Steven Universe aired its forty-fourth episode on Thursday, “Marble Madness,” and with its arrival promised all my concerns about the filler episodes of the past few weeks would be assuaged. The pre-episode synopsis promised not only the return of Peridot, the only humanoid antagonist Gem we have seen so far, (the gem monsters and Lapis Lazuli do not count, as the gem monsters are corrupted and not completely sentient, and Lapis Lazuli was simply lashing out in a rage after being held captive for centuries in a mirror), but the Kindergarten, the creepiest and most ominous place in Steven Universe to date.
The Kindergarten was introduced fairly recently, as was Peridot. Peridot’s first and only in person appearance so far was in “Warp Tour,” and the Kindergarten was introduced only a month ago in “On the Run.” Both of them remain largely a mystery, but what we do know about both Peridot and the Kindergarten is a sign that darker things are at work in the world of Steven Universe.
What we know about Peridot is as follows:
- She’s a Homeworld Gem who was attempting to fix the Galaxy Warp and allow Earth and the Homeworld to regain connection through the warps that dot the landscape of Earth and other planets.
- She’s stern and foreboding and the most ruthless Gem we’ve seen so far, crushing an injured marble robot under her foot without so much as a hint of regret or hesitation—and, even worse, Garnet is visibly rattled by her. Garnet’s visible emotional reactions are few and far between, but she’s scared of Peridot.
- Peridot’s mission appears to be simple. She converses with unseen superiors about permission to “reactivate the Kindergarten,” prompting a horrified reaction from Garnet and Pearl and for Garnet to smash the Galaxy Warp back to Homeworld as soon as she leaves. It was the last we saw of her, or heard of the Kindergarten, until “On the Run.” There, the Kindergarten made its first true appearance, and it was worth the wait.
Given that the Kindergarten’s design is a homage to the silhouette-studded mountainside of acclaimed horror manga artist Junji Ito’s most infamous short story, “The Enigma of Amigara Fault,” the Kindergarten immediately has the creep factor weighing heavily in its’ favor.
The place is desolate and hollowed-out, a stark contrast to the normal lush, pastel and candy-colored beach and jungle landscapes of Steven Universe. What we know about it before this episode airs, however, means it’s a lot worse than just grim architecture. The Kindergarten is a new location in Steven Universe, but we already know a few things about of it, and all of them are terrible. What we know so far about the place is:
- A bomb regarding Amethyst’s origins was dropped in “On the Run,” namely that she is not a Homeworld Gem, like Garnet and Pearl and Rose Quartz, but created on Earth, with thousands of other Gems inside the Kindergarten.
- All those other Gems are dead. That’s right. Pearl flat out says the thousands of other incubating Gems were all killed and Amethyst is the sole survivor of the genocide of children.
- The genocide might have something to do with the enormous hundred feet or higher looming skeletons of “drill robots” that look like virus capsids with an enormous gem situated on top of their bodies. They’re supposedly “inactive,” but even if that really is the case, the dozens of them that loom around the Kindergarten in various states of disrepair imply their original purpose was nothing good.
This is the first episode that has focused on the Kindergarten since “On the Run” and Peridot since “Warp Tour,” so it stands to reason I was incredibly excited for this episode to begin. However, the show doesn’t jump right into the action as soon as it opens. Instead, we cut to the temple and the beach.
The episode opens with Connie introducing Steven to her favorite book series, The Unfamiliar Familiar. Connie explains the plot—a witch and her owl spirit companion going on a quest to find her missing father—and starts reading the first book out loud to Steven. Their reading session is almost immediately cut off by the arrival of one of Peridot’s marble robots.
The gem trio take the robot out as Steven bubbles himself and Connie away from danger. Pearl comments that it’s the biggest marble robot they’ve ever seen as the trio destroy it, leaving Amethyst covered in the goo that the robots are filled with.
Steven and Connie discuss Peridot and the robots before Steven asks Garnet about the robot’s potential motive. Garnet dismisses the importance of their motive, saying it only matters that they destroyed the robot. In the midst of the victory celebrations, she pulls Pearl into her and Amethyst’s goo hug.
We then cut to Connie’s mother receiving a phone call and telling Connie that “the Universe boy is on the phone,” prompting an aside about how she doubts that’s his “real name.” This is actually pretty funny, given that Connie’s mother has met Steven and Greg Universe both during “Winter Forecast” and “Fusion Cuisine.” (Honestly though, it’s not out of character for her to doubt that’s Greg’s actual name either.)
Steven and Connie talk about the books, and Steven brings up that he’s confused about a plot point. Connie eventually realizes he’s been reading the books out of order. Steven says he just started with the book that had the coolest cover, and Connie looks like she’s in real physical pain.
Her bibliophile’s nightmare is juxtaposed with another marble robot’s arrival shaking the earth, and the gems as well as Steven fly off to fight it before Connie can freak out further. They dispose of it immediately and again admit that they don’t understand the robot’s motives.
The book series starts to firmly tie into the arrival of the robots throughout the episode; each arrival of another marble robot involves Steven and Connie discussing The Unfamiliar Familiar. It happens three times total, making it go beyond the realm of coincidence and into something more interesting. Does the book parallel any future plot points? Lion and Steven have a bond not unlike the protagonist of the series and her own animal familiar. Will that be important? It’s never explained, but the series is mentioned enough and made important enough in this episode to make me convinced we should be paying close attention.
