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 Future Vision blocks, which will include spoilers for the entire series.
The episode opens with Steven and Greg going to get some fry bits from the Fry Shack. Peedee saw them approaching and already has the fry bits ready before Steven can demand them. Greg is impressed that Peedee is closing up the shack by himself: “Wow, that’s a lot of responsibility for a kid your age. Your dad must really trust you.”
Peedee’s response is a deadpan “Don’t patronize me, sir.”
This is obviously foreshadowing — later in the episode, Steven will take a great responsibility on himself, and his father will trust him enough to let him go back and fight with the Gems, even though it’s hard for him.
Steven’s very nonchalantly talking about Peridot shooting robots from space. Even though the last episode ended on such a chilling note, with the Gems admitting that they’re scared, Steven seems very cheerful here. Given his behavior elsewhere in the episode, it’s very likely a coping mechanism to deal with the fact that he’s scared as well.
Greg himself seems somewhat disconcerted by Steven’s cheerfulness. “Do you ever feel like this Gem stuff is too much for you?”
This will be a recurring question throughout the series. Notably, just a few episodes from now, in Full Disclosure, he’s going be terrified of involving Connie in Gem events, having learned just how dangerous it can be. In Future, we learn that years of Gem trauma have taken a serious toll on Steven’s mental health, and the events of The Return / Jail Break are one of the major traumas he remembers.
Steven doesn’t get a real chance to answer Greg’s question, because suddenly every window on the Boardwalk shatters. They look into the sky to see this giant green hand pointing directly at them.
I love this design, it’s the perfect combination of hilarious and menacing.
Later in the series, we learn that most Gem spaceships are modeled after various body parts, most notably the four Diamond ships.
The Gems are using a telescope to look at the hand ship, in a scene that’s a direct callback to Laser Light Cannon, even using the same telescope. This episode has a number of parallels to that episode, including the fact that the Gems initially send Steven away, but by the end of the episode he returns to save the day.
Pearl: It’s a ship. We have to assume it’s Peridot.
Garnet: Lapis told us she’ll be coming. With advanced weapons and reinforcements.
Lapis didn’t actually say that, exactly. This is more something the Gems have inferred. They’re not wrong, of course.
“It’s happening,” says Greg. I wonder how much Rose Quartz actually told him about her background and her fears. He clearly knows some of it.
To drive home the parallels to Laser Light Cannon, the Gems’ first line of defense is to fire said cannons at the hand ship. Here we see the same cannon that was stored in Greg’s storage unit, still in its red wagon, as well as the Quartizine Trio found in Rose’s armory. There’s a walkie-talkie strapped to the house’s deck, so Steven can activate the cannons with Greg’s catchphrase: “If every pork chop were perfect, we wouldn’t have hot dogs.”
Steven’s an integral part of this plan, which is probably a result of Steven asking the Gems to talk to him about the situation in the last episode.
Unfortunately for the Gems, unlike in Laser Light Cannon, even four light cannons does not help. The hand deflects the Rose Quartz-shaped beams with its palm before turning back into a pointing hand.
“We’ll have to take them head on. The whole town might be in danger,” says Garnet.
“I better make a call. Time for some political favors,” says Steven.
First, that’s a great, stupid icon for Mayor Dewey. Secondly, how does he have Lion as a contact? Does Lion have a phone?
Steven invoking political favors is a reference back to Cat Fingers where he and Greg talk about getting political favors in exchange for washing Mayor Dewey’s van. Of course, last episode, Steven helped Mayor Dewey out.
Mayor Dewey is wrapping himself in a curtain, terrified of the pointing finger in the sky. Steven tells him he needs to get the city to evacuate. Mayor Dewey thinks he needs a catchy slogan.
As a cute detail, Dewey has a “#1 Rad Dad” mug on his desk, presumably given to him by his son, Buck, before he became an angsty teen.
We immediately hear Dewey’s “catchy slogan,” as his van drives on the boardwalk, announcing “E-VA-CU-ATE! E-VA-CU-ATE!” The townies gather around as he gives his weak speech: “People! I need everyone to consider… evacuation!”
