o watch “Gem Harvest,” Thursday night’s episode of Steven Universe, one could easily get the impression that, months ago, Rebecca Sugar and co. gazed into the future and saw that Donald Trump would be elected president just before Thanksgiving.
As millions of people across the country prepare to travel home to be with their families for the holiday, many have been asking themselves how—and even if—they’ll be able to talk to their loved ones about the larger political and cultural implications of last week’s election. “Gem Harvest” takes those tensions and weaves them into a novel spin on traditional Thanksgiving-themed cartoons.
How, the episode wonders, does a biracial kid who’s being raised by his single father and queer, immigrant aunts emotionally connect to an uncle who feels threatened by difference and change?
While Steven Universe has mostly focused on Steven’s adventures with his alien family, the Crystal Gems, “Gem Harvest” introduces his uncle Andy DeMayo, a single, middle-aged airplane pilot who balks at the idea that Steven’s father, Greg, changed their last name to “Universe” and decided to let the Gems stay on the DeMayo family’s property.
The Gems, Greg explains, were like family to Steven’s mother, and they all travelled to earth as refugees from a home planet where their lives were in danger. Rather than seeing Steven, Greg, and the Gems as a loving, blended family bonded because of their interracial differences rather than in spite of them, Andy zeroes in on the fact that technically speaking, the Gems are “illegal aliens.”
“You couldn’t even marry an American,” Andy screams at Greg in front of Steven. “You turned your back on your family name just so you could get in with a bunch of weirdo hippie, Martian immigrants. Get the heck of my planet, outta’ my country, and outta’ my barn.”
“Gem Harvest” repeatedly mines the concept of the Crystal Gems as racialized immigrants in scenes where Andy, fearful of change and foreigners from outside of his worldview, finds reasons to pick at their differences like a bothersome scab. When the Gems fashion an old plane engine into a working oven, Andy sees it as an abomination, and when Greg attempts to catch up with him about the 20 years that they haven’t seen each other, Andy shuts down completely.
It isn’t until the Gems extend an olive branch in the form of a wedding cake, a birth announcement balloon, and a tombstone, that Andy begins to understand that they’re trying to find common ground with him. While the Gems don’t fully grasp some of the human customs they’re mimicking, their love for Steven is reason enough for them to meet Andy halfway even if, on a fundamental level, they don’t see things eye to eye.
As is often the case with cartoons meant for kids, the episode wraps up pretty conveniently, despite incorporating very complicated, messy ideas from the real world. Andy comes to grips with the fact that the Gems are his family as well and they all share a nice Thanksgiving feast together as the sun sets in the horizon.
In reality, though, confrontations with bigoted or small-minded family members who have differing political opinions during the holiday season rarely end so amicably. They can be painful, wrenching experiences that drive powerful wedges between people who otherwise love one another.
Ultimately, “Gem Harvest” isn’t exactly about explaining how to win people over during family gatherings, but rather about the importance of making the effort. Even if you don’t manage to help them see things from your perspective, whatever it may be, you owe it to them to try and hope for the best.