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“Together Alone” opens with a beautiful shot of the open vista of Homeworld, taken up by the four parts of what is, essentially, the Gem Voltron: White’s head and torso, Yellow’s and Blue’s arms, and Pink’s legs. The image echoed in a later shot of the same space just before Steven’s ball, albeit this time without the arms. (Also, everything is a bit brighter this time, and the landing pad zone is framed by Hollywood-style searchlights announcing Steven’s party.) The two images are almost identical, but different in one important way: The first is actually from many, many years in the past, a nightmare from Pink’s life that ends with the image of Steven spitting up his mom’s hair.

The two ways of organizing Homeworld, and Steven’s barely-subconscious crisis about whether he is, in fact, his mom, highlight his big problem at this point in his trip to Homeworld: the other Diamonds think of him as being Pink, which is why they stopped their attacks on Earth and are willing to listen to him. But that means they treat him like Pink, and hold him to the same childish expectations. If he convinces them that he isn’t his mother... why would they listen?

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Mostly, this is to say that “Together Alone” is necessary, but a bit slow. It’s a more transitional episode of Steven Universe, one that largely serves to bring the subtext of the rest of the arc to the forefront while setting up for White Diamond action. The central thematic tissue of the episode—Steven attempting to go along with the rigid practices and hierarchies of Gem society in order to get White Diamond’s attention before eventually giving in to his human impulses and offending everyone—is pretty standard stuff for the show, and feels like a beat we’ve seen a couple of times. This does, however, give the ball the feeling of a slow-moving crash. We all know it’s going to go belly-up.

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At first though, it seems like the ball might actually be a success. Blue and Yellow are both on board, and declare that Pink’s reappearance marks the beginning of Gem Era Three. (Pearl excitedly tells Steven that he’s already changed the course of Gem history, which feels like a bit of a given by now.) But that excitement comes with some conditions: Steven learns that the only acceptable behavior at Gem balls is sitting on his throne watching dispassionately while the members of his court present themselves for approval or disapproval. As Yellow Pearl puts it, “Everyone stays where they belong.” Steven hesitantly goes along with this in order to maximize his chances of healing the corrupted Gems, even at the cost of hiding his friends.

Steven does have a small a positive influence on Gem culture, and just might continue to do so if he sticks around long enough. Exerting the same sort of charismatic force as his mother, Steven gets Blue Pearl to talk about her drawing habit, including displaying a courtroom sketch of Yellow Diamond zapping an unrelated Gem (or maybe Steven) and a portrait of Yellow Pearl. (Yellow Pearl reveals herself to be an incipient model, posing while muttering, “Not bad. Try a different angle.”) If given enough time, Steven can get anyone to open up about their individual identity, simply because he cares.

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Eventually, the early portion of the ball goes off without a hitch, including some striking moments of Yellow and Blue Diamond dramatically entering the space by, essentially, doing runway walks. It’s a party! It’s fun! And yet—all of the ways the Crystal Gems are outcasts have begun snap into focus: Pearl needs to function solely as Steven’s property, Connie is an organic pet, Amethyst needs to use limb enhancers, and Garnet needs to split up. Worst of all, White Diamond doesn’t even show up, instead sending her extremely creepy Pearl to observe.

Connie cheers Steven up by getting him to dance, which inevitably leads to them fusing. This, it turns out, is a bridge too far. When the Diamonds angrily demand that Stevonnie unfuse, the ball quickly turns into a standoff with the Crystal Gems (including Opal, which is a nice way of turning the entire team into fusions), as well as two random Jades (voiced by Aparna Nancherla again) who also fuse out of nowhere. Everything falls apart—the rest of the team gets poofed, and Steven and Connie get thrown into some kind of cell like children being put in the scariest form of time out—but the most unsettling part is a single, tense shot of White Pearl’s blank smile dropping into a frown. Intellectually, I know that Steven is going to emerge victorious here. That’s how the show works, and how it will continue to work. But sometimes the tension is built so effectively that it just doesn’t matter. I know it’s all going to be okay, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

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Stray observations:

  • This episode is storyboarded and written by Lamar Abrams, Christine Liu, and Tom Herpich. (There are even more weird grinning Gem creatures, this time little gears that present themselves to Steven as part of his court.) They have a blast with the crowd at the ball.
  • Dee Dee Magno Hall continues to be just delightful as all of the Pearls, and after that portrait scene I am very excited to see (or at least acknowledge the existence of) everyone’s Yellow Pearl-Blue Pearl fic.
  • Yellow Diamond tells Steven it’s “not a bad turnout” for the ball. Wouldn’t a party hosted by the ruling dictators of Gem society be like, kind of a big deal regardless? Maybe?
  • See you next week, when we get a little “Escapism.”

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