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.
Episode Description: Steven and the Crystal Gems revisit the Kindergarten and find a dark secret.
That’s right, we’re headed back to one of my favorite settings of the series: Kindergarten!
The episode opens with the gang folding laundry, but just so you don’t think this is going to be a quiet slice of life episode, the first line is Garnet discussing how they need to track down Peridot. You know it’s going to be a pretty good episode when Peridot is immediately brought up.
Amethyst is reading a manga called Pretty Hairstylist, which we’ll later see Lapis reading as she hangs out in the barn.
Steven thought they had just gathered in order to help fold laundry. Garnet points out that the chore wheel they made isn’t really working out — as we can see, all entries have been crossed out and replaced by Pearl. This calls back to Steven the Sword Fighter where none of the chores are getting done while Pearl is in her gemstone, and also relates to how she still doesn’t trust Amethyst and, to a lesser extent, Steven, to get things done properly. (I’m guessing she thought if she was doing three-fourths of the chores anyway, she might as well cross off Garnet’s name, too).
Pearl somewhat guiltily says that she likes doing all those things, and Garnet comments that it’s better if they do the chores together, which is obviously a recurring theme in this episode.
There’s a few little references here. Next to the Fish Stew Pizza business card is magnetic poetry that says “the bits.” The post-it note reads “buy engine oil,” a reference to Reformed where Amethyst was looking for some to put on her sandwich. Finally, the UFO magnet in an episode involving Peridot is possibly not a coincidence, since she’s consistently associated with UFO and “alien gray” imagery.
Steven suggests that maybe the folding would go faster if Garnet unfused, but she doesn’t want to unfuse for laundry. This also serves as a reminder to viewers of Garnet’s nature — this kind of exposition is going to become common in episodes going forward, as the lore becomes more important. Steven’s cheerful, casual suggestion also provides a contrast for later in the episode, where he begs Garnet to stay fused.
It’s both cute and understandable that Steven would like to get to know Ruby and Sapphire better. They’re effectively two new Gems he could meet, and, unlike some of the other new Gems he’s met recently, are not hostile. Steven is very eager to make new Gem friends, as we saw in his interactions with Lapis and, later on, with Peridot.
At least Steven gets to know Ruby and Sapphire better individually in Season 5 and in Future.
Pearl questions whether Peridot might come looking for them, and that’s really a question they should have been asking before now. Garnet logically points out that she probably won’t, because she was sent to do a job at the Kindergarten, and will likely prioritize doing that.
Garnet believes that Peridot’s mission is to turn on the Kindergarten, a reasonable assumption they’ve had since Marble Madness. Of course, in this episode we learn that that’s not the case.
They should really be more suspicious about the timing here, I think. If Homeworld wanted to turn the injectors back on, why wouldn’t they have tried this at some point in the last five thousand years? The plot of the Cluster is very clever because it neatly addresses why Homeworld has left them alone, even after they assume the Crystal Gems are decimated — because they assume the Earth is doomed anyway, and are just waiting for their geoweapon to become ready.
I’m guessing the Crystal Gems assume it’s because Rose is dead, which kind of falls down when you realize they had no way of knowing that until Jasper recognized her gemstone in Steven. Indeed, later on we definitively learn that Homeworld did not know that Rose survived.
Steven asks what injectors are. He saw them on previous visits, and we got an inkling of what they might be for in On the Run, but here Pearl makes it explicit. They inject a Gem into the crust of the Earth, where they incubate, sucking the life out of the ground. This was the process that the Crystal Gems feared was going to doom humanity.
Later in the series, Peridot will feel guilt about her role in Kindergartening, and will take up farming as both a new hobby and as a way to give back to organic life. Unfortunately, she’ll learn the hard way that it takes more than five thousand years for the blighted Kindergarten to be suitable for growing anything.
Pearl’s explanation is accompanied by a shot of Amethyst looking uncomfortable — a reference back to On the Run, where we learned that Amethyst harbors shame for having been created in the same Kindergarten that would have eventually destroyed the Earth.
Garnet says that the entire planet could become “janked,” much to Amethyst’s amusement.
Garnet puts down the laundry and announces they’re heading to the Kindergarten, which is something you’d really think they would have done sooner, but I guess they’ve been busy watching Ronaldo’s documentary.
