Once again Steven Universe presents me with an episode that I struggle to figure how to discuss in any substantial way, but at the very least, I can say the episode had a lot of cute moments.
Visually speaking, it’s harder to think of any episode that went to the kawaii design philosophy as frequently as “Room for Ruby”. Most of this falls on Ruby, and her perpetual glee at everything she encounters this episode, much to the chagrin of Lapis. Particularly during the confrontation scene with Lapis and Navy by the crops, this aesthetic permeates to Peridot and Steven as well. The two matches Ruby’s cute design choices whether it’s her joyful expression or sad iris eyes. The bigger eyes are also present in Lapis though the episode wisely scales them back when it comes time for her to truly unload her feelings onto Navy. That’s the most interesting thing the episode does in terms of visuals, outside of the context of the end turning the cute appearance of Ruby from childlike wonder to a sinister nature, complete with the red palette. But generally, this episode just uses the visuals to create a really comfortable and pleasant viewing experience, with many adorable moments and great expressions. My favorite of the episode is Peridot’s proud smile as she details to Navy that corn isn’t capable of hearing them. Though Pumpkin’s cuteness is a close second.
The episode isn’t just a collection of cute character faces but it also creates generally sweet and cute little moments in the interactions themselves. My favorites coming from Garnet and Steven at the beginning of the episode, Garnet’s wish being for Steven to get a wish is a caring sentiment and Steven knowing that Garnet didn’t close all three of her eyes despite all of them being covered displays a level of familiarity that alone is pretty sweet. Garnet allowing Steven to take Yamcha in an attempt to indoctrinate her into the Crystal Gems is perhaps the crowning moment of the episode in this regards. It’s clear from her the conclusion that Garnet did see an ending in which Navy didn’t betray them, though the possibility was likely unlikely, as Garnet’s “it was still worth a shot” seems to suggest. I think this highlights Garnet’s confidence in Steven’s abilities to mend fences. Though I will have to say, it’s a bit odd just how casual Navy stealing the ship back is presented as. They went through all that effort in “Back to the Moon” because they didn’t want the Rubies reporting the truth to Homeworld, but now the Rubies know the truth and have a vehicle to make that report, resulting in Garnet’s reaction undercutting the dramatic stakes of the betrayal. It’s not a big deal to me, since it wouldn’t make sense for Garnet to harp on Steven immediately after, and her trusting in Steven despite the high risks early on in the episode feels perfectly in-character, but it does still undersell the conflict of “Back to the Moon”.
But Garnet is only the bread of the episode, the meat is Lapis. It’s easy to see that she is trying her best to connect with Navy, indirectly communicating her own struggles adapting in her teachings, only to be met with Navy’s undying passion for everything in existence. It can be such an invalidating feeling to have someone easily achieve what you struggle to accomplish, especially when that something is as vital as happiness. Lapis’ frustrations are totally understandable here, and anyone with even a small level of cynicism would eventually snap at the ultra chipper Navy. The cathartic laughter from Lapis after Navy betrays them lands too, despite the negative circumstances involved there’s something rewarding with being proved correct. Especially following lowering your guard after the initial backlash and following self-loathing. It just feels like such a natural response.
To back-track back to sweet moments, Peridot and Lapis get a quieter one during their talk in the Barn truck balcony. While I like that it was Peridot with the quick response to Lapis’ first line instead of Steven (and the pan seems to acknowledge, focusing on Steven during the rest of Lapis speech before swiftly moving to Peridot when she finishes, setting up for a Steven response but instead switching to a quick Peridot one), the moment I’m talking about is what happens after. Her quickly walking over to Lapis side is sweet, and when neither are left with words to comfort her, Peridot’s body language mirrors Lapis’ all throughout the episode, with the one crossed arm ‘self-hug’ comfort technique. Their relationship is hardly the focus here but they still manage to present it in genuine ways that I always enjoy, like their star-gazing early morning or how it was Peridot that managed to convince Lapis to go along with Steven’s plan to begin with. And it’s no stretch to say that seeing how these two’s relationship develop is at the top of my list of things to be excited for, I’m expecting the two to fuse at some point down the line.
I can’t conclude this review without actually addressing the elephant in the room, Navy’s betrayal. From a plot perspective it’s already clear what the effects of this are. The Rubies will likely be rescued, a report will likely be filed, and the Gems are Earth bound for the time-being. Pretty standard stuff but solid development nevertheless. From a character/thematic standpoint though, it’s arguably a misfire. I’ve seen several accuse Navy’s actions in this episode as a direct counterpoint to the whole “nobody is truly evil” in Steven Universe, as this one presents her as a sociopath who extracts enjoyment out of seeing the faces of those that she betrayed. I’m not sure I’d go that far, at least not yet, but it is worrisome. The series been careful to at least provide stable motivations for all it’s villains, even if they weren’t able to be reasoned with, we understood them as [gem] people, rather than villainous caricatures. Navy’s been presented a lot of reason to want to exact revenge on the Crystal Gems, as Steven lists off in the beginning, but the motivation she presents at the end lingers on just her enjoyment of their own suffering. Painting her actions as more for her sadistic pleasure than for revenge for her and her space bound comrades. I’ll also note that it’s strange that she was able to devise this plan that fooled Steven when she fell hook, line, and sinker, for Amethyst’s Jasper. Regardless, I don’t think Navy is beyond salvaging at this point, though I understand those who reacted more negatively to her complete character turnaround. Besides characters like Kevin exists already, who’s only redeeming factor is that he’s pretty funny at being a jerk, whereas the only funny moment during Navy’s betrayal was Peridot being unable to hear the conversation and misinterpreting the events.