Morgan Watches Steven Universe In-Depth: The Answer

2018-07-02 (17)Or: Why I’m not impressed with Ruby and Sapphire’s story.

(Note: Although I’ve been spoiled about most of the plot to the series right up through A Single Pale Rose, this post attempts to approximate, as best as I can, the perspective of someone watching on January 4, 2016, the day this episode aired. To aid in maintaining this perspective in future posts any discussion of this post in places I would be privy to should avoid any events depicted or things revealed past this point. You can also read my original tweets while watching this episode.)

“Love at first sight doesn’t exist. Love takes time, and love takes work.”

2018-07-02 (30)I don’t want to sound like I’m coming down too hard on Garnet as a relationship when it’s the one thing that seems to be at the center of the show’s message of love, even more than Steven/Connie or Rose/Greg. After all, I already came down hard on the episode where Garnet’s status as a fusion was revealed, not so much for the revelation itself, which was well-done, but because the revelation ended up hijacking what was supposed to be a climactic season finale. I actually really liked Keystone Motel for giving a relatively realistic look at a lovers’ spat and reconciliation and how it affected Steven, and Keeping It Together tried to give us a sense of what fusion meant to Garnet in contrast with the fusion experiments. But in this episode, Garnet gives Steven and us her origin story, and it’s so heavily and overly romanticized it actually makes me believe in Ruby and Sapphire as a relationship less. At the very least, it seems to blatantly contradict Garnet’s advice to Jamie in Love Letters above (and really, the show’s perspective on love in other episodes in general), because while Ruby and Sapphire may not quite be “love at first sight” (though it may be from Ruby’s perspective), there doesn’t seem to be a lot of “time” and “work” put into it.

Really I can probably summarize most of the story into a single paragraph. Sapphire, guarded by three Rubies, was sent to Earth to give Blue Diamond her vision of an upcoming encounter with the rebellion, which would involve herself and two of the rubies being poofed and the rebellion being crushed. The ruby part happens, but as Pearl prepares to strike Sapphire down, the third Ruby shoves her out of the way and the two end up fusing into Garnet for the first time, which creates enough of a surprise for Rose and Pearl to get away. The assembled crowd is disgusted at the first time any of them had seen two different gems fuse, and Blue Diamond, upset that the rebellion would continue, prepared to sentence Ruby to be shattered when Sapphire grabbed her and ran away, effectively giving up her status in Blue Diamond’s court for someone who didn’t necessarily care if she was shattered, since “there’s tons of me!” The two spend an unspecified amount of time on Earth hanging out and bonding, and eventually intentionally refusing, before running back into Rose Quartz and “her terrifying renegade Pearl”. Garnet is surprised Rose doesn’t have the same revulsion towards her as the crowd did, to which she responds “Who cares what I feel, how you feel is bound to be much more interesting!” After Garnet starts coming to terms with how much happier she is in her current state than what her component selves were supposed to be, the following exchange occurs:

Garnet: “How was Ruby able to alter fate? Why was Sapphire willing to give up everything? What am I?
Rose: “No more questions. Don’t ever question this. You already are the answer.”

2018-07-02 (21)It’s only in the present day that Garnet tells Steven that “the answer” was “love”, implying even at the end of the story, with Garnet seemingly having accepted that she’d rather live as “one clod” than “two” (as Peridot so provocatively put it last episode), she doesn’t recognize it as them being in love with each other (despite her last line of the episode). While I can accept that Homeworld might not have a concept of love in the sense that Garnet embodies, the story she tells is somewhat weaker for it, because it’s not really clear even to me that Ruby and Sapphire are really in love at this point in any meaningful sense, and certainly not that they’ve really bonded over anything other than forming Garnet herself. Ruby seems interested in Sapphire at the start, but it’s hard to even characterize it as a crush, while Sapphire running off with Ruby seems to be as much about gratitude as anything else.

The rest of what’s supposed to be their mutual gratitude at saving each others’ lives and mutual experience of forming what we’re expected to believe is an unprecedented fusion takes place while they’re hanging out on the planet’s surface by themselves, and it’s at this point that I feel the need to compare this to Island Adventure. In that episode, Lars, Sadie, and Steven spent what appeared to be several weeks trapped on an island, which resulted in Lars and Sadie growing closer and even kissing. It turns out they were only “trapped” because Sadie hid the warp pad in the name of giving Lars a forced vacation, but even if Sadie hadn’t engaged in that sort of emotional manipulation and they really had been trapped, any progress Lars and Sadie made at getting closer together would come with a big asterisk. By the time Lars and Sadie kiss, Lars is desperate, driven stir-crazy from being cut off from civilization for so long, and Sadie is really his best if not only option for companionship. It’s easy to fall for someone when you don’t have any other options; the real test of a relationship is whether you choose to be together. Lars and Sadie’s time on the island might have been the start of a functioning relationship, but it wouldn’t have been fair for it to be the only basis for a relationship once they returned to civilization; they would need to form a closer, real bond.

2018-07-02 (22)Ruby and Sapphire, at least, seem to enjoy each other’s company better than Lars treats Sadie, but the fact remains that they seem to be the only sapient beings they encounter for however much time passes for them on the planet surface. Even before they end up fusing, they’re kind of stuck with each other. Most of that time is skipped over in a song montage where it’s not clear what anything not directly reflected in the lyrics actually means to them, so all that’s really left is each other and their shared experience without anyone else around to help them or shape their perceptions in a different direction.

Which brings me to Rose Quartz’s behavior in this episode, because boy howdy did it make me suspicious.

