Steven Universe Rewind: Alone Together / The Test

Spoiler Policy: All spoilers up to and including the currently discussed episode will be unmarked. Spoilers for episodes beyond the current point will be enclosed in Fast Forward blocks, which will include spoilers for the entire series.

Alone Together

Official Description: The Gems try to teach Steven to use his fusion powers.

The episode opens with Amethyst and Steven trying to practice synchronized dancing in order to fuse. They’re not taking it very seriously, which annoys Pearl.

One thing we see in this episode is that Pearl has a more rigid view of fusion than the others, which isn’t terribly surprising. When Steven and Connie fuse later on, they aren’t doing a perfectly synchronized dance at all, but rather having fun goofing around like Steven and Amethyst are doing here. If Pearl didn’t keep interrupting them to try to keep them on track, it’s possible they may actually have been successful.

Fast Forward

Indeed, Amethyst eventually turns out to be Steven’s second fusion and his first with a Gem. Of course, this doesn’t happen until they work out a lot of Amethyst’s insecurities in the middle of Season 3, which may have been a prerequisite for the two fusing. At any rate, when they finally do, it isn’t through a careful dance but through a sibling hug!

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It’s interesting that they’re choosing to practice fusion now, after the last episode ended on a tense moment with the Gems panicking about Peridot’s arrival.

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Cross-Gem fusions are a technique that Homeworld refuses to use, and there are indications that it was one of the common tactics of the Rebellion. It’s possible they’re practicing fusion in case they need to use it against intruders from Homeworld. Fusing with Steven would also potentially make him easier to protect in an emergency situation, which may be why they’re trying to test out his ability to fuse here.

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Garnet and Pearl attempt to demonstrate a fusion dance, which starts out sedate and then turns into… this.

Fast Forward

We won’t see their fusion, Sardonyx, until Season 2. That episode, like this screenshot, also contains heavy overtones of Pearl perhaps having a bit of a thing for Garnet. Alternatively, maybe she just misses intimacy, which is also something you could glean from the Sardonyx arc.

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Steven tries to copy Pearl and Garnet’s dance moves, even awkwardly pinning Pearl to the wall, but it doesn’t quite work for him.

There’s a short montage of more attempts to teach Steven about fusing — he and Amethyst do the macarena, Garnet attempts to show him her dance moves, Pearl trips over him while dancing, and they all try to snap in unison with Steven a little off.

Pearl: No one expects you to be able to perform fusion right away, Steven.

Amethyst: Yeah! It’s really hard, even for us.

Garnet: Not for me.

Fast Forward

This is another hint about Garnet’s permafusion status, of course.

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Pearl wonders if it’s even possible for Steven to fuse, because fusing involves merging the hard light bodies of two Gems, but Steven’s body is organic. Garnet is confident that he can do it.

Fast Forward

This aspect may have contributed to making it easier for Steven to fuse with Connie than with the other Gems, although it likely has more to do with their closeness and the fact that they’re on fairly equal footing with each other. There’s also the fact that they fuse naturally while having fun dancing instead of trying to force it through a regimented dance.

Garnet is likely so confident that Steven can fuse because she’s already seen Stevonnie in the future at this point.

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Later, Steven and Connie are sitting on the beach, talking, and look how cute Connie’s dress is and these two are so pure and the colors in this episode are lovely and

Sorry, anyway, Steven is talking about how he was having trouble dancing with the Gems. Connie can sympathize, because she’s never danced in front of anyone before. She talks about how she wanted to go to a school dance, but ultimately didn’t, because she was scared of everyone staring at her. Steven puts a hand over his face and offers to dance with her.

Steven and Connie begin to dance, tentatively at first, but then they both get into it. They break apart to do little solo dances, then come back together, tripping over each other. Connie catches Steven as he falls. They laugh, faces very close to each other, as Steven’s gemstone begins to glow…

We get a rare first person point of view as the new fusion opens their eyes, confused about what just happened: “Why am I… why is your sandal too small for my… your feet?”

This is the first appearance of Stevonnie (voice: AJ Michalka), the fusion of Steven and Connie, and the first organic fusion in the universe! Stevonnie is intersex and uses they/them pronouns. They are one of the first non-binary, intersex characters ever presented in a cartoon — but not only are they fantastic representation, they’re also just a really fun character.

