Let’s Talk About Garnet
I humbly submit that Garnet’s reveal at the end of season one is the moment Steven Universe transcended from “a great TV show” to “game-changing media.” It also introduced us to how the show likes to do its grand reveals. Lots of fans guessed, by way of deliberately placed clues, that Garnet was a Fusion–but surprise, she is a Fusion of two Gems IN LOVE! Steven Universe will give you the satisfying “aha! I knew it!” moment supplemented with the “but I never knew that!” gasp-worthy twist. It’s magic, and it’s damned fine writing.
Garnet’s development as a character is done masterfully over the first two seasons of the show. She’s introduced as the ‘mysterious, stoic’ type. We know she’s an awesome fighter. We know she’s dedicated to protecting Earth. We know she believes in Steven.
We know basically nothing else.
“I thought… violence… would be the answer.”
The first solely Garnet-focused episode is “Arcade Mania”. It’s the first time we learn Garnet has three eyes, that Gems can have non-humanoid markers at all. It’s also the first time we explicitly get a glimpse of one of Garnet’s weaknesses: she can be single-minded to a fault. It’s no surprise that two episodes later, in “So Many Birthdays”, Garnet loses her cool completely when faced with Steven’s potential demise-by-magical-aging. If there isn’t a solution that involves brute force, Garnet can struggle with solving a problem at all.
Ruby’s penchant for punching and Sapphire’s pertinacious nature combine to make a character who can be so aggressive those closest to her are actively scared of her. I doubt very much Garnet has done anything to Pearl or Amethyst to make them fear her physical prowess, but 5000+ years of fighting is ample time to see what a Gem like Garnet is capable of. Her attempts at diplomacy fail utterly in “Mirror Gem”, and she accomplishes nothing but accidentally terrifying both Steven and the audience. In “Secret Team”, Pearl and Amethyst are so scared of her disapproval that they are willing to lie to her if it means she won’t discover their failure.
Garnet is a veteran. Sometime chronologically between “The Answer” and “Gem Glow”, violence became the solution to (and likely the cause of) her problems. And while Steven Universe does not condemn fighting when it’s necessary (“that’s why we have to fight them!”), Steven is supposed to symbolize a new era of Crystal Gemness, which exhausts all peaceful options before resorting to violent ones. Garnet is learning, as we see in “Warp Tour” and her treatment of Peridot over the course of “Log Date 7 15 2″.
“Sorry, I panicked.”
While Garnet is a quietly supportive force, she can flounder in social situations. This is most obvious when she’s forced to interact with the more human elements of Steven’s life, like in “Fusion Cuisine” and “Love Letters”. This might be in part because Garnet is honestly shy, but it is also because Garnet is woefully uncreative. Who needs improvisation when you’ve got future vision? Garnet is, however, capable of supreme patience. When she takes the time to consider multiple angles, she can usually parse out the best course of action. With Steven’s influence softening her “punch first, punch later, maybe ask questions while punching” approach, Garnet is starting to recognize her blind spots, and growing to be a better leader because of that.
Garnet’s struggles with interpersonal relationships are particularly fascinating considering she is a love fusion. After the reveal, the show treats her as a relationship expert. She provides Jamie with a refreshingly frank discussion on love and crushes. It was her advice to Greg that allowed him and Rose to finally speak to each other as equals. As relationships go, there are few more stable than the one between Ruby and Sapphire, able to weather wars, bigotry, and grief, and end up all the stronger for it.
“Garnet’s the boss.”
While it’s undeniable that Ruby and Sapphire’s bond is powerful, the idea that they and Garnet are infallible is partially the source of Garnet’s struggles. She is perceived by her teammates as ‘perfect,’ and she’s afraid of breaking that illusion and letting them all down. In “Rose’s Scabbard”, failing to emotionally support her flailing teammate, Garnet is left physically supporting the fallen portrait of Rose Quartz, a visual metaphor for how Garnet is struggling to carry Rose’s mantle. For better or worse, the Gems borderline-worship Rose Quartz as a commander and comrade, and Garnet frequently feels like she falls short of Rose’s legacy.
Garnet never chose to be a leader; she had that position thrust upon her. Steven looked to her as a protector, Amethyst as a role-model, and Pearl as an anchor, but Garnet isn’t comfortable with any of these things. She’s a fusion between two romantic equals, and she excels in relationships where the power dynamic is exactly that: balanced.
“You’re not the best conversationalist.”
We begin to see that Garnet isn’t naturally silent and inscrutable. “The Answer” shows how she was in her first few formations; clumsy-footed and doe-eyed, still marvelling at the Earth and her newfound puppy love. A thousand years of war, subsequent exile, and death of one of her nearest friends made her build barriers to hide her inner softness. It is only as Amethyst, Pearl, and Steven become more aware of her fears and insecurities that she starts letting those walls down, and we see the more open personality lurking beneath. She’s supportive. She has a quietly dry sense of humor. She’s affectionate. When she’s happy, she can be downright giddy. Garnet’s lack-of-visor is a visual queue for vulnerability, and more and more she has been taking it off by choice.
“Tiny hands! My only weakness.”
