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Steven Reviewniverse: ‘Escapism’

By Mark Laherty

This prelude to ‘Battle of Heart and Mind,’ boarded by series stalwarts Joe Johnston and Adam Muto, sees Steven and Connie in dire straits. In seeking help, Steven is unhappily surprised to find himself reacquainted with some familiar faces. This makes the episode sound like a cool payoff to some part of Homeworld, which would make more sense than what we got here. But, what we have is cute too.

Steven uses his “sleepy psychic powers” to call for help. Those who are up to date will recall that all the Crystal Gems are poofed and Stevonnie (or Steven and Connie, if you prefer) have been chucked into a cell. So, they need backup from Bismuth. Steven regrets even setting out on the mission in the first place, although it’s not clear if he’s questioning his befriend-everyone way of life or just having a broader case of The All-Is-Lost Moment sads. I’ve harped on enough about that idea for the time being, though, and it doesn’t really come up in this story.

This episode only really gets going once Steven astral-projects back to Earth. He falls asleep (he conks out immediately) and then wakes up to discover that he is now a watermelon. Credit where it’s due, this is a genuinely unexpected and fun swerve made only slightly less weird by living watermelons being a pre-existing element in this show. Of course, as has always been the case with the watermelons, it’s unclear why they have to be here or what they add. Certainly, it doesn’t click into the rest of the Diamond Days story or themes in any obvious way.

That’s probably the worst thing that can be said about this episode: it feels unnecessary. It’s easy to imagine an alternate version of the preceding three episodes which was paced a bit quicker so that Steven could call for help at the end of ‘Together Alone.’ If the show is to have a ‘Steven gets stuck on Watermelon Island’ episode in Season 5, then this is arguably a good way to do it; after all, it’s when the stakes are highest. But, while that’s to the benefit of the episode, it slightly drags down everything around it, which has been a tight and focused progression up to this point. Don’t misunderstand, I know that this is a semi-episodic show and that it doesn’t have to be like The Last Airbender. A hybrid style that switches between serialised and episodic structure, though tricky, usually works wonders for the show. It just doesn’t land in this case. Still, we’re here, so let’s have a look.

Steven must find a way off the island and back to Beach City to ask Bismuth for help. Along the way, he gets caught up in (what I will call in a dubious squeaky voice) the politics of the watermelons. If I told you that this was about a sectarian conflict between two religions, you’d probably think I was exaggerating but no, this show is just weird, and I love it. Having said that, it’s quite frustrating that all the watermelons are still speechless. Steven gets plenty of wordless warbling to emote through, but that’s all. So, the whole affair hinges on the visual storytelling, which would be great if the visual storytelling was a little bit better or if the plot didn’t include specific continuity stuff. Though usually a chore, this episode suffers for the lack of any expositional dialogue, any moment of “Oh yeah, Baby Melon!” Speaking of which, I hope you remember Baby Melon from that episode that aired in November 2014 because he’s back and you’re not getting an explanation.

So, the watermelons have two rival religions. One is based on the original Steven, the other on Baby Melon. Original Steven’s religion is surprisingly warlike and aggressive whereas Watermelon Steven’s following is peaceful. The warlike religion – I’m going to call them Stevenists and you can’t stop me – understand their unwitting Messiah in terms of the time he led them into battle against Malachite in an episode that aired in May 2016; again, I hope your memory of this show is crystal clear. The Stevenists got the shield right, but they also carry spears. This could be taken as a bit of a jab at Steven’s methods, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that the show is saying that Steven and the Gems were wrong to battle Malachite. Rather, this works as a glimpse, like Sapphire, toward a potential future: tread carefully, Steven, or you might really end up like this.

Baby Melon’s religion, henceforth the Melonists, are a contrasting peaceful group with stars on their bellies like Steven’s t-shirt. So, for the watermelons, Steven can symbolise a peaceful, kind approach or he can stand for violence and aggression. Of course, both tribes are right. The Melonists are much closer to the truth but the Stevenists recall Steven’s struggles with pacifism back in Season 3, especially regarding Bismuth and Eyeball.

This episode may not do many favours for the Diamond Days arc, but it does give us a cute, simple parable about co-operation winning out over rivalries. Steven doesn’t even shout “Up the ra!” – not even once. Apart from its awkward placement in the season, this is a strong idea ill-suited to the dialogue-free mode it chose. I can be more straightforwardly enthusiastic about the gently beautiful final scene and its wonderful soundtrack, in which we can feel the show pulling back its bowstrings for whatever excitement awaits. Guess we’ll see what happens.

Mark Laherty writes about media and politics on WordPress. You can offer monthly support via Patreon.

 

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