The way they come to terms with being a fusion is really interesting. This is the first time we’ve really seen a fusion exist in a kind of halfway state where their consciousness has not yet merged — at times they are clearly taking turns talking, but other times they seem to be acting as one. I’m really, really interested in the logistics of how fusions operate in a way that the show will never deliver on, is what I’m saying.

Their outfit and appearance is a combination of Steven and Connie’s. They’re wearing Steven’s star shirt and denim shorts, and Connie’s dress has become a tank top. Their hair is curly and poofy like Steven’s but also very long like Connie’s.

Stevonnie stands up, dramatically announces that they’re a fusion, then runs across the beach laughing before deciding they need to tell everyone.

The Gems are a little surprised.

It really hammers home how completely unprecedented Stevonnie is — but then, Steven himself is completely unprecedented. Pearl is flummoxed, and Amethyst giggles and tells her to look at Garnet’s reaction.

Garnet’s complete, unbridled glee at seeing Stevonnie is so heartwarming!

Fast Forward

Of course, we’ll eventually find out that not only is Garnet a permanent fusion, but she is perhaps one of the first cross-Gem fusions ever, since the practice was suppressed and condemned by Homeworld. Of course she would be overjoyed to see an entirely new type of fusion — and in fact, she expresses glee at almost any fusions she encounters (with the obvious exception of harmful ones, like Malachite).

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Pearl quickly examines Stevonnie. “A Gem fusing with a human being? It’s impossible! Or at the very least, inappropriate.”

Amethyst is much more accepting, cheerfully asking them how they feel and giving them the name “Stevonnie.” Stevonnie says that they feel great. Pearl, however, suggests that they should unfuse immediately, and Stevonnie is confused that she isn’t more proud of Steven to be able to fuse.

Fast Forward

You’d think, given Garnet’s status, she’d be more open minded about this sort of thing. However, Pearl, especially in the earlier episodes, is easily the most bound to Homeworld rules out of the Gems. From that point of view, it makes more sense that she’d be the most reluctant to embrace something as radical as human/Gem fusion.

To Pearl’s credit, she quickly grows more comfortable with Stevonnie and eventually evens trains them.

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Pearl asks Garnet to back her up, as though she hasn’t even met Garnet before.

“Stevonnie, listen to me. You are not two people. And you are not one person. You are an experience! Make sure you’re a good experience. Now go have fun!”

I love this little speech, and it’s a great opportunity to talk about fusion in general for a bit.

A very simplistic view of fusion is that it’s a metaphor for sex, and there are certainly episodes where that is the case — this episode, in particular, can easily be read that way. However, most of the fusions that occur on the show are not sexual or romantic — fusion is really, at its core, a metaphor for relationships. A fusion is indeed an experience, an experience created by one (or more!) humans (or Gems!) — it’s such a simple and lovely analogy.

In fact, this actually works for more than just relationships. The idea that you are an experience, and you should make it a good one, actually applies to just a person by themselves!

Stevonnie takes her advice, and goes running and jumping across the beach, diving off of some high rocks into the water. They lay in the waves, laughing.

This scene is so pure and I love the short piece of music backing it (above).

Stevonnie’s stomach grumbles, so they head to the Big Donut for a snack. Lars and Sadie are immediately in awe of their appearance as they shake their hair dry, and Sadie gives them their donuts on the house. Stevonnie remarks that that’s not a very good business practice.

One thing that’s kind of funny about this scene is that Lars and Sadie are standing very close together when Stevonnie enters, and Lars seems to be gently teasing Sadie about something — it seems like their relationship, whatever it is, has been at least partially repaired since Island Adventure.

One thing that has been a point of discussion about this episode (and about Stevonnie in general) is if their appearance was overly sexualized, and this scene, where two young adults are obviously ogling Stevonnie, is probably the best example. Personally, I don’t think this episode really crosses a line — nothing all that terrible happens to Stevonnie, the young adults who are interested in them have no reason to believe they’re not significantly older, and Stevonnie is pretty innocent and clearly just Steven and Connie enjoying themselves. However, future appearances of Stevonnie generally do tone down her outfit and mannerisms a bit.

