Steven Universe Rewind: The Message

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.

We open on Steven and Greg hanging out in the back of his van, parked on the beach. Is it just me, or do we get a lot of Greg stories in this season, much more so than others? This wholesome bonding seems like a direct continuation of where we left off in Story for Steven.

Greg tells Steven that he’s thinking of calling his new song “Water Witch,” and he plays around with a microphone, distorting his voice so that it sounds like a robot.

Greg says he was inspired to make new music by the incident where the ocean was stolen. He shows off the album cover he drew, which Steven observes looks like Lapis Lazuli. Back in Ocean Gem, upon seeing the tower of water, Greg said he had the best idea for an album cover, and now we see him make good on that.

Greg hands Steven an electric guitar so he can help with the song. Steven, who is far more familiar with acoustics, neglects to plug it in to an amp, and then accidentally plugs it into the TV instead. Greg pulls the plug out of the video jack, joking that “video killed the audio star,” and effectively explaining this episode’s resolution for kids who might not be familiar with the concepts.

Greg talks about how he was a one-man band who did it all: lyrics, graphic design, and forum moderation. (Which kind of indicates that his musical act co-existed with the popular internet — if that even means anything, given how tech developed differently in the universe of the show.) Audio was his specialty, however.

Greg starts to sing the chorus to his new song: “Well, she’s a riptide queen and she’s super mean!”

Steven immediately cuts him off: “Hold the phone. Now give the phone to me.”

Future Vision

Garnet will later use this same line in Mindful Education.

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Steven, showing off his empathy skills, protests that Lapis was not mean (even though she stole the ocean and tried to drown him) and was just trying to get home.

Both Steven’s song and the visuals from Mirror Gem / Ocean Gem serve as reminders of Lapis’ story in case you forgot those episodes. Steven still considers Lapis a friend: “Dad, you might think she’s a criminal / but her friendship comes through subliminal.” He closes out the song with a line about how he won Lapis over: “You were so mad but then you came around to me.”

Winning enemies over to his side with empathy is Steven’s standard M.O. and Lapis was the first example of that. We’re going to see a lot more of that coming up.

Steven’s song is interrupted by a horrible, loud, glitchy noise, that Greg thinks is “some kind of weird feedback.” It isn’t coming from their sound equipment, though, but from the temple. Steven wants to check it out, but Greg says: “You go on ahead, this is a Gem thing and I don’t want to get in the way.”

Greg is still uneasy about being involved in Gem business, and the reminder of the ocean incident, where he had his van smashed and his leg broken, probably doesn’t help. In fact, showing that he’s still thinking about it and making art about it at least months later indicate that this whole incident was probably pretty traumatic for him, and he hasn’t worked through that yet. Having his son in mortal danger, and then riding up a water tower to see a hostile Gem, probably also didn’t help.

In the house, Garnet is holding the Wailing Stone that they found in Rose’s Room. It’s making an ungodly loud noise and the Gems are panicking — especially Amethyst, who seems particularly sensitive to this noise and spends the entire episode flipping out. They yell that the Wailing Stone activated on its own and won’t shut off.

Garnet slams the button on top with her gauntlet, momentarily turning it off, but as soon as she releases it it’s louder than ever. Pearl tries to bubble it, but it only works for a few moments before the bubble pops.

Steven sticks his hand through the hole in the Wailing Stone, which causes him to produce a distorted scream. Garnet pulls him out, surrounds the Wailing Stone with all of the couch cushions, and sets Steven on top of the impromptu pillow fort.

Pearl comments that she hasn’t heard a Wailing Stone since they used them to send messages during the Rebellion, and they never sounded like this. She believes they’ve rounded up all the Wailing Stones on Earth and clearly aren’t sending messages to themselves. She asks Amethyst if it’s a prank, but Amethyst is clearly in agony over the noise.

Garnet comes to the logical conclusion that someone is sending a message from space. Steven asks if that’s what some Gems sound like, but Pearl says that the message should sound like a voice. She speculates that the signal may be too advanced for the older Wailing Stone to process, which is effectively correct.