2018-07-02 (23)Rose’s attitude towards the newly formed fusion is almost scientific in nature: “How you feel is bound to be much more interesting.” She seems to treat them as something to observe, to examine and collect data on, and while we’ve seen her and the other gems take that attitude towards humans and specifically Greg, it’s surprising to see her take that approach to her fellow gems. But “no more questions”? “Don’t ever question this”? Rose is taking two gems that have barely formed a relationship, let alone a fusion, and pushing them to not only remain fused but not even to think about their feelings on the matter or the nature of their relationship, at a time when they can’t even put it into words. Put it together, and you get the sense that not only does Rose specifically want Ruby and Sapphire to remain fused as Garnet and with them, their continued fusion has at least as much to do with that desire as their own feelings. (It’s worth noting that Rose seems to have some idea of what’s going on when Garnet first fuses, considering what she starts to say to Pearl to get her not to strike them down right away.)

A charitable interpretation might be that Rose is simply fascinated by the nature of their fusion – perhaps she and Pearl have already formed Rainbow Quartz by this point, though obviously not in front of anyone who was present for Garnet’s initial formation. Rose’s pushiness and desire to cut off any questioning, however, makes it hard to rule out a darker interpretation. I considered a hypothetical situation where Island Adventure wasn’t the result of emotional manipulation in order to draw a stronger parallel to this episode, but what if that wasn’t necessary? How do we know that Rose wasn’t keeping an eye on Ruby and Sapphire all along and was ready to send Pearl to “find” them almost immediately after they re-fused? It might be one thing to do that if it were merely a “date”, but did Rose leave them together for an extended period of time until they inevitably spent so much time together that they re-fused? Is it even possible that Rose somehow manipulated their mental state, or just manipulated the course of events, to get them to bond and fuse in the way that they did? Has Rose been a darker character than we’ve given her credit for all along?

2018-07-02 (24)In real life, relationships flourish between people who can maintain their individuality even as they become inseparable. In Alone Together, Stevonnie didn’t necessarily prefer being a fusion to being apart, because while they were fused Steven and Connie didn’t have each other to be with, they were simply one person, alone. Ruby and Sapphire are different people, and they’re different in strongly complementary ways that make Garnet stronger for it, so it’s puzzling that those differences get basically no emphasis whatsoever in this episode, getting much stronger emphasis in Keystone Motel instead. We don’t really see Ruby and Sapphire get to know each other as people, don’t really see how their personalities mesh and form a bond between them strong enough that they really would prefer to be one person than two. Instead, they fuse for no other reason than they’re stuck with each other and like the feeling, and then Rose pushes them to stay that way. It’s the equivalent of having one or two nights of amazingly great sex with someone, and then someone tells you that you should get married and stay together forever.

If I’m going to believe in Ruby and Sapphire as a relationship, if I’m going to believe Garnet wasn’t talking out of her ass in Love Letters, then if this was their equivalent of Story for Steven, I need to see their equivalent of We Need to Talk, an episode where we see them face actual challenges, acknowledge that maybe they rushed into things, and have an experience that makes them stronger and gives them a deeper appreciation for each other. Keystone Motel doesn’t count because a) that’s set after Love Letters and, more to the point, b) that came after thousands of years happily fused together. Yet even that episode, disturbingly, doesn’t seem to present them as having any experience with lovers’ spats or their partners’ means of dealing with anger; it shouldn’t be surprising to either of them that Sapphire would bottle up her anger so much and wish to skip to the point where everything’s been resolved at the expense of Ruby’s (or, arguably, her own) feelings, and you’d think one of them would cotton on to that.

2018-07-02 (25)Put it all together, and normally I would be inclined to say that Ruby and Sapphire aren’t as healthy a relationship as we’ve been led to believe, and that at some point the rug is going to be pulled out from under them as they realize they really should have asked more questions about the nature of their relationship. But the writers of the show have gone on record as saying that they consider Garnet a representation of a lesbian relationship (even though that’s somewhat meaningless in a species without gendered reproduction and where we don’t know if there even are any males other than Steven, to say nothing of how butch Ruby is), one latched on to by an LGBT community desperate for positive representation in any form of media, and more than that, as mentioned earlier, they seem to be the show’s foremost example of the power of love. To pull the rug out from under that and reveal it to all be a lie, certainly without introducing a different model LGBT relationship, would completely undermine the message they’re supposed to send to audiences and the LGBT community.

So instead, I’m forced to come to the conclusion that, like Jailbreak, this is just another case where the execution of an episode focused on Ruby, Sapphire, and the fusion between them was botched. Part of the problem with both this episode and Jailbreak, in fact, may be that the creators are more concerned about Sending A Message to and about the LGBT community than actually having it work as a story and in the context of the show – yet even then, while the crowd’s disgusted reaction to Garnet’s formation in this episode could be considered a parallel to homophobia, it actually works better as a metaphor for homophobes’ fear of heterosexual relationships being shunned and marginalized, since the problem is two different gems fusing as opposed to gems of the same type. (Though interpreting it as a metaphor for interracial relationships, as I’ve seen, also works and sends a more positive message. But because of the differences between gems and humans, Ruby and Sapphire work best when they’re used as a statement about love in general, as in Keeping It Together and Keystone Motel, rather than about homosexual love specifically, as in this episode.) Or part of the problem may just be that there’s only so much they can fit in 11 minutes and some simplification and speeding-up of the process was necessary to get the whole story to fit in that time. The whole episode has such a fairy-tale feel that I’m holding out some hope Garnet isn’t telling Steven the whole story, especially since the first several minutes with Blue Diamond and the battle with Rose and Pearl, up until Ruby and Sapphire make their escape, is told in a heavily stylized art style, though that just raises the question of why Garnet wouldn’t tell a more accurate story that gave Steven and the audience a healthier view of relationships. Maybe there’s another shoe left to drop in the story of Ruby and Sapphire, because if there isn’t and until there is, I’m going to have a hard time buying them as the perfect relationship the show wants me to think it is.

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