Steven Universe has been rather infamous for its many long hiatuses, but now it is back with a vengeance, kicking off a new season with the very powerful double feature, “Super Watermelon Island”/”Gem Drill”, with more episodes to come.
While the show has made some duds every now and then, it has also produced some of the most beautiful and/or powerful moments in television history, my personal faves being “Jailbreak”, “The Answer”, “Keeping it Together”, “On The Run” and “Chille Tide”. But I got to say “Gem Drill” is probably SU’s greatest episode to date (well, maybe next to “Jailbreak”).
For starters, this is one of the most intense moments in animation I have ever seen. Throughout the whole thing there’s a constant, looming threat that the world could end at any moment, and Steven and Peridot may not be able to save it. The show is also complemented by some gorgeous (and frightening) imagery. I can’t find a lot of good images, but when the reach the Cluster, Steven keeps seeing flashes of the ghosts of the Gems who were shattered long ago:
Steven gets more and more stressed throughout the ordeal, until his sense of reality is warped, the world around him begins to dissolve, and he falls into some sort of trance:
Without willing it, he can now talk to the Cluster. It is established throughout the show that Steven has psychic abilities allowing him to communicate and astral project through his dreams, but I wonder if he was going to fuse with the Cluster (his gem wouldn’t stop glowing).Well, whatever happens, we get this really atmospheric and haunting look inside the Cluster’s fragile mind, and of how the shattered Gems that consist of it want to be free, but can’t.
It’s here that Steven actually talks to the Cluster, helps it, and encourages it to find companionship within itself in a safe bubble. In other words, he finds a peaceful, nonviolent, and even loving solution to the catastrophic problem.
What I love about this episode is that it would’ve been very easy to have Steven and the Crystal Gems merely drill into the Cluster and destroy it. But the show decides to reveal an alternative, unique solution to one of it’s biggest threats. It humanizes the Cluster, which is something that most people would not humanize or even sympathize with, giving it depth and making it sentient. You don’t really see that a lot in media.
I think it kind of connects to me because I kind of relate to it in my experiences as a neurodivergent. Peridot’s words of how the cluster gems are so broken that they’re beyond repair really hit home for me; in real life, it’s common to label a lot of severely disabled people as ‘vegetables’ that can’t experience life to the fullest and are often institutionalized and not given any autonomy. A lot of people look at them with pity and scorn. So it’s nice to see a show that takes a bunch of gems that are mentally and physically disabled and starts to see them more positively. The Cluster chooses to put itself in a bubble where it can reconnect with all its pieces and is ultimately seen as something almost beautiful. This gives me hope for the other bubbled cluster gems currently residing in the Temple.
I was utterly blown away when I saw this episode. I hope there will be more episodes of this magnitude later in the show. For now, “Gem Drill” is definitely one of the best episodes and one of my fave moments in modern animation.