Later, Dewey will lose his mayorship to Nanefua. Unlike him, Nanefua has an extensive evacuation plan which she puts into effect with much more decisive action than Mayor Dewey.
The Peridot-esque bright green lighting has kicked in as the hand ship grows closer. This episode has a really stunning color palette.
As Steven watches the townspeople evacuate, Garnet loads bags into Greg’s van. When Steven turns around, they all look terribly sad and guilty. Steven sees them carrying his cheeseburger backpack and begins to realize the implications.
“Who wants to tell him?” says Greg, looking at Pearl. This is really something Greg, as his father, should be talking to him about, but one of Greg’s failures is difficulty talking to Steven about difficult subjects like this. Pearl also is reluctant to talk to Steven about anything difficult, as seen in Rose’s Scabbard among other episodes. Amethyst also refuses to do it, saying she’s not good with this stuff, leaving it to Garnet, who is generally the Gem most likely to treat Steven as an equal at this point.
Garnet hands Steven a megaphone out of the back of Greg’s van.
“Steven, I know you think we don’t trust you. I know more often than not, we treat you like a human child. But the truth is, we rely on you. Your voice inspires us, binds us, reminds us why we promised to protect the planet.”
This is one of the first acknowledgements of Steven’s critical place as the emotional center of the team. Garnet’s phrasing that they treat him as a “human child” is interesting given that Gems don’t have a concept of children — dealing with Steven, a human who grows and changes, must have been a huge adjustment for the Gems, and it’s pretty clear throughout the series that they never quite get used to the concept. And of course, Garnet acknowledges that Steven, as a literal bridge between the human and Gem worlds, reminds them of why they fight.
Towards the end of the series, Bismuth will point out that Steven has become the leader of the team, for much the same reasons that Garnet outlines here.
“You must now be that voice for them,” says Garnet, indicating the panicking townspeople.
The normally sensible Peedee is absolutely melting down over having to evacuate the Fry Shack — he’s clearly not a person who deals very well with being taken out of his comfort zone. Mr. Fryman asks Ronaldo to help, but Ronaldo is too busy taking pictures of the hand ship for his blog.
“If anything happens, you need to be there to protect them, like your mother once did. It’s your destiny.”
This season has had a number of comparisons of Steven to Rose Quartz, but this one is one of the most direct. Garnet is trying to get Steven to evacuate here, but these exact words later will encourage Steven to go back — since he realizes that in order to fulfill his mother’s role, he must return and protect the Gems with his mother’s shield.
Garnet means well, but her words here are very harmful — if not necessarily right now, later down the line. The expectation that Steven can fill the role of Rose Quartz will take a real toll on him, especially once he learns more about Rose and her significant flaws.
Steven rides off in Greg’s van, newly determined after Garnet’s speech. As soon as they drive away, the Gems crumble in despair. “We did everything we could,” says Garnet.
The episode doesn’t really dwell on it, but this is awfully dark when you consider the Gems literally think the most like outcome of all of this is that they die and the Earth is destroyed. For all they know, they won’t ever see Steven again.
As a line of cars evacuates from Beach City, Greg nervously looks at the hand ship in the rearview mirror, as Steven looks out the window hopefully.
“Maybe when Peridot gets to Earth, she’ll see how nice all the people are and she won’t want to hurt anyone.”
This is one of my favorite bits in the entire series. Most shows would play this as a moment where the hopelessly naive kid gets a wake-up call, and for a while it seems like it might play out that way, but in the end it turns out that Steven is entirely right about this. In fact, the entire Earth is saved literally because Steven takes a chance on befriending Peridot.
“Just like your mother,” says Greg, in the second comparison of the episode.
“But these other Gems aren’t like your mother. They’re not like Garnet, Amethyst, or Pearl. They aren’t gonna start caring about people now.”
By the series’ end, a surprising amount of Gems really will start caring about people. In fact, two of the three Gems on the hand ship will join the Crystal Gems — they’re more like Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl than Greg imagines. Even Jasper ends up on what might be a slow road to redemption by the end of Future.
“They didn’t the first time they…” Greg trails off.
“The first time they what?”
