Since the series returned, every 11-minute episode of Steven Universe has been stuffed with revelations, new locations and rising stakes. In the penultimate episode of the season, however, the series literally comes back down to Earth, in a quiet and contemplative last call for help.
After finding no way out of their prison cell, Stevonnie (AJ Michalka) unfuses into Steven (Zach Callison) and Connie (Grace Rolek). With all the Crystal Gems on Homeworld “poofed,” they decide that the only way to escape is to send a call for help to Bismuth (Uzo Aduba) back on Earth. Using his newfound psychic abilities from “Reunited,” Steven falls asleep on Connie’s lap, enters the psychic realm and blasts his way to Earth.
After coming to, Steven realizes that he is yet again in his watermelon form on Watermelon Island. Originating very early on in the show’s first season, Watermelon Island is a recurring location where the inhabitants consist of “Watermelon Stevens” and other Watermelon animals, who were given life by the original Steven.
The Watermelon Stevens, including the original, are unable to speak, communicating exclusively in muffled grunts and shouts. Because of this, the rest of the episode primarily features 8-bit instrumental music, a sound always associated with Steven’s fun and playful nature.
Since the last time Steven visited Watermelon Island, the inhabitants have split into two tribes. One paints the iconic yellow star from Steven’s t-shirt and is focused on peace, while the other paints on angry eyebrows and at least pretends to be fixated on war.
The Watermelon Stevens have always been adorable, but somehow the two tribes being at each others’ fruity throats makes them all the cuter, especially since neither tribe ever seems to come to any harm from the other.
In a series of cute and hilarious circumstances, Steven finally helps the two tribes settle their differences, using one chieftain’s cape and the other’s spear to finish his raft. After some adventures with a painfully adorable watermelon shark, Steven is rescued by his pet, Lion, who — being able to run across water — carries him back to shore.
Quickly rotting, with pieces of watermelon popping off left and right, Steven only has time to draw a message into the sand for a distressed Bismuth and Greg (Tom Scharpling), asking for help. He then drifts off, returning to his real body on Homeworld.
Throughout this last sequence, the highly anticipated song “Escapism” plays as the only audio, sung by AJ Michalka. Although short and quiet, Michalka is joined by a lone guitar to sing one of songwriter and series creator Rebecca Sugar’s most emotional pieces yet. “I guess I have to face, that in this awful place, I shouldn’t show a trace of doubt,” sings Michalka. “But pulled against the grain, I feel a little pain, that I would rather do without.”
Although open to a variety of interpretations, the piece likely represents Steven’s own doubt at breaking through to the Diamonds, and the pain he feels at letting down those who trusted him.
“Escapism,” both the episode and the song of the same name, were unexpected, yet in hindsight should have been expected all along. Most fans were expecting mounting stakes and action, but instead we got a mostly fun visit to Earth. And although the singer’s identity was a huge topic of debate after , few if any expected it to be a disembodied voice.
But audiences still should have seen it coming. Underneath all of the battles, drama and monsters, Steven Universe has always had a gentler, quiet soul that carries it forward through the craziness. “Escapism” simply lifted the veil a bit more than usual.
With the quiet episode over, however, all that remains of the season is the finale. As Steven puts it, “Guess we’ll see what happens.”
Here are some of the mixed reactions to the episode on Twitter:
The hour-long Steven Universe season 5 finale will air on January 21st at 7 p.m., on Cartoon Network.