ORIGINAL AIR DATE: Mar. 12th, 2015
SONG: Yes, “Stronger Than You”
SYNOPSIS: Steven and the Crystal Gems must escape Jasper’s ship.
Steven wakes up in a jail cell inside the Homeworld ship, locked behind a solid light projector. The only sound he hears is a lovely singing voice reverberating through the hallway. It doesn’t take much for Steven to phase through the solid light as the lock can only keep in full Gems; it never accounted for half-humans! Steven almost runs past another prisoner, a very hotheaded Gem named Ruby. The latter is frustrated with herself after meeting Steven, then informs him the singing voice originates from another Gem: Sapphire. Ruby has fond ties with this Sapphire and begs Steven to free her so she can find her. Steven happily obliges since two heads are better than one, but Ruby isn’t interest in teamwork; she just wants to see Sapphire!
The two eventually run into Lapis, also a prisoner. Steven tries to free her, but Lapis refuses, having given up all hope. She’s caused enough ruckus as is and tells Steven that if they’re all lucky, they’ll get a light sentence back in Homeworld. Ruby gets increasingly impatient the longer Steven and Lapis communicate, so she runs off. Steven isn’t getting through to Lapis just yet, so he promises to come back for her once everything is settled, then follows Ruby.
Steven nearly runs into Jasper and Peridot, both of whom are arguing over the purpose of their mission. Peridot tells the bigger Gem that their original goal is to check up on the “cluster”, but Jasper priorities Rose Quartz and refuses to return to Earth.
Steven locates Sapphire first. She’s an elegant icy Gem who somehow already knew Steven’s name. Ruby arrives and the two Gems joyfully reunite. I mentioned back in “Rose’s Scabbard” that Pearl’s feelings for Rose could very well have been subtext with no evidence that she canonically loved her. It was what we assumed because the idea of a same-sex romance in an all-age Western Cartoon was – still is – incredibly rare and underrepresented. We’ve had kid’s show that confirmed LGBTQA couples, but they’ve either been addendum confirmed by the creators of the show or ambiguous gestures like hand holding and double meanings that could lean in a direction that would satisfy the censors. “Jail Break” dismantled that kind of thinking and repeatedly pounded it to the ground. Sapphire kisses Ruby’s tearful eyes, Ruby places a hand on Sapphire’s cheek, and the two hug and twirl, happy to be together. This is full on text: Ruby and Sapphire are representative of a lesbian couple. Steven Universe boldly takes the next step from mere perception to absolute confirmation of a same-sex relationship. “Rose’s Scabbard” was never meant to be subtext, but a preparation for what was to come. It is unprecedented and it was a long time coming.
Ruby and Sapphire literally bond with each other, revealing why the latter knew Steven’s name: they are Garnet. Yep, she was a fusion all along. I’m so impressed by the marvelous foreshadowing of Garnet’s true origin because it doesn’t come out of nowhere. This was something Rebecca Sugar had planned as far back as the Steven Universe pilot and there are subtle background visuals that clue in to who she truly is. It also explains why Garnet is enormously powerful to boot. Garnet is a product of Ruby and Sapphire’s love.
With renewed vigor, Garnet greets Steven, then gives him future vision so he can find Pearl and Amethyst. It’s just as well, Jasper is back and this time, Garnet is more than ready. The next scene is pure, undulated awesome: as Garnet and Jasper fight, the former sings the empowering song, “Stronger Than You”, confidently validating their love and her existence. It’s an excellent, awe-inspiring scene that I think needs to be seen. It’s one of Steven Universe’s greatest highlights.
While Garnet handles Jasper, Steven frees Pearl and Amethyst who then proceeds to locate Peridot at the main bridge. Amethyst keeps Peridot at bay, leaving Pearl to try and land the ship. Garnet manages to chuck Jasper to the ship’s power core, causing it to malfunction. Amongst all the chaos, Peridot escapes and lands somewhere on Earth. Steven wants to rescue Lapis, but with little time on their side, the Crystal Gems brace themselves as the ship crashes onto the side of the cliff near the Gem Temple, exploding upon impact. The Crystal Gems survive thanks to Steven’s bubble. After Lion reunites with the team, Steven expresses excitement that Garnet was a fusion all along. Turns out the Gems would have told him on his next birthday, though he’ll try and act surprise when it comes.
Jasper survives the crash, peeved that Garnet only won because she’s a fusion. However, the moment she spots Lapis, she convinces the Ocean Gem to fuse with her. After all, the Crystal Gems supposedly kept her in that mirror for thousands of years, wouldn’t she like her revenge? Steven tries to stir Lapis away from Jasper, but fails. Lapis accepts Jasper’s offer and the two fuse into the towering, dreaded Malachite. Too weak to fight, the Crystal Gems’ days seem to be outnumbered, but then watery chains from the ocean cuffs itself to Malachite’s arms. Lapis has taken over fusion, sick of being everyone’s prisoner. Dragging themselves to the bottom of the ocean, Lapis declares that Jasper will be her hostage for all eternity. If she’s going to be holed up forever, then she’ll take someone down with her. Yikes! The Crystal Gems are stunned, then Connie calls Steven, having gotten his message.
“Jail Break” is a masterpiece episode and a stunning ender to the first season. Steven Universe started off as a simple, quaint coming-of-age story of a naive boy who wanted to be a Crystal Gem like his guardians. The adventures were lighthearted and lessons were learned. Steven lived comfortably with people he loved, helping those in need without the excessive baggage of his mother’s past. Who would have thought that it’d end up like this? Season One is a slow burn, but a rewarding one in retrospect. Over the course of fifty-two episodes, a lingering doom filled the air and secrets the Crystal Gems kept from their young charge slowly filtered out. There’s a lot Steven doesn’t know – oh, we haven’t even scratched the surface – but he’s a different boy than when he started out. He’s not quite as naive, but retains his kindheartedness. He doesn’t rush into a mission with childish glee anymore because he understands that there is a dangerous element behind it. He knows he has a responibility to his duties and the burden that often comes with it. Clues, foreshadowing, and deliberately cheeky phrases meant the overarching narrative grew naturally. What was once a typical narrative of a boy with cool super powers ends up with an intergalactic battle that will have serious repurcussion down the line. For now, the Crystal Gems can rest easy. They won the first round and if they can survive that, perhaps there is hope after all.