Episode Description: Steven takes a journey deep underground.
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.
I’ll say up front that this is a sentimental favorite of mine. Steven and Peridot’s friendship is so sweet and the way Steven deals with the Cluster is, in my opinion, so true to his character and the show’s values.
This episode directly follows from Super Watermelon Island, with Garnet saying “we love you” over a black screen. Steven snaps awake, and a tremor knocks over the nearby chalkboard on top of him — the one that Peridot was using to illustrate the imminent destruction of the Earth.
Peridot is ready to go with the drill as Steven explains the situation — the other Crystal Gems are stuck on Mask Island and won’t get here in time. “Am I the only one who understands the meaning of teamwork?” rants Peridot, who only learned how to work on a team in the past couple of weeks.
This is one of my favorite exchanges on the show, so I’m just gonna quote it.
Peridot: Okay, Steven, are you ready to drill down into the planet to depths never before reached by your species to stop the Cluster before it forms and save your world?
Steven: I don’t know!
Peridot: Don’t say that! Say “we’ll do it together and it’s gonna be great!”
Steven: We’re gonna do it together and it’s gonna be great!
I love how Peridot is clearly not comfortable with trying to be the optimistic one and wants Steven back in that role. It’s also mildly interesting that she refers to Steven’s species, when before she’s seemed to consider him as more of an unusual Gem. Note also “your world” — she isn’t yet acclimated to Earth as her home, considering it hasn’t even been long since she’s defected.
Steven and Peridot dramatically jump into the drill and start it up, burrowing into the Earth. “All right, bracing for impact!” says Steven, only to be informed that it’ll actually take them two hours to reach the Cluster. When Steven wishes he’d brought tunes, Peridot flips a switch to provide them with elevator music.
Steven begins to grow uncomfortable as the Earth’s crust rapidly passes by his eyes, and I don’t blame him — I’m getting claustrophobic just watching it. He complains that there isn’t a lot of room, and asks Peridot how they were planning to fit all the Gems inside in the first place. “I don’t know, they’d shrink or something,” says Peridot.
Steven asks what the plan is.
“We have a drill. We’re going to drill.”
They hit a new layer of what appears to be lava. Peridot explains that it’s “superheated peridotite.” As in the real world, it’s the same stuff that peridots are made of. It’s unclear how this relates to Gem production, although Peridot does seem pleased to explain this to Steven.
Steven asks Peridot what it was like to be made on Homeworld. “I didn’t exist, then I did. I don’t have memories of it, just feelings.”
I’ve seen some people take this to mean that she has no memories of Homeworld, but that doesn’t make any sense — she’s pretty clearly talking about having no memories of her own creation. That in itself is kind of interesting, considering Gems are fully formed when they emerge. There may still be a time when they’re freshly formed that Gems don’t retain new memories, much like people, or else I’m just overthinking it and Peridot just doesn’t remember because it was a couple thousand years ago and not that important to her. Unfortunately, she doesn’t really elaborate on what feelings she has about her own creation.
“I know I can never go back to Homeworld, but it’s hard not to have some feelings for where you came from.”
I love this scene. It goes to show how much Peridot feels she can trust Steven now, because you know that sharing of feelings is not something that routinely happens in Homeworld culture. It makes perfect sense that Peridot would still have mixed feelings about the changes in her life — even Pearl has some wistfulness about Homeworld still, as seen in Space Race.
I think this line also hits home for me because I have a difficult relationship with my family and left home as soon as possible. Even though I’ve left that life mostly behind, it’s hard not to have a lot of feelings about it. After all, not all times were bad, and even in the worst times, it’s still your home and your family that you grew up with.
One of the most effective metaphors Steven Universe has in its arsenal is the metaphor for dealing with abusive or unsupportive family, as in this scene. Peridot continues by saying she has something different now, “you… guys.” She’s left her abusive situation and found a new place with an unofficial family who cares about her wellbeing.
