Steven Universe Rewind – Keystone Motel

Episode Description: Steven, Greg, and Garnet go on a road trip.

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.

As Amethyst said at the end of the last episode, not all problems can be wrapped up neatly at the end of an episode. This episode picks up where the last one left off, dealing with Garnet’s feelings about Pearl’s massive breach of trust.

Pearl has been searching for Peridot non-stop for several days, in an effort to prove to the Crystal Gems, and mostly Garnet, that she can be trusted again. Of course, the problem with this is that searching for Peridot doesn’t really do anything to address the actual issues in their relationship that led to the events around Sardonyx. Still, it’s very Pearl to try and make herself feel better by being useful.

Garnet enters, and Pearl eagerly updates her on the status of her search and asks her if she has new ideas. Garnet simply walks away, but she does pause briefly when Pearl looks down and says that she’s sorry.

Greg, the master of timing, chooses this moment to slam open the door of the house. “WHO WANTS TO GO ON A ROOOOOOAD TRIP?”

Greg says that he needs to drive over to Keystone — “you mean the state called Keystone?” Pearl helpfully clarifies, just in case you had it confused with the completely different state in our world called Pennsylvania. He’s picking up car wash brushes he bought for cheap from someone on the internet.

“I don’t like those brushes. They feel weird on your fur,” says Steven, a reference to Cat Fingers, where he went through the car wash while in a half-cat-monster state.

Greg asks Steven if he likes motels. He responds, “probably!” indicating he’s never been to one. “I can’t wait to get room service!” he says.

Greg clarifies that room service is what you find at hotels. This is a motel, which has a pool, free ice, and the best diner and the world nearby. Steven is just as enthusiastic for this as he was for room service.

Future Vision

In Mr. Greg, Greg and Steven will actually get a fancy hotel experience complete with room service.

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Garnet suddenly says that she’s coming too, shocking Pearl and Greg. She looks surprisingly content here. You have to figure that after recent events it’d be good for her to get out of the house and away from Pearl for a while — which is probably her reasoning too, although it doesn’t completely work out that way.

Pearl tries to talk to Garnet again, but she simply walks away as she says goodbye. Greg is extremely confused.

That night, they pull in the motel. Like Steven, I also loved to go to a motel as a kid, and it’s pretty clear the storyboarders did too, with this depiction of a simple but cozy motel that looks like any classic motel.

When this episode aired, fans found an actual Keystone Motel online and review bombed it with humorous reviews referencing this episode. It unfortunately tanked the actual motel’s ratings, and the creators had to tell fans to please stop.

The motel room is quite nostalgic too — I love the weird art of a deer and the ugly bedspreads. Steven excitedly starts bouncing on a bed, and Greg warns him that they have to check for bedbugs first — one of the less fun aspects of staying at a motel. (Maybe also check for weird stains.) Garnet carries in their luggage, including Steven’s cheeseburger backpack.

Greg gets a phone call, and asks Garnet to watch Steven while he goes to pick up the brushes. Garnet agrees, but her hand is twitching and she looks obviously unhappy. “If I don’t get back in an hour… call the police,” says Greg, as he heads out.

Steven does what I always did as a kid in motels — and really, what I still do now — and grabs the brochures. As I am very food-motivated, local restaurants with menus was always a priority.

Meanwhile, Garnet is having a conversation with herself out loud, much like in Keeping It Together. It quickly becomes clear what the problem is: Ruby doesn’t want to forgive Pearl, but Sapphire thinks that they must.

Despite the horrific trauma of the cluster Gems in Keeping It Together, Garnet was ultimately able to hold together there in a way she can’t here. I think the primary difference was that, while both Gems were horrified, they were ultimately in agreement and supported each other. They also had a common goal in protecting Steven. There’s really nothing like that here, so the two split and land on the motel floor.

It’s also very likely that the compounded stress of many recent events are starting to weigh on Garnet more heavily. Between being split and imprisoned in Jail Break, the cluster Gems, hunting for Lapis and Peridot, and now Pearl’s betrayal, Garnet’s had more stress in the past few months than she probably has for thousands of years.