“The Gems should be telling you all this stuff,” says Greg, and he’s not wrong. The Gems really should have filled in Steven entirely on this history before Homeworld Gems arrive on Earth. At this point, we can piece together quite a bit of it from what we’ve seen, as the flashbacks in a moment will demonstrate.
“They don’t want you thinking of them like that,” says Greg.
“Like what?” Steven asks. “Dad, like what?”
“Like aliens, Steven! Aliens who invaded Earth!”
This is the first time the Gems are explicitly referred to as alien invaders, even though it’s been obvious for a while that that is what they are.
It’s no coincidence that Peridot ends up with an alien head motif, even becoming obsessed with winning an alien doll in Too Short to Ride.
“All they do is try to make up for it. They just can’t forgive themselves, you understand?” This is interesting, because the Gems we know don’t really seem to care all that much about humanity apart from Steven. I think he’s definitely talking about Rose more than the other Gems here.
The idea that Rose is seeking atonement for her past deeds is an important one, especially since her relationship with Greg results in her giving up her own form order to create a human-Gem hybrid. With the late revelation that Rose was Pink Diamond and the Earth was her colony, it turns out that she had much more to atone for than one might realize at this point.
Steven looks shocked by this — not only has he clearly never thought about the Gems as aliens before, but this also means that he is half-alien himself.
“Look, they were doing something awful to the planet and your mother couldn’t stand it any more.” Steven flashes back to On the Run, which is the episode where we first learned this information. The “awful thing” in question is the Kindergarten, which drains the planet of its life in order to create Gems.
“She told me that’s why she had to turn on her own kind. She gave up everything just to stop what they started here and drive the invading Gems off of Earth.”
We flash back to Rose’s Scabbard, which is where we first learned this information, particularly the conversation Pearl recreates with a hologram version of Rose. In this scene, Rose told Pearl that they could never go home.
Rose gave up more than anyone other than Pearl realized, because she gave up her old identity as well.
Steven: So she saved the world, that’s good!
Greg: No such thing as a good war, kiddo.
Steven Universe is a fairly pacifist show, and this is a good example. I like how Greg is immediately realistic about the costs of the war, unlike Pearl in Rose’s Scabbard, glossing over the death and destruction with “But we won!”
“Gems were destroyed, people too,” says Greg. There aren’t many mentions of humans having fought in the Gem War, but this line and the human-sized armor in Rose’s armory indicates that they may have. They may also have simply been collateral damage, though.
“In the end, your mother could only save a handful of her closest friends. If it weren’t for her shield, man, I don’t know.”
This piece is brand new information. We knew that the Crystal Gems were the only Gems remaining on Earth, but not why that was. This line hints at a cataclysm that wiped out every Gem except for those we know.
Later, we’ll learn that the apocalyptic event was the corruption wave that turned all Gems on Earth into monsters, the same ones the Gems have been fighting all along. Rose was only able to save two gems, Pearl and Garnet. At the time, Amethyst hadn’t emerged from her kindergarten, Lapis was in the mirror, and Bismuth was bubbled, and so they were also spared the corruption.
Steven is obviously freaking out, and Greg tries to distract him with the promise of an upcoming waffle place. However, both Garnet and Greg have compared him directly to his mother so far, and Greg has just pointed out that Rose’s shield is the only thing that protected the Crystal Gems during the Gem War. Steven comes to the logical conclusion that he and his shield are needed back in Beach City, and he starts demanding that Greg turn the van around.
Steven yells that they need him, and Greg says, “I need you too!” Poor Greg is understandably terrified about losing his son.
We haven’t seen Steven get angry very often so far, but here he punches the dashboard with enough force to split it. This causes the airbag to deploy and Steven to activate his bubble shield, launching him from the van to the side of the road.
Much later, in Future, Steven will struggle a lot with angry outbursts like this one.
Greg slams the brakes and jumps out of the van to run after Steven. Nearly every townie character we’ve seen so far makes an appearance as they all stop their cars and rush to the side of the road. We even have an early cameo of Barb, Sadie’s mother, standing behind Sadie and Ronaldo here. It’s nice to see how much the townies do care about Steven, even if the Gems cause so much trouble for them.
