Steven Universe 5×18 Review: A Single Pale Rose
In “A Single Pale Rose”, we delve deep into Pearl’s mind to discover the secret she was forced to keep.
Pearl’s past has long been the most mysterious of the main characters’. We knew she had been enslaved by Homeworld, and that she had turned traitor against them. But we also knew she had a paradoxical appreciation for her home society, a desire to see it again one day. Desperate to share her experiences with Steven, yet so often left speechless whenever she tried.
Finally, Steven truly ran out of patience for the secrets. Spurred by his vision in “Can’t Go Back”, he went to Pearl, demanding to know the truth: Did she kill Pink Diamond?
And Pearl choked on her own words, not able to answer. Not because she didn’t want to: because she literally could not.
One of Pearl’s greatest strengths, however, is her intelligence. She used it here to devise a plan, buried so deep in her subconscious she hadn’t even realized she made it. The phone she stored in her gemstone goes missing. With dawning realization she says, “There are many things I can’t tell you. But I can tell you that I need my cellular phone.”
Steven’s matured a lot from the goofy kid he once was. Immediately, he can tell there’s something weird going on here, but driven by curiosity and trust in Pearl, he ventures into her mindscape. It’s a premise filled with the promise being deeply metaphorical, stunning and unsettling, and it delivers.
There Steven encounters various versions of Pearl’s subconscious. Surface Pearl is upbeat, cheery, focused, and “very good at compartmentalizing”. The Pearl of fifteen years ago is heartbroken and grief-stricken about Rose’s looming death. Pearl of five thousand years ago, left on her knees in the aftermath of the war which stole nearly everything from her.
Steven gets one of the only comedic lines of the entire episodes here, and even that’s pitch black: “It better not turn out that her phone was in her pocket. Or she left it on the dresser, or dropped it in the toilet. Seems about as likely as putting it away in her repressed war memories.”
As Steven is taken one level of memories lower, I already had goosebumps running down my entire arm. Rose Quartz stands there, sword drawn, above the shards of Pink Diamond. Steven is confused about his mother’s presence in Pearl’s memories, but I wasn’t. Pearl had always shown an unexplained aversion to shape-shifting, and this explained why: she was the one who struck the final blow on Pink Diamond.
Thus the episode’s title, “A Single Pale Rose”. Pearl’s mimicry of Rose Quartz was almost perfect, but she couldn’t alter her slightly lighter color palette.
But it wasn’t over. How could it be? There were too many unanswered questions. Why get Pearl to do it? Why have her assume Rose’s identity? Why keep it a secret from all their friends? Why the compulsive mouth-covering?
The answer to all of that: Pink Diamond was never shattered. She was Rose Quartz all along, and the assassination was faked.
As shocking as this would all be, it isn’t wholly unpredictable. Indeed, Rose Quartz and Pink Diamond being one and the same had been a popular theory ever since the first broken diamond insignia appeared back in ‘Sworn to the Sword’. While the show did an excellent job of foreshadowing the reveal, its many red herrings caused the theory to falter. The other Diamonds were so much larger than Rose, and the cuts of their gems were different. It was really quite a masterful bit of misleading on the part of the writers.
So, none of that necessarily came as a shock to me. What did come as a shock? When Rose Quartz, as Pink Diamond, issued Pearl one final order. She pressed Pearl’s hands over her mouth, and ordered her to never speak of this again. It had a magical binding effect; Pearl literally could not disobey.
And so, even as she renounced her position as a Diamond, Rose Quartz also renounced the ideals of the very rebellion she was leading.
“I wanted to tell you for so long,” Pearl said to Steven, as he stared at her with the same mute horror as the audience.
It’s been apparent for a long, long time, that the relationship between Pearl and Rose Quartz was unhealthy. This episode revealed just how unhealthy it had been, and just how much of the blame was shouldered by Rose herself, for never reflecting on what she was doing to her partner. Pink Diamond was so desperate to earn her own freedom, she never noticed the freedom she was taking from those she loved.
Ultimately, though, among the tragedy and betrayal, “A Single Pale Rose” is a story of triumph for Pearl. She found a loophole. She found a way to assert her autonomy, to make her own decision. Garnet once called her the Terrifying Renegade Pearl, and that is exactly what she is.
There are a lot of implications from the reveal that Rose was Pink Diamond all along– so many, we’re switching to bullet point mode:
- Rose was at least not a hypocrite for how she reacted to Bismuth suggesting they shatter high-ranking enemies. However, it now does take on a sense of self-preservation. For all that her relationship with the other Diamonds obviously .extremely strained, did she still fear their destruction?
- If so, it seems less and less like a proper debate took place between the two… and more and more that Bismuth will be released. Let her out! Let everyone have an honest discussion! Please!
- Garnet is going to be hit very, very hard by this. We saw in ‘Your Mother and Mine’ just how much she truly idolized Rose. Discovering that backstory was a lie– and that Pearl’s free will was overruled to keep that lie– is going to hurt her.
- It’ll probably also hurt to know that if she’d been told of the plan in advance, Garnet’s future vision could have been extremely helpful in avoiding the oncoming catastrophe.
- Remember the Zoo? Rose put those humans there. Presumably later she regretted, and intended to rescue them, but…
- Well, at least the humans seemed happy. Let’s consider the hundreds of Rose Quartzes, decommissioned in the name of a defect who never actually existed, apparently bubbled by Pink Diamond herself. That is really hard to justify.
Author: Laura B
Lover of fantasy and science fiction, fascinated in how they impact the real world. Professional writer and science communicator.
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