Image: Steven Universe (Cartoon Network)

Part of the difficulty with Ruby-Sapphire stories is that, of necessity, they both feel a little smaller than the rest of the Gems—after all, we mostly relate to them as half of Garnet. That means that it’s easy for their characterization to feel reductive, like they both need to be slotted into roles that explain which parts of Garnet’s personality come from them. And that makes writing for Ruby especially tough: Most of the Rubies we’ve met—the ones who operated the Roving Eye—are kind of dumb and a little one-note. What makes our Ruby different? That’s one of the things storyboard artists Miki Brewster and Jeff Liu explore in “The Question,” which puts us on the road back to Garnet but more importantly focuses on Ruby, living by herself.

When Steven and Amethyst show up at Brooding Hill, Ruby is shockingly fine. she’s having a great time eating pizza and reading comics with names like Digital Limit, basically living the Gem equivalent of the single life. Greg, notably, has been helping her through the split rather than working through his own feelings, though Steven does briefly ask Greg how he feels about Rose’s true identity. (I’m glad someone asked; Greg isn’t one of the Crystal Gems, but he might have been closer to Rose than anyone except maybe Pearl.) Like most things, he takes it in stride: “She never told me she used to be Pink Diamond, but I never told her I used to be Gregory DeMayo.” I guess, dude! Feels like it’d make sense to talk about your past and open up at some point in the relationship—Gregory DeMayo is part of who Greg became, the same way Pink Diamond is part of who Rose became.

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Eventually, Ruby decides she wants to do something romantic—but not with Sapphire. Instead, using a comic called Lonesome Lasso as inspiration, Ruby decides to be a cowboy. (Sapphire’s prediction was right!) The myth of the cowboy is basically exactly what Ruby is looking for from single life: exploration into the great unknown, a rugged sense of self-reliance and figuratively and also literally finding herself. (Cue Ruby: “I already am lost. That’s why I came out here... to find myself.”) Greg, Steven, and Amethyst head out to an open plain to spend some time with Cowboy Ruby, and it manages to make total emotional sense in addition to being very funny.

The centerpiece of the episode is “Ruby Rider,” a pastiche cowboy anthem written by Jeff Liu with music by Jeff Liu and Stemage. Charlyne Yi is fantastic here, giving Ruby’s singing voice a sort of faux-masculine, twangy spin in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s making fun of her, and actually does have a lot of cowboy energy. At one point, Steven and Greg harmonize with Ruby, only to be joined by Amethyst in the shape of a horse. The Universe men remark on how much Ruby has enjoyed their cowboy activities, including Greg’s shock at how proficient Ruby is with a guitar when he only taught her how to play “like, ten minutes ago.”

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Earlier in the episode, Steven briefly freaks out about the possibility that Ruby wouldn’t want to get back together with Sapphire. He’s standing in for the audience—we love Garnet, of course we want her to show up again! But, as Greg points out, if Ruby didn’t want to fuse again, then it wouldn’t be what Garnet wanted. Sometimes couples we really like, ones we root for, break up, and it’s the best thing for both people. In that light, Ruby’s eventual admission that she really does miss Sapphire and wants to form Garnet feels like a bit of a cop-out. Obviously they’re made for each other, but their inevitable reunion feels a bit like it’s papering over the possibility that people who are made for each other sometimes just don’t work in relationships, at least not at specific moments in time. Still, as Ruby puts it, she misses just having Sapphire present when they do activities together, even theoretically lonesome ones like traversing the plains. The world is scary without other people or, as Ruby puts it, “I’m no good at not needing nobody.”

Maybe that’s just a way of saying that the episode—and, specifically, the “Ruby Rider” sequence—does really good, convincing job of arguing that Ruby might need some time to herself. (I don’t usually do intensive head canon stuff, but I’d like to think that once Ruby and Sapphire reform, Ruby will take a day to herself every few hundred years or so.) It’s a nuanced romantic and emotional situation, and it’s nice to see Steven Universe handle it so effectively. And besides, I’m not heartless. The end of the episode, when Ruby stages a dramatic scene on horseback to ask Sapphire to marry her, is sweet and thrilling. It’s an opportunity for them to choose to be together as Garnet, rather than taking Rose’s word for it. Looks like we’re getting a Gem wedding!

Stray observations:

  • There are lots of fun little visual gags in this one, like the Dolphin Tail comic that Ruby initially compares himself too or Steven taking the XS tag off of Ruby’s cowboy getup.
  • When Amethyst said “I’m always down for a little horsin’ around,” I really thought for a second there might be a Bojack Horseman joke on this show.
  • See you tomorrow, when we find out which of the Gems is “Made Of Honor.”

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