ORIGINAL AIR DATE: Mar. 9th, 2015
SYNOPSIS: Tensions fly between Steven and Pearl when they find Rose’s scabbard.
Steven, Lion, and the Crystal Gems return to the strawberry field so they can pick up the Gem weapons left behind from the war thousands of years back. You never know when you need a giant axe! Lion digs up a pink scabbard, something Pearl instantly recognizes as once belonging to Rose! Pearl proudly holds the scabbard as she tells Steven that she fought alongside her mother during the war. Amethyst wishes she could have been there, but Garnet quickly shuts her down. War has caused no end of trouble for the Gems on both sides, many having fallen as they fought for their rights. Still excited, Pearl triumphantly declares that they won though, having saved Earth from Homeworld. Clearly she is getting off on a Rose Quartz high right now.
When they return home, Steven asks Pearl what his mother was like. Pearl is quick to praise her, telling him how magnificent and beautiful she is with a clear, noticeable blush. This is the first real onscreen indicator that Pearl had feelings for Rose, one that she still holds dear to her heart. At the time, most of us saw it as subtext because the idea of an LGBTQ character on an all-age show was unthinkable without incredible subtlety or an outside confirmation from the creators. “Rose’s Scabbard” made it text, we just didn’t know it at the time.
Pearl hands the scabbard to Steven for him to keep. She wished she knew where Rose’s sword was, but she might have a good idea where! Pearl takes Steven to a secret location only she knew. Back in the days, she was Rose’s confidant, trusting her with information she never told anyone else – not even Garnet and Amethyst! This was to keep everyone safe, but Pearl took this to mean she was closest to Rose’s heart.
Steven is excited to visit a remnant of his mother’s past, but the so-called “secret place” is really the armory room Lion showed him (and Connie!) earlier. Pearl is not pleased. Even less so when Steven activates the weapons vault without further instruction. Pearl doesn’t see Rose’s sword and produces a holographic image for Steven’s benefit. Steven knows exactly where it is, further confounding Pearl. He takes her back home and warps the sword out of Lion’s mane. Yep, Steven beat her to the punch once again and her pride is wounded. The secret she kept solely for herself had already been discovered by Rose’s son episodes ago!
Steven then demonstrates Lion’s powers to the Crystal Gems: his unique ability to store things in his mane. Steven’s even gone and hoarded some of his supplies, too! Pearl is stunned, Rose never mentioned she had a lion. After all, if she had one, she’d know about it because Rose would have told her and only her! Garnet reminds Pearl that Rose kept many things secret from all of them for their own protection. Pearl loses it. She had always been the one Rose turned to when she needed an important secret kept; the one Rose trusted the most; the one most loyal to her side – her second-in-command. The context is even greater now that we know Pearl had been – still is – in love with Rose. This isn’t getting into the possibility (and most definitely by the time Greg came into the picture) that her feelings may have been one-sided. Whatever Rose did, Pearl not only fell for her, but deeply idealized her, putting her on a pedestal and doing whatever she asked knowing that Pearl was her special Gem. And it all comes crashing down on her. Taking Rose’s sword and scabbard, Pearl teleports away.
Unaware of the context behind this, but knowing Pearl is in deep pain, Steven asks Lion where Pearl might have gone to. The creature gives off a determined roar and takes Steven back to the strawberry field. He finds her instantly, but Pearl doesn’t want a pep talk right now. She yells for him to leave her alone, then runs off. Steven does not obey, following her to a series of small, floating platforms. Pearl easily leaps from platform-to-platform until she reaches the other side. Steven barely makes it to the end, taking a big leap, only to fall. He grabs the roots of the cliff in time and makes his way up. There Pearl mourns.
She asks Steven if he remembers anything or retains any memories of his time as Rose. Five thousand years ago, they were here on this very platform. Pearl brings up a hologram of Rose and reenacts that moment.
“I’m going to stay and fight for this planet. You don’t have to do this with me.”
“But I want to!”
“I know you do. Please, please understand, if we lose, we’ll be killed. And if we win, we can never go home.”
“Why would I ever want to go home if you’re here?”
“My Pearl…you’re wonderful.”
Pearl wonders if Rose can see her through Steven’s eyes. How would she think of her now? Steven hugs her, “Well, I think you’re pretty great.”
It’s not Rose speaking to her. No matter how much he tries to live up to her legacy, Steven is his own person. He’s not the one Pearl wanted to hear those words spoken to, but they are validating because it comes from a sincere heart and from a person whom she cares about and who cares for her. “Rose’s Scabbard” is the first episode to explore Rose’s character as more than a liberating figure for the Crystal Gems to sing praises to. Even then, Pearl’s adulation of Rose has less to do with protecting Steven from any black marks his mother possessed, but a genuine affection and adoration for the Gem. Rose is her light and Pearl did anything for her because she loved her so much. And then she was gone, just like that.
It’s hard to say how Steven feels about this. I think there’s a huge gap that he has yet to be filled on pertaining to Rose and Pearl’s relationship. Does Steven feel a little guilty that his mother is gone? Does he feel bad that Pearl is reacting negatively to his very existence? Importantly, does Pearl carry any resentment with Steven because his mother gave up her form for him? Pearl was horrified when Steven nearly fell to his death, but didn’t bother to help him up the minute she knew he was alright. There is a bucket load of questions and interpretation on how Steven, Pearl, AND Rose is (and was) feeling. Whether Steven knew it or not, it’s another weight he’ll carry. Kudos to the animators for perfectly capturing Pearl’s pained expression. The hologram scene is dipping with care and love to every facet of her face, down to her wrinkled eyes and struggling smile as she remembers a huge turning point in her life.
When I first watched this episode, I felt Pearl’s reaction came out of nowhere. It took later episodes to fill in the context and repeated viewings of earlier ones to show she’s always held Rose in special regards over the other Crystal Gems. Rose-specific areas are particularly viewed with awe from Pearl, noticeably in “An Indirect Kiss” where she loses it the more her garden is tarnished. Little foreshadowing and subtle character tics are one thing, but Pearl’s sudden outburst is concurrent to Steven’s continued growth. We see things from his perspective at all time, so to see Pearl snap at him out of the blue is exactly the unexpected surprise the audience likely felt because he did. Where did this come from? Why is she acting like this? Steven doesn’t know the full story, but he can sympathize – even empathize – with her pain. She’s lost someone dear to her and Steven, though never having met Rose, can relate to that. They have each other’s backs.
The ending to “Rose’s Scabbard” is an emotional landmark for the show. No one talks, only the music carries the scene as Pearl hands Steven the sword so he can safely put it back in Lion’s mane. Steven takes Pearl’s hand so they get store the sword together. Steven cheers her up with a little magic act afterwards, then produces a pink flag that was also stored inside Lion. Pearl then regales stories of the war to an enamored Steven. Then they go home.
There have been emotional highlights in Steven Universe before: Connie’s tearful confession that she won’t ever make friends; Lapis Lazuli as she yearns for her home after thousands of years of being locked in a mirror; Steven frustrated that he cannot cry for his mother’s absence because she has never been a physical presence in her life; Rose’s tape for the then unborn Steven, but Pearl’s outburst is on a whole new level. This episode set the bar high and though many more have succeeded since, this one still stands out to this day.
“Rose’s Scabbard” is my favorite episode of the show.