Stevonnie sits down to eat their donuts, but the fact that they have two donuts, both for them, makes them feel uncertain. They ask themselves if they’re okay — clearly Steven and Connie having a conversation, instead of the more in sync voice they had in the last couple of scenes. The display of concern and consent here is really good and important for kids to see, especially considering that fusion — although not sex — is obviously very intimate.

One neat thing about this scene is that the lighting changes subtly depending on who is currently talking.

Stevonnie is approached by Sour Cream, who nervously hands them a flyer for a rave tonight. “I’m DJing, and a bunch of my friends from the internet are gonna be there. There’ll be free… glow sticks?” I love how awkward poor Sour Cream is here. Stevonnie immediately agrees to go.

The rave takes place at the same abandoned warehouse as the underground wrestling in Tiger Millionaire. A number of townie characters are there: Ronaldo, Jenny, and Buck. Sour Cream is using the sound chips of a couple of Game Boys and a Game Boy Advance as part of his DJing, which I love. (I once saw an act like this, it was a lot of fun if you like chiptunes!)

Stevonnie confidently strides out onto the dance floor and begins to dance, catching everyone’s attention.

Stevonnie realizes that everyone else has stopped dancing and is watching her, thus fulfilling Connie’s previously-stated fear that everyone would stare at her if she went to a school dance. They hallucinate being trapped in a disco ball while ominous silhouettes loom over them.

Fast Forward

In future episodes, like Mindful Education, we’ll learn more about how fusions can be prone to hallucinations while under stress.

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The hallucination is broken when Stevonnie is approached by Kevin (Andrew Kishino), the real antagonist of the series. He begins doing an obnoxious dance and getting closer to Stevonnie, making them uncomfortable and causing them to flee to a far wall.

“I don’t understand what’s wrong. You have fun dancing but this dance isn’t fun. You’re supposed to like this. Why don’t we like this?”

I really love how the shifting pronoun usage reflects Stevonnie breaking down into their components under stress. The feeling that you’re supposed to be liking something but don’t is an obvious relatable mood, and one that is applicable to the metaphors for both first relationships and first sexual experiences that this episode contains.

“I wish you were here. If we were together, it would be okay. But we are together, and it’s not.”

It’s kind of fascinating how by turning into effectively a single person (in the eyes of everyone else), they lose a lot of the benefits of being together normally.

Fast Forward

We see hints of this in some of Garnet’s more tense moments, culminating in the Ruby Rider arc where she learns that her components need some time apart from each other to truly maintain a healthy relationship.

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Stevonnie is approached by Kevin, who aggressively hits on them. They’re disgusted that Kevin would act this way when he doesn’t even really know them. Frustrated, Stevonnie attempts to drive him away by launching into an aggressive, wild dance, which ends when they split into their component parts.

“That’s two kids! I’m out.”

Kevin is far from a favorite character but he does get some really funny bits like this one.

I have to wonder what he (and the rest of the crowd) thinks happened here when the teenager they were all watching dance suddenly turns into two giggling kids, but at least some of them know Steven so they probably just assume “weird Gem stuff.”

They begin laughing awkwardly and hysterically at each other. Sour Cream breaks the tension by tossing glow sticks at them from his DJ outpost, and they dance in the rain of glow sticks.

I like how they both seemed to enjoy the experience, but there’s also an awkward tension here that fits two kids in their first relationship. They’re comfortable with each other, but not with all of the new experiences that intimate relationships can bring.

Also clever: Steven met Connie in the first place because she dropped her glow bracelet at the parade, and this episode about a new step in their relationship also features glow sticks.

This episode is a critically important one to Steven Universe for many reasons. Obviously, it introduces the new character Stevonnie, who will appear quite a few more times and is a fan-favorite. It’s the first time Steven is able to fuse. It features one of the first intersex characters in a cartoon. Perhaps most crucially, though, it lays out Steven Universe’s general approach and philosophy to relationships: communication and consent are vital, and try to make the experience a good one!

The Test

Official Description: Steven finds out that his mission to the Lunar Sea Spire was a test.

