All things considered, Alternate Beginning would’ve been a more appropriate title.
Much like “Gem Harvest”, Lion 4 initially disappointed me on my first viewing due to expectations. Upon re-visit, I don’t nearly hold “Lion 4: Alternate Ending” in the same high regard as “Gem Harvest” but I did find myself enjoying the episode more. And to be fair, the expectations placed on it were always a little unreasonable. “Lion 3: Straight to Video” is without a doubt one of the strongest episodes in the series, even today but the first two entries weren’t nearly that strong. Still solid episodes but unlikely to wind up in any top lists for me, which I think is where Lion 4 firmly lands.
Continuing the main thread of Steven’s existential dilemma over Rose Quartz, Lion 4 sees him desperately attempt to extrapolate any kind of intended purpose from the belongings of Rose Quartz. Whether it’s over analyzing the video message Rose left for him or trying to unlock himself using the key that Lion hairballs out. Most of the episode is dedicated to Steven and Lion together, and their dynamic is pretty amusing. Lion is constantly entertaining to watch, whether it’s background events while Steven is focused on Mona Simpson’ing Rose’s video or his rejection of Steven’s favor, though Steven manages to overturn that with stubborn puppy dog eyes. It’s a consistently amusing pairing that carries the bulk of the episode, as not much really happens.
I don’t agree with the criticism that this episode is basically re-hashing a conflict that Steven resolved in “Storm in the Room”. That episode was more focused on Steven’s notion of who Rose was. It wasn’t necessarily focused on what she wanted from him, but who Rose was, the idealized mother or the lying war criminal. I wouldn’t go as far to say that his issues there were resolved, but he definitely lands on the [obviously correct] impression that she did want him. So now, he’s finds himself questioning the “why”, with how vital of a name Rose Quartz is, it makes sense that he’d imagine there’d be some special purpose behind his birth, one that extends outside of just having him. This doesn’t mean the plot points here are particularly engaging, as Steven fails to figure out which lock the key belongs too, and Lion’s odd decision not to just warp directly to the location leads to a lengthy segment of Steven explaining his behavior that only serves to outline what that episode already made clear, though I enjoyed how it’s shot, with images of the Crystal Gems scrolling up above during the desert run, sparking to mind mirages commonly associated with the setting, as well as just providing a more interesting sequence to watch. The theory that they crossed paths with Pink Diamonds ship is certainly a plausible one, and would increase this episodes ‘value’, at least in terms of plot relevancy. I actually suspect that to be the case for what it’s worth, but in terms of this episode, it aids the sexual imagery of Rose’s landfill. Among the obvious spread legs and key to open stuff, I also feel the need to point that the top of the door’s design is reminiscent of the venus symbol. These images fit, considering what we ultimately find is a video of what could’ve been.
The revelation that the two had just shot two versions of Steven’s video, depending on if their historic baby was a female or male makes sense, and resolves the episode in a fitting book-ending. I wasn’t thrilled with how Rose’s ending ramblings happen to be among the perfect words to soothe Steven’s recent concerns, as if she was directly communicating to his lack of defined purpose from his mother, but I’ve seen worst instances of this kinda writing, as the words do feel accurate to Rose’s character and work well enough within the context. It’s a little strange that Steven’s version was far more polished than Nora’s, both for lacking the ending ramble and for having some better word choice (Nora’s replaces “remarkable” for “wonderful”, and misses the “Sounds they hear” line), guessing Nora’s was made first.
Still, what makes this scene work so well isn’t revisiting Rose’s video but every-time she said Steven it’s Nora now, but for the scenes revolving around it. I love the almost magical introduction Greg gets, with Steven’s dramatic run up the hill set to guitar strings and the first glimpse being his majestic hair simply flowing in the wind. The scene is set-up to believe that Steven is about to encounter something grander, not just his rocking dad. While I doubt anyone was duped but there, or even if they were intended to be, it provides insight into Steven’s mentality, the constant jigsaw puzzle that just doesn’t exist. Instead of finding one of those puzzle pieces, he finds the whole picture, and the guiding father/son scene is filled with great moments. Little touches like Greg’s teary-eyes at re-watching the old tape, similar to Sadie & Steven’s reaction back in Lion 3 help make the scene feel more real, with the contrasting reactions. Steven’s outburst and Greg’s handling of it is great, and the closing sentiment of Steven realizing that he’s just suppose to be her kid is sweet. For all the trauma Steven has surrounding Rose this season, it’s nice that it’s been contrasted with his relationship with Greg is only growing stronger.