The last episode of Steven Universe – “It Could’ve Been Great” – ended on a bit of a cliffhanger: after realizing that Peridot (Shelby Rabara) may not be as on-board with the Crystal Gems as he thought she was, Steven (Zach Callison) watches her sneak off with a special communication device stolen from the Homeworld base on the moon. We were left wondering what this meant for her standing among Garnet (Estelle), Pearl (Deedee Magno), and Amethyst (Michaela Dietz), as well as what it meant for the Gems’ plan to destroy the dangerous weapon incubating within the planet. “Message Received” doesn’t hesitate to answer these questions.
Steven doesn’t waste too much time in confronting Peridot with what he knows – after a little subterfuge he locks Peridot in a car and takes the communication device for himself. In this sequence we learn a little more about Peridot’s history, specifically that she was created to serve presumed big bad Yellow Diamond and is seemingly conditioned to do so no matter what. “I’ll never forsake the Gem I was made for,” Peridot says when Steven reacts incredulously to the fact that she has seemingly learned nothing from his kindness.
“All that matters is I’m of use to Yellow Diamond.” It’s scary rhetoric to hear, and somewhat indicative of a society built on a kind of brainwashing, which calls the gang’s response to all of this into question. In a way. Obviously they are right to feel betrayed, especially after all of the seeming bonding that’s been going on for the last several episodes, but this is one of those moments where the Gems are in the wrong. When Steven tells them about Peridot’s revelation, they are furious rather than understanding, despite the fact that most of them grew up under probably similar conditions – trained to fight for all-powerful god-like beings who they could never really know. You’d think there would be a little more sympathy on hand when they witness another member of their species going through familiar trials.
I suppose it’s understandable to be miffed when the fate of the world is at stake, but this isn’t the first time the Gems’ methods have led to questionable results where other members of their race are concerned. Take Lapis Lazuli for instance, a Homeworld Gem whom the main gang imprisoned in a mirror, possibly for thousands of years, before Steven freed her and managed to befriend her through his boundless optimism. Perhaps with a little positivity of their own, the Crystal Gems could have made Lapis an ally, rather than an enemy. Time and again we have seen the Crystal Gems shoot first and ask questions later, which makes one wonder how many other situations have been made worse by their approach to crime-fighting.
But even Steven has a hard time staying supportive through the episode. He trusted Peridot – he was the only one who did so for a while – and that makes her turn even more hurtful. But perhaps Steven has had an impact on Peridot, an effect that we see in the episode’s strong climax, featuring the first real appearance of Yellow Diamond (voiced by Patti LuPone) in what becomes a heated debate with her supposedly devoted subordinate. I won’t spoil the exchange because it has some really great moments and works as a strong character introduction, but it’s a great moment as it features mythology, sweetness, and a humorous flair all in one package. Some of the specifics of what is said feel unearned, especially considering what has come in the preceding 8 or so minutes, but the discussion itself is potent.
“Message Received” – written and story-boarded by Raven M. Molisee and Paul Villeco – subverts last episode’s subversion in a way that shouldn’t really surprise me, but the show is so well-written and dense that I am willing to go in whichever direction the crew wants me to go. This episode feels like the big falling action for the week of new episodes, so we’ll see what’s in store for a denouement to finish out the week. In the meantime, “Message Received” earns four out of five smug Pearls (“Not all Pearls know each other, Steven.”):