Warning: This article contains huge spoilers for Steven Universe up to and including the most recent episode, “Reunited.”
For me, villains are usually the best part of a story. At best, they’re an essential part of the story’s conflict; at worst, they’re the one cool thing about it (looking at you, James Cameron’s Avatar). Even when a hero is a great character, they need a villain who feels like a threat, like a match for them. In recent years some works have made me say to myself, “That is one heck of a villain.” Today, I’ll be looking at one of my favorites, Blue and Yellow Diamond (voiced by Lisa Hannigan and Patti Lupone, respectively) from Steven Universe.
I assume that the spoiler warning would have scared off anyone not caught up on the show; if you still need a quick rundown of the story, Cartoon Network made a nice summary video:
Following this video, the next couple of episodes dropped a huge bombshell: Rose Quartz was Pink Diamond. It was revealed that Pink Diamond had wanted to stop the colonization of her planet, and created the identity of Rose Quartz in an attempt to do so. As attrition conflict set in, Pink asked Pearl to shape shift into Rose Quartz and seemingly shatter her. Her last order was that Pearl never tell anyone (Gem hierarchies being what they are, Pearl was literally unable to talk about the shattering of Pink). The apparent death of Pink Diamond is at the core of Yellow and Blue’s motivations, and will be explored further. However, let’s start with the basics.
The reveal of the Diamonds was a big moment for the show. The introductions of other gems like Lapis, Peridot, and Jasper were tantalizing glimpses at the larger world of Steven Universe, but the introduction of the Diamonds created much more threatening and larger-scope villains for the series.
Other than a cameo by Yellow Diamond in the extended opening shown at San Diego Comic Con 2015, the first on-screen appearance of a Diamond came during the flashback episode “The Answer,” where Garnet tells the story of how she came to earth as two separate gems, Ruby and Sapphire, and then fused by happenstance to become Garnet. Sapphire was called to Earth by Blue Diamond, who wished to consult her “future vision” to be assured of Rose Quartz’s defeat.
However, Rose Quartz/Pink Diamond was not defeated, and Ruby’s attempt to save Sapphire from the attack leads to them fusing. In the world of Steven Universe fusion is symbolic of relationships, both romantic and otherwise. In Homeworld’s view, fusion should be used by members of soldier castes to win battles, nothing more. The fusion of two separate gem types is unprecedented, and is a clear analogy of social transgression, with Blue’s courtiers reacting with disgust. Blue Diamond angrily announces:
‘How dare you fuse with a member of my court? You will be broken for this!’
Essentially, Blue Diamond’s first appearance ends with her handing down a summary execution for unconformity. Blue is shown as a snobbish, authoritarian type, earning her villainous bonafides with a small amount of time on-screen.
Yellow Diamond’s debut hit similar notes. In her first scene, she is contacted by the nominally loyal Peridot, who tries to convince her to not allow a long-gestating weapon in the center of the Earth emerge and destroy the planet. The scene is worth linking to, both because it gives a good sense of Yellow’s personality and it’s really well done in general:
If I could describe Yellow in one word, I’d go with “haughty.” She’s cold and dispassionate while talking about destroying the earth; until Peridot talks back, provoking a comically angry reaction.
The key takeaway from these two scenes is that the Diamonds come across as a) distant and b) incredibly evil. This is a large part of why I think they make such good villains. They’re not Saturday morning cartoon villains who get defeated each week, the stakes are high and their presence carries weight within the story. The cold and calculating air they give off is also important to their overall portrayal in the show, as it slowly becomes apparent that the Diamonds are more relatable than they appear…
(To be continued tomorrow)