Connie and Steven’s final conversation about the book is interrupted by the arrival of the marble robots on Earth once more. Steven runs right after the gems, who left the temple without him, and finds Pearl trying to stab it with the wrong end of her spear, screaming and yelling at it before she has an abrupt breakdown about not knowing the marble robot’s motives.
Pearl is obviously upset and Steven tries to reassure her with his next idea. He suggests they follow the marble robots and figure out where they want to go. Pearl balks, but Garnet agrees to go along with Steven’s plan.
The marble robot takes them back to the Kindergarten and Pearl is furious at the turn of events. Amethyst is visibly upset and Pearl is ready to stab it, but Garnet convinces her to let the robot go wherever it’s headed. It helps that Steven has grown fond of the “funkmaster,” as he affectionately dubbed the robot.
His excitement at his new friend and everyone else’s concerns are cut off by the marble robot changing to a pyramid shaped gem, and diving down into the earth of the Kindergarten. Steven jumps down the hole it made right after the robot, giving all three Gems a heart attack as they dive right in after him.
The robot leads them to a chamber that appears designed to create more marble robots that function as hands to connect with Peridot. The Gems take Steven and hide. Peridot starts performing a status check of the Kindergarten to reactivate it, which Pearl says, horrified, that will result in the destruction of everything on Earth. Steven, innocent and confused, says they should just ask Peridot what she wants and try to talk to her.
Garnet says that they’re dealing with an enemy they don’t know and a technology they don’t understand, so this is no time to ask questions. As Garnet makes a plan with Pearl and Amethyst, Steven wanders off to speak with Peridot.
He greets her with his normal sweet innocence and Peridot, misunderstanding his greeting, interrogates him about the “Steven infestation” in the Kindergarten. Peridot doesn’t seem to understand the human race or the concept of human’s names and Steven fills her in for a few questions before she grows bored of him and tries to crush him with her marble robot fists.
Garnet steps right in the second that Steven is in danger, punching Peridot’s robot fist with her own giant fists. Peridot’s immediately shocked that Gems continue to exist on Earth, (evidently not sensing Steven as one, interestingly enough.) When Amethyst and Pearl step in to protect Steven, Peridot remarks that she thought all Gems were wiped out on earth, and there was no signal coming from Earth to believe otherwise.
She starts to put two and two together and gets furious at the Gems for “destroying her things.” In response, Pearl gets a totally badass speech, telling Peridot, “We are the Crystal Gems! We’re still alive, and we’re still the guardians of this planet, and all its’ living creatures!” before they destroy the link with the Kindergarten’s main controls and Peridot.
The three of them start fussing over Steven and Garnet praises his efforts before admitting it was probably a bad idea to get involved.
So, with this episode over, we have a lot more to think about regarding the overarching plot of Steven Universe. The Homeworld Gems are a vague but powerful race, and now they know Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl are on Earth still—along with Steven. The Kindergarten has already proven to be one of the catalysts of the larger show plot, and this episode just firmly cemented that. It’s creepy, it’s foreboding, it might mean the end of all life on Earth, and the Gems have no idea what to do about it.
With the plot out of the way, let’s talk about another reason I love this episode; Peridot’s characterization. When we first saw her, she seemed to be a generally flat “stoic ruthless pointy-haired jerk” type of villain. She was creepy because we’ve never really had a humanoid Gem acting so callously and without emotion, but she wasn’t really well developed. This episode adds another dimension to her character when she has a breakdown about not getting her way, practically throwing a temper tantrum about the Gems’ interference. It’s a great addition to her character, because it makes her a little more multifaceted, if you will.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about one of the most suspenseful things in this episode: Steven. Steven is sweet and innocent. Steven is the most gentle and loving small gem boy. Steven is literally rainbows and sunshine and everything good in the universe. Steven is good and kind and Steven routinely puts himself in danger because he is too young to realize there’s any danger afoot in the first place.
Steven is a wonderful example of heroes like Captain America, Avatar Aang, and Superman; he is a True Good kind of hero, who loves the whole world and all that resides in it. He is also an untrained seven year old.
Steven has no real grasp on his powers, he is, as Garnet says, dealing with technology and enemies they don’t understand, and he is largely unaware of the centuries-long conflict that has resulted in Gems like Peridot and locations like the Kindergarten. He is all his mother’s love and none of her understanding of these conflicts he wants so desperately to solve.
Part of the reason I sometimes end up clutching my couch so hard I practically put holes in it is because watching Steven Universe sometimes means watching the eponymous protagonist put himself in danger because he is trying so hard to be kind and good. And in this episode he actively ignores the Gem’s fear and their admittance that they are all in real danger to do what he thinks is best, which is speak with Peridot about her motives and what she wants.
It is a good and noble thing for him to do, and it is one of the best moments in the episode, as well as the most suspenseful. We, the audience, know Steven is in real danger from Peridot. We know he is trying to have a friendly conversation with someone whose motive is revealed to be the extermination of all life on Earth. Steven has no idea, and Steven is doing what he does best, which is being friendly towards strangers.
It’s a fantastic way to emphasize Steven’s inherent goodness and reveal Peridot’s motives, as well as the most looming concern in Steven Universe right now; the destruction of all life on Earth by the Homeworld Gems whose main desire seems to be reactivating the Kindergarten.
Steven is still being good and kind in the face of someone that is completely prepared to wipe out the entire Earth that he has known and loved and protected. That is what makes him such a wonderful hero, and makes this such a fantastic episode.