Garnet’s relationship with Steven is one of the most touching in the entire series. From the beginning, it had a solid base, with Garnet supporting him despite Pearl (and Amethyst’s) doubts. However, their dynamic was initially restrained. It had none of the open ‘mothering’ of Pearl, or the playfulness of Amethyst. “Garnet’s Universe” was when we started to see some of Steven’s underlying insecurities about their relationship. In his fantasies about Garnet’s secret life, he theorizes that the only reason she’s never told Steven she loves him is because she isn’t “strong enough.” Garnet must have picked up on the subtext, because after that we start seeing her more openly attempting to bond with him– whether it be playing board games, exercising, or entrusting him with the power of Future Vision. Ultimately, it’s him learning about Ruby and Sapphire that allows their relationship to truly shift. Coming from a society that completely rejected her based only on who she was, Garnet harbored fears for what Steven’s reaction might be. Of course, that fear was unfounded. Steven’s reaction to the truth was a smile and star eyes, and knowing this key element of her identity was what allowed them to bond even further. After all, in a very real sense, he’s a fusion of love as well.
“I can be brash, you can be reckless.”
We see development between Garnet and Amethyst as well. The tension between them is first explored in “Tiger Millionaire”, where Garnet realizes how her high expectations have been stifling Amethyst, and begins to lighten up a little more. However, it still takes a while for their relationship to get to a healthier place. Both of them have rather extreme personalities which can lead to them getting carried away. This is personified through Sugilite’s wild behavior in “Coach Steven”, which only truly makes sense in retrospect. Individually, neither Garnet nor Amethyst are particularly angry or violent towards Pearl… but put together, Sugilite is their anger and impulsiveness magnified, their resentment at Pearl’s conduct post-Rose’s death brought to the bristling bubbling surface. It’s only in “Reformed” that the two finally begin to address their issues aloud, and Amethyst realizes that there isn’t some ideal mould Garnet wants her to fit. Sugilite’s second appearance, however brief, shows a far more restrained and focused fusion.
“Sometimes I look up to you for strength.”
Pearl and Garnet’s relationship is particularly fascinating. Initially, they seemed to be equals, sitting together somewhere ‘above’ Amethyst. Then as the series progressed, Garnet was shown to be more and more of the leader… the person Pearl turned to when she was unsure, someone she clung to (literally) for emotional security. This came to head in “Cry For Help” and the ensuing fallout. Pearl finally crossed a line, lying to Garnet in order to feel the strength being Sardonyx gives her. Garnet, justifiably, lashes out, and without her approval Pearl nearly falls apart. It’s only under threat of imminent death that they sort out their issues. Pearl comes to understand that the perceived ‘gap’ between them is something that she mostly created herself. Since then, they’ve once more been on more equal footing, and Pearl has succeeded in finding strength in herself rather than external sources.
“Go ahead and try and hit me if you’re able
Can’t you see my relationship is stable?”
Garnet is a metaphor for queerness. Her very existence is seen as “shameless” and “disgusting” for daring to practice a relationship that is outside the cultural norms of Homeworld. Yet Garnet is sure she’d “rather be this [and] rather do this than anything,” because it’s as Garnet that she’s able to feel everything Homeworld society deprived her of: a sense of purpose, camaraderie, and self-worth.
Garnet’s initial formation wasn’t a choice, just something that happened because of dire circumstances. Once Ruby and Sapphire were visibly ‘outed,’ however, there was no going back. For breaking the social norms of her society, Ruby faced immediate punishment– namely, death. In comparison, high ranking Sapphire could have escaped retribution entirely– but it’s a testament to her empathy, and the sheer emotional intensity of fusion, that she couldn’t bear seeing Ruby executed. Instead, she fled, and Ruby and Sapphire were left trying to rediscover who they were and what they meant to each other. Theirs is not a story of love at first sight; they spent everything from days to months exploring the Earth and talking with each other before attempting fusion again. When they did fuse, Garnet wasn’t yet a coherent whole, but a wild splash of mismatching colours, an embodiment of the early, honeymoon stage of their relationship. In a very real way, the Ruby and Sapphire who crouched by the fire are not the same ones as the Ruby and Sapphire who argued in the Keystone Motel nearly six thousand years later. They became a couple who have dedicated their lives to each other, seen each other at their best and their worst, and are all the closer for it.
For all that Garnet is immensely proud of her identity as a fusion, the choice has nonetheless lead her to a lot of strife. Part of it is internalized fear and hatred… but a lot of it is guilt. “Keeping It Together” makes it abundantly clear that Garnet (or at least part of her) blames herself for the creation of the forced fusion experiments. She was a novelty to Homeworld, one despised, but one who was no doubt coveted when her true strength was revealed over the course of the war. As the Crystal Gem army became to rely more and more heavily on the power of hetero-fusion, one can see how Homeworld would seek to utilize that power themselves- without first coming to understand what gives fusion that power.
“I am made of love… and it’s stronger than you!”
Garnet is willful. Garnet is protective. Garnet is loving. She is an Earthling like Amethyst; a fusion of love like Steven; a leader like Rose; a fighter like Pearl. Garnet is also an embodiment of balance: Ruby is fire, Sapphire is ice.
At the beginning of the series, Garnet was off balance. Still a fusion of these two sides, but she felt compelled to only express her extremes, shown by her dominant red color scheme. When she reformed, she was more ‘balanced’ than she’s ever been before– purple, the median between red and blue.
Garnet also represents external balance. She is a fusion of romantic equals. She had difficulty relating with her family and teammates because their relationships had been thrown into disharmony. Two seasons have been spent building mutual respect and understanding, and now they are in a much better place, working together toward a common goal. Whatever the future holds for the Crystal Gems, Garnet will be there, keeping a watchful (third) eye on the proceedings.
Author: KK Bracken & Laura B
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