It’s no “Bismuth” but once you remove that expectation, “Gem Harvest” holds up remarkably well.
I still vividly remember the lead-up to “Gem Harvest”, Steven Universe had been on hiatus for a month or two following the under-performing. “Onion Gang” and was set to return late November with “Gem Harvest”. Typically speaking when it concerns new episodes of Steven Universe, I tend to avoid most of the information that surfaces about them. Sans for the episode titles, I prefer to leave myself mostly in the dark so that I can experience the series with fresh eyes. I’ve never once subjected myself to one of the many, many leaks the series suffered, making Reddit pointless for several weeks but with “Gem Harvest” I did venture a bit further than normal. There was good reason to be hyped for “Gem Harvest”, the title alone is pretty captivating, it was scheduled to be the second double-length episode, and while the clip Cartoon Network posted prior to its release was promising. Looking through the comments now, it seems many fans took the segment (which is of Steven carving the pumpkin for those who aren’t interested in clicking the link) as a [rightful] indication that the episode wasn’t going to match “Bismuth” in terms of narrative progression but that unfortunately wasn’t my perspective. Not that I suspected an episode on that level per se but I was anticipating an episode focused around further developing the relationship between Peridot and Lapis. I was even hopeful for a potential fusion or perhaps even them, Peridot in particular, getting her Crystal Gem star. The clip showing Peridot and Lapis fostering a Pumpkin dog didn’t dissuade that, and the weight of a double-length episode still lingered after “Bismuth”.
As we all know, those hopes didn’t come to fruition, instead we were treated to a serviceable episode that answers the question, “What if Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Forces was related to Steven?”. To say I was initially disappointed would be an understatement, even though I enjoyed the episode for what it was, my overall impression at the time was that it was underwhelming. As I’ve alluded to upfront, after revisiting the series for the purpose of this review, I no longer hold that sentiment. On the contrary, I know consider “Gem Harvest” to be one of the strongest showings this season.
Before discussing the episode proper I do feel it necessary to establish that both episodes structured in a double-length format do actually share an interesting connection. Despite the first being a character piece that delves deeper into the show’s overarching themes and lore while the second is essentially a Thanksgiving special, both share symmetry in their purpose and value. What I mean by that is that “Bismuth” and “Gem Harvest” are both exemplary examples of the two distinct episodes in Steven Universe. “Bismuth” operates as additional exploration of the history of Rose and the Crystal Gems through a newly introduced member of the crew, the titular Bismuth. Meanwhile, “Gem Harvest” operates as something of a celebration of Steven’s human life, viewed through a newly introduced member of Greg’s family, Andy DeMayo. Steven’s relationship with both of his newly established compatriots are integral to the plot of each episode, while said new compatriots relationships with the Steven’s parents functions as motivators. For Bismuth it, was Rose’s decision to bubble her and keep that fact a secret from the family. For Andy it was Greg’s departure beginning a trend of separation.
Of course, both episodes are vastly different in terms of tone and outcome, this is because both our representative of the two different episode types. “Bismuth” is like the ultimate Crystal Gem episode, it debuts a new character with a history that not only informs a lot about how the world with Homeworld played out but more importantly, sheds more light on Rose’s history, further complicating Steven’s feelings to his mother. It features the heighten emotional turmoil and advances to the overarching mythos’ that best outlines the reasons those episodes connect so strongly. Meanwhile, “Gem Harvest” here deals with far lower stakes, instead peering within the human individuals and relationships that make the struggles suffered in the Crystal Gem episodes worth watching. While I feel the growing gap in quality between civilian life and gem life episodes is starting to hurt my enjoyment overall, these episodes help provide perspective to exactly what Steven’s fighting to protect. This episode doesn’t contain the gravitas of “Bismuth” but it deals with interpersonal relationships well and delivers warm fuzzy feelings like a lot of the best Beach City resident episodes.
I realize I’ve rambled on considerably to make a simple point that “Gem Harvest” works under the double-length format because like “Bismuth” it’s a shining example of one of the other two types of Steven Universe episode but I feel it’s important to stress because it highlights the amount of thought and care that goes into the series production while also communicating the episodes strength fairly well. In a contrast to Bismuth, Andy’s reunion isn’t a celebration but an argument as he learns that Greg has supplanted the DeMayo family with a new one only to eventually won over by Steven, basically an inversion of what happened in “Bismuth” (though the situation was a bit more complicated), which adds just another layer into the decision to run this episodes a full twenty-two minutes.
The episode by itself is an entertaining piece about an estranged family, and how the affection of one child can mend the fences. There’s a lot of great moments of affection and care throughout from basically everyone, even if it’s entirely misguided like Pearl’s thought of everyone marrying everyone (which is the funniest moment by far), making this episode feel comfortable and cozy, something the best holiday specials should accomplish. It’s a bit hard to describe when the episode speaks for itself so well but I will simply state that I really enjoyed Andy and the family drama surrounding him. To the point where I’m a little disappointed more time wasn’t allocated to addressing his relationship with Greg, scenes where he finds out about Rose’s loss, his bitter side remarks like how he wasn’t use to holding nephews, and the entirety of the plane climax really make the episode feel special, and present familial drama in a more grounded way than the series has ever done. It’s still a bit of a shame that Steven meaningfully connecting with Andy mended the rift between him and Greg, but it worked as an effective way to frame the power of family so it’s not a huge issue. Finally, I like how Andy’s isolation was showcased throughout the episode. At times it was a bit overt, with Andy outright stating it while discussing his adventures in flight but the visual symbolism with the pieces on the cake was a nice touch. It would’ve come across a bit hackneyed but avoided it by providing context and pacing to it. Having Andy attempt to pass the cake on, only for everyone to eventually pass it back to him followed by him immediately getting drown out by the in-jokes and intimate conversations before highlighting the pieces on the cake allowed for the emotions to settle. Rather than use the symbolism to convey the emotions and situation, it’s used to accentuate them.
Outside of Andy, there’s still plenty of lovely character moments interspersed throughout for the rest of our characters. One of my favorites was Pearl defining the superiority of their ‘Greg’ and the quick conversation between Steven and Garnet afterwards is even better. But more interesting than the ‘A-Team’ is the ‘B-Team’, Peridot and Lapis. The episode began with us learning that both of them have took up farming in the hopes to create a companion for them. Disappointed when they discovered that corn does in fact not talk, Steven hoped to raise their spirits by licking a pumpkin dog into existence. As adorable as Pumpkin is, name included, what I really love about this is how close is shows Peridot and Lapis got. Seeing them actively seeking out a pet/child and their elation upon receiving one is great but perhaps just as striking is their mutual ability to find the humor in the horror that is Lapis’ life. I don’t think it’s any mistake that this was inserted into a scene that defined closeness by the laughter of shared experiences.
In conclusion, my initial expectations for the episode lead to dampening what is actually one of the season’s high-points. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the episode upon revisiting it, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m glad I’ve stuck with this clearly failing blog. Also, Andy’s hair is super similar to old-timer Marty’s hair, so I’m going to forever be in doubt to whether or not Steven is related to Sour Cream until they make it explicit.