[I don’t usually link my Steven Universe recaps here, but I’m particularly proud of and interested in how this one turned out, and I thought it might help tide you all over while I finish working on the next Gankutsuou post]
What, really? This again? I know. I hope you’ll bear with me, a few deep breaths out if holding no more concrete answers.
We’re a few weeks out now from “Gem Harvest,” from the election, from….everything. On something of a precipice of waiting for things to happen. And I’ve been thinking about that episode a lot, because I think it deserves it a step or two removed from the deeply unfortunate flashfire of when it aired. And I kinda…still don’t think it works.
It’s an admirably ambitious episode in many ways, with a lot to say about the general cultural climate of this year if not the last few months. And it bit off way, way more than it could chew, trying to do in one double length episode what would normally be the work of four or five (not helped by the fact that the adorable but thusfar tangential introduction of Pumpkin takes up five minutes of a 22 minute running time – about a quarter). That leaves about an episode and a half to introduce Andy, the entire introduction of Greg’s tenuous relationship with his family (in itself a huge revelation for Steven with his concerns about feeling isolated from his humanity), the idea of what makes a family in general (found versus blood, and the issue of trying to balance or choose when they come into conflict), and digging past Andy’s apparent issues with the Gems to his actual issues of loneliness.
“I think that maybe putting the responsibility of closing the gap between adults in the hands of the youngest cast member wasn’t the way to do it.” An astute comment. This will date me, but this put me in mind of watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”. Fred Rogers could be as preternaturally kind and gentle as Steven, but in the end he was an adult, with the understanding that a lot of conflicts between adults aren’t susceptible of easy solutions.
Speaking of which, this episode is also an example of how the show sometimes stacks the deck in its effort to resolve matters in a preferred manner. In particular, I don’t think Andy was objectively wrong in wanting the farm and barn to have been preserved in their original pre-Gem state; it’s just that his claim was greatly weakened because he’d been gone. Imagine instead an alternate universe in which Andy had been living on the farm when the Gems wanted to start using it. That would have been a more realistic metaphor for the “residents vs. aliens” issue. But as you noted, the show creators didn’t do a good job of laying the groundwork for this episode over the course of the series.
A farm that hadn’t been abandoned would be an entirely different story (Greg offers it to the Gems in the first place because it hasn’t been used in years, after all). Andy has promise as a character, but all of that too fast was too much for the amount of screentime they had.
It was definitely an overly ambitious episode. You can’t solve America’s political divide in 20 minutes unless you pick about the least conservative Conservative you can, which seriously limits your examination of the topic. Andy’s conservatism isn’t even really political, or at least topical; the illegal alien joke aside, topics such as cohabitation and hippies aren’t that high on the big Republican list of things ruining America in 2016. I thought Bismuth was a great episode because in that case “bottling” her and the issues she raised showed Steven was incapable of solving them, the opposite of what happens here.
That said, I wasn’t really bothered by Steven’s part in the episode. Obviously a child shouldn’t have to repair family rifts (though Greg and the Gems do quite a bit), but isn’t the whole genre about placing 14-year-olds in age-inappropriate situations with real world resonance? For instance, Steven’s relationship with Pearl is interesting and well-realized, but it’s not the least bit healthy in real life when a child needs to worry about healing their parent’s emotional wounds, or even worse, when said wounds are so severe they can make the parent a danger to the child. Neither scenario is unfortunately far removed from everyday life.