Steven Universe Rewind: Alone at Sea

Official Description: Steven and Greg take a boat trip out to sea and find themselves in dangerous water.

In the tradition of vague Steven Universe episode descriptions, this one doesn’t even mention Lapis, who is very much the focus of this episode.

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.

We open this episode with… Lapis genuinely happy? Can it be?

As we’ll see, it’s not quite that simple.

Steven is leading Lapis down one of the docks at the Beach City Pier to show her a surprise. Lapis covering her eyes with her water wings and still being able to see through them is a callback to Barn Mates.

The surprise is that Greg has rented a boat – because buying one would be going overboard. Greg and Steven do an adorable Fonzie “eyyyyyyyyyy.”

Note that the name of the boat was originally SS Misery, and it’s been renamed to the SS Lil Lappy. The visual gag of literally papering over misery is an unsubtle indication of one of this episode’s themes.

It’s also worth noting that renaming a boat is traditionally considered bad luck.

Lapis doesn’t remember Greg, so he introduces himself. “You broke my leg trying to use the ocean to fly back to your home world?” he says, recounting the events of Ocean Gem. Lapis smiles back, but seemingly does not know what a handshake is. She also doesn’t seem to feel the need to apologize for any of that – it’s a good thing Greg is so easygoing.

Am I the only one who finds Steven’s jorts a little disconcerting?

Lapis is uncertain about the boat ride. Steven explains his reasoning: “Look, Lapis, I know you spent a really long time fused with Jasper on the bottom of the ocean, but you’re not Malachite any more. And water is a part of who you are. You can’t let one bad experience take that away from you.”

“It was more than one,” says Lapis, which is intriguing. Is she saying that Malachite counts as more than one bad experience (which would certainly make sense, given the amount of time she was trapped) or are there other negative experiences involving the ocean in Lapis’ past?

Steven’s reasoning here that water is part of who Lapis is is reminiscent of the part of Barn Mates where Lapis is presented with the smaller-than-average-lake, except this time Steven is being more thoughtful about it. Steven promises that the boat ride will be the “most fun you’ve ever had.”

“I don’t deserve this,” says Lapis. It’s unsurprising that she would feel that way given what she had put Steven through. It’s also sometimes easier to just assert that you don’t deserve something instead of accepting that other people care about you, which can involve effort and complexity.

Steven shows how they renamed the boat (with the banner falling down to reveal SS Misery), and Lapis is amused enough to be convinced.

Greg sails away from the dock without untying the boat first, breaking off one of the posts. He proposes that someone else take a turn at being captain and offers his post to Lapis. “Don’t put me in charge!” she yells, panicked.

It’s sad to see how she no longer trusts herself after her last few major decisions didn’t work out well – stealing the ocean, forming Malachite, even settling down in the barn didn’t turn out quite like she wanted. Before that, she almost certainly has some regrets from whatever actions ended with her being sentenced to the mirror. You could also interpret this as there having been a time when Lapis was explicitly put in charge of something and she failed, but I don’t think it needs to be that literal. Lapis is clearly in a headspace where she feels as though she can’t make the right decisions.

Steven says that they can all be first mates so there’s no pressure. Greg offers her the hat to wear if she wants to. “Thanks, but I’m not putting that on my body,” she says cheerfully, a wide departure from Peridot and her habit of stealing Steven’s clothes.

The three enjoy various activities, such as drinking orange juice out of champagne flutes. Lapis doesn’t eat, instead choosing to manipulate the orange juice out of the glass.

If Lapis has power over orange juice, can she manipulate anything water-based? Can she bloodbend?

Steven finally finds an activity that Lapis enjoys: blowing the boat’s horn over and over again. Greg leaves them alone to get away from the noise.

Later, Steven and Lapis come out to the deck to see Greg fishing off the side of the boat. Lapis, misunderstanding the point of the activity, decides to help by raising an enormous water bubble filled with fish out of the ocean. Greg nervously asks her to put it back.

