Contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for Season 5 Episode 29 of Steven Universe, “Change Your Mind.” And probably all of Steven Universe before that, so, you know. Avoid this if you don’t wanna hear any of that.
Okay, so we all knew that Steven was going to befriend White Diamond in the end, right? Because that’s how Steven defeats all his enemies. He befriends them, encourages them to think about their lives more healthily, etc. The show is essentially Pokemon if it were about collecting aunts. We know this.
But here’s the thing; the appeal of White Diamond in “Legs From Here To Homeworld” — the thing that was so delightfully terrifying about her — was that she was distant. Above. Deity-like, both in her appearance/demeanor and her disinterest in mortal affairs. To her, the entire war for Earth? Pink/Rose/Steven’s epic emotional journey? The entire scope of the series so far, plus all the backstory and mythology? She describes it as Pink’s “little game,” and hopes that she got it out of her system.
She is to the other Diamonds as the Diamonds are to regular gems, as gems are to humans, as humans are to ants. That’s how far removed she is. That’s why that episode got me so excited, because I was looking forward to seeing HOW Steven would win her over. I knew that he would, of course, but I knew it would be his biggest, hardest task yet.
But then he solved it in one episode — and while I unabashedly loved every second of it, it felt super rushed and just a little bit contrived. And this was a NEW and UNPLEASANT feeling for me because. . . I don’t think I’ve ever had a criticism of Steven Universe before? Yeah, I’m trying to think of one, and I’m coming up empty. Weird. But anyway.
What if this episode. . . what if this episode were exactly the same, but different? What if the Crystal Gems lost the battle with White?
Let’s start at the beginning. I buy that Blue Diamond would help Steven and Connie escape with relatively little convincing; she’s been shown to have the most affection for Pink, and that scene was super good. I have a harder time buying that they’d get Yellow on board so quickly, though, after only a brief fight. What if that fight drove the wedge between Blue and Yellow even further, and it wasn’t fixed by the end?
(Sidenote, but Yellow’s quick redemption was kind of insulting — since we’ve met Pink, the Diamonds have been a metaphor for an abusive family, and suggesting that you can solve such deeply embedded issues after one brief conversation? Yeah, not a great look. It speaks to the problem with the episode at large, but hang on, I’m getting to that.)
So Blue and Stevonnie could briefly overpower Yellow and start to escape. But soon they run into White Pearl and other Gem forces. From then on, the big fight scene could proceed much as it did in the episode, with all the delightful new fusions, with the epic Spaceship Combo Robot, and Obsidian climbing her way into White’s head. THAT WAS AWESOME.
Then, we have Steven’s awesome confrontation with White, and her creepy puppeteering of the Crystal Gems (all AWESOME), which culminates in the horrifying act of White removing Steven’s gem. This was a CHILLING moment, and I had no idea what was gonna happen next.
And what happened right after that was very fitting. A weakened, horrified human Steven on one side — and then on the other side, out of his gem? We see the shape of Pink Diamond, and then Rose, and then. . . someone new. Someone who looks exactly like Steven, but acts distinctly unhuman. Who is calm, collected, mysterious, utterly confident, and just a little scary. I liked this — it was a striking and bold and affecting moment, and it was a clear symbol that the Diamonds are never going to get their perfect Pink back. She’s changed. She has grown beyond them.
But what if Steven didn’t fuse with his Gem self? What if GemSteven shouted at Steven and Connie to make their escape while he fought off White Diamond, just before injuring her just enough to loosen her control over the Gems? Including, of course, White’s Pearl, who of course is revealed to be Pink’s original Pearl.
(Sidenote, but I love the way this is handled in the episode, hinting at PinkPearl’s tragic backstory rather than telling us outright.)
So Steven, Connie, the Crystal Gems, and PinkPearl are all running to get to the Leg Ship. As they go, they run into Yellow Diamond and her forces — and just like when it seems all hope is lost, Bismuth, Lapis, and Peridot arrive in the fixed arm ship! And they make an exciting escape back to Earth, with half of Homeworld on their tail, and it’s all great.
Here’s what I like about my version; Steven doesn’t have his gem. He is weakened, barely able to walk, and he can’t summon his shield anymore. He feels utterly defeated, and hates having to rely solely on his friends to bail him out. It’s a similar feeling to the one that Korra has at the end of Season 3 of her show. He has to reckon what it’s like to be a regular human. You could base several episodes around this feeling, back in Beach City.