Steven remains behind folding laundry until the other Gems ask if he’s coming, at which point he gets stars in his eyes and runs to the warp pad. He’s come a long way from early Season 1 Steven who begged and whined to be included.
Pearl questions whether Steven should be coming along. “Peridot’s got nothing we can’t handle,” said Garnet, foreshadowing the fact that she almost can’t handle what is about to happen.
We’re back to the delightfully creepy Kindergarten setting, where things are quiet and still. Pearl is using her gemstone like a flashlight, and I think this is the first time we’ve seen that ability. They don’t immediately notice anything changed. Garnet suggests they split up and check the perimeter, and Steven walks off on his own.
Steven’s awfully blase about wandering around this creepy, dangerous place by himself. He also can’t hear the show’s background music, or else he might recognize the opening bars of Peridot’s theme before she appears.
Oh hey, it’s Peridot. She emerges out of the ground in the same place where her Robonoid activated the control room in Marble Madness.
She’s talking to her long about how the fusion experiments are developing properly and some have emerged early. We’re about to see what that means, but she’s awfully blasé about something that’s pretty objectively horrifying. Peridot probably compartmentalizes a lot.
Steven and Peridot stare each other down for a moment, both clearly at a loss for how to handle this. “Are the other ones with you?” Peridot asks quietly.
Steven shakes his head no, but quickly nods yes instead and looks fairly apologetic about it. I never get tired of how Steven is low-key friendly to Peridot even when she’s ostensibly a threat. She also doesn’t seem particularly inclined to fight him. The Crystal Gems spot them, and Peridot immediately takes off running.
We learn about one of Peridot’s abilities as she effortlessly runs straight up a wall. Pearl uses her spear to knock down one of the injectors, taking Peridot down with it.
Steven is concerned that she may have been hurt, but she’s totally unscathed by the heavy machinery falling on her, showing that she’s fairly durable.
Amethyst catches Peridot in her whip, but Peridot frees herself by electrifying it. This scene is really largely about establishing Peridot’s capabilities. They’re largely defensive, not offensive — so far, she hasn’t summoned a weapon of her own — and they seem technology based.
Peridot taunts them, calling them the Crystal Clods (cementing this as her catchphrase for the series on out) and exclaiming she already got what she needed. As we saw before in Marble Madness, her surface-level calm demeanor drops immediately when she’s out of her element and facing any kind of threat.
In another example of a skill centered around defense and escape, Peridot turns her hand into a helicopter and flies away Inspector Gadget style, giggling maniacally. Peridot is the goofiest she’s been so far, and I think that’s largely to balance the horror elements we’re about to see.
At this point it’s still unclear what role, exactly, Peridot is meant to play. Reading contemporary reactions to this episode, some people assumed she was directly responsible for the Cluster experiments and therefore unredeemable. I think making her silly in the first half of the episode is to try to stave off that interpretation. Later, of course, we’ll learn that she was not responsible for the Cluster, which was built before her time, but just sent to Earth to monitor it — and, like most Gems, would have been punished severely for not doing that job, which made her redemption easier to swallow.
And then, of course, the Gems actually responsible for the Cluster ended up redeemed in a move that was considerably more controversial, although we at least see Yellow Diamond trying to fix it in Future.
Pearl and Amethyst chase after Peridot, but Steven is stopped by Garnet picking him up. She points out that Peridot said she got what she needed, but the injectors aren’t on, so that likely wasn’t her goal. They need to figure out what her actual goal was.
As she lifts the injector with one gauntlet, Steven compliments her, calling her “brains and brawn, the whole package.” He asks if it’s because she’s a fusion, bringing that up again moments before it becomes relevant.
As they slide down the shaft to the Kindergarten control room, Steven does a rare thing and actually asks pertinent questions. “Is the strong part of you Ruby and the wise part of you Sapphire?” Garnet says that it’s both, and that fusion creates something greater than the sum of its parts — which is why she is so great. Reminding the audience of what a healthy fusion is like and how important it is to Garnet is critical for what is about to happen.
Later we’ll see that it is indeed too simplistic to call Ruby the strong part and Sapphire the wise part. While that is their roles on paper and according to their original positions in Gem society, the reality is more complex. Both have strengths and weaknesses — Sapphire has moments of strength (emotional, if not physical), Ruby has moments of wisdom, and both of them have moments when they’re neither, particularly when they’re flirting or giving relationship advice.