Steven begs to go back, because the Gems need his shield, and Greg relents. “Be careful, or I’m gonna run fresh out of family.”
We later learn that Greg was estranged from his own family and never speaks to them. In Gem Harvest, we see that he hasn’t spoken to his cousin Andy since before Steven was born. In Mr. Universe, we learn that he left home to pursue a music career as a rebellion against his parents’ stifling household. He’s sent letters back home, all of which are unopened. Steven is currently the only blood-related family he speaks to.
Steven wonders how he’ll return to Beach City, when Lion appears and puts a paw on his head. As Steven rides Lion, he pulls out his phone and calls Connie. She doesn’t pick up, and it goes to voicemail on the Maheswarans’ house phone. The greeting recorded by Dr. Maheswaran shows her strict nature: “Please leave a message after the beep. And keep it short.”
Full Disclosure, set shortly after this episode and Jail Break, shows that Connie does indeed have her own phone, so it’s a little weird that Steven only calls her home phone here.
Steven leaves the following alarming message: “Hey, Connie, it’s Steven. Just seeing what you were up to. Don’t know if you knew, but there’s some crazy stuff going on with a giant space hand and we all might die, so, call me back when you get this and I’ll talk to you soon!”
It’s touching that Steven makes sure to call Connie when he thinks he might die, showing the closeness of their friendship.
This message will become very relevant in Full Disclosure, showing that Connie was extremely upset about this message and not knowing where Steven has been.
Lion uses a portal to get Steven back to the beach. Opal is firing arrows at the hand ship, which have no effect. This is her first appearance since Giant Woman, and her outfit now reflects Pearl’s regeneration — notice the sash around her waist. Pearl and Amethyst have come a long way since that episode, but it’s likely they would have been able to form Opal regardless due to the magnitude of the threat.
The lighting here is even more extreme as the hand ship draws closer. Again, this is much like Laser Light Cannon where the end of the episode was bathed in bright red and white. I really love how eerie and off-kilter this lighting makes everything look.
“Stay here. If something bad happens, Dad’ll need a new son.” Geez, Steven.
The hand ship increases in speed, bearing down on the beach. “At least Steven is safe…” says Garnet, as Steven appears behind her. You’d think Garnet would have seen that with her future vision — but she often doesn’t have the best luck when it comes to predicting Steven’s actions.
Opal is so distressed at Steven’s appearance that she immediately unfuses into Pearl and Amethyst. The Gems are shocked, but quickly stand in front of Steven as the hand ship finally lands.
The imagery of the pointing finger bearing down on the Crystal Gems is great, especially when you take into account what Greg said earlier about the Gems constantly trying to make up for the actions of their kind.
The music turns electronic as the hand manifests a glowing sphere, which unwraps itself and reveals three Gems: Peridot, Lapis, and an enormous Gem who we haven’t seen before.
“That’s them, all right. They’re the ones who keep breaking my machines.” Peridot still doesn’t know or care about the Gem War, she just wants to get her job done.
The huge Gem is unimpressed, and Peridot whines, “Jasper! They keep interfering with my work!” In case you didn’t realize this already, this really drives home that Peridot is just a worker and not any kind of Big Bad.
We get our first clear shot of the Big Buff Cheeto Puff as Jasper (voice: Kimberly Brooks) steps out from behind Peridot. “Looks like another waste of my time.”
Jasper, of course, turns out to be incredibly important to altering the course of the plot. Personally, I didn’t find her all that compelling until Future, where she becomes a lot more interesting.
It is interesting that they send her as an escort to Peridot here. It’s possible she volunteered for this job because she was hoping to fight the last of Rose Quartz’s army on Earth and wanted to personally fight Rose herself, if possible.
Jasper roughly grabs Lapis, asking her to confirm that this is their base. She angrily pulls her hand away from Jasper, and is upset to see Steven there.
It’s unclear what happened to Lapis between this, The Message, and Ocean Gem. At some point after her return to Homeworld, she must have been caught and interrogated, and told the Homeworld Gems that she was on Earth. It’s really a coincidence that Peridot has been investigating Earth and encountered the Crystal Gems at the same time Lapis arrived back, so someone must have put two and two together here.
