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Recap / Steven Universe S4E11 "Adventures in Light Distortion"

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WARNING: Those with photosensitive epilepsy should watch this episode with caution.

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Steven and Garnet warp into the Beach House to be greeted by Pearl and Amethyst. Steven calls for action to catch up to Blue Diamond who took Greg from Earth. After a short discussion, they conclude Blue Diamond and Greg's destination to be Pink Diamond's Zoo, an insidious establishment where Pink Diamond brought the humans she had captured as trophies of her conquest. The Crystal Gems set off in the Roaming Eye after a safety inspection by Peridot, and Steven is eager to go to the point where he leaves Connie, Lapis, and Peridot with protecting Beach City in their absence. During the flight through space, the Crystal Gems encounter the asteroid belt and navigate around it. Afterward, they encounter the Ruby squad members Doc, Navy, and Army on their windscreen before flying off back into space. They plan on rescuing them on their way back.

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Steven asks Pearl how long it will take to reach the Zoo. Pearl reads the panel and determines they will arrive in seventy human years. Steven is concerned as Greg is not healthy enough to live that long. Garnet and Amethyst recall Peridot's mention of the gravity engine and its ability to bend reality. Pearl claims it would just alter the definition of speed by manipulating space-time and questions how it would affect organic matter. Steven takes the chance of turning into a pancake and activates the gravity engine.

Amethyst, Garnet, and Pearl are shortened to the height of Rubies; Pearl appears irritatedSteven wakes up from a blackout to see the Gems shortened. Pearl, trying to understand what is happening, explains that they are in a situation where there is no effect of normal laws of physics. Steven notices that they are shortened thanks to the ship being calibrated for Rubies. Then he attempts to change the settings to return the Gems to normal but instead causes them to morph to the sizes of different Gem types. Steven tries to adjust it manually but morphs the Gems into chaotic shapes lacking integrity. Steven eventually causes the system to return an error. He presses the 'X' on the screen which deactivates the calibration and causes the ship to fly faster.

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Steven, pinned back to the pilot seat due to the immense speed, sees the screen indicate their destination is being approached at an alarming speed, threatening to cause a collision. In an effort to stop the ship, Steven pushes himself to touch the screen, initially failing to do so. Then he mourns the situation, claiming he should have never gone to Korea and let Greg be abducted by Blue Diamond. With the acquired determination from his distress, he finally manages to slow the ship down.

As everything returns to normal in the ship, the Crystal Gems rejoice, revealing that the velocity of the ship after the calibration had turned down was larger than the speed of light, tampering with Gems' light forms. It is then seen in the distance their destination has been reached.


Tropes:

