Steven Universe: Volleyball
December 9, 2019 2:33 PM - Season 6, Episode 4 - Subscribe

A visitor from Homeworld comes by... Pink Pearl, to see if Steven can heal her damaged face. His attempts take him, Pink Pearl and regular Pearl to the source of Pearls out in space, and new facts about Pink Diamond come to light.
posted by JHarris (27 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

There's a lot to love about this episode, including a very intentional shot at the end that doesn't quite show you if Volleyball's left eye is healing or not (although I speculate not because Megapearl had the same cracks at the end).

I'm sad that we didn't see Peridot, Lapis, or Bismuth in this miniseries.
posted by numaner at 3:29 PM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

The entire season so far, and especially this episode, is shaping up to show Steven close to becoming the worst of Pink Diamond, without necessarily realising it.

The feeling of "I know best what's good for you" to the point of objectification - Rose with Greg (until Greg called her out on it), Steven with Jasper.

Steven with the other Gems in "Guidance" - in wanting to not make gems conform to how they are made, he ends up dictating what they should be doing instead, just like the Diamonds. At least Amethyst asked.

And now this, with Pink Steven and the scream that once hurt Pink Pearl.

I don't think he's intending any of this. But it seems to be a situation of inheriting trauma, inheriting bad patterns of behaviour, of not having many good models of how to transform those patterns and impulses into something more productive and healthy. Like how children of narcissist parents end up with "fleas".

Sure, Steven wasn't raised by his mum or the Diamonds. But the nature of being part Gem means that that Influence is there to a more significant degree than just heritage - it has a life of its own. Steven will need to reckon with his Pink side more lest he recreates the same hurt his mum did before.
posted by divabat at 3:35 PM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Steven is also now 14. I suspect that there's some interesting interactions ahead between human puberty-related hormones and what we've now learned about Pink Pearl's... let's call it impulse control issues.
posted by hanov3r at 4:12 PM on December 9, 2019

I'm a little disappointed that The Reef is just an unmanned (ungemmed?) facility somewhere on Homeworld, even if its automated nature is necessary to provide the stakes of this episode. I always liked the fan theory that Pearls were the product of Mother of Pearl, a unique gem.

Enjoying how Fully Anime this went at the end, with Double Pearl's Utena-inspired look and throwing Steven though the barriers.

I dunno if Pink Pearl will be "Fixed" by this, I kinda hope not. Trauma is rarely that simple, and sometimes the scars we carry from it never truly heal.

So it seems the timeline was Pink gets a pink pearl -> Pink breaks her pearl -> White takes away the broken pearl and "perfects" it to make it into her (own pearl). -> White gives Pink a new pearl (i suspect it was a pearl originally meant for White). From what I can tell our pearl never really met Pink's old pearl until today, right?

I just realized "She's GOOOOOOOOOOONE!" was actually the very first hint of Pink's latent destructive power, now beginning to surface through Steven.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:14 PM on December 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm strongly torn between whether that line "Did you come to compete?" or the amazing fusion/post-fusion animation are the best part of this episode.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 8:05 PM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Okay Steven is 16, for a start.

That's important. He's in the thick of adolescence, becoming an adult.

I don't think he's intending any of this. But it seems to be a situation of inheriting trauma, inheriting bad patterns of behaviour, of not having many good models of how to transform those patterns and impulses into something more productive and healthy. Like how children of narcissist parents end up with "fleas".

This isn't a product of inherited trauma. This is his trauma. This is what this is shaping up to be - a series about Steven finally getting to deal with his own problems, not just cleaning up after Pink.

He says to Jasper in Little Homeschool he still has a lot to learn.
Amethyst asks him what he wants to do with his life and he blanks. He's never had to think about it.
And in the last episode he spends the whole time trying to unpack who and what the Rose Quartz part o that legacy means - and lets go of some of it, and puts some of it away.

This is him having to face his own trauma. How many times did people try to kill him as a child? He was what, twelve? when he started going on missions with the gems. He's never really had the space to work out what all that drama means for him personally, as Steven. I mean he's only just fucking settled on the idea that he is, in fact, his own person, and not some weird avatar of Pink or an extension of Rose Quartz.

Like even his anger here is about just being tired of dealing with Pink's shit. Being done with hearing about all the terrible things she did. This kid has been preternaturally patient with every monstrosity that's tried to hurt him, steal or kill his friends, not to mention his entire planet. Even if you have the best role models, even if everyone around you is super well adjusted, totally in touch with good modes of healing, that's still some heavy shit to lay on a literal child. We're talking "if you fuck up it's going to be genocide", and he's never processed that beyond just thinking of it as cleaning up after his mother.