Steven starts to shout about how Lapis is amazing, but Lapis puts her hand on his head to shush him. She asks Greg how to fish the old-fashioned way, and he shows her.

I like how Lapis is tiring of Steven’s (somewhat forced) enthusiasm and is actually trying to connect through an activity that’s quiet and calm. I could actually see Lapis enjoying fishing.

Time passes, and Greg isn’t getting any bites. Lapis asks when the fish part happens. “Well, sometimes it isn’t about the fish you keep, but the company you catch,” says Greg. Wise words, but perhaps some foreshadowing about the company the group is about to “catch.”

Greg gets a bite, and invites Lapis to reel it in. The strength of the “fish” nearly pulls her overboard. As they struggle, something enormous is rising from the ocean. Lapis gets a sudden shock of fear and the fishing pole snaps in half.

Greg laments his fishing pole rental turning into a fishing pole purchase. Steven glosses over the situation, but it’s a bit awkward.

Lapis goes to sit by herself for a bit. Steven runs over and tries to cheer her up with shuffleboard.

I really feel Lapis here. It’s work to try to pretend you’re okay, and it’s tiring. This isn’t something Steven understands yet, so he thinks that Lapis sitting alone is inherently a problem instead of, perhaps, something that is needed to for her to recharge.

Future Vision

Steven will come to understand this a lot better in the future, particularly when he holes himself up in his room with plants for company for weeks on end.

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They’re interrupted by loud noises and the boat shaking. Steven goes to the controls to ask Greg what’s happening. He’s flipping through the boat’s manual to see if there’s anything helpful, but it’s all advice on things like what crackers go with caviar. The two check the engine room, which is filled with smoke. The engine is apparently shot, and they’re stuck.

Steven breaks the bad news to Lapis as she broods at the railing. Storm clouds are rolling in, in a very subtle indication of the episode’s tone shift. Steven apologizes for taking her on this trip, which turned out to not be very fun. “I’m really trying to enjoy it out here, but I can’t stop thinking about being fused as Malachite,” says Lapis.

Isn’t that just a depression mood? You’re participating in something which you know, objectively, you should be enjoying, but you can’t.

Steven tries to comfort her by pointing out that she doesn’t have to be Malachite any more. “That’s not it. I miss her,” says Lapis.

This is a great moment, one where I was really impressed by Steven Universe’s willingness to tackle complex relationship dynamics. Too much media, even most media intended for adults, treats abusive relationships in a very simplistic light: there’s a clear-cut abuser and victim, and once the victim is removed from the situation, they heal from it and life gets better. Sometimes that’s true, but often real life is far messier.

There’s all sorts of reasons why someone might miss an abusive relationship, some of which are touched on in this episode. Some people get used to – or even addicted to – the rush of adrenaline that comes from being in a dangerous situation. Some people prefer “the devil they know” to an uncertain future. Some suffer from learned helplessness, where prolonged trauma causes them to be unable to imagine or work towards improvement in their lives. All of these things are possible to overcome, but it takes time and work, and the effects of abuse are never fully erased.

Steven, naturally, doesn’t understand. This is a relationship dynamic that he’s fortunately not very familiar with. Lapis berates herself: “I’m terrible! I did horrible things! I broke your dad’s leg! I stole Earth’s oceans! Go on, tell me I’m wrong!” It’s behavior that’s both understandable and heartbreaking. Lapis comes from a society that doesn’t forgive or show mercy – she was trapped in a mirror for thousands of years for a crime she didn’t even commit. Yet here is Steven, someone she has wronged, who has every right to be furious with her, and instead he shows compassion.

It would be easier, in a way, if Steven hated her and wanted to punish her. It would make sense to Lapis, given what she’s done. It would give her an excuse to simply fly away. What Steven is offering is much harder. His kindness towards her gives her a reason to stay and try and work on her faults.

And of course, it’s in the middle of this sensitive conversation that Jasper makes her appearance.

