Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Steven Universe: “Love Letters”

Illustration for article titled Steven Universe: “Love Letters”

“Stronger Than You” erased all doubt: Garnet is the best. Sorry, Pearl and Amethyst fans—they’re some great Gems, but the combination of weird, dry humor, tough badassery, and thoughtful empathy make Garnet an absolutely fantastic character, totally worthy of the adoration of the fans. Continuing a trend of externalizing plausible fan reactions, “Love Letters” has Jamie the mailman express these feelings, falling in love with Garnet (or convincing himself that’s what he’s doing) to instigate a very rom-com Steven Universe.

Jamie (voiced by comedian Eugene Cordero) was introduced way back in “Cheeseburger Backpack” but, like Buck’s spotlight last week, is part of a new wave of Beach City denizens getting a tighter focus from the show. It turns out he’s a struggling actor who moved to the big Steven Universe equivalent of HOllywood (in this case, Kansas) to try to make it before returning to Beach City. Like many actors, Jamie is a little too sensitive, prone to grand gestures once he gets into the “drama zone,” a tendency that gets out of control when he meets Garnet. He’s a sweet kid (and Cordero’s voice acting does a lot to make him sympathetic), but he’s also a mostly-new character. That substantially reduces the stakes of the episode, since even if he gets his heart broken we don’t have a ton of reasons to care about him.

Thankfully, as much as Jamie’s relative blankness weakens “Love Letters” a bit, it also gives it the leeway to be one of the funnier episodes of Steven Universe in a while, nailing a generally light, classically comic tone. That starts at the very beginning, as storyboard team Lamar Abrams and Hellen Jo allow us to see Garnet as Jamie does—a dripping goddess. His whooping glee at having dropped off the letter is easily played for laughs, but also gives us a reason to like him (everyone on Steven Universe loves something). Abrams and Jo’s visual mastery here extends to bits as broad as Steven’s visualization of Jamie writing his love letter to Garnet, clad in ridiculous Shakespearean clothing and flourishing with a quill pen (that he accidentally lights on fire), and as subtle as Connie’s pained expression when she realizes that Garnet isn’t trying in the slightest to let Jamie down easy.

Connie continues to be the best-developed character who isn’t Steven or one of the Gems (sorry, Greg). Her dominant character trait, increasingly, is her love of stories. Not only does her relationship with Steven frequently center on the book series they both enjoy, she also functions as a human outsider looking at the Gem mythology in the same way a normal person might—as a very cool supernatural story. (And she’s holding a book in the opening sequence!) When she tells Steven that, “I watched some episodes of a torrid soap opera once, so I’m confident that I get the gist of romance,” it makes total sense, and allows her to drive the episode forward by writing a complicated rejection letter that Jamie totally misunderstands. Connie is trying to control Jamie’s emotions and get his life to adhere to a pre-formed narrative, and that’s not something she can really control.

Jamie is doing the same thing, though, in that his “love at first sight” is just a fiction. Though she’s been a bit of a distant cipher for most of the episode, Garnet’s advice to Jamie is really excellent—there’s no such thing, and it’s dangerous to let idealized conceptions of romantic love compel you to stand in the rain waiting for a mysterious, alien woman you know nothing about. Pursue dreams about things you’re actually passionate about from experience (in this case, acting) rather than a mirage. This is some pretty excellent, subtle stuff for kids, especially, who are often fed very simplistic narratives about love. (Kinda crazy that none of the kids at Hogwarts were confident enough to date outside of school, right?)

By concluding on this much more human level, “Love Letters” continues the trend of the first few episodes of this season being suspiciously low-key, without much of a presence from the Gems (Amethyst and Pearl don’t even appear in this episode). Still, there’s enough of a hint of menace to suggest that it all might come crumbling down: Garnet’s oceanic search for Lapis and Jasper is played for laughs as an indication of her hyper-competency, but doesn’t it also mean that the Gems have no idea where Malachite is? That’s a pretty unhealthy relationship, and it’s bound to catch up with our heroes some time soon.


Stray observations:

  • More selfies this week. For some reason, Steven and Connie are really adorable, so they don’t really bother me. Connie should maybe think about getting a selfie stick, though.
  • Garnet’s “Nope” is basically a catchphrase to rival Lana’s “Nooope” on Archer, as Estelle continues to prove herself as the cast MVP.
  • “Ruby and Sapphire are so close, they can’t stand to be apart.” Steven does deal with one bit of new information in this line, explaining a bit more the nature of Garnet’s fusion.
  • Does anyone else think the new mailwoman might be Sadie’s mom? They certainly look alike.
  • “Start with local theater.” Poor Jamie.