ORIGINAL AIR DATE: Sept. 18th, 2014
SYNOPSIS: The pressure is on Steven as he must learn to activate his mother's healing powers to save Amethyst.
It started with Amethyst messing around near the edge of a cliff. Steven is terrified she'll fall, but Amethyst laughs in the face of danger. Besides, she's confident she's not going to anyway. No prizes for guessing what happens next. Amethyst lands on a rock below, causing one of her eyes to bulge. In itself a non-issue since Gem bodies are incredibly durable, but not so good when the gem on her chest is cracked from the impact. Pearl and Garnet are obviously not happy about this development, prompting them to build a fence around the cliff. Steven concludes the story after that, but Connie knows there's more to it. She pushes him to continue, but he'll only resume if he can try on Connie's glasses; in exchange she wants his juice box, even if it's just backwash.
Amethyst is steadily growing worse and the only way to fix it is Rose's healing tears. Since she isn't here, it falls to Steven to activate those tear ducts and cry out a big one for his companion. Steven tries, but those eyes are dry. They don't have any choice, they need to go to Rose's Healing Spring and fast! Amethyst is increasingly getting worse, now speaking backwards.
The Healing Spring has seen better days, brambles cover every square inch of it, blocking the watery flow needed to cure Amethyst. Pearl takes this very, very badly. Amethyst managed to get through to Steven despite her current speech mishap, telling him physical pain can cause tears. Steven attempts to prick his finger on the brambles, but the mystical plants move of their own accord, nearly turning him into a pincushion if not for Amethyst's quick thinking. Then she gets even worse, her limbs and head literally swapping places around her body.
Garnet pounds a rock through the brambles to lead a pathway to the Healing Spring. Pearl also takes this very, very badly. Rose Quartz has been a revered figure by all the major players in her life in some way or another, but Pearl is one card short of a full deck in this episode. She's doing her level best to keep it together, but she's taking this exceptionally harder than most. It's one thing to fuss over Amethyst and her cracked gem, but she's in panicked fits when she sees the state of Rose's place. Prior to that, she was the one dramatically singing her praises. "Lars and the Cool Kids" had a similar incident of the latter where Pearl spoke fondly of Rose and her magical abilities. With Amethyst at the risk of potentially dying - itself a rarity for Gems - and the mess that is her beloved Rose's place, this opens up another interesting aspect of Pearl and how she specifically views her former leader.
Inside the heart of the brambles is Rose's fountain. Her tears aren't flowing from it, but Steven thinks he's getting emotional from seeing his mother's statue. He feels them coming, but nothing happens. Disappointed, Garnet and Pearl tells Steven to keep an eye on Amethyst while they figure out what's keeping the water plugged in. The look on his face is all that is needed to show just how embarrassed and guilty Steven feels. Pearl and Garnet tries to support the kid, but even he knows he's nowhere near his mother's league. Steven has always felt the need to live up to his mother's legacy, but until now, he never truly felt the pressure others unintentionally placed on him to do so. Steven isn't Rose Quartz, but he carries her powers, who else can he be?
This takes a huge toll on Steven. He's so frustrated with his uselessness and even more so because everyone is acting weird. He sits next to his mother's statue and starts talking to it, expressing a lot of feelings he's likely bubbled up or never knew he had until now. He has no idea how to feel about her and that's why the tears aren't flowing. He wishes he knew, so he could cry and help everyone, but the fact of the matter is, Rose is but a figure in his life as told through other people's lens. She's not a memory, she has never interacted with him after he was born, she was just gone, inevitably a figure in his life that can only be told secondhand. Steven was righteously angry at Lars in "Lars and the Cool Kids" when the latter insulted his mother, but it's easy to defend one's parent during an emotionally heated moment, especially one with a glowing track record. But when there isn't an external obstacle, but one internally between him and his mom, all the fears come to the forefront. I can't imagine how guilty Steven must be when his general feelings for his mother is apathy.
Steven eventually cries, but that's because he cares about someone he does know: Amethyst. The brambles return and aggressively attacks the two. With no hope, Steven apologizes to Amethyst for being unable to cure her. He sobs, a tear landing on Amethyst's Gem...
...and nothing. His teardrop did not heal Amethyst. Steven is annoyed, but then the fountain bursts with Rose's tears, pushing the brambles back and blooming them into roses. Steven is underwater where he briefly hallucinates the Rose Quartz statue coming to life to rescue him. He swims up for air and finds Amethyst back to normal thanks to the wave of tears now flowing around them. Steven thinks his tears brought the fountain to life, but it was really Garnet and Pearl unplugging the clog. Pearl then tells Steven he's useless and they don't want anything to do with him. Okay, the last one was a lie, it's just something Steven feels even now as he finishes his story.
Connie tries to cheer him up, but Steven fears without any powers, he won't ever get to hang out with the Crystal Gems or prove he's of any use to them. Connie says he doesn't need any to spend time with her. The kids hold hands and it seems they're having a moment, but she gets distracted when her visions suddenly blur despite wearing glasses. She takes them off and finds she now has perfect vision. Steven realizes he does not have healing tears, but healing spit! The backwash from the juice box Connie drank fixed her eyes.
Steven bolts to tell the Crystal Gems, leaving Connie to ponder the ramifications of this. After all, how she's gonna tell her parents that she can see now? She answers her own question by popping the lens off of her glasses and placing them back on her face, signifying another transformation for her own personal journey.
"An Indirect Kiss" is another sincere, heartfelt episode that has characters questioning their complex feelings and playing with our expectations. It's easy to give Steven healing tears at the end of the episode, but it keeps dangling the carrot above our noses, thinking he'd never get one of Rose's coveted abilities until the tail end when he does. Really, isn't it appropriate for Steven to have healing spit?
It's just as easy to imply that Steven would bask in his mother's love, but the truth of the matter is, much of the praise Rose gets comes not from him, but the Crystal Gems and Greg. In fact, Steven doesn't really have a lot to say about his mother until just now. He's defended her before, but much of how he views his mom has been reactive to whatever story the Gems and Greg were telling him at the time. This is the first real episode where Steven gets introspective and freely confesses how he feels without any outside influence. It's a complicated emotion that doesn't have an easy answer. Is it wrong that he can't muster the same level of enthusiasm the others can? By default, shouldn't he love his mother unconditionally? There's no doubt Steven does and he wants so badly to live up to her legendary status, but how can you visibly form an opinion of someone you never really met? Steven only knows his mother is kind and generous because the Crystal Gems and his father told him so. As he gets older and more pressure is put on him to utilize his powers, he starts to feel the weight and wonders if this is as simple as he once made it out to be.
This isn't getting to the unintended pressure the Crystal Gems put on Steven. All his powers, his skills, and future is dependent on how Rose did it. Garnet is the closest to supporting Steven's unique methods at least, but even she falls into that trap. Suddenly living up to Rose Quartz isn't much fun at all. At least he now has healing powers. His reaction upon receiving it is childish squeals; a small comfort, but one deserved after beating himself up so much.