I also like that Steven is understanding, and doesn’t press her on still having complicated feelings about Homeworld.
The heartfelt bonding is interrupted when the drill is attacked by Cluster mutants. We last saw these in When It Rains, and Peridot guesses that they were experiments buried with the Cluster.
One mildly interesting thing to note is that the drill’s buttons are in Russian, particularly since, as we saw on the map in It Could’ve Been Great, Russia may not even exist any more.
Peridot explains that Pearl didn’t think it was necessary, but Peridot “never leaves home without a blast cannon.” One has to wonder if this viewpoint is influenced by the fact that Pearl has a summonable weapon and combat skills, and Peridot relies on technology for defense.
The blast cannon is controlled by this N64 controller. Steven starts blasting away the mutants, but then says that something doesn’t feel right. “So use the d-pad,” says Peridot.
Of course, that’s not the issue. Steven doesn’t like to simply blast away the Cluster Gems, and wishes there were at least some way he could bubble them, foreshadowing the actual solution to the Cluster.
Peridot thinks there is no way to help them. “They’re too broken. The beings who used to be in those shards are so shattered they don’t know where they are or what’s happening around them. They just seek out other Gems, looking for the missing pieces of themselves, trying to make themselves whole.”
This also, of course, foreshadows the solution to the Cluster, as Steven encourages the shards inside the Cluster to join together and help each other. The metaphor is significant here, too — that of broken beings who only seek out others to try and make themselves whole. One of the lessons of Steven Universe, that we see with characters like Pearl, is that it’s unhealthy to derive all of your validation from another person.
Here we are: The Cluster (voice: an amalgam of all the primary Gem characters).
Unfortunately, the drill has arrived too late, and the Cluster is already starting to form, glowing white and reaching out ghostly hands.
Steven and Peridot assume they’re about to die. “Steven, I’m sorry I couldn’t save you or the billions of lifeforms that matter far, far less to me. Do you have any last words?” Peridot, while still not fully grasping the value of human life, is so heartbreakingly sincere here. She’s come a long way.
“I love you, Peridot,” says Steven, hugging her.
“Wow, thanks,” she says, echoing what she was told to say when given a gift in Log Date 7 15 2.
I’m sorry, I have something in my eye. This whole exchange is so sweet. Steven uses what he believes may be his last moments to comfort Peridot. Peridot has likely never been shown any kind of affection before arriving on Earth, and certainly never expected to be loved. The tone of her response shows how much this means to her.
The Cluster begins to form, shaking the drill fiercely as Steven and Peridot cling to each other. They’re afforded a reprieve, though, as the Cluster is having difficulty forming. Peridot prepares to drill, but Steven is unsure: “I don’t think we should hurt the Cluster. I don’t think it knows what it’s doing.” I love that Steven is so empathetic, he’s even unsure about harming the massive geoweapon that could end the Earth.
Peridot counters: “It doesn’t matter if it knows what it’s doing. It’s still going to do it.”
The drill struggles to push past the partially formed Cluster to reach the surface, and when they begin drilling, Steven can’t take it. Peridot asks him if he’s going to be okay. Steven thinks it’s just the noise and vibration and he’ll be able to manage.
Peridot activates “triple tip penetration mode.” It’s unclear where these additional huge drill heads came from. Regardless, they don’t seem to be making even the smallest dent in the Cluster.
I’ve always thought that maybe Peridot realized that the drill might not work against the Cluster, and that was part of why she decided to contact Yellow Diamond as a way of sparing the Earth. Of course, there are other reasons she may have done so.
Steven is hyperventilating, having a total meltdown, and it’s honestly uncomfortable to watch. We see what’s happening from his point of view: he’s having hallucinations of screaming white faces. This is Steven’s empathy powers going into overdrive. The Gem that was once Rose Quartz can feel the anguish of all the Crystal Gems trapped in the nightmarish Cluster.