Steven starts to ask Garnet what it’s like to stay fused all the time, but his question is cut off when they reach the bottom of the shaft and see something strange.
They reach the control panel, last seen in Marble Madness. The power is off and the machinery is still partially smashed, as it was the last time they were here. However, this time there are quite a few earthen cylinders protruding from the ceiling and floor. These were briefly visible in the previous episode, when Peridot was working in the room. Unsettling background music starts to play.
Garnet carefully approaches one of the cylinders, which begins to shake. They’re both startled when a creature that looks like a hand and foot stuck together falls from the ceiling, almost on top of Steven. As they look up at the cylinders, several more creatures made of random body parts flop to the ground.
This is some weapons-grade nightmare fuel and would have scared the crap out of me as a kid, I have to say. Steven Universe is pretty good at the G-rated horror.
The hand-foot jumps onto Steven, and Garnet grabs and poofs it. Instead of a regular or even a corrupted Gem, it’s made of several irregular Gem shards smashed together. Garnet is uncharacteristically horrified and throws the shards to the ground, shuddering. Keep in mind that Gem shards are basically their corpses.
As Garnet begins to freak out, we get this shot of her in comic book style shadowing, something rarely seen on the show. It’s a good choice to help drive home the surreality of the situation and how shocking it is that Garnet, the most cool-headed of the Gems, is losing her grip on reality.
One of the cylinders breaks, revealing a larger cluster of shards, which begins to rise and glow. It forms into the silhouettes of four Gems, all screaming and struggling to pull away. It then glitches and turns into a giant hand, then glitches again and turns into a creature with many hands.
So this is basically a Frankenstein’s monster formed of the parts of shattered Gems, permanently fused in agony. It’s unclear if the component parts even understand what’s happening to them — they’re just in pain.
Garnet completely freezes up with terror and sadness. She doesn’t respond to Steven’s questions and does nothing as the Cluster Gem grabs her and knocks off her visor. “These were Crystal Gems, shattered into pieces. They were buried together,” she says.
That’s right, not only is it a monster made of dead Gem parts, it’s actually made of Garnet’s long-lost dead friends.
“They were forced together. They were forced to fuse! This is wrong! …I’m sorry,” says Garnet, as she begins to become unfused, causing Steven to panic. Not only is this creature made of her old friends, but it’s a terrifying perversion of fusion, making this situation deeply personal for Garnet.
As smaller Cluster Gems close in on Steven, Garnet forces herself back together with great effort — her concern for Steven’s safety overriding the conflict and stress affecting her components. She manages to poof and bubble the large hand cluster.
“So this is what Homeworld thinks of fusion!” Garnet says, in a rougher voice than usual.
“We couldn’t have known!” she answers herself, in a higher, airier voice. Although she remains fused, she’s clearly having a conversation between her two components — much like in Alone Together, where Steven and Connie sit on a bench and talk while fused as Stevonnie.
In The Answer, we learn why these two take this affront so personally. They were perhaps the first cross-Gem fusion ever, forced to flee Blue Diamond’s court after Ruby accidentally fused with Sapphire. In the Rebellion, cross-Gem fusions were accepted, and they taught other Gems that they could fuse out of love, and not purely for battle or other utility.
Garnet believes that the Cluster experiments are a direct result of Homeworld seeing new potential in the idea of fusion, and likely also a punishment for condoning fusions they considered to be abominations. This knowledge puts Jasper’s attitude about fusions, and her willingness to fuse with Lapis to fight the Crystal Gems, in a new light.
“So this is where they’ve been — all the ones we couldn’t find!” says Ruby-in-Garnet, referring to the Crystal Gems that fell in the Rebellion.
“Rose couldn’t have known!” says Sapphire-in-Garnet.
Sapphire is correct. Rose couldn’t have and didn’t know where the fallen Crystal Gems were.
What’s more, there are far more than Garnet thinks. In When It Rains, we learn that Peridot’s real mission was not to check on these small Cluster experiments, but to monitor the extremely large Cluster made of thousands of Gems that sits far below the crust.
“This is punishment for the Rebellion!” Ruby-in-Garnet yells.
“It’s not our fault!” Sapphire-in-Garnet is desperate.
