and trying to cope and doing a not-so-great job of it. Thankfully, though, Steven’s here and he’s just trying to make sure that everyone’s emotional needs are satisfied.
Also. Cluster FTW.