Steven is excited to see them, but quickly realizes that they’re in no state to talk. Ruby is furious at Pearl, yelling about how she was tricked and feels used. “You’re choosing to take it personally,” says Sapphire, showing how she can be fairly cold. Ruby points out that fusion is deeply personal to them. This, of course, ties in to how disturbed Garnet was by the horrible misuse of fusion that was the Cluster Gems, and even how Garnet chose to encourage Greg after Pearl used fusion to make him jealous.

But seriously, Sapphire, just invalidating your partner’s feelings like that is generally not a good idea.

This is only the second time we’ve properly seen these two after Jail Break, so it gives us a good chance to dig into their relationship dynamics. The fact that Sapphire is seemingly calm and unmoved only makes Ruby more upset. Sapphire denies that she doesn’t care: “Can’t you see I’m completely engulfed in rage?”

“The sooner we forgive Pearl, the better it will be for us all,” says Sapphire. The issue, of course, is that she’s not giving Ruby room to be angry, instead simply prioritizing forgiving Pearl and getting as quickly as possible to the future where all of this is behind them.

“You’re not as above this as you think you are,” says Ruby, as Sapphire literally floats above her. Ruby knows Sapphire well, and she’s right, as we will see.

Ruby’s hysterical pacing and groaning begins to burn the carpet, showing that she has fire powers. She marches outside before she burns the whole place down. Steven awkwardly hides behind a brochure, and the memory of hiding and pretending to ignore a heated argument between your parents on a road trip is also one I share with Steven, although a less pleasant one than ice machines and diner breakfasts.

Steven changes into his bathing suit and heads out to the pool, where Ruby is pacing back and forth. Ruby immediately begins ranting to him: “We’re supposed to be the bigger Gem about this! We’re always the bigger Gem! Well, not this time! Not about this!”

It’s pretty understandable that at some point Garnet would snap from having to constantly be the voice of reason, especially given Pearl and Amethyst’s antics lately, not to mention raising Steven. It shows one way that Garnet likely misses Rose, as Rose’s death forced her to take on the mantle of leader.

Out of all the Gems, Garnet is the one most likely to talk to Steven as though he is a peer, and we see that here with Ruby, where she immediately just starts laying her problems on him.

Future Vision

While this tendency was sometimes helpful, the Crystal Gems continuously getting Steven, a child, to do emotional labor for them eventually extracts a serious toll on his mental health.

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Steven invites Ruby into the pool with him. Instead of swimming, she begins pacing on the bottom while continuing her rant. Her anger literally boils the pool, and Steven is forced out and back to the room.

Unfortunately for Steven, the room has been turned ice cold by Sapphire’s powers. Sapphire is pretending to be fine, but the ice crystals growing behind her clearly show that she isn’t. Steven tries to make the best of the situation and asks Sapphire to predict which TV channel he’ll like the most. “43, but there’s not much on,” she says.

Steven turns to talk to Sapphire, but she heads him off, predicting what he will say: “You’re going to say I should talk to Ruby, but it won’t help.”

Steven points out that she’s really upset, but Sapphire dismisses this. “That doesn’t matter. We can’t stay mad at Pearl forever, and she can’t stay mad at me forever, and then she’ll come back and see that I’m right.” While Sapphire is, technically, correct about what’s going to happen, by invalidating Ruby in the moment, she’s actually probably delaying the moment of reconciliation. Sapphire’s attitude here also shows why Garnet sometimes utterly fails to be reassuring. Since she’s seen a future where things work out, she doesn’t really see a need to address other Gems’ feelings in the moment.

“I can see the path of fate as it stretches toward the horizon. Ruby can’t avoid the inevitable. She’s just letting her emotions get out of hand.”

“Not you, though?”

“No,” says Sapphire, the growing ice crystals behind her betraying her. Sapphire here reminds me a lot of people who claim to be completely logical and rational, who are usually blind to the role their emotions play in their decision making. In fact, Ruby and Sapphire make a good case as to why one needs both logic and emotions in balance. Attempting pure logic can blind one to one’s own emotions and cause one to lack empathy; attempting pure emotion can lead to situations like Ruby’s aimless ranting with no solution in sight.

Steven attempts to use the bathroom, but finds that the toilet is frozen. “Such is fate,” says Sapphire, which is kind of an irritating way to frame something that’s clearly her fault.

“Am I fated to pee outside in the grass too?” Steven asks, storming out.

