It’s over, isn’t it?
Though Steven Universe’s 15-minute episodes air sporadically and there’s never really any way of knowing when they’re going to drop, the series almost never fails to pack an inordinate amount of game-changing information into every carefully crafted “Stevenbomb” that pulls us closer to the series’ inevitable conclusion. And last night was no different.
Even after the massive leaks that Cartoon Network aired last week, this week’s new episodes—“Can’t Go Back” and “A Single Pale Rose”—revealed that even when you think you’ve got a pretty good idea about where Steven Universe is going, the Crewniverse still has more than a few shocking secrets up their sleeves.
Between the two new episodes, “Can’t Go Back” is far easier to process, if only because there was never much doubt that Steven and Lapis would eventually reunite after her departure from Earth. After Ronaldo accidentally spots Steven’s old barn lodged in a crater on the moon, he and Lion super-warp there to discover that, after initially leaving the Milky Way, Lapis doubled back in order to keep her eye on the Earth from not too far away. Lapis is understandably terrified that Steven and the Gems’ most recent actions are going to draw the Diamonds’ attention and spark yet another war with Homeworld, but she explains that beneath her fear, she has a genuine love for her new home and the friends that have become her family.
Steven Universe has never shied away from exploring the various kinds of trauma that all of its characters have grappled with, but the circumstances of Lapis’ imprisonment make hers unique. Though it’s been a while since Lapis’ gem was damaged and trapped within the Homeworld mirror, “Can’t Go Back” illustrates that she’s not yet to really work through her psychological and emotional issues. For Lapis, the prospect of being shattered or, even worse, placed into yet another mirror, overshadows all of the victories the Crystal Gems have racked up against Homeworld. There’s nothing that Steven can do to persuade her that it’s all going to work out in their favor in the end—and when you sit with it, “Can’t Go Back” isn’t necessarily about Steven trying to figure out how best to make her feel better. Rather, the episode is a testament to the idea that sometimes, the best and only thing a person can do to help a friend who’s in the midst of an existential crisis is to just listen without expectation of judgment.
But “Can’t Go Back” isn’t just a quick filler episode that debuts Lapis’ first solo song “That Distant Shore,” it also reveals even more background information about Pink Diamond and who shattered her. While hanging out with Lapis, Steven falls asleep and begins to dream about the Diamonds again, this time in a room bathed in white light that casts Pink, Blue, and Yellow into shadow.
When last Steven dreamt about Pink’s life, she’d yet to be given her first and only colony, but in “Can’t Go Back,” he’s transported to a point in time after Homeworld’s plans to colonize the Earth were disrupted by the first Crystal Gems’ uprising. While Yellow is silent, Blue chastises a demure Pink for not performing her duties as a Diamond by letting the Crystal Gems be a continuing threat to her authority. Blue explains that it’s unacceptable for Pink to falter as a leader after so passionately begging Yellow to give her a colony—and when Pink begins to protest, Blue quiets her and insists that all she really needs to do is just put on a good face and have faith that the rebellion will be quashed in due time.
The most surprising thing about Steven’s dream, though, is what sets the stage for “A Single Pale Rose.” Moments after Blue and Yellow depart, Steven watches as a silhouetted Pearl advances on Pink from behind and draws Rose’s sword, seemingly ready to drive it into the Diamond. The shock of the revelation startles Steven awake, and after an unfortunate exchange with Lapis that prompts her to fly off into space again by herself, he realizes the time has finally come to confront Pearl directly about the secrets he knows she’s been hiding from him his entire life.
“A Single Pale Rose” is one of those curious episodes of Steven Universe that feels much longer than it actually is because it’s more than the sum of its parts. Yes, it’s a paradigm-shifting episode that finally answers the burning question that’s been on everyone’s mind since the show first established that Rose shattered Pink. But it’s also a delightful glimpse into the Gems’ day to day lives that echoes the early days when the show was still mostly lighthearted and carefree.
With Pearl’s personal life on the mend, the high-strung Gem finally has a cell phone, which, unsurprisingly, she’s somewhat perplexed by. When Amethyst volunteers to find a case for her to use (who would have thought that out of all the Crystal Gems, Amethyst would be the most bullish about making people put their cell phones into protective cases?), Pearl reasons that she’d be better off just storing it within her gem—something that Steven would probably ask her about were it not for the fact that he has more pressing things on his mind. Rather than beating around the bush or being non-confrontational with Pearl, Steven lays it all on the table and asks her point blank whether she was the one who shattered Pink.
Steven’s forthrightness stuns Pearl and damn near sends her into a fit. When Amethyst returns, Pearl panics, puts her phone into her gem, and promptly runs to her room within the temple, leaving her fellow Gems confused. But the thing is, Pearl wants to talk to Steven—it’s just that she can’t seem to bring herself to do it. Or at least, not in person. Later in the day, Steven receives a text from Pearl stating that she wants to talk to him, but when he questions her about it, she’s surprised and confused about who sent the message. The phone, Pearl demonstrates, is still tucked away somewhere within her gem and, being the enterprising teen that he is, Steven reasons that he needs to retrieve the device from wherever it is in order to find his answers. But, as it turns out, it’s a lot more difficult than diving into someone’s closet.
