As a spin on the season one Steven Universe episode “Alone Together,” Monday’s episode “Together Alone” could not be more different.

In the former, Steven (Zach Callison) and Connie (Grace Rolek) fused to create the aptly named Stevonnie (AJ Michalka), in which the two — now as one — learned to explore their autonomy, expression and consent. Now that the two are light years away from Earth and in the oppressive, controlled environment of Homeworld, creative expression and fusion (considered by many to be an allegory for relationships of any nature) are strictly forbidden unless they have a functional purpose.

After the characters of Steven Universe have gone through to be who they are, coming back to this oppressive environment comes as a shock, one that nearly all of the Crystal Gems struggle with through the episode.

The episode opens with Steven having a nightmarish dream, starting with himself and a new Pink Pearl in Pink Diamond’s room. Following this, the Diamonds, especially White Diamond (Christine Ebersole), morph into strange and disturbing shapes. 

Once awoken, Steven and the Crystal Gems go to ask Yellow (Patti LuPone) and Blue (Lisa Hannigan) Diamond to put on a ball. After some debate, the Diamonds agree that a ball would be an excellent way to both celebrate the return of Pink Diamond — as they still refer to Steven — after 6,000 years, and to mark the beginning of Era 3 for Homeworld. Most importantly, White Diamond would be invited.

However, Steven quickly becomes agitated with how the Diamonds treat the Crystal Gems. Amethyst (Michaela Dietz) is ordered to wear limb enhancers to make her appear more like a normal Amethyst, but she isn’t too bothered by it, showing how far she has come as a character. Connie is referred to as a “pet,” being human, and Garnet (Estelle) is told to unfuse into Ruby (Charlyne Yi) and Sapphire (Erica Luttrell) for the first time since their marriage, which they do very begrudgingly.

There is a moment when creative expression leaks through on Homeworld. Blue Pearl (Deedee Magno) confides in Steven that she enjoys drawing sketches for court cases, and Yellow Pearl (Magno) has some fun by modeling for her. It’s a short moment, but shows how the inhabitants of Homeworld secretly express themselves in little ways.

At the ball, White Pearl (Ebersole) announces White Diamond was unable to attend, and that she would be taking White’s seat in her stead. At Connie’s insistence, Steven decides to dance with her despite orders to remain seated. The two accidentally fuse into Stevonnie, who is still wearing Steven’s pink dress. At Blue and Yellow Diamonds’ frenzied orders to unfuse, Ruby and Sapphire fuse back into Garnet, and Amethyst and Pearl (Magno) fuse into Opal (Aimee Mann), at Steven’s defense. Two Homeworld gems in the background also enthusiastically decide to seize the moment and fuse, taking everyone aback for one humorous moment. All three fusions are zapped by Yellow Diamond, returning to their Gems, and Stevonnie is thrown into a cellar.

A few seconds from the end, the scene shifts to where White Pearl’s lifeless smile turns into a fearful frown. Yellow and Blue Diamond certainly have low tolerance for shifts from the norm, but if White Diamond discovers what happened at the ball, there could be potentially deadly consequences.

Throughout Steven Universe, fusion has been celebrated as one of the most exciting and important elements of the show, allowing relationships and their growth to be represented in ways that all audiences can immediately understand. For that aspect to be (literally) frowned upon and harshly punished on Homeworld further develops the planet’s oppressive culture, and Steven’s increasing desperation for everyone to just get along.

As they wait for the rest of the Crystal Gems to reform, only Steven and Connie remain. Things look dire for Steven, but perhaps a moment of contemplation in the next episode is what he and Connie will need for whatever lies ahead.

Here are some fans’ reactions to the episode on Twitter:

Steven Universe airs Mondays at 7:30 p.m. on Cartoon Network.