Future Vision

This will be referenced later when Peridot occupies the Crsytal Gems’ bathroom and Amethyst suggests that he pee in the ocean “like a feeeeesh.”

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Greg returns, the car wash brushes strapped to the top of the van. He brought pizza, and he’s pleased to report that the guy from the internet wasn’t an axe murderer. He enters the room and sees Sapphire. “He’s not going to like that it’s square,” she says.

Greg immediately recognizes her and knows what happened: “Oh boy… where’s the other one?” Steven points out Ruby, still pacing in the empty pool.

Greg has clearly seen Ruby and Sapphire act like this before, which means that he has been around when there was a conflict so serious it caused Ruby and Sapphire to split. The most obvious thing that comes to mind is Rose’s decision to have Steven, although it’s possible it may have been something more mundane, such as Garnet being upset at Pearl for her jealousy.

Greg shows Steven the pizza he bought, and just as Sapphire predicted, he doesn’t like that it’s square. Greg offers this sage advice: “Son, there will come a time in your life when you learn to accept all pizza.”

Steven asks why Ruby and Sapphire don’t split up, and Greg has more words of wisdom: “Sometimes people who love each other hurt each other’s feelings without meaning to.” In fact, this is generally the most common source of conflict on Steven Universe.

Greg wants to give them some space, but Steven insists that they should talk to each other. Steven’s impulse that everything can be solved by talking is usually on point, but will sometimes get him into trouble later on. Greg thinks that everything will be better in the morning, although for Gems who don’t sleep, it’s unclear whether that really holds in the same way it often holds for humans. He plans for them to all eat breakfast together at The Best Diner in the World. “Nothing like a little breakfast to bring people together!” he says, in what I would assume is a reference to Together Breakfast.

We see that Greg calling this place “the best diner in the world” was not just his opinion, but the actual name of the place. I’d totally eat here.

The four are served these happy smiley breakfasts. Ruby, still obviously upset, glares at it. Greg asks if she’s not hungry, and Steven reminds him that Gems don’t need to eat. “Garnet likes to eat sometimes,” he says, and I can’t recall if we’ve ever seen Garnet eating before.

Ruby can barely hold it together, fidgeting uncontrollably. When Sapphire points out that she’s shaking the table, she shoots back, “I’m kind of surprised you felt anything at all, to be honest!”

“I didn’t need to feel, I saw,” says Sapphire.

“Everything is just so crystal clear to you isn’t it!”

Future Vision

Later on, we’ll learn that Sapphire’s official honorific in Homeworld culture is “Your Clarity.”

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“This will pass. She’ll eventually just burn herself out,” says Sapphire. You have to wonder if this kind of thing is sometimes going on internally with Garnet.

Ruby won’t be deterred. She summons her single gauntlet and smashes the table: “I’m an eternal flame, baby!”

The booth is destroyed, and Ruby and Sapphire are bickering angrily. Tears well up in Steven’s eyes. Greg tries to reassure him that they can pack up their breakfasts and take them to go, but Steven angrily drops his plate on the ground.

This is an example of how Greg can be a little too conciliatory, which can, on its own, seem like an invalidation of feelings. He’s ignoring the very obvious problem and the distress it’s causing Steven in the hopes of cheering him up.

Steven storms out of the diner, followed by Ruby and Sapphire. “I was so happy when Garnet said she was gonna come on this trip with me and Dad! Home’s been awful! Here’s been awful!” It’s rare to see Steven this furious. He’s never really been exposed to a stress that is all too common to many kids: fighting family making everything awkward and uncomfortable for days on end.

Steven asks if he’s the problem. Steven generally has strong emotional intelligence, and it’s beyond obvious that he really isn’t the problem here, but he’s still a child, and often quite an insecure one. I think it’s understandable he would wonder if he’s part of the problem, given the fact that, as he says, “it just came with us!” Apart from simply the arguing, Ruby and Sapphire are both being completely neglectful of his needs — Sapphire freezing the room out, Ruby boiling the pool with him in it, Ruby smashing the breakfast table. Garnet is usually a lot more conscientious of this sort of thing, which could lead to him thinking that they’re also mad at him for some reason.

More darkly, Steven seems to be starting to internalize the idea that fixing the Gems’ interpersonal problems is his responsibility, and the fact that he’s been unable to do so here is his fault.