As it turns out, the interior of a Gem’s gem is a lot like the Crystal Gems’ rooms within the temple. In the highest level of Pearl’s pearl—the “surface”—Steven encounters a Pearl who spends her time organizing all of the various weapons and items that Pearl’s physical form might need to call upon at any given point in time. When the missing cell phone doesn’t turn up in the “C” section of Pearl’s internal storage, she tells Steven that there’s a good chance that it’s with one of the other Pearls located deeper within her mindscape, but she warns him that he may not like what he learns should he continue on.
The next level of Pearl’s pearl transports Steven to the past—after the Gem War, but before his birth, and his stumbles upon a younger version of Pearl who’s in the midst of an emotional breakdown over Rose’s decision to have a child with Greg. This particular moment doesn’t surprise Steven, given that at this point, he’s fairly familiar with Pearl’s complicated feelings about his mother’s decision to give up her physical form. But the tearful Pearl informs Steven that he has to venture to yet another level in order to discover the truth and retrieve the missing phone.
The interesting thing about the murder mystery that Steven Universe has been slowly rolling out since last summer is that Steven’s had to work his way through a number of varying accounts of just how Rose managed to shatter Pink Diamond. On Homeworld, the story’s become the stuff of legend and as a result, details vary from person to person, but the Ruby Eyeball insisted that she was there to witness the shattering. As it turns out, Eyeball’s telling was, in fact, an accurate one, but the specifics of what happened are a bit more complicated.
In the deepest recesses of Pearl’s psyche, Steven encounters Rose herself just as she’s tearfully killing Pink Diamond, but as the dust blows away in the aftermath of her sneak attack, Steven’s surprised when she hands him Pink’s unsheltered gem. Rose never shattered Pink, but rather poofed her, something that he doesn’t understand until he’s pulled into Pearl’s innermost level, where he witnesses one of the last conversations Pearl and Rose had before the war broke out.
The Rose that Steven watched attack Pink was not Rose at all, but a shapeshifted Pearl who was acting on orders from Pink herself. The Rose that Steven, Amethyst, and Garnet had been led to believe was merely a rogue Quartz soldier was, in fact, a disguised Pink Diamond. Together, the two hatched a scheme to fake Pink’s shattering so that she could live her life as Rose Quartz and, one imagines, to galvanize the nascent rebellion among other gems who saw the Earth colony’s construction as inhumane. As wild as the revelation is, what’s even wilder is that Rose Quartz being Pink Diamond is actually one of the more popular fan theories that’s been circulating around the internet for ages.
Even though fans predicted the reveal in “A Single Pale Rose,” what’s really heartbreaking about the episode are all of the implications it carries about all of the relationships that Steven Universe is built on. All of Pearl’s nervous energy, her protectiveness of Steven, and her propensity for keeping secrets are cast in a new light that make you question the very nature of her character. On the one hand, you can’t help but feel sorry for the gem who was merely following the orders of her superior—who also happened to be the person she loved. But at the same time, there’s an undeniable element of profound dishonesty that makes it difficult to imagine the Crystal Gems being able to recover from the revelations.
More than that, though, “A Single Pale Rose” illustrates just how selfish and single-minded a person Rose/Pink Diamond was. Pearl was hesitant to go along with the plan until Rose/Pink Diamond insisted that it was the only way that they could ever live together on Earth. Rose/Pink Diamond does make a point of stating that she wants to fake her death in order to be able to make the Earth a safe place for its native inhabitants and the Crystal Gems who’ve come to love the planet, but her leaning on Pearl’s emotions is manipulative in a way that can’t be overstated.
Pink’s order to Pearl that she never reveal what they did makes sense, as the relationship between a Diamond and her assigned Pearl has been shown to be one of the strongest that Gems can have. But the fact that Steven technically is Pink Diamond is a solid justification as to why he’s able to make her tell the truth—a truth that Garnet and Amethyst abruptly learn once Steven returns from Pearl’s gem.
It’s difficult to really say where Steven Universe might go from here and that’s probably exactly how the Crewniverse wants it. The Crystal Gems are sure to be devastated to learn that their entire movement and the reason for putting their lives in danger was based on a lie, and judging from the promos for the next Stevenbomb—slated to drop sometime this summer—Rose’s actions may very well tear the team apart in irreparable ways.
The fantasy that Rose/Pink Diamond and Pearl worked so hard to maintain is over and from the tone of these newest episodes, Steven Universe may be nearing its end. But until the final chapters of this madcap story are revealed, all you can really do is sit, think, and go back to rewatch the series from the very beginning with the devastating truth in mind.