Character Update: Yellow Diamond
a while back, I wrote about Yellow Diamond, and my intent was to present the
character I saw in totality. Even now, when I talk about the Diamonds and how
they read strongly as characters with motives and feelings beyond just hurting
others because they can, I feel like for the most part, I’m addressing
questions about Yellow Diamond in particular.
Yellow Diamond is a character easy to picture as an irredeemable antagonist. Like Jasper and Aquamarine, she walks with an air of authority and certainty about her. A lot of people take her character as one who hasn’t shown any explicit self-doubt or weakness. It wasn’t long ago that The Answer aired and there was a lot of positive feedback because we got to see a “vulnerable” Garnet.
When I hear this sort of characterisation, I think back to these characters. While it is a very humanising experience to see a character previously presented as a bastion of unshakable strength question themselves and show a “fatal flaw” or weakness, it’s not the only way to present a relatable, dynamic character. To situate this in our world, it’s very rare that people choose to show their inadequacies in the first place. In fact, it is far more common for people to do everything in their power not to reveal vulnerability.
Yellow Diamond is a very complex character precisely because she shows indication of presenting herself as much more put together than she lets on. And, as usually happens in real-life as well, it’s not only for others’ sake but also for her own. In her, we see a character brutally honest, suffering neither formality nor trivialities for the sake of it. To view her consistently would be taking her actions into that context, and using that to understand where she stands on PD’s shattering. That’s something I want to talk about in this post.
So let’s get started.
1. Yellow’s relationship with feelings is complicated
I’d like to begin by talking about YD as a chest gem. Like Blue Diamond and other chest gems, she tends to interact with the world in terms of feelings. Remarkable moments in her life are likely best remembered by what she was feeling at the time they happened, and her first impressions are probably marked by how she felt about certain individuals, places, or things.
I think this is most evident in how she feels about Earth. In the past I’d talked about how Peridot was presenting a solution to Homeworld’s resource shortage in Message Received. What we’d learned at that point was that Homeworld was running out of resources, so much so that Gems couldn’t be made as physically strong or with the same abilities as they were supposed to be.
Upon closer inspection, it’s because the very means Homeworld uses in order to advance its species is inherently parasitic. They drain planets and have no means to replenish these resources. What Peridot claimed to find, after † a deeper appreciation for organic life, was a way to make use of Earth without damaging said life. And that’s a game-changing discovery, because the only way for that to happen would be a renewable or sustainable means of using a planet.
Peridot had expected Yellow Diamond to see the reason and logic of her plan, to be just as excited about saving Earth as she was because it meant helping all Gems. That was YD’s reputation. Recall that at this point, it was not that Peridot turned her back on Homeworld because she realised Earth was a better place to live. She realised that Earth was worth protecting, but she thought the Crystal Gems were unable to meet their own goals. That’s why she reached out to the most powerful, rational, objective being she could think of, Yellow Diamond, to help her reach that goal.
Peridot was sorely disappointed by that encounter. She realised her hero wasn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t say she wished for the destruction of Homeworld. I doubt that her take-away from that was that all Homeworld gems were evil. There was a time she’d worked with them, lived with them, learned from them. On her way to destroy the Cluster, the weapon of mass destruction about to shatter the planet she was currently living on, put there by Homeworld, she said it was difficult not to have feelings about Homeworld.
And I think that’s something to understand about the Homeworld defectors we’ve seen so far. Earth was a better option for them, but Homeworld would always be home. For the most part, those who chose to leave still imagine a better life for their fellow-Gems back home, but found no way to give them that life without leaving Homeworld altogether.
What this leads up to is the idea that all these Gems have strong feelings associated with Homeworld, and now Earth. But on different occasions, they put aside these feelings because they felt something better could be realised. Rose put aside her sentimental feelings of never being able to go “home” because she wanted to give the Crystal Gems the freedom they currently experience on Earth, and she wanted to protect the life that was already thriving there. Steven, more than once, has sacrificed the fear he felt and let himself be placed in dangerous situations for the sake of protecting others.
The other thing that I want to point out here is how we were led to believe Peridot was going to sell out Earth to Homeworld. We don’t get a lengthy monologue about how she feels or her plan. She just goes through with it and we feel a sense of betrayal, like the gems did. That she was thinking up a solution and pitched it to her Diamond shows that she didn’t just realise Earth’s life had value halfway through the conversation. It was her objective assessment from earlier on. Unlike most short-format shows though, these changes in characters aren’t exaggerated, and more closely reflect the interiority we experience in life.
On the one hand, we have someone like Blue Diamond, who has let the feelings of both sadness and regret take over her ability to act. BD is angry and upset with Earth. She cannot fathom how such a weak and fragile planet was able to shatter a Diamond. The wounds are raw enough that when Steven was unable to give the detail about the sword in The Trial, she uncontrollably used her gem ability on the court.
On the other, we have someone like Yellow Diamond, who has had to run everything in her stead as well as maintain her own duties, and those of Pink Diamond, and deny those feelings day in and day out. Peridot called her the paragon of objectivity and reason. Peridot, who prides sound logic above all else when making a decision, put her faith in YD.
And YD couldn’t put aside her feelings about Earth, and the anger she and BD both felt about a planet that destroyed their friend and comrade, to listen to a plan with the potential to save Gem-kind.
That’s something I need to stress because it speaks of the depth of the wound inflicted by the war. More than that, it paints a more realistic image of YD. YD is someone trying to be the perfectly objective and emotionless leader, and most of the time she succeeds. She is the person she wants to be often enough that it’s become her reputation. That doesn’t mean the feelings go away. The irony of her being a feeling-gem is not lost here.