“Together Alone” is a strange episode, necessarily rushed by the time constraints of this final block of the original show and how much story the team needs to cover, yet laden with the bulk of the outsized thematic elements this last appendage brings forward into the show’s text as never before.
This is an odd episode in an odd story arc in one of television’s oddest shows. The pace and the structure, we can agree the show’s handled better—and the storyboards sure are rougher than anything else toward the end of the show (but then, every storyboarder has their strength…), and in that, there are some real angles of critical breakdown one could pursue. In some ways it’s easy to argue that “Together Alone” wastes its opportunity, but the ways in which that’s true are more subtle than I see people address. Likewise the parts where it hits the target are magnificent and crucial to the message of the whole 160-episode original series, yet largely unheralded. I’d have done much differently, yet where the episode works I’d have never thought of doing things the way they play out here. It impresses and frustrates me, and keeps making me want to think about it further
These eleven minutes are work of suspense. The savvy viewer knows exactly what’s going to happen from the title card, and so enters with a sense of doom and dismay. With this understanding, the unfolding enterprise is a matter of one damned thing after another, watching the pieces clunk inevitably into place, hoping against reason that someone, something somehow intervenes.
For long spans you’re just… waiting, as events play out, and so much of the takeaway is in how the episode passes that time with its Abrams-style awkward small talk, peeling away and compiling tiny observations of how things work here, how people think within this system where everyone is always just standing around, waiting for the inevitable.
We wait, and we steep in this empire of lies and denial and repression, where everyone furtively pretends they don’t know what “ffffun” is—they would never do anything improper—all the while haunted by a vision of Pink’s Pearl, bleached by conversion therapy for improper relations with her mistress. We see the overt transphobia against Garnet. The racism of a colonial society. This is where the full decadence of the empire—and how untenable and barely maintained it is as a system, all comes into play. The more denial that’s going on, the more that happens in the shadows that they pretend doesn’t exist. There are no homosexuals in Russia.
All this fear and propriety and this cycle of abuse, it doesn’t actually stamp out what it tries and claims to, because people remain people. What it manages is to maintain a certain paper-thin image, that everyone knows it’s a lie, but no one dares contradict. Like that central moment—subtle enough that I often see people glaze over it—where Yelp nervously glances at Bloop before she asserts that people don’t do… that sort of thing here, only a few minutes before Lemon Jade pulls her surprise focus.
We know Yellow Pearl is obstructive and difficult and nervous and vain, and lies constantly to keep order. Why do we imagine this key moment is different from anything else that has come out of her mouth ever? Especially with that delivery and body language? The way the two of them immediately look at each other—Yelp in a panic, Bloop like “You know.” Are they onto us? Nope, not gonna talk about that here. Doesn’t happen. Haha, what do you mean. That beat serves to establish the fragility of the society, how false all this imposed structure is—allowing the accidental moment of revolution at the ball to hit all the harder. Like, this is it. Everything is different now, there’s no maintaining the lies anymore.
Then the way Lemon Jade leaps to support, it’s played as a joke—but it’s really anything but. It’s the whole point. It’s our main indicator of this whole thing that we never quite see, this knowledge that our heroes aren’t alone, that this system doesn’t work, that revolutions can happen.
We don’t really see the consequence on-screen. People comment on how curious it is the Diamond mech smashes up all these buildings and bridges and stomps through the streets in CYM, and the only background Gem who seems aware is that one astonished Topaz outside Yellow’s chamber. Like, where is everyone? This is world-shattering stuff going on outside.
By the end of season five, the show was quite literally running on borrowed time (The final six episodes seem to be appropriated from the order of what would soon become Steven Universe Future.), so it does what it can, hits the vital moments and whittles down everything else. With just 88 minutes to sell a season’s worth of story, they consolidate and breeze by any larger issues and implications outside of the core cast.
Against all odds, the show more or less nails the landing, albeit at a breakneck speed. It’s really miraculous they got it to work at all, let alone as well as it does. Ideally, though, it needed a few more episodes to breathe, set up further context and meaning and character work; cement its themes, ground them in tangible emotions and character development, and manage the tension leading into the final moments.
“Legs from Here to Homeworld” is nuts, and could have developed better as two or more chunks, establishing the fragile nature of the CGs’ truce with the Diamonds and exploring Steven’s deep sense of responsibility and determination in the face of now more-latent bigotry. We needed at least one more episode before the ball to add to the build-up and to further establish the people living in this society and what they’re dealing with, and how they pretend that they don’t really feel about it.
A huge missing beat is a further bottle episode in Stevonnie’s holding cell. This is the perfect moment to pause and compile our lead characters as they roll toward the end. What the story calls for is deep personal discussion juxtaposed against rising society breakdown. Eleven roiling minutes of Stevonnie talking to themself in the dark as word spreads of the events at the ball and they start to hear at first vague signs then riots and confusion break out around them. They sit helpless, locked up for who knows how long on this alien world, unsure how to balance introspection with personal survival with worry for everything outside of their grasp. Talking through self-blame, settling on confidence in who they are and their right to exist. As the world breaks through even into their tiny cell, the despair and anxiety of failure turn to a growing realization they may have kicked off something big and the uncertainty over whether or not that’s a good thing.
This is the discussion we’re missing, because there just isn’t time for that kind of build-up. The one place where all of that really breaks through to the screen is in “Together Alone.” And of course Stevonnie’s presence here as the inciting element of this revolution—just by virtue of their unashamed existence—is kind of the centerpiece that the show has been building toward since episode seven. They anchor all the trans elements, the repression. They are the ideal, largely innocent version of the experience Rose wishes she could have had. The thesis statement of what could be. They’re not exactly what Steven asked for way back in season 1a, but they are a femme-presenting giant enby. Of course they would bring down tyranny by example in the moment that everyone else gets to see what they’re missing in life, and that it’s actually possible.
“Together Alone” is a clumsy episode, burdened with more than it can handle. But gosh is it ever crucial. Just take a step away from plot for a moment, and appreciate the sheer cosmic audacity of this revolution, overlaid with the creeping horror and tragedy of the personal story. It couldn’t happen any other way. The truth was going to come out, and it was always going to change everything.