She’s not cooperating willingly, and since she’s so near the ocean here, she could probably easily defeat the entire lot of them if she wished. As we’ll see in the next episode, though, Lapis is not really in a mindset to do so.
The Crystal Gems yell at the invaders to leave. “This is not a Gem-controlled planet!” Pearl shouts.
The trio basically ignore them. “Neither of you saw Rose Quartz? Oh, what a shame. I’d hoped to meet her. I was looking forward to beating her into the ground!”
Later, we learn that Jasper was made during the Gem War, the only perfect Quartz to come out of the Beta Kindergarten. She was built to serve Pink Diamond, and like all Era 1 Gems, believes that Rose shattered Pink. Jasper is extremely loyal to her Diamond, so getting revenge for this murder is her greatest desire. Of course, like everyone else, she’s wrong about who killed Pink.
Jasper looks over the Crystal Gems, and her comments on them each have implications about things that haven’t been revealed yet…
“Some lost, defective Pearl.” This is actually one of the first indications in the series that there is more than one of any particular type of Gem.
It isn’t until Back to the Barn that Peridot infodumps about the true nature of Pearls — they are personally made servants for the upper classes, existing mainly to look pretty and hold things. Our Pearl, of course, could not be further from that — something which she’s simultaneously proud of and insecure about. She’s a “lost” Pearl because she doesn’t belong to anybody since Rose Quartz gave up her form. Previously, Rose freed her, but how much effect that actually had is debatable.
“A puny, overcooked runt.”
On the Run showed us that Amethyst emerged from her kindergarten after everyone else, but we currently don’t have any other Gems to compare her to to see wht effect that had on her. In Too Far, exposition machine Peridot confirms that Amethyst stayed in the ground too long, making her half the size of a “normal” Amethyst, but with full strength and abilities. After this, Amethyst becomes somewhat insecure about not being “perfect” like Jasper, a plot line which culminates in Amethyst, Steven, and Peridot beating Jasper at the Beta Kindergarten.
“And this shameless display.”
At this point, many fans had picked up the clues and realized that Garnet was likely a fusion, something which will be confirmed in the next episode. What’s really interesting about what Jasper says is that it indicates Homeworld’s views on fusions. We later learn that Homeworld strictly forbids any fusions between two different types of Gems, and that Garnet is considered a serious deviant under Homeworld law. Her component Ruby was even sentenced to shattering just for accidentally fusing briefly with a Sapphire.
“What is that?” Jasper asks about Steven, and the Crystal Gems pull up their weapons defensively.
Peridot says that he calls himself “the Steven,” which she learned in Marble Madness.
Lapis desperately pleads with Jasper, saying that Steven is just a human, no threat at all, and not one of them. Even though she doesn’t care what happens to the other Crystal Gems, she’s still loyal to Steven.
Jasper is unimpressed by all this. Instead of fighting them, she orders Peridot to blast them with the ship.
The weapon takes a long time to charge and you’d think the Gems could just like… step to the side, or something, but then we wouldn’t get this big dramatic moment. Garnet yells at Steven to leave, and Steven says, “But this is my home! And you’re all my family! I’m a Crystal Gem too!”
This last line reminds me of some of the very early S1 episodes, where Steven would whine that he was a Crystal Gem to try to get the Gems to include him on missions. He’s come a long way from the little boy in that episode to someone who will risk his life to defend his family.
Steven summons his shield for the first time since Ocean Gem, larger than he’s ever made it before, deflecting the hand ship’s blast.
This imagery is very similar to the event Greg was talking about in the van, when Rose shielded Pearl and Garnet from the corruption waves at the end of the Gem War. It will also receive a callback in The Reunion, when Steven and the expanded Crystal Gems will get behind his shield while fighting the Diamonds on this same beach. Notably, Peridot and Lapis are on the other side of the shield then!
Jasper recognizes the shield and is shocked that Steven has the power of Rose Quartz. “Now do you believe I needed an escort?” says Peridot.