Furthermore, we now have PinkPearl as part of the gang. Here’s a Pearl who doesn’t have the last six thousand years of her memory, who is delighted to be reunited with Pink, but distraught and confused as to the circumstances. That’s fascinating; gimme an episode or two about that. Plus, more Deedee Magno Hall is always great.
AND THEN GET THIS! Meanwhile, back on Homeworld, GemSteven stops battling White Diamond as soon as the Gems escape, and flies off into space. We don’t know where he went or what he’s doing, which adds to his mystery.
Meanwhile, White Diamond still develops a flaw. She starts to turn pink around the eyes and loses her control powers, just like she did in the episode — but in my version, she doesn’t realize it at first. And when she does realize, she doesn’t tell anyone. Instead of Steven straight-up TELLING White Diamond that her way of life is unsustainable and having her immediately come around. . . why not have her figure this out for herself? That way, we see her facade of godhood gradually degrade and crack as she struggles to maintain it.
Yellow is still allied with White, and angry with Blue for helping Pink escape. On White’s orders, Yellow imprisons Blue in the very same tower that Pink was put in so many times before. You could have SEVERAL GODDAMN AMAZING SCENES between the two of them. Yellow visiting Blue in her cell, berating her for her insanity. Blue casting withering looks at her. Blue immediately draws a parallel between what they both did to Pink and what Yellow is doing now — and it is this that makes Yellow start to doubt White Diamond’s worldview, rather than a quick conversation on a bridge.
See what I mean about how the episode hit all the correct emotional beats, but too fast? Abuse, dysfunction, and totalitarian power structures cannot be undone in 45 minutes, no matter how hard you try. In real life, those things are fucking difficult to disassemble and process. That takes your entire life, and lots of therapy. I want to see some reflection of that, you know? (And the frustrating thing is, the show usually acknowledges this really well!)
Back on Earth, Steven could have some small-scale adventures as a full human, where he learns how to deal. And he gets to a point where he’s. . . okay. He’s still devastated, but he’s healing. (ALSO I WANT AN EPISODE WITH HIM AND THE TWO PEARLS ON AN ADVENTURE, GIVE ME THIS NOW PLEASE.)
And at some dramatically appropriate moment, GemSteven arrives on Earth from outer space. He doesn’t speak, but they look at each other for a long moment. HumanSteven has gained an understanding of GemSteven in his absence. Only then do they fuse. Steven gets his power back, and he cherishes it all the more.
And then he could go back to Homeworld, where things are rapidly degrading. Blue is in jail. Yellow is getting even more angry and reclusive. White is slowly losing control and coherence. Meanwhile, the Gem populous is in uproar. They want to launch another attack on Earth, but no orders are coming from above.
And now Steven can have those tough conversations with Yellow, and with White. And now it makes much more sense that they would listen to him, because they’ve seen for themselves that he’s right. THEN AND ONLY THEN are they convinced to come back to Earth and heal the corrupted gems.
And even then, don’t rush it. Now you have a bunch of healthy, sentient Gems on Earth who, like PinkPearl, can’t remember the last six thousand years. Do they stay? Do they go? How do you talk to all of them? If they’re leaving, what’s the evacuation plan? If they’re staying, how do they coexist with humans? I assume some of this will be covered in the movie, but I’m not making any bets.
AAAAAAAANYWAY. This turned into a rant. But wouldn’t that have been more satisfying? They’ve got another season, right? Plus a movie. So why not USE it? Why wrap things up that quickly and neatly? Like, I’m not even sure what can happen in the movie that’ll be satisfying. They have literally saved all the corrupted gems, and wrapped up the entire conflict with the diamonds. Christ, even Jasper and Amethyst got a quick reconciliation scene. Every loose end has been tied up.
That being said, this show is still the best thing that has ever happened, quite possibly in the history of anything ever, and I will defend Steven Universe with my life, my soul, my heart, my body, the kitchen sink, and anything I happen to have in my fridge.
TLDR: I agree with every storytelling beat of the finale, but it disappointed me because it resolved everything too quickly. What we saw should have all happened over a season or a movie, not in one hour-long episode.