Steven points out that his Dad knows audio and could potentially help decipher the signal. Pearl, as usual, is skeptical of Greg’s ability to help, but Garnet thinks it’s worth trying.

Greg is so excited that the Gems need help with “sound stuff” and enthusiastically shows off some of his equipment, including this foam thing, the “Lubitz Cardioid Condenser 680”. One thing that’s nice about this episode is that it confirms that his general unwillingness to help is because he’s uneasy around Gem stuff, not because he doesn’t want to.

He explains in jargon what he’s going to do to process the Wailing Stone’s audio. Pearl continues to be skeptical that his analog equipment can be compatible with the Wailing Stone, but Steven, as usual, is supportive.

Greg adjusts the signal until it sounds like music. Pearl, annoyed, points out that it isn’t supposed to be music, but a message. Greg continues working on it until the equipment blows out the van’s battery.

Pearl immediately gets angry about it. She’s on a very short fuse this episode, and it’s not hard to imagine why. She doesn’t like dealing with Greg even under more positive circumstances, and now she’s especially on edge from stress about the message from space. As seen in Warp Tour, Pearl is seconds away from melting down when she fears that Homeworld is returning, and her petulant behavior in this episode is a lot like that.

Steven encourages the Gems to let Greg try again, but even Garnet is done with it, taking the Wailing Stone and leaping away. Pearl and Amethyst follow, and Steven tries, barely hopping off the beach.

Greg is truly crushed by the Gems giving up on him — so much so that he grabs his guitar and begins to sing a song about it.

“Have a little, have a little, have a little faith in me! I just wanted to help, you know, I have a little, have a little, have a little expertise,” he sings. With Steven now living with and spending most of his time with the Gems, even going on missions, Greg no doubt worries about his importance in Steven’s life. No wonder he jumped at a chance to assist with a Gem problem using his actual expertise.

“I think so highly of you, it just isn’t fair that you have so little faith…” Greg doesn’t want to be involved in Gem business, his relationship with Pearl is contentious at best, and his friendship with Amethyst has some issues, but it’s apparent that Greg really would like to have a better relationship with the Gems.

Future Vision

In Mr. Greg, Steven will finally help him and Pearl heal the rift between them, and Greg-Gem relations seem less frosty after that.

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Steven tries to cheer Greg up, but Greg thinks that if he can’t figure out the Wailing Stone, maybe it isn’t even sound. Steven’s gaze turns to the TV he mistakenly plugged the guitar into earlier, and suddenly realizes that maybe the Wailing Stone’s signal isn’t audio, but video. They run to tell the Gems.

Greg confronts the Gems, who are sitting in the corner with the Wailing Stone. He tells them, “you guys don’t give up on anything except for me.” It’s a fair criticism — many episodes definitely give the impression that Greg is someone the Gems just kind of put up with for Steven’s sake. Pearl obviously doesn’t trust him with anything, and Amethyst and Garnet are only sometimes better.

Greg points out that letting him try probably can’t make it worse, and so the Gems relent.

Garnet jumps the van with her rarely seen electrical powers, and Amethyst starts it up, commenting, “I’ve never started a car with a key before!” This raises so many questions. Has she driven before? Did she hotwire a car?

Greg plugs the Wailing Stone into the TV. Pearl is still on edge and impatient, demanding, “is that it?” when the TV displays static. Suddenly, an image of Lapis appears on the screen.

It’s interesting how close this is to her first appearance — here she is, trapped and frantic on a screen, trying to get a message to Steven out.

“There’s a Gem looking for you! She even knew your name.” This is obviously Peridot, who learned Steven’s name in Marble Madness. You really have to wonder what happened to Lapis between then and now.

Future Vision

Later, we learn that Lapis was put in the mirror as a punishment, which makes her return to Homeworld interesting. Did she try to get back to her old life? Wouldn’t she immediately get caught? We know that she ends up getting interrogated by Peridot and Jasper, presumably because she just arrived from Earth, so perhaps she did immediately get caught.

