Image: Steven Universe (Cartoon Network)

Rose Quartz actually being Pink Diamond is easily the most important piece of Steven Universe backstory we’ve learned since season one—and where for most of the first season, it was just Steven (and the viewers) who didn’t know much about the history of the Crystal Gems, here, everyone is finding out at the same time. It would be impossible to do justice to every Gem’s emotional response to this information in one episode, so “Now We’re Only Falling Apart” doesn’t really try, instead focusing mainly on Garnet (and Sapphire in particular) and Pearl. Kicking off a new arc titled “Heart Of The Crystal Gems,” storyboard team Lamar Abrams and Christine Liu turn “Now We’re Only Falling Apart” into a sort of remix of “The Answer,” with a Pearl story in the past rhyming with Garnet’s story in the present.

Picking up immediately after the end of “A Single Pale Rose,” Pearl is mostly relieved that she can finally talk about Rose’s true identity, while Amethyst excitedly freaks out. Garnet, on the other hand, whispers Rose’s name in anger and splits. Largely, this is because of Sapphire, who understandably feels deeply betrayed—she’d chosen never to “look into” Rose with her future vision, maybe as a way of respecting her privacy. (This is a decent explanation for why Garnet never knew Rose’s secret, but I’m still not 100% sure I buy it—I guess this is the point of her future vision remaining fluid as a narrative device.) Rose told Garnet to never question her own existence when they met, which was the impetus for them to stay together in the first place, and why Garnet canonically never asks questions. So it’s understandable when Sapphire tells Ruby “Our relationship is based on a lie” before running off.

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The rest of the episode is consumed with Steven and Pearl going after Sapphire to “explain” the situation to her, which suggests that either Steven is doing really well with this new information or is just ignoring his feelings for Sapphire’s sake. (Probably the latter.) Pearl finally gets to tell the full story of Rose’s origin, hopefully for the last time. (I appreciate the show’s commitment to showing each of its storytellers as unreliable narrators and revisiting some crucial moments, but this is a move that has diminishing returns.) Essentially, Pearl paints a picture of Pink Diamond the way we’ve seen her before, as a perpetually sullen teen—but in this story, Pink gets excited about the prospect of the new, exciting, and fun things on Earth, especially after Pearl accidentally suggests that she shape-shift into a Quartz in order to hang out on the surface unobserved.

Pearl’s scenes with Pink in flashback are very sweet, if also a little unsettling—Pearl feels like she has to ask for permission to imagine anything, a few thousand years into her existence, and is still essentially Pink’s property. But there are some really excellent moments in this sequence, like the way Pink star-eyes for the first time when she sees the Earth, Pearl’s failed “attempt” at fusing by yelling the word “activate” while holding Rose on her shoulders, and Deedee Magno Hall’s line reading of “I’m not yours, but I make you so happy anyway” when Pearl tries to express her growing romantic fantasies. More importantly for Sapphire, Pearl retells her and Rose’s side of their encounter with Garnet in “The Answer.”

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That meeting broadened Rose’s mission from saving the Earth (which could theoretically have just allowed her to go back to being Pink Diamond) to saving all Gems and giving them the chance to be free. We’ve gotten a sense of this for a while, but Pearl admits that Rose, even if she meant well, was fundamentally selfish, and one of the things I hope the rest of the arc does is interrogate the way that knowledge affects each of the Crystal Gems. At the very least, Sapphire manages to get over it, realizing that not only did her existence as Garnet inspire Rose, Pearl was, in part, the leader of the Crystal Gems. After all, she seduced Pink into falling for her—and for the Earth. (The brief shot of their four eyes opening as they briefly form the fusion we know as Rainbow Quartz is probably the most powerful visual moment of the episode.)

Even if Sapphire has come to terms with Rose’s identity, it’s unclear if anyone else has. Steven is at least partly cool with it—he’s been through enough learning about Rose that it’s probably not that much of a surprise. (And besides, at least she didn’t shatter anyone.) But when Steven, Pearl, and Sapphire make it back to the temple, they find that Ruby has gone missing. Working through this betrayal isn’t going to be that easy.

Stray observations:

  • The Amethysts leave to form up, assuming the last one to emerge (our Amethyst) will catch up later. Oops!
  • My little theory corner: I’m sure people have discussed this before, but from the way Pearl refers to only Blue and Yellow as the other Diamonds, it seems pretty likely that White Diamond is a fusion of Blue, Pink, and Yellow.
  • Welcome back to The A.V. Club’s Steven Universe coverage! As always, I’ll be here all week. See you tomorrow for “What’s Your Problem?” where we’ll catch up with Ruby... maybe?

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