This exchange reminds me of The Answer, where Ruby blames herself for their exile and is only concerned with Sapphire’s well-being, not her own. Part of why Sapphire is so vehemently denying the blame here is because she knows that Ruby will take it on herself, even though this is in no way their fault.
This entire exchange goes to show the point earlier about how it isn’t as simplistic as Ruby being the brawn and Sapphire being the brains — they’re a team, and they both have different and valid feelings about this situation.
It’s interesting that Garnet’s future vision clearly did not prepare her for this, likely because she has difficulty seeing possibilities she can’t imagine.
Garnet teleports the bubble she’s holding as Amethyst and Pearl run up, saying that they lost Peridot. A Cluster Gem made of two hands crawls on Amethyst, and Pearl picks it up curiously. Garnet screams at her to put it down, and tells them they need to poof and bubble all of them.
The scene cuts here, and we don’t get Pearl and Amethyst’s reactions to the nature of the Cluster Gems. Pearl would no doubt be as horrified as Garnet to learn what has become of her fallen comrades. Learning the Kindergarten’s true purpose would also no doubt play into the complexes Amethyst already has about her origins.
Some time later, Steven warps to the hand next to the Crystal Temple to do laundry. Garnet is hanging out there, and Steven asks how’s it going. “Still damp,” she says, referring to the clothes in the dryer.
Steven continues his streak of asking questions fans have wondered about in this episode, asking how the washer and dryer work. “Magic,” says Garnet.
Incidentally, we’ve largely left the parts of the show where Gem abilities, artifacts etc. are referred to as magic. The revelation that they were an invading alien force, and that modern Gems are highly technologically advanced, is the turning point for “magic” on the show.
Garnet is uncharacteristically downtrodden, and Steven asks her if she’s alright. She tells Steven that he wishes he didn’t see that, and when he tries to wave it off, she presses on, saying it wasn’t okay.
“What Homeworld did, taking the shards and parts of fallen Gems and combining them… Those Gems weren’t asked permission. Fusion is a choice, and those Gems weren’t given a choice. It isn’t right. It isn’t fusion!”
Fusion sometimes gets compared, too simplistically to sex, and this speech, touching on the violation Gems go through when forced to fuse, certainly can be taken that way. But fusion isn’t sex, and it’s not hard to see how this could apply to any close relationship. All healthy relationships should be consenting, sexual, romantic, platonic, even familial.
It also relates back to Malachite — Jasper coerced Lapis into fusing with her, and now Lapis is keeping Jasper in the fusion against her will — both clearly in violation of Garnet’s tenets.
Steven returns to the question he started to ask as he and Garnet descended to the control room, asking her what it’s like to be a fusion all the time. “Do you forget who you used to be?”
“You forget you were ever alone,” says Garnet.
This is presented largely as a positive thing here, a sign that Garnet’s relationship is loving and healthy. However, Season 5 shows that because Garnet has been fused for so long, Sapphire and Ruby have both lacked opportunity to grow and change on their own. As of Future, while Garnet still spends most of her time fused, she also unfuses on a regular basis to allow her components to pursue their own interests.
“When you split up, is it like you disappear?” asks Steven.
“I embody my — I mean, Ruby and Sapphire’s love. I’ll always exist in them, even if I split apart.”
This is certainly true as long as the separation is only physical, but Garnet’s existence becomes a lot more precarious when that love is actually threatened — as it is in Season 5, when Ruby and Sapphire learn that Rose was Pink Diamond and the way she told them to never question anything was actually harmful. This event threatens Garnet’s actual existence, as it’s briefly uncertain whether or not Sapphire and Ruby are going to make up.
“That’s why you’re so great,” says Steven, calling back to earlier in the episode.
A blue sock blows away on the wind, but is caught by Garnet. Steven pairs it with a red sock.
“Don’t want to break up a pair,” says Garnet.
“Yeah, you’re right. They belong together.”
So I really enjoy this episode. First of all, it has the return of Peridot, which would automatically make it high quality in my book. Secondly, the unsettling revelations around the Cluster Gems are really well done. This episode moves the lore and plot along nicely, and also gives us some solid character work for Garnet.
Next time on Steven Universe Rewind! We get another flashback to the days when Greg had hair on the top of his head in We Need to Talk.