  • Adaptive Ability: Pearl describes Gems' Hard Light body constructs in more detail; they naturally adjust their apparent mass in relation to local air pressure and gravity. This has to be mechanically maintained within a field on their ships as they engage FTL, necessitating controlled settings for specific Gem types.
  • Alcubierre Drive: The Roaming Eye has a gravity engine that warps local reality to change the definition of speed for FTL travel.
  • Art Shift: The episode gains a 3D stereoscopic effect when Steven disables the containment field.
  • Artistic License – Physics: The whole episode is based on the principles of gravitational-lensing and Faster-Than-Light Travel affecting beings made of Hard Light, but the applications are loose, to say the least.
  • Asteroid Thicket: Pearl has to navigate the Roaming Eye through one of these on their way to the Zoo.
  • Body Horror: The Gems' altered appearances can be funny at best, and horrifying at worst.
  • Call-Back:
    • The Roaming Eye smacks into three of the five Rubies (specifically Doc, Navy, and Army) on its way through the asteroid field. Steven says they'll pick them up on the way back.
    Steven: Sorry, Rubies.
    Garnet: We should really do something about them.
    • It once again slips Pearl's mind that the amount of time space travel takes will exceed Greg's natural lifespan.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • Steven guesses that Blue Diamond might want to eat Greg or put him in a zoo. Pearl says he's right, with her tone and timing implying she meant the zoo, but Steven assumes she meant the "eating" idea.
    • When Pearl calculates that they'll reach the Zoo by the time Greg's 110, Steven protests that Greg probably won't live that long. Pearl thinks it over, then asks if 109 is doable.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • As seen in "Bubbled", there's an asteroid belt within strangely close proximity to Earth.
    • When told the gravity engine "might flatten Steven's body into a pancake of skin and bones", Amethyst says bones are gross, but Garnet points out she has bones in her room.
    • While shrunk to Ruby-size, Amethyst attempts to shapeshift into the Purple Puma persona she took in "Tiger Millionaire".
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: The Body Horror could all have been avoided if Steven had just waited for Peridot to fix the settings. But he thought, from Peridot's earlier remark, that she was only changing the colors of the ship's beams from red to green.
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right: Back in "Rising Tides, Crashing Skies", one of Ronaldo's ideas as to why the hand ship came to Beach City was to "snatch up humans for a human zoo". According to Pearl and Garnet, that is exactly what Pink Diamond did regularly in the past and what Blue Diamond has done to Greg—the latter even uses a similar ship.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: Peridot says the gravity engine can bend reality, Pearl later dismisses this as an exaggeration, stating it probably just alters the definition of speed by bending space-time.
  • Dramatic Sit-Down: Invoked by Pearl after hearing about Blue Diamond taking Greg.
    Pearl: Amethyst, turn into a chair. I need to sit down.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The Roaming Eye has a gravity drive which allows it to move faster than light. Unfortunately, the Gems are made of light, so when Steven accidentally disables the containment field keeping them intact, they end up having their physical forms dragged behind the ship. The technology is implied to have been developed after the war, hence the Crystal Gems being unfamiliar with it.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • Right before she hits the ship, you can see Navy looking directly at it with an angry expression.
    • A hint to the fact that the Gems weren't poofed is that Ruby and Sapphire's gems keep their Garnet coloration, as opposed to "The Return", where their gems reverted back to their normal colors when Garnet was poofed.
  • Heroic BSoD: Steven reaches this as this ship is travelling faster then he can take, on a crash course to the Zoo, and the Gems haven't even given signs of reforming.
  • Human Pet: If Pearl and Garnet are anything to go by, the Human Zoo is meant to act as what is essentially a glorified bird cage, the humans there acting as living trophies of Pink Diamond's conquest of Earth.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: When the gravity drive is active, the ship has to use a containment field so the occupants aren't affected by the stress. Absent the field, the gravity pins Steven to his chair and causes the physical forms of the Gems to lose pace with the ship, dragging them. Amethyst mentions passing through a planet. Furthermore, light is distorted for everything else, causing a redshifts/blueshift effect, and the BGM takes on a Drone of Dread for the mood.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Pearl laments that they didn't listen to Peridot's explanation of the settings for the gravity drive, then immediately notes that this is why they don't listen to her.
  • I'm Okay!: Turns out the Gems were never poofed when Steven went disabled the containment field, as their light forms were merely lagging behind the ship thanks to them being made out of light on a vessel traveling faster than light.
  • Inertial Dampening: The ship's Artificial Gravity isn't just used to keep things in place, but to keep a Gem's Hard Light body from messing up during Faster-Than-Light Travel.
  • Involuntary Shapeshifting: Under the ship's active containment field during FTL transit, Gems are forced into whatever parameters are set for their physical forms.
  • Irony: The Gems worry about using the gravity drive because of how it will affect Steven, but they're the ones who suffer the most from it.
  • It's All My Fault: Steven tearfully blames himself for rushing the other Gems into going after Greg before they had a plan and before they knew how to properly operate the Roaming Eye.
  • I Want My Mommy!: A dramatic example. When Steven realizes the ship is about to crash into the Zoo at faster-than-light speed and he's unable to stop it, he starts crying and yelling for his father.
    Steven: DAAAAD! (Sob) I want my dad! (Sob) I just want my dad!
  • Last-Second Word Swap: Pearl nearly mentions the Gem she used to serve, but catches herself and generalizes it to serving Homeworld.
  • Must Make Amends: The Crystal Gems decide that just leaving the Rubies floating in space forever is cruel, so they decide to do something about it... eventually. Probably after they get Greg back.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: When Steven disables the containment field, causing the Gems to lose their forms and pinning him to the chair, he realizes that his impulsiveness led to this situation.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Peridot's info would have been useful ahead of time.
  • Reality Ensues: Space is enormous, and there's no way to reach Pink Diamond's zoo in under 70 years without using some method of faster-than-light travel. The Zoo orbits an exoplanet, the closest of which is 4.25 lightyears from Earth, and the Homeworld was previously stated to be in another galaxy altogether.
  • Skewed Priorities: While most of the info Peridot tries to tell the gang is important, she gets distracted with the thought of changing the color of the Roaming Eye's beams.
  • Super-Deformed: All the Gems compress to the stature of Rubies due to the ship's settings. Even Amethyst's attempt to shapeshift into her Purple Puma persona remains Ruby-sized.
    Amethyst: Huh, check it out! Puma cub!
  • Time Dissonance: Steven reminds Pearl that 70 years to reach Greg will mean that he'll likely pass away from old age by the time they reach him.

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