Steven, freaking out, jostles and distracts Peridot, and both of the extra drills snap off, leaving them with just one drill spinning wildly. As Steven starts to pass out, Peridot abandons the controls of the drill to try and help him. It’s a show of her newfound empathy for others that she’s willing to stop what she’s doing, even in the middle of grave danger, to help Steven.
Steven’s gem glows brightly as the drill and Peridot fade away, replaced by a dark void filled with softly glowing crystals. All around him, they sparkle and murmur. We’ve seen Steven use powers like this before: in Chille Tid, where he was able to connect with Lapis while sleeping, and in Super Watermelon Island, where he projected himself into a Watermelon Steven. Now, he’s within the Cluster, communicating with it.
The cluster is chanting about how it “needs to… wants to…” Steven asks what it needs to do, and the word reverberates: “FORM!” We saw back in Keeping It Together that the clustered gems will form even though they’re in obvious anguish when they do so. Steven urges them to stop, but the Cluster has a single-track mind. “Need form… to be whole.”
Steven tells them that if they form they will destroy the Earth. The voices of the cluster murmur, “No! No! No!” Recall that according to Garnet, these are primarily the remains of Crystal Gems, Gems who were shattered while trying to protect the Earth.
Steven realizes that the shards are just trying to find the rest of their Gems, but forming won’t help them. Instead, he pushes two shards together, showing how they can communicate with each other. In time, perhaps the shards could even find all of the pieces they need.
In Homeworld Bound, Yellow Diamond seems to think that she can restore the Gems in the Cluster by gathering up the Gem shards and putting them back together. It’s unclear how many whole Gems make up the Cluster.
The Gems agree that they will stay, but then discover that they can’t stop from forming and cry out for help.
Steven starts trying to bubble the shards so that they don’t need to form, but there are far too many for him to bubble alone. That’s what this whole episode has been about: from Peridot talking about her new found family, to the shards discovering they can communicate with each other, to Steven realizing he can’t stop the Cluster alone, it’s all about working together and making connections.
Steven wakes up back in the drill. He tells Peridot that the Cluster doesn’t want to form and that they have to bubble it. She protests that that’s impossible, but then they look out the window and see small bubbles forming all over the Cluster. The shards are somehow bubbling each other. The bubbles get larger and larger until Steven is able to merge them all into one huge bubble encasing the entire Cluster.
Both this episode and Super Watermelon Island have been criticized for being anticlimactic resolutions to major threats. While I mostly agree with the criticisms of Super Watermelon Island, I actually think the resolution to the Cluster was perfect. Everything here has been set up by what came before. Steven talking to the world-ending threat and helping it find a family is an echo of what he did for Peridot. The idea of the shards becoming whole by communicating and learning to live with one another is a logical progression from The Answer. The idea that no one is alone, and that we need to work together to accomplish great things, has been a theme throughout, from Sworn to the Sword to the entirety of Peridot’s arc.
The drill emerges from the hole outside looking the worse for wear. Peridot hugs Steven. Steven echoes his earlier statement: “We did it together. And it was great!”
Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl arrive from the warp pad, carrying an unconscious Lapis. Pearl asks if they destroyed the Cluster, and Steven explains that it just wanted company, and now it’s bubbled. The scene pans down to the Cluster, bubbled underneath the Earth.
The Cluster will become unbubbled when Yellow Diamond awakens it to use it as a weapon against the Crystal Gems. However, the Cluster will not have forgotten what Steven did, and will instead turn on Yellow Diamond to protect him.
As I said in the beginning of the article, this episode is a sentimental favorite of mine due to the friendship between Steven and Peridot. I particularly like the quiet moment inside the drill where Peridot discusses her past. The suitably enormous and terrifying appearance of the Cluster is also a highlight, and I love how Steven deals with the situation in the most Steven way possible.
Next week on Steven Universe Rewind! We finally get back to Lapis Lazuli in Same Old World.