This anger is his, and he deserves to have it, and to have the space to work through it, and work out what that formerly loaded question, who he is, actually means now, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if that's where we wind up with this whole series. Steven finally making that leap beyond Rose Quartz' son and Pink Diamond's inheritor and just getting to be Steven Universe himself.
posted by Jilder at 10:29 PM on December 9, 2019 [14 favorites]

More specifically about this episode, I did enjoy seeing Pearl's predecessor. Didi did a wonderful job conveying that gentle sweetness in Pink. She voiced Shell too so basically most of this episode is her work and it's wonderful. I also really enjoyed the subtle shady banter between the two Pearls. I'm a hardcore Pearl fangirl so every time she gets a bit more room to grow I really super love it, and this more nuanced framing for her relationship with Pinkie is really great - "someone's still got it bad" indeed.
posted by Jilder at 10:33 PM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh I'm not saying that Steven doesn't have trauma of his own. What I'm saying is that in addition to that, he's got a very literal inheritance of his mum's patterns (the gem/Pink Steven) and it seems Pink Diamond went through her own trauma too with the other Diamonds (and who knows what else the other Diamonds had to deal with). So all of that COMBINED makes for an intergenerational cycle of trauma that will just compound on itself if Steven doesn't actively break the chain.

It's a concept I see a lot esp within PoC/immigrant communities, the sorts that would have strong ties to ancestry - trauma and pain going down generation by generation, each one trying to handle both that inheritance and their own individual experience. Steven just has a much more literal, material manifestation of that in his gem, who (unlike the human half of Steven), has lived through and retains some memories of its prior lives.

Ian JQ once wrote about RQ being based on the experience of international students moving abroad to reinvent themselves; as someone who did exactly that for that reason, I could totally see the aspect of not being able to just let go of everything you were raised at just by virtue of moving. You have to recognise what you've carried with you, even without your consent or prior knowledge. Sometimes it springs up on you, like Pink Steven's rage taking Steven by surprise. But once you can recognise that, you can then work on it.
posted by divabat at 1:53 AM on December 10, 2019 [5 favorites]

There's a lot of people who view Pink Diamond as a villain, and there's a lot of people who defend her as doing her best to overcome the biases of her creation and her life as a Diamond. I fall into the latter camp. We steadily are getting to see the events that shaped her. Rebecca Sugar posted a sketch of Pink Diamond looking very worried, with the words "Try not to break this one" beside her head, which might indicate what happened with her. She felt incredibly guilty over Pink Pearl's injury and resolved not to let that happen again.

How that manifested as healing powers is unknown, but it's worth noting that, during the war as Rose Quartz, she didn't use those destructive powers, apparently at all. She relied on other gems and tech weapons like the laser light cannon. That is interesting: why she didn't use her natural destructive abilities? Would it be too obvious that they came from Pink Diamond, or had she actually lost the ability to use them by that point?
posted by JHarris at 10:01 AM on December 10, 2019

There's a lot of people who view Pink Diamond as a villain, and there's a lot of people who defend her as doing her best to overcome the biases of her creation and her life as a Diamond.

Why not both ?
posted by Pendragon at 10:13 AM on December 10, 2019

Only because it always seems to come down the second type of person defending her from the first.
posted by JHarris at 7:36 PM on December 10, 2019

I suspect the sequence of events went something like:

1. Pink throws a tantrum and damages her Pearl, is horrified to have done so, is yet more horrified to have said Pearl taken away and zombified by White
2. Pink resolves to never, ever lash out like that again, learns to bottle up her destructive powers (and her anger, and any other negative feelings) real good
3. this manifests as her just being sad all the time, so the other Diamonds give her Spinel to cheer her up
4. still real sad, but having gone so long without a temper tantrum Pink has proven she's mature enough to have her own colony, and is given the Earth and a new Pearl to help her run it
5. continuing fairly sad, but our Pearl suggests the RQ disguise so Pink can visit Earth in person
6. Pink realizes that there is life on Earth that needs her protection, and realizes that she and Pearl have capabilities beyond what they were made for
7. probably she figures out her healing abilities somewhere in here -- a power that is the opposite of the destruction she used to unleash, and therefore in her mind, Good where before she was Bad
8. meets Garnet and realizes that all Gems have greater potential than their intended purposes, not just her and Pearl
9. this means game fucking on, because now she's fighting, in her mind, for the freedom of the Earth and all the Gems who felt oppressed by the Diamonds
10. as the war takes a greater toll, decides that faking her death as Pink will allow her to cut ties with Homeworld completely. she never considers how the other Diamonds will react because she never believed the other Diamonds loved her enough that they would be that upset. and, well, we know the rest.
posted by nonasuch at 7:45 PM on December 10, 2019 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I can't consider Pink to be the villain in the purest sense because bitch is trying, really trying, but it doesn't stop her from fucking up massively and really hurting people. She really tries, but she spends a whole lot of time thinking of other people as things. I do wonder a bit if that's an angle, too - like, the Diamonds don't own any literal objects, just people shaped like tools. Even the buildings in Homeworld are made of people. Perhaps there's a subtle suggestion that people are no more made evil than they are made good, but that evil starts when you start viewing the people around you as tools. You can use them to make yourself bigger, shelter inside them, use them to comb your hair while they sing to you. Everyone is a tool.

