Image: Steven Universe (Cartoon Network)

There’s a reason Amethyst is the only Gem Steven has fused with so far—they have a lot in common, and their relationship is much more equitable than Steven’s relationships with Garnet and Pearl. These similarities have been repeatedly teased out in episodes like “Steven Vs. Amethyst,” eventually forming basis for one of Steven Universe’s strongest ongoing pairings. So I’m pleasantly surprised to get “What’s Your Problem,” an episode diving into the Steven-Amethyst connection that manages to hit many the emotional and comic notes of a really excellent Steven Universe episode, all while servicing the broader purpose of the Heart Of The Crystal Gems arc.

When Steven and Pearl return to the temple with Sapphire, they find a Dear Jane letter in which Ruby tells Sapphire that she’s running away. (Amethyst lost track of Ruby because she was too busy playing video games.) With Pearl and Sapphire incapacitated and weeping, Steven and Amethyst go off to find Ruby and talk a little bit about their feelings in the process. That’s basically the whole episode. It’s a nice change of pace after everything going on in “Now We’re Only Falling Apart,” and it gives everyone involved—storyboard artists, voice actors, etc.—a lot more opportunities to really shine.

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Storyboard artists Katie Mitroff and Paul Villeco have a lot of fun with the specificity of the premise, producing a few of my favorite Steven Universe visual gags from the past season or so. For example: At the beginning of their search, Steven says that Ruby could have either gone into town or into the ocean... followed by a predictable but very satisfying cut to Steven calling for Ruby in a bubble at the bottom of the ocean. There’s a similar cut from Steven asking if Ruby knows anyone in town to Greg’s car wash, which balances out the silliness of the rest of the places they look (like Funland, where Steven throws homemade flyers out of a spinning teacup) as a pretty good guess that winds up being right—Ruby is with Greg, just not at the car wash.

After a while, Amethyst forces Steven to take a break at Fish Stew Pizza, where her agenda eventually becomes clear: She wants to talk about Steven’s feelings about Rose and Pink Diamond. He’s having a lot of them—besides being confused by learning that his Gem is Pink Diamond, Steven is trying to adjust to his new understanding of his mother, who was Gem royalty in addition to being an imperfect rebel and a liar. This doesn’t necessarily negate all of the emotional work Steven has been doing in working through his feelings about his mom, but it changes something. And, as Amethyst tells him, that’s unfair to put on him. It’s especially unfair that Steven continues to put other people first, insisting on looking for Ruby and then trying to get Amethyst to open up about her feelings about Rose, without really taking the time to dig into his own.

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At the climax of the episode Steven and Amethyst learn that Ruby is on Brooding Hill with Greg, and Amethyst tries to go take care of it by herself in helicopter form, only for Steven to try to press her on her reaction to the Pink Diamond news. If there was ever a distillation of Steven Universe, it’d be an upbeat action sequence in which one character dramatically clings to a sentient helicopter while yelling, “Let me help you with your feelings!” This sequence is really well-animated and boarded by Mitroff and Villeco, all vivid colors and pleasantly kinetic shapes, but my favorite moment comes when Amethyst yells “Get out of my head!” at Steven, who is literally inside her head in her helicopter form. The scene is intense, funny, cathartic, and sweet—all of the things you want out of Steven Universe.

Once they crash onto the beach, Amethyst makes a big declaration of her feelings. Michaela Dietz’s voice acting here is, if not series-best work, at least pretty damn great. “I’m not responsible for what Rose did,” Amethyst says, “But I am responsible for me.” And she doesn’t want to keep adding responsibilities and negativity to Steven’s emotional plate. This scene is basically an absurdly dramatic speech where Amethyst lets out all of her pent-up feelings, ones that will be recognizable to any adolescent who has come to see the failings of all the adults around them. Amethyst is the future, she insists to Steven, “And I’m not gonna fall apart on you.” It’s a genuinely inspiring new development, which is pretty impressive this late into the show’s run.

Unfortunately for Amethyst, this also makes her the most mature Crystal Gem, news that Steven delivers with a degree of solemnity and that Amethyst responds to by groaning and thrashing around on the beach. (Presumably, Pearl and Sapphire are still in tears back at the temple.) It’s a low-key, contemplative moment that both affirms their friendship and calls back to the beach fight with Jasper that kicked off their feud-turned-friendship in “Crack The Whip.” Safe in their connection, at least, Steven and Amethyst fly off as a team to go find Ruby.

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Stray observations:

  • There are, of course, flashes of Amethyst’s silly side, here, though she’s mostly using it to cheer Steven up—especially when she turns small and walks into a shell, yelling “What a spacious house!”
  • Amethyst orders her pizza with all of the toppings. Steven quietly puts some of it a pouch for, uh, reasons.
  • Sapphire tries to use her future vision to figure out whether Ruby will come back, only to ask herself “Why would she be a cowboy?” Maybe we’ll find out tomorrow in “The Question.”

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