Thankfully, Ruby and Sapphire immediately realize how much they’ve hurt Steven and rush to reassure him that it isn’t his fault.

Sapphire starts crying, and the tears come down in a single stream in the middle of her face. “I keep looking into the future where all of this has already been solved, as if it doesn’t matter how you feel in the present. No wonder you think I don’t care!”

Sapphire’s attitude both explains why Garnet is often stoic in the face of danger or uncertainty, and why she is often very bad at being reassuring. Because she can see a positive outcome, she isn’t always good at communicating with people who don’t have that knowledge, and so she does things like brush off their feelings in the moment, knowing that it ultimately won’t matter. Of course, when it comes to both romantic and familial relationships, it’s important to acknowledge and validate feelings even if they’re ultimately transient, which is how she failed with both Ruby and Steven here.

Ruby apologizes for her role in this: “This is all my fault! I didn’t want to look for a solution, I just wanted to be mad! You’re right! You’re always right!” As pointed out before, Ruby tends to be all emotion, no planning. While she has every right to be angry, Sapphire is essentially correct that she’ll probably to have to make her peace with Pearl at some point, for the sake of Steven and the safety of the world. They don’t exactly have the option of removing themselves from the situation for the long term, their argument is tearing the Crystal Gems apart, and Pearl is obviously remorseful and working on reconciliation, even if she’s perhaps not going about it in the best way. While it’s understandable that Ruby might want to stay mad indefinitely, it’s more constructive to find a solution. This is part of why Ruby and Sapphire generally complement each other so well.

“I was being stupid,” says Ruby. “I don’t think you’re stupid,” says Sapphire.

Future Vision

This becomes more clear later on, but in Homeworld’s caste system, Rubies are at the bottom and generally considered unintelligent, while Sapphires are near the top and very well respected. Ruby’s insecurity over being stupid is probably something that comes up a fair amount with them, and this exchange calls back to Jail Break where Ruby dismissed her own well-being: “Who cares?” “I do!”

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Ruby brushes back Sapphire’s bangs, revealing that she has one enormous eye in the middle of her forehead. This references the idea of a “third eye,” which is often associated with spiritual and psychic powers such as precognition. Also, she’s just adorable.

“You honestly think I’m not upset about what happened? I was just trying to do the right thing,” she says. A slow piano version of Stronger Than You plays.

Ruby proves that she has a smooth side: “You know what’s nice about being split up? … I get to look at you.” Sapphire is immediately charmed, and Ruby pulls her into her arms: “There’s my Laughy Sapphy!” Steven blushes and looks away from the flagrant PDA.

In a moment that was censored in some countries, Ruby sweeps Sapphire up and kisses down her neck. Between this and Jail Break, this feels like the creators had a network mandate to not show them kissing on the lips, and they took that quite literally in an act of malicious compliance.

Steven flops to the grass, embarrassed by his moms but relieved. Greg emerges from the diner, having paid for breakfast and the damage (so much for those cheap car wash brushes). Greg asks if he’s ready to call it a day. “Not before we get our free ice,” says a freshly-fused Garnet.

When they arrive back at the house, Amethyst is comforting Pearl. This references how Amethyst immediately and uncharacteristically tried to defend Pearl after her deception was revealed, and shows how their relationship has changed quite a bit. S1 Pearl would never confide in or seek comfort from Amethyst, and S1 Amethyst would never provide it.

“Garnet, how are you?” asks Pearl.

“Not now,” says Garnet, walking away.

Pearl is pleased that she’s at least speaking with her again… sort of. Even though Ruby seems to have accepted Sapphire’s point of view that they need to reconcile with Pearl, Sapphire has also realized that Ruby needs more time.

Steven, carrying his bag of free ice, asks if they can do it again sometime. Greg says they might, but they can’t go back to that diner.

Many of the best Steven Universe episodes have both great comedy and strong character work, and this is a fine example. Ruby and Sapphire’s antics are hilarious, and their argument reveals a lot about how they — and by extension, Garnet — work. Their ultimate reconciliation is touching. We also get a look at how all this stress is affecting Steven. Greg gets some fine moments here, too, bonding with his son over square pizza.

Next week on Steven Universe Rewind! We’ll check in with a couple of the side characters in Onion Friend and Historical Friction.