“Rose! Why do you look like that? Why are you so weak?” Jasper demands.
This is an early indication of how obsessed Jasper is with strength. It’s also interesting that later it’s revealed that Rose Quartz was an entire class of Gems, but throughout the series everyone treats Rose as THE Rose Quartz. Steven could, theoretically, be some other Rose Quartz in a strange form, but Jasper never considers that for a second. We never see the natural abilities of the other Rose Quartzes, so it’s possible that the shield, and Steven’s other powers, are unique to his mother — another indication that she was not actually a Rose Quartz.
Lapis pleads with Jasper to not hurt Steven, but Jasper accuses her of knowing about this and not telling her.
Lapis: It wasn’t relevant to the mission!
Jasper: Forget about the mission!
Jasper: Yellow Diamond needs to see this… thing!
Peridot, who has no stakes in the Gem War, is shocked that Jasper wants to abandon the mission so suddenly.
Later, we learn that Peridot emerged long after the Gem War, and only read about what happened in reports. She didn’t even know who the Crystal Gems were when she was doing her mission on Earth. So she has no stakes in the conflict with Rose Quartz, and only cares about her personal mission to check on the Cluster.
Both Peridot and Lapis freak out at the mention of Yellow Diamond. In fact, this is the first mention of a Diamond in the entire series — apart from Ronaldo’s line about a “Diamond Authority.”
The Diamonds, particularly Yellow, are going to be a big, overhanging threat from here on out. Yellow makes her first appearance in the extended Season 2 intro, but her first real appearance is, fittingly, in the second to last episode of Season 2, when Peridot contacts her and asks her to spare the Earth.
Garnet lunges at Jasper, who summons her weapon, which is an enormous crash helmet. She pulls out a weapon called a Gem Destabilizer, the first we’ve seen on the show. As we’re about to see, this weapon immediately dissipates a Gem’s form, leaving their gemstone behind.
Jasper is in her element here, finally getting the fight she loves. Both Lapis and Peridot seem disturbed by the destabilizer. Lapis is understandable, because she’s worried about Steven’s safety, but Peridot’s reaction is a little more interesting, since she specifically requested that Jasper get the Crystal Gems out of her way. She didn’t exactly shy away from violence against Gems in Marble Madness, but that was separated by the safety of a screen from light years away. It could also be that the destabilizer is particularly frightening to her — considering it’s capable of instant incapacitation, leaving one’s gemstone open to capturing or shattering, it’s not hard to understand why.
Jasper hits Garnet with the destabilizer, and she splits into two right in front of Steven. That one’s going in the ol’ trauma bucket.
Garnet’s two gemstones fall onto the sand in front of a shaking Steven.
Jasper approaches Steven and lifts him off the ground. “I was there, you know? At the first war for this garbage planet. I fought against your armies. I respected your tactics. But this? This is sick!”
Jasper imagines herself as a kind of noble warrior who respects strength above all else — although we’ll see that crumble somewhat later.
“I don’t get what you’re planning, Rose, but look! Your base is taken. Your armies are ruined. You have failed!”
She headbutts Steven, and the scene goes to black.
The Return is one of the series’ major highlights. It’s the first part of a two-parter with Jail Break, which everyone remembers for its iconic moments and the song, so I’m glad I got to write about it separately, since it’s so often overshadowed. The Return is a fantastic episode in its own right. The apocalyptic feel and the ratcheting tension, symbolized by the lighting becoming more extreme, are very well done. The discussion between Steven and Greg in the van is long overdue and loaded with both lore and character. We see the return of Lapis and Peridot, along with the first appearance of recurring villain Jasper.
One thing that’s amazing about this episode is how it effectively raises the stakes even though the Homeworld entourage is really much smaller than any of them expected. Homeworld didn’t need to bring massive armies to defeat our heroes. All they needed was one particularly strong Quartz shoulder and a few of what seem to be standard issue weapons to almost effortlessly defeat our heroes. Ending the episode on Steven getting knocked out is a great cliffhanger moment.
Next Time on Steven Universe Future! I am their fury. I am their patience. I am a conversation.