It’s a rainy day in Beach City, and we see how the hole made by the Robonoid in Warp Tour has been hastily patched.

The Gems are playing overly-complicated, incomprehensible board game Citchen Calamity (and I kind of love the joke that it’s not Kitchen Kalamity like you might expect). Pearl here is complaining about the rules, but seriously? This is just a couple pages’ worth. She should see a modern board game that comes with a book.

“I’m now the owner of the golden can opener. Yessssss.”

As usual, Garnet gets the best line read in the episode.

I have a terrible weakness for cute dice and dice accessories, and so I covet this adorable little blender and the kitcheny dice inside.

…I kind of want to create a version of Citchen Calamity.

This whole sequence really doesn’t have a lot to do with the rest of the episode, but it’s so cute. I love to see the Gems spending time together.

Steven wins the game, and the Gems obviously don’t understand why but congratulate him anyway. This could be some minor foreshadowing for how they set up a win for Steven later in the episode.

Steven digs through the closet for another board game to play, and the Sea Spire statue falls out. This is the artifact that Steven forgot to bring with him in Cheeseburger Backpack, which resulted in the Sea Spire collapsing.

You can see Steven visibly crushed under the guilt as he remembers what happened, and he apologizes to the Gems for accidentally destroying “a special, important Gem place.” The Gems try to reassure him, saying that he tried his best and it’s not a big deal.

“If the Spire had been crucial, we wouldn’t have used it as a test for you. It’s fine, really.”

It was at this moment that Pearl realized she fucked up.

If you thought that the Gems seemed weirdly okay with Steven ruining the mission and the Spire collapsing back in Cheeseburger Backpack, now you know why. I love how that seemingly inconsequential episode is used as a setup for this one.

Pearl keeps digging the hole deeper.

Pearl: Well, it wasn’t really a test, per se, not in the traditional sense. We just wanted to see if you were ready to go on missions.

Steven: That’s exactly what a test is!

Steven realizes he failed the test that he didn’t know he was taking, and geez, I really feel for him here.

The Gems try to reassure him, poorly, by pointing out he got at least a 50% and as much as 75% considering he had the raft that they used to go home. Pearl points out that the Spire was in worse shape than they expected and the test should have been even easier, which does not make Steven feel better.

Steven demands a new test, a hard one, to show how much he’s developed. The way he acts shows a hint of regression, probably because he’s just been reminded of his past failures.

Some time later, the Gems are standing in front of the doorway to the Temple. Pearl explains that they created a custom dungeon for testing Steven inside the Temple, designed to simulate the challenges of a mission. Garnet tells him, “This won’t be easy. Be careful in there.”

Steven enters the first room, and wonders if Amethyst made it, until he looks up and sees the giant Amethyst statue behind him. A giant, Indiana Jones-style boulder rolls out of the stone Amethyst’s mouth and right down the ramp towards Steven. He runs, and leaps across a pit, grabbing hold of a vine that looks a lot like Amethyst’s whip.

On the other side, he grows concerned when the door looks like it’s about to explode, but instead it pops into a shower of confetti and star balloons.

This entire setup with the Zelda-esque challenge rooms is the most video game inspired the show has been in a while. Amethyst’s room requires thinking quickly and making a leap of faith, which fits her impulsive nature.

Speaking of video game style puzzle rooms, the next room was made by Pearl and features a pattern of musical tiles on the floor that Steven must copy. Steven successfully does so, and the room manifests stairs leading up to the door on the other side. As soon as he steps foot on the stairs, swinging blades appear and block his progress. He very nearly gets hit by one, but makes it to the other side.

Just as Amethyst’s room fits her personality, Pearl’s room features a puzzle followed by a physical challenge that rewards finesse.

Garnet’s room is last, and it involves a bridge over a lava pit. There are gaps in the bridge where fire periodically shoots up. If I had to say how this matches Garnet, it’s that it requires patience and keeping a (literally) cool head.

Fast Forward

Given the amount of fire here, I’m guessing her Ruby side got most of the say in making this.