It's hard to get past that. So she leaves Spinel behind, because she's a baby toy and you don't take your baby toys to your cool new job. She makes the RQs as cover for her playacting. I honestly don't think she started seeing other Gems as actual people until they started dying around her, and it really sunk in during the Diamond attack that took out everyone else.

Even then she never really came clean about it. She still never trusted anyone else to be anything other than what they'd been made to be - she says as much to Greg in "Greg the Babysitter", even after literal thousands of years of evidence to the contrary. They're people, long stories, but the other Gems never get the respect to be taken beyond their face value. Pearl still serves her. Garnet never questions, and just looks ahead, and Amethyst is just left to be a wild, messy quartz.

So while I can't say she's the villain, I'm certainly not going to defend her. She was a shitty person. Her upbringing and the nature of her gem are reasons, not excuses.
posted by Jilder at 2:25 AM on December 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

There's some of that, but I think it's more a case where Pink Diamond was, for a long time, really on the edge, emotionally. Things like accidentally breaking Pink Diamond's face during a tantrum caused her to have a really low opinion of herself, and desperate to be better. There's a sketch Rebecca Sugar posted, I think to her instagram, of a distraught Pink Diamond with the words "Don't break this one" beside her head.

One thing to keep in mind is that at least Pink Diamond has been going through this process of thinking about herself for a long time. The other Diamonds have barely started--they've been heedlessly shattering gems and thinking of them just as tools for thousands of years. Right now they're not breaking anyone only in deference to Steven; what is going to happen when they actually stop thinking of gems as mere things, and face up to the legacy of their long rule?

On when the Rose Quartzes were made, it depends on what the time frame of P.D.'s turnaround, depicted in flashback in Now We're Only Falling Apart, is. It seems like it's one day, but it feels like it should be a bit longer? The thing is, when Pink Diamond-as-Rose Quartz realizes that gem production is destroying Earth life, that probably marks the end of new gem production, by her, on Earth. That means they had to have been made after when Pearl has the idea to disguise her, but before she resolves to stop making gems. So it's likely that the Rose Quartzes were not made to make her alter ego harder to guess, they were probably already in the ground at that time.
posted by JHarris at 6:22 AM on December 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

(accidentally breaking Pink Pearl's face, I meant to say)
posted by JHarris at 6:12 PM on December 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah the timeline of Earth's colonization is never really clear. As for gem production though, it did not stop till Homeworld withdrew. It had to have been going on for a while - Pearl mentions the thousand year war in Back to the Barn so that's at least how long it was going on for, because Peridot says in Beta that the gems in the Beta kindergarten were made towards the end of the war, in desperation, so gem production went on till the end. At least a thousand years. That's backed up rather obliquely in a few places - in Can't Go Back Steven's dream flashback has Blue telling Pink that she doesn't have to do anything at all, just smile and wave, and everything will happen without her, so I doubt Pinkie actually had much of a say in what goes on, and Pearl tells Steven in Familiar that Yellow oversees every aspect of her colonies, and it's phrased as something peculiar to Yellow.

So Pink herself may have wanted to stop, but she didn't have the power to make it stop. That was the whole point of the war. She had to get Homeworld to leave Earth entirely. I do think you're right in saying that the flashbacks Now We're Only Falling Apart are probably compressed for narrative purposes - at the very least Pearl is old as balls and doesn't consider a few years to be that long. The Roses could have been made any time before or during the war, though my instinct would say it was towards the beginning before the rebellion when Pink still thought she could talk her way out of it. She didn't go straight to fighting, so it's possible she had them made before her Rose Quartz persona went rogue. That would make sense - a cohort of Gems that exist to provide her cover, without the foresight to realize she'd put them in danger.