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Lapis says she didn’t tell Peridot about Steven. Right now, Steven seems to be pretty much the only Gem Lapis feels she can trust, for obvious reasons — to the point where she won’t betray him, even to save herself.

Lapis has a much more ominous message: “She’s on her way to Earth, and she’s not alone.”

This is the thing the Gems feared more than anything else, the reason why they smashed the warp pads and crushed all of Peridot’s robonoids. The entire planet is potentially in danger if Homeworld ever decided to come back.

“Everything here is so advanced! I can’t even understand it.” This confirms what was starting to become obvious given Peridot’s general tech levels and the Gems’ unfamiliarity with them — Homeworld has moved on, and has left the Crystal Gems and what tech they have remaining to them behind. It must be absolutely terrifying for Lapis to return to a place she barely recognizes.

Future Vision

I realize the show doesn’t normally get into this sort of thing, but I really would have liked to see some Era 1 Homeworld, just to see how different it was from Era 2. We know that it certainly wasn’t a happy place, given the conditions that led Pink to defect, but it seems like it was less dystopian overall than it eventually became.

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“There’s no way anything on Earth can stand up to it. Please, don’t put up a fight, it will only lead to devastation!” Lapis implores.

Future Vision

We see this attitude later on in Jail Break, when Lapis refuses to let Steven break her out of her cell, believing that putting up a fight is worse than simply trying to throw herself at the mercy of the Homeworld Gems.

And honestly, what Lapis says isn’t wrong. The only real reason Earth ultimately ends up spared is because Yellow Diamond believes that it’s already slated for destruction, so she never bothers sending armies or even very many resources. Peridot is only there to check on the Cluster, Jasper is only there to support Peridot, and later, Aquamarine is there just to collect a few humans for the zoo. If the Diamonds had actually sent an invading army or attacked themselves before Steven had the revelation that Rose was Pink Diamond, the Earth and the Crystal Gems would almost certainly have perished.

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Pearl and Amethyst begin to completely melt down over the prospect of Peridot coming for them.

Future Vision

This makes perfect sense in context, but on a rewatch, it is just a little bit comical to see them freaking out so thoroughly over Peridot, who turns out to be decidedly non-threatening.

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Steven’s main concern is how unhappy Lapis looks. He probably doesn’t grasp the full extent of the threat yet, but it’s still very Steven to be mainly concerned about other people’s mental state.

Garnet clenches her fists. “We did it. We got the message. It’s got.” She shows why she’s the acting leader of the Crystal Gems by maintaining her composure, even while she’s obviously incredibly tense and worried.

Future Vision

The fist clenching gesture, in particular, seems to be an indication that she’s having difficulty holding her fusion together. I would guess in this situation that Sapphire is the one trying to keep composed while Ruby is the one completely losing it.

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Garnet says, “Thank you, Greg, we would not have received this message without your help.” I appreciate that Garnet recognizes Greg’s contribution and also points out that they did accomplish something important, even if it was not the outcome they wanted.

You can see Garnet’s hand reflected in Greg’s teary eyes, showing how much this acknowledgement means to him.

Steven grabs the microphone from the beginning of the episode and does a robot voice: “My dad is the best!”

“Help, I can’t relate to my robot son!” says Greg, which is probably a throwaway line but it sticks out in a season filled with parental failures.

“My mind is the internet. I know every continuity mistake made on television.” I’m sure that line is not based on the TV writer’s personal experience or anything.

The episode ends on a shot of the Gems looking extremely worried. They have no real way of dealing with this threat. The risk that they will be shattered and the Earth destroyed is very, very real.

Before rewatching it, I had forgotten how much filler this episode has — they’re clearly trying to stretch out the main plot in a few spots. That being said, the central emotional conceit of Greg wanting to be helpful by contributing the one thing he’s good at lands well. Lapis’ shocking message, of course, is what really carries this episode — the threat of Peridot’s arrival has gone from abstract to a certainty.

Next time on Steven Universe Rewind! One more episode until one of the biggest series bombshells — Political Power.