Future Vision

The points above about compassion and mercy have some interesting parallels when we consider what happens to Jasper later in the season. Jasper is another Gem who has wronged Steven, and he’d be well within his rights to hate her, but instead he extends compassion there, too. Jasper is even less open to it, having built her entire self-identity on being a ruthless warrior, and she also categorically rejects the hard work of redemption in favor of increasing power for herself.

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It’s revealed that Jasper has been following Lapis, hitting the first of many abusive ex tropes in this scene.

Steven’s reaction is to shield Lapis. Jasper laughs. “This dulled-down version of Rose Quartz works for you now?” This line says a lot about how Jasper perceives relationships: there’s only strong and weak, and the weak will always naturally work for the strong. Jasper knows Lapis’s strength, and so “Rose Quartz” working for her is the outcome that Jasper immediately jumps to.

“You’re pointing the shield the wrong way. She’s the one you should be afraid of!” says Jasper.

“I thought I was a brute, but you – you’re a monster,” says Jasper to Lapis, confirming her worst thoughts about herself. It also shows how ingrained this notion must be in Lapis’s psyche, considering she was fused with Jasper for a long time, and had this notion of herself playing over and over again in her mind.

Lapis doesn’t have a response. “Lapis doesn’t want anything to do with you,” says Steven. He’s trying to be helpful, but this is in direct contradiction to the conversation they were just having, where Lapis admitted to missing Jasper, in a twisted way. What he really means is that Lapis shouldn’t want anything to do with Jasper.

Jasper effortlessly smacks Steven away. (Another abusive ex trope: separating her partner from her support structure.) “This is between us!” says Jasper, and honestly, there’s a grain of truth here. No amount of Steven rejecting Jasper is going to help. Lapis needs to do it herself.

This also goes to show how Steven, although in much greater control of his powers, largely lacks offensive capabilities at this point. He can attempt to defend Lapis from Jasper, but has basically no recourse for actually stopping Jasper. This is probably why Rose carried a sword as well as a shield.

Jasper grabs Lapis’s hand, drops to the floor and begs: “Let’s be Malachite again!”

This scene is in stark contrast to the initial Malachite fusion scene, where Jasper believed she held all the power. There, she roughly dragged Lapis upward, demanding that they fuse. Here, she is literally on her knees, pleading. Again, Jasper only knows strength: those beneath her, and those above her. She believed Lapis to be beneath her and was harshly proven wrong, and now she humbles herself before Lapis with no apparent shame. This is also a demonstration of how Jasper is the character that most embodies Homeworld ideals: there is a hierarchy that must be followed, and complete deference is expected when meeting one’s superior.

Future Vision

We see a similar dynamic play out in Future. When Steven shatters Jasper, he has irrevocably cemented the idea that he is above her in the hierarchy, and she immediately wants to be his servant.

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“Fusion is a cheap tactic to make weak Gems stronger,” Jasper famously said in Jail Break. Here, she says: “I was wrong about fusion… Malachite was bigger and stronger than both of us!”

I think part of Jasper’s disdain for fusion is that this is the only type of fusion she’s known on Homeworld. Ruby guards fusing together to form larger Rubies, for example, really is a way to make weak Gems stronger. Elite and powerful Gems likely do not fuse like this, and they certainly don’t have cross-Gem fusions. Jasper would never want to fuse with someone weaker than herself, and she likely saw herself as one of the strongest Gems there was (barring the Diamonds, who clearly do not fuse). The idea that there could be a Gem more powerful than her that she could fuse with is new.

Malachite also allowed Jasper to feel extremely powerful without the burden of being in charge. Something like that would be incredibly appealing to someone who both values power and demonstrates subservience to those more powerful.

“I liked taking everything out on you,” Lapis admits. “I needed you. I hated you!”

This is a good example of how relationships can become mutually abusive. Lapis, who has led a life filled with trauma, is drawn towards having someone she can take hr anger out on. Contrast this to how she deals with Steven: Steven respects and cares about her, so she feels like she must pretend to be happy. With Jasper, there is none of that. Jasper is only using Lapis for power, so Lapis uses her back as a punching bag for all her internal turmoil. It isn’t healthy at all, but it’s a dynamic that plenty of people in real life become addicted to.

Of course, as a fusion, their thoughts and feelings were known to each other and amplified. Both Lapis and Jasper at this point seem fueled by self-hatred, and no doubt that self-hatred was a major driver of their behavior.

This situation reminds me of Cry for Help. Lapis, like Pearl, had understandable reasons for her actions. Both understood that what they were doing was wrong, but did it anyway out of a deep-seated need. It does not excuse their actions, but understanding why they did these things can point the way forward to how they can get to a better place where they won’t feel the need to do things like this. In Lapis’s case, she’s going to need safety, a support structure, and time.

Future Vision

Lapis’s need to take things out on other people doesn’t stop here. In Raising the Barn, we learn that Peridot has been keeping her own feelings and needs suppressed for fear of upsetting Lapis, and that they’ve fallen into a different sort of unhealthy dynamic than Lapis and Jasper had. That episode also demonstrates how Lapis needs more time and care to heal, as the mere mention of the Diamonds and the idea that she could become trapped or hurt again sees her abandoning her friends and flying into space.

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Next up in Abusive Ex Tropes: “It’ll be better this time! I’ve changed!” As a general rule, when someone is yelling at you that they’ve changed, they have not changed.

And we hit Abusive Ex Bingo: “I’m the only one who can handle your type of power!” In an explicitly romantic relationship, this would instead be “I’m the only one who will love you,” “I’m the only one who is right for you,” etc. Really, in any kind of relationship, this is a red flag to run.

Lapis looks over at Steven, who says nothing. He seems to realize that this is a choice Lapis needs to make on her own. At the same time, I’m not sure Lapis would have made this choice without Steven’s influence. We saw back in Same Old World how hard he was trying to show her a life outside of captivity and abuse. It’s incredibly hard to break free of these sorts of unhealthy patterns unless you have some hope for things being different.

At any rate, Lapis stands up to Jasper. “What we had wasn’t healthy. I never want to feel what I felt with you. Never again!”

It takes incredible courage and strength for Lapis to do this. Remember that this is the same Gem who stole the Earth’s entire ocean in an attempt to go home, and now we have her rejecting the path of anger and revenge.

Because while this is obviously a metaphor for abuse, it’s also about revenge. Jasper was keeping Lapis a prisoner and dragging her back to Earth not weeks after she was finally freed from the mirror. She’s also, in many ways, a symbolic representation of Homeworld itself, the society that only values power and that unjustly trapped her for thousands of years. It’s understandable that Lapis would want to take revenge on Jasper, but ultimately, that revenge did not heal Lapis. It only made her even more miserable. Recognizing this shows the growth she’s been through.

Steven runs to back up Lapis. “This is your fault!” Jasper says to Steven. “I’ll shatter you!” And, well, it is at least partially Steven’s fault that Lapis has developed enough sense of self-worth to do this. It’s also another Abusive Ex Trope: blaming the victim’s support structure for the victim daring to grow a spine.

Anyway, Lapis uses a giant water fist to punch Jasper far away, where we’ll never see her again.

Future Vision

Just kidding, the Jasper arc has just started.

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This is a great moment, but it seems like Lapis could have picked a way to defeat Jasper that didn’t involve sinking the boat.

Greg laments the loss of the boat. Most rentals have insurance on them, anyway.

“The ocean’s really beautiful from up here,” says Steven, as Lapis flies them away.

“Yeah, it is,” she agrees.

This is a really great episode, exploring the difficult nuances of the abusive relationship between Lapis and Jasper. The character work here is really interesting and sets the groundwork for what’s to come.

Future Vision

My only regret is that we only really get a followup from Jasper on this. We don’t see Lapis again until Beta, where she’s apparently happy with her life. The cracks don’t really start to show until Raising the Barn.

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Next time on Steven Universe Rewind! Greg learns to grow and change in Greg the Babysitter.