Out of all the information that emerged at Steven Universe’s 2016 Comic Con panel, one juicy morsel proved particularly delicious: the news that Broadway legend Patti LuPone would be singing a song as Yellow Diamond in an upcoming episode of the show.
Before we go any further, let’s take a moment to marvel at that fact. Patti LuPone has won two Tony Awards for Outstanding Actress (from six nominations). She has a Grammy, an Olivier (the British equivalent of a Tony) and an Emmy nomination under her belt. As Fantine in Les Miserables, she turned “I Dreamed a Dream” into a masterpiece, and she helped solidify Eva Perón’s status as cultural icon in Evita. LuPone is arguably one of the top ten Broadway divas ever. And she sang a freaking song for a cult cartoon. Yes, money makes some amazing things happen, but landing Patti LuPone to sing, and not just speak, as Yellow Diamond shows how highly regarded SU has become, even outside its niche.
That Will Be All for the starry-eyed raving. Let’s get to the episode itself, starting with its centerpiece…
Earlier this week, we found out that, contrary to all previous indications, the Diamonds are not categorically heartless, cold, ultra-rational goddesses. As surprising as it was to see Blue Diamond (Lisa Hannigan) weeping at the de facto grave of Pink, we had only ever encountered her cruelty through hearsay. Yellow’s evil, on the other hand, we had seen with our own eyes, which made her near-breakdown at the end of “What’s the Use of Feeling (Blue)” especially shocking.
Based purely on melody and lyrics, this song would fall somewhere in the middle of Rebecca Sugar’s body of work. But in LuPone’s hands, “What’s the Use of Feeling” takes on otherworldly emotional contours. What begins as exasperation becomes, in the span of a line, command; lip-service sympathy for her despondent friend turns to encouragement with a few notes; with the final refrain comes a collapse that seems to surprise Yellow Diamond as much as it surprises us. One of Sugar’s most underrated traits as a songwriter and creative director is her ability to consistently elicit magnificent vocal performances from her cast, and here (with all due respect to Estelle, DeeDee Magno Hall and AJ Michalka), Sugar was working with the best talent she’s had to date. The result: an absolute tour-de-force.
Of course, the plot thickens as we find out that Yellow Diamond does have feelings, and she’s dealing with them in perhaps the worst possible way: repression and anger. Kept busy running affairs on Homeworld, where emotions (so far as we know) have no place, she has not afforded herself the space and time to properly grieve Pink Diamond’s shattering. Yellow would likely argue that she has gotten over Pink’s death, and that her hard-nosed leadership in the wake of the Rebellion represents a major success, but the almost-onset of sadness as she finishes her song and her assertion that every Rose Quartz Gem should share Pink Diamond’s fate suggest otherwise. This isn’t to say that Blue Diamond’s reaction—5,000 years of unmitigated depression—is healthier than Yellow’s: it merely represents the opposite extreme.
In any case, neither Diamond has come to terms with their emotions, and so the blind guide each other through a spiritual wasteland without anyone to facilitate the self-honesty and catharsis they’ll need to pull through. Steven (Zach Callison) played the catalyst for Pearl and Greg (DeeDee Magno Hall and Tom Scharpling, respectively) to do this in the masterful “Mr. Greg,” but as the literal embodiment of new life being born from death, he is uniquely capable of helping his friends and family overcome their grief. The Diamonds, near-omnipotent goddesses from a planet where death is a cosmic-scale anomaly, can’t similarly fit Pink’s demise into a schema of thought, nor can anyone else on Homeworld—given that the Era 2 Diamond Authority logo displays no gap where their fallen member was represented in the symbol’s prior iteration, it could be that newer Gems don’t even know that death is a possibility for their species. So instead of moving through Pink Diamond’s shattering with the assistance of a support network, Blue and Yellow have spent the past five millennia orbiting the event, tidally locked in tandem and unable to escape.
We can’t help but feel bad for the Diamonds, because Steven Universe has set up the Crystal Gems as a near-perfect analogue for how to cope with death. In fact, one of the series’ central theses is that death is the root of all good and of what we call humanity: love, joy, excitement, care, the like. Because we humans, like its protagonists, exist in a shadow of death of which we are conscious, our fear of the great unknown abyss motivates us to hold more tightly to our friends and family, to cherish the beauty and wonder we find in the world, to live purposefully. It’s no surprise that after seasons’ worth of the Diamonds being depicted as heartless, cruel leaders, the first modicum of their humanity—and their eventual redeemability—is unlocked by the experience of death.
They’re still villains, obviously. Blue Diamond immediately assumes a menacing tone when confronted by Sapphire’s presence, and had Ruby not saved the day, Blue could well have flashed the icy evil we know she’s displayed before. But the Diamond Authority no longer seems irredeemable. The question to ask now is what it will cost to make them see the light of love for all beings.
So, the Earth-born Gems in the Zoo are definitely going to switch sides when the Crystal Gems need an army to invade Homeworld, right? They’re treated like dirt (they have cubbies…CUBBIES), they hate their boss and they share our Amethyst’s light-hearted, rebellious personality.
And when the other Amethysts join the good guys, Crystal Gem Amethyst (Michaela Dietz) is going to be given a wonderful opportunity for leadership. She’s never had to cultivate that aspect of herself before: Rose commanded with ease, Garnet has slid easily into that role, Pearl takes control when she can, and Steven is obviously the future leader of the team. But among these other Amethysts, her natural charisma and humility will thrust Facet 5 Cut 8XM into the forefront.
How weird must it have been for Steven to witness all those other Rose Quartz Gems bubbled? More interestingly, how will he react when they’re all inevitably unbubbled in a future episode? If they all end up looking like carbon copies of his mom, that’s going to be very strange for him. If not, we’ll have questions about how the Crystal Gems’ Rose came to change her appearance.
“There’s still time” to save Earth’s specimens, Yellow Diamond tells Blue with a knowing smile. Something tells me we’re going to see two very giant women invading Beach City very soon—and they might be quite unhappy if they discover that the Cluster has been bubbled.
Dammit if I didn’t cheer a little bit when Pearl got her immensely satisfying revenge on Holly Blue Agate.
Zach Blumenfeld listened to Patti LuPone’s “I Dreamed a Dream” twenty-six times in a row while writing this piece. Follow him on Twitter.