In conclusion, I need to get out more.
posted by Jilder at 2:24 AM on December 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

The location of the Beta Kindergarten was not known to the Crystal Gems before Peridot showed them where it was. Pink Diamond would have had access to such information, so that production probably happened after she faked her shattering and lost access to that source. The Rose Quartzes were all made by her, so logically they wouldn't have been made in the Beta Kindergarten.
posted by JHarris at 11:32 AM on December 12, 2019

The Diamond attack was a direct response to Pink's shattering, and it a very fast response. Centi gives a rough idea of how sudden the attack was in Monster Reunion. Centi didn't have time to make it from the battlefield to the drop ship after the evacuation order was given.

And the Crystal Gems knew where the Beta kindergarten was, because Jasper "came out with her helmet on" immediately into a fight with them, if Eyeball Ruby is to be believed. Jasper also considered Pink to be her Diamond, so the shattering dates to after the Beta kindergarten was established. Amethyst didn't know where it was, because she didn't emerge until after the war was done and dusted. I guess Pinkie had Feelings about Beta and never took her there.

I would guess the RQs are from the Alpha kindergarten. Peri's tour from Beta makes it really clear that most of the Beta Gems were "defective" in some way or another. She seems really surprised that Jasper's hole is so clean and it's the only one that looks like that. Those RQs l looked pretty solid to me, so I'd guess Alpha.
posted by Jilder at 4:05 PM on December 12, 2019

I didn't get the impression that the attack came immediately after Pink faked her shattering. I had assumed that the Earth forces had gotten the upper hand, and that was the reason for the attack that caused the corruption.

The CGs always refer to "the" kindegarten. I think the show is pretty clear that they didn't know the location of the Beta?
posted by JHarris at 4:22 PM on December 12, 2019

They had to know Beta existed. They attacked it. Ame didn't, but she doesn't know a lot of stuff. I also refer to "the supermarket" but it doesn't mean the one I use is the only one. It's just the most important to my life. The Alpha kindergarten is more important to the Gems, because it's where Ame is from, and it's better set up with the big ole lab underneath. I don't think the Beta kindergarten has that kind of infrastructure or I reckon Peri would have mentioned it at some point when they were building the Gem Drill.

At any rate, as far as the blast goes, most of the series posits that it was the Gems winning that made the attack come, but that was before we knew RQ was Pink. I think it's in the movie the mention that they tried to destroy everything "in their sorrow" or words to that effect - not sure because we've just done a rewatch of the main series in preparation for Future and it's been a while since my last movie rewatch- but it's one of those sort of backwards falling dominos. Like it makes a lot more sense that the Diamonds would flip out completely at Earth because of Pink's death, rather than just let it got to ruin like the did with the Jungle Moon colony.

I don't think anything happens immediately with the Gems, both ours and the Homeworld kind. They're operating at a totally different timeframe to us meatballs. But I do think the elapse between Pinkie's shattering and the attack was fucking fast by Gem standards. Centi's got some real panic in her animation.

(Incidentally I have two small kids who are nutso about SU, hence the heavy rewatching. I'm not going Full Ronaldo on SU theories here.)
posted by Jilder at 4:34 AM on December 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

One thing I hope gets resolved in Steven Universe Future is Yellow's forced fusion experiments and the Cluster. When did she start doing them, before or after the shattering? Before or after the corruption attack? Was Yellow setting up Pink's colony to fail before she got shattered? I presume it's possible for her to have sent peridots or other minions to earth in the years after the corruption attack and them finding no trace of the remaining Crystal Gems or any corrupted gem monsters, simply by virtue of them not looking for those things.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:53 AM on December 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't think they attacked the Beta Kindergarten? I thought Jasper fighting since she burst out of the ground was a metaphor.

It is true that we didn't know RQ was Pink Diamond when we learned the earth gems were winning when the Diamond blast happened, but I don't see how that matters? The key moment there was that everyone except two gems, on both sides, thought Pink Diamond had been shattered. The revelation doesn't matter there. (I hope this doesn't seem as needlessly argumentative. It would be nice, I think, to pin down the backstory. Maybe I'm wrong.)

Again, I think Centipeedle/Nephrite's fear was at the coming evacuation order, not hearing that Pink Diamond was shattered.