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At the end of the bridge, a spike trap falls from the ceiling, and instead of summoning his bubble (as Garnet was probably hoping), he freezes up. Fortunately, the spike trap stops just before hitting him. Steven steps away, and activates the trap again — without him underneath it, the trap drops all the way to the ground. He experimentally sticks his arm in, and the trap stops just short again.

Surprised, he accidentally backs into one of the fire traps, and when it activates the fire carefully goes around his body.

Realizing what’s happened, he walks backwards through the other rooms. The swinging blades in Pearl’s room are just holograms. The floor “puzzle” activates no matter what he does. The gap he jumped across in Amethyst’s room actually has an invisible bridge, and the boulder stops just short of hitting him.

Steven, furious that the entire test was fake, follows the boulder back through the Amethyst statue, walking out of bounds of the test area. I love how this bit takes obvious inspiration from going out of bounds in video games. Steven walks to the end of the platform, angrily muttering: “How am I gonna prove myself if you guys keep…”

The Gems are waiting at the end of the “test” to congratulate him, and he gets to listen to a bit of conversation that we wouldn’t normally hear because of the show’s enforced Steven POV.

Garnet: It’s impossible for him to fail.

Amethyst: Ugh, so what’s the point?

Pearl: The point is that he’s come so far. He can make Rose’s bubble, and he’s pulled out Rose’s shield twice! But he’s lost his healing powers. We have to give him another success. He can’t lose his confidence like that again.

For reference, the two times he pulled out Rose’s shield were in Gem Glow and Ocean Gem, and he lost his healing powers after being tricked by Greg in House Guest.

I think Steven really needed to hear that the Gems are proud of him — and it has more impact coming from them when they don’t even realize he’s listening. They do recognize all the progress he’s made.

Amethyst: We’re bad at this.

Pearl: What?!

Amethyst: Yeah. You can’t control him, and he shouldn’t be taking advice from me, and we don’t have Rose to tell us what to do!

Pearl: But he needs us to show him how to be a Gem.

Garnet: Steven is not just a Gem. There’s never been anything or anyone like Steven. We don’t know what he needs.

A major theme in this season is about how parental figures and mentors can be flawed — Warp Tour and House Guest are some of the most obvious examples — and this is where it becomes explicit. It’s heart wrenching to see the Gems privately admit that they feel like they don’t know if they’re doing right by Steven. They’re trying so hard, and yet they all suffer from their own personal flaws that leak out in various ways and inadvertently harm Steven.

Fast Forward

It’s especially hard to watch this here at the end of Steven Universe Future, where Steven’s support systems have largely failed, leading him to a mental breakdown.

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The moment when you learn your parents are just people, flawed people who don’t have all the answers and often don’t know what they’re doing, is a critical part of growing up, but it still hurts to see Steven go through it.

Steven walks straight through the test rooms, a stern, determined look on his face, ignoring every trap.

At the end of the test, the Gems are waiting there to congratulate him. The angry look on his face makes you expect that he’s going to confront them with their dishonesty, but instead (perhaps at the last second), he launches into an excited, gushing account of how he handled each room, pleasing the Gems.

Steven: You guys are the best. Thanks so much for doing this for me. This was just what I needed.

This is such an incredibly sweet moment. Instead of showing off how far he’s progressed by making it through a gauntlet of challenges, he instead shows his maturity by realizing that the Gems themselves need a confidence boost and providing it to them.

They tell him how proud they are of him and envelope Steven in a group hug.

Fast Forward

As heartwarming as this moment is, it’s also a little sad with the context of what happens later. This is one of the first times that Steven sets aside his own needs in order to help the Gems with their personal issues. In moderation, of course, this is a healthy, empathetic thing for him to do. However, Steven ends up taking it too far and it becomes his entire mode of existence, culminating in his inability to deal with his post-Gem-War life in Future.

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This episode is a bit slight on a rewatch and contains some pretty obvious filler — the board game at the beginning, the repeated traversals of the rooms — but in my opinion, it’s still a joy to watch, mostly for the gut-wrenching last act.

Next Time on Steven Universe Rewind! Garnet and Amethyst each get a spotlight episode. For Garnet, we have Future Vision, and for Amethyst, we have another sweet, heartbreaking episode — On the Run, which also introduces some absolutely critical Gem lore.