Initial Thoughts: Tiger Philanthropist
This episode marked a change in the way the story in SU would be progressing from now on. Many times it’s been pointed out how the Gems are ill-equipped to be Steven’s caretakers, and how usually, they themselves are the ones for whom Steven needs to put his own needs aside.
The Gems have deep personal issues that they refused to acknowledge for a very long time, centuries in fact. Their suddenly being guardians of a teenage boy was not going to make those things go away. So early Steven spent a lot of time being ignored and left behind. It’s a fact he brings up in Rocknaldo. While we’ve been analysing it and pointing it out, it’s more than clear that Steven has been aware of it himself.
As the Gems engaged with him more, he found himself in the middle of meltdowns, arguments, and panic attacks. And we’ve seen how having to put aside how he feels has worn him down and given him issues of his own, about never being a good enough Crystal Gem, and never matching up to Rose.
These feelings culminated in the latest Steven Bomb (Bomb 5), when Steven decides to put his feelings first and refuse to listen to the Gems, instead seeking out Blue Diamond. What he realises is that doing to Greg and the Gems exactly what the Gems did to him was not going to make things better.
But I think it was a wake-up call for the senior Crystal Gems as well. Their becoming more accommodating of Steven has been a long, slow process. In this episode, Steven actually feels comfortable enough to tell Amethyst how he felt about wrestling, that he disagreed with her decision to quit, or at least the way she quit.
And that’s something relatively new, because Steven doesn’t often talk about how he feels when he’s with the Gems. Instead of making light of it, Amethyst engages him on the same level. She tells him about wrestling’s personal relevance to her at a particular stage in her life.
When Steven goes back to the ring, we expect he can take down human beings easily. When Amethyst appears, we know it’s not to save the day. That is how much our expectations of the characters changed. It’s a far cry from season one in which we believed Steven couldn’t defend himself.
Contrast to episodes like Joking Victim, Amethyst didn’t just stand by and let things happen. She washed her hands of wrestling but went back because part of her knew Steven had unfinished business. And she put aside her own desire to quit so that Steven could have closure.
I would say they end the match on their terms, together. Wrestling was never about feeling like he was good enough. His reason for doing it was to spend time with Amethyst. He was hurt because she decided on quitting without telling him, as if those memories didn’t matter.
In a turn of events, it is Amethyst, not Steven, who makes the speech that says exactly those things. In what I hope becomes a more common occurrence, someone who cares about Steven pre-empts how he feels instead of his having to do it the other way around all the time.
What Amethyst gave him was assurance that the memories he treasured of their being together meant something to her too. And it implied that finding something else to do was always going to be an option. Wrestling had gone stale for them, but their relationship did not.
I’m glad this kind of shift occurred in a daily life type of episode. It is small acts that people decide to do every day that make them who they are. Becoming a totally different person in a dangerous or extreme moment loses the meaning of the act if only because the change is not as organic and nothing sustains it after the adrenaline fades.
I hope that this shift continues on. It was one thing to begin to care about Steven, but I find it significant that the Gems are also learning how to care about Steven, because it does make a difference.