Ep. #23 ORIGINAL AIR DATE: Sept. 11th, 2014 SONG: No SYNOPSIS: Steven befriends a monster.
The Crystal Gem's latest mission has them facing an ice monster inside a snow-covered mountain. It's the only thing between them and the Shooting Star, another Gem item. Garnet easily knocks it down, but the battle causes a cave-in. Garnet quickly bubbles Steven and warps him away to safety.
Steven ends up in the temple basement where he breaks free. He accidentally lands on one of the bubbled gems that usually makes up the monsters the team constantly fights. This one is unique because it's the first one ever seen in the show: the Centipeedle. The bubble pops, unleashing the dreaded beast. Luckily for Steven, it doesn't turn into its gigantic form, but a bite-sized version of itself, no bigger than a cat. The Centipeedle looks lost and scared, something the empathetic Steven quickly picks up on. He tries to bond with the creature, but the Crystal Gems return at just the right time to separate the two. Steven vouches for the Centipeedle, trying to spare the poor thing from their wrath. Garnet relents since she can't say "no" to Steven's precious face (who could? He's such a pure soul) and instead suggest that he try and tame it.
The Crystal Gems don't take any chances regardless, they stay by Steven's side with weapons ready while he tries to calm the creature. The Centipeedle does not take this very well, so Steven suggest they watch from afar. Pearl is not pleased with this suggestion, but Garnet has faith in Steven and agrees. Once it's just him and the Centipeedle, Steven tries to soothe it.
Steven successfully befriends the Centipeedle by using the one thing all animal or animal-like creatures respond to: food. When a stray seagull tries to nab some of his chips, the Centipeedle retaliates with its acid. Steven is touched, the Centipeedle saved him! He shows the Crystal Gem the Centipeedle's new trick: it spits out acid whenever Steven makes a seagull noise. Garnet has the bright idea to use the Centipeedle's abilities to break the boulders back inside the mountain and resume their quest for the Shooting Star. It works miracles and the team reaches the Gem object.
The Shooting Star is highly violate though and Garnet must carefully fish it out with her gauntlets lest she burn her hands. The Centipeedle fearfully reacts when it sees her weapon and in a fit of anxiety, spews acid everywhere, causing another cave-in. This forces the Crystal Gems to fight the Centipeedle while a teary-eyed Steven protests. He hugs the Centipeedle while trying to remind it of their time together. Not even its acid is enough to deter him away. The Centipeedle remembers just in time to sacrifice itself for Steven when a large stalactite nearly does him in. It pushes Steven out of the way, taking the full brunt of the impact, reverting it back to its dormant state.
Garnet assures a devastated Steven that even his mother couldn't tame the monsters, but that doesn't mean Steven can't either. Perhaps once he gets a better grasp of his abilities, he may be able to restore these beings to their true forms. Steven then successfully creates a bubble for the first time, containing the Centipeedle. He reassures the Centipeedle that he will find a way to help it someday, then warps it and a bag of chips to the temple basement.
Now that season one has settled into a familiar structure, it can start to slowly unravel its basic premise. The Monster of the Week format was another narrative tool it played straight for a while; so content to introduce a beastly obstacle for the heroes to combat before doing away with it forever. Twenty-two episodes later, "Monster Buddies" admirably subverts the formula and consistently marry it with the show's theme.
Previous episodes ensured that each monster the Crystal Gