ORIGINAL AIR DATE: Nov. 6th, 2014
SYNOPSIS: Connie’s parents want to have dinner with Steven’s parents, so the Gems fuse together as Greg’s “wife” to impress the Maheswarans.
Goodness, that’s an aggressive promo image there, Steven Universe.
Connie thanks Steven for watching Under the Knife with her since her mother forbids it in their home (it doesn’t represent a real emergency room, according to the good doctor.) Connie’s mother calls her on the phone to ask where she is. After Connie answers, her mother wishes to speak with Steven’s parents. This presents a bit of a dilemma, so the kids go to the closest thing: Garnet. Her response to Connie’s mother is slap-your-knees funny as she tells her the kids are playing swords and are now dead in an incredibly deadpan tone. Garnet then informs Steven she panicked. Estelle’s acting is brilliant because you really can hear an infliction of nervousness in Garnet’s voice underneath the stoicism. Definitely a clip worth searching for.
Connie calls Steven the next day to tell him she’s not allowed back in the Universe household until her parents meet his. Steven is willing to bring both his father and the Gems, but in a last-minute panic, Connie told her mother that Steven came from a nuclear family, meaning one set of parents. Steven can’t decide which of the Gems to bring to play the role of his mother (Pearl had the best qualifications, but they’re invited to dinner and she can’t stand the very thought of eating.) Steven comes up with a better idea, all three of them can arrive as one whole fusion and pretend to be Greg’s wife. The Crystal Gems hesitate since fusion is a serious matter, but breaking Steven’s heart is a downright criminal offense!
The Maheswarans (mother Priyanka, father Doug) are in for the surprise of their life when Steven arrives with his father…and “mother.” The latter is Alexandrite, an incredibly massive, six-armed figure that towers over the very restaurant they’re in. Priyanka asks how Alexandrite and Greg met, but the Universes can barely come up with a good explanation, embarrassing poor Connie. She asks Steven to accompany her to the bathroom where she chews him out. Steven retorts back by pointing out her glasses which she is still wearing since she had yet to tell her mother about Steven’s powers healing her vision. He thinks she’s embarrassed for his family, but Connie evades the issue.
Alexandrite isn’t making it any better once they return as the three Gems are having a troubling time keeping it together. Amethyst’s side of the fusion wants to eat, but Pearl does not. As usual, Garnet tries to keep the peace. It doesn’t work and the three end up unfusing. Doug is confused, but Priyanka is furious. Clearly the ringleader when it comes to the Maheswarans’ concern with the Universe family, she is upset that Connie lied to her. Devastated, Connie runs away, though Steven pursues her.
Connie reassures Steven she isn’t embarrassed with him, but fears her parents will never understand the magical abilities of the Gems or the general off-the-wall vibe they give out. They both wish there was a way for the two of them to hang out without scrutiny. In a rare lack of foresight, Connie desperately tells Steven the two of them should just hop on a bus and go someplace far so they can be together without interference. Steven immediately agrees and the two hitch a ride. They don’t get far before Alexandrite catches up to them, grabbing the bus and chewing the kids out for leaving like that.
They take the kids back to the restaurant where the Maheswaran witness the Gems and Greg punishing Steven for his irresponsibility. No TV for one thousand years! Connie’s mother is impressed with their level of strictness, realizing they are responsible parents after all. That’s more than enough for Steven and Connie to hang out again, though Steven might want to reframe from hugging Connie in front of her parents.
Leave it to Steven Universe to bring out a much anticipated fusion with all three of the Crystal Gems only for her to guest star in a lighthearted, breather episode. We don’t even see the three of them fuse! “Fusion Cuisine” is light on tone, but carries plenty of character interaction and growth. It resumes Connie’s bond with the Universe family as well as introduce another part of her life: her parents. “Lion 2: The Movie” hinted her life is stricten with rigorous schoolwork and activities commonplace among Asian children. Doug Maheswaran is largely background to instead highlight the one Doctor Priyanka Maheswaran. She’s a familiar figure that resonates perfectly with Asians like me: the strict, no-nonsense, and powerful parental figure. Priyanka, being a presumably well-respected – and possibly feared – medic has high standards for her daughter and while this likely did embed a good deal of intelligence and cleverness into the girl, it had the side effect of pressuring her to accept a specific role, usually that of a well-respected position in society. You know, like a doctor!
Connie is currently trapped between obedience and respect to her parents. The magical world of Steven Universe has opened her up and positively affected her as a person. Already Connie is starting to show symptoms of confidence and acceptance within herself, realizing her talents can be put to good use during Steven’s adventures. Like any preteen, she is exhibiting the first symptoms of adolescent rebellion: lying to her parents. Connie’s viewpoint is expanding beyond the bubble she was holed, meaning she is starting to make her own decisions separately from her mom and dad. What the Maheswarans thinks is best for her is no longer compatible with Connie’s train of thought. She’s taken a drink of that sweet nectar and boy howdy, she wants more. The episode doesn’t fix what is the core issue Connie has with her mother though, merely delays it. When Priyanka’s approval of the Crystal Gems is an admiration for their punishing techniques, it still means Connie is going to keep lying because her mother’s structure is as sturdy and unnerving as her personality. Notably, Connie still hasn’t told her mother about her glasses, but that’s another issue for next time.
“Fusion Cuisine” also deals with society’s expectation of the perfect family structure and what most consider the norm: the traditional nuclear family of dad, mom, and kid(s). Having Priyanka easily accept the Gems and Greg after a measly eleven-minute episode is quite a leap in logic, a precisely neatly-wrapped narrative TV is so good with that we regularly use it as escapist, but Steven Universe and its theme share much of the same backdrop of the equally feelgood cartoon: Cardcaptor Sakura.
Cardcaptor Sakura is a 12-volume manga series (and 70 episode anime) created by CLAMP. It, too hosts a caring main character with a magical destiny and a knack of befriending anyone just by being kind. Cardcpator Sakura’s raison d’etre is that it, too, uses love as its central theme in all form and the people who accept them. The town of Tomoeda is an idyllic paradise, unrealistically so, but therein lies the brilliance. CLAMP pointedly wanted to create a picturesque world where people can get along and those who start off butting heads ultimately reveal themselves to be nice folks who respond positively because they were treated kindly to begin with. It doesn’t matter what background you came from, who you love, and how you live your life – a little acceptance goes a long way.
Steven’s family composes of one single father who lives in a van with further hints that Steven lived with him until they built Steven’s house under the Gem Temple. Even then, Steven moves in with three alien species that act differently around him based on who they are. Garnet and Pearl are the closest to mother figures for Steven while Amethyst is the older sister. I love that the Gems are flexible enough that they don’t always act like his parents though: they’re equally his mentors, guardians, and companions. “Fusion Cuisine” strongly wants to remind you “traditional” family structure is a load of bunk: a family are a bunch of folks who live and embrace each other with familial love and support. Steven’s life is incredible to the mundane, but he grew up with a good dose of love and healthy support from his chief authoritive figures. Even Priyanka can spot the familiar within something she views as abnormal. The problem may have been easily solved in Steven Universe than it would in real life, but the messages seen in here and Cardcaptor Sakura are purposely meant to teach children about tolerance and acceptance through good-hearted gestures and genuine support.