Although thinking about it in retrospect... although the other Diamonds often acted like they were displeased with/annoyed by/upset with Pink Diamond, it is possible to see that they felt real grief when they heard of P.D.'s shattering. Nothing like that had ever happened to the Gempire before. It is easy to see at that point that they must have come to regard Earth as some kind of accursed place, which is reflected in Blue's comments in Korea, at the site of the Pink Palaquin--which is of course why Yellow buried the Cluster there, to eliminate the planet, which they must have come to have seen as anathema to them. Which was Pink Diamond/Rose Quartz's plan, of course, she just didn't realize they'd take it that far.

And now, the Earth is not only off their list of grave threats, but is a kind of place of wonder, a place where gems can learn new ways of being. I've heard that the basic story of Steven Universe was written out almost from the beginning, thousands of years into the past and future. It is interesting to think of where it's heading. Maybe Steven-like gem hybrids will become more common?
posted by JHarris at 3:52 PM on December 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mr.Encyclopedia, I've always taken Yellow at her word, that she and Blue were really trying to help Pink out with a project that they had assumed had been beyond her. Maybe she expected it to fail, but I don't think she was setting t up for that. I think the Cluster was begun either in the final phases of the war, post P.D.'s supposed-shattering, or after the war.
posted by JHarris at 3:54 PM on December 13, 2019

The timeline of the Cluster is such an interesting question. Peri says something about it being built after the war in When it Rains when she and Steven go to the kindergarten to check on the status of the Cluster. She also says that while she hadn't been made at that point, she did read over a few hundred years of reports. So that would put it during the shell-shocked period right after the war. Given that the Crystal Gems found Amethyst there running feral, any Homeworld activity at the kindergarten would have to happened between the end of the war and Ame emerging. If she had emerged, late and defective, when Homeworld was doing Gem experiments I imagine it'd have gone very poorly for her, so I would put it during that window after the war but before she popped out. So that would make the Cluster 4000 to 4500 years old.

That timeline's got wobbles in it though. Ame is only 500 years overcooked, but it's heavily implied that the gem the other Amethysts are waiting for during Pinkie's first cosplay is our Ame, but that's way, way too early by like a thousand years. And just because Peri read hundreds of years of reports doesn't mean they were just the ones post war.

Maybe Steven-like gem hybrids will become more common?

Ain't that a thing. There's that great exchange Connie has with the gems when they're looking for Aquamarine in Are You My Dad when Connie suggests Aquamarine might be a hybrid like Steven. Garnet replies with "There are no other Gems like Steven." and Connie replies with "Are you sure?" and there's the most goddamn pregnant pause. Just...loooooooong......and then then move on. So money's good That Sugar Woman put that there for a reason.
posted by Jilder at 4:43 AM on December 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

I always thought the birth of the second gem/human hybrid would be a great final note of the series. It would illuminate what Steven's birth was like, since it's one of the few past events we haven't really explored, and it would be something that shows what the future holds: a greater alliance between humanity and gemkind.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 10:42 AM on December 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ah yes I noticed that pause too Jilder! There's so much weird foreshadowing, and a ton of it in the original show hasn't even been paid off on. I hear Rebecca Sugar has said that, whatever questions we have remaining, Steven Universe Future will answer them. To that I think "Good luck!", but at least they're making an attempt.

What questions remain? This is just what jumps to mind, I'm sure there's many more:
- Garnet has implied that Rose was known to Beach City citizens before, in The Return. How?
- There's been implied all kinds of crazy adventures between Vidalia and Amethyst, including something involving the mayor's boat?
- On the Beach City map included in one of the books, there's a cave along the coast that's keyed as just "?". What's up with that?
- What's up with that big hole in the wall behind the warehouse?
- The Pebbles are such a cute and awesome thing to just use as a throwaway. BTW: they seem to have positive memories of Pink, regardless of tantrums.
- What about all those creepy statues on Homeworld that are implied to be alive? Are they free now too? Are they just content with their lot? How about Blue's comb? There's also a lot of interesting objects in Pink Diamond's room on Homeworld.
- Where did Rose's healing powers come from? Her plant powers? How do gems get powers?
- What will be the ultimate fate of the Watermelon Stevens, who probably now have sea travel as a useful skill?
- Is Pumpkin still around now, two years later? Ian Jones-Quartey has said that gourds don't last that long....

And a new one:
- When will we learn more about Yellow and Blue Pearl's broadcast station??
posted by JHarris at 4:36 PM on December 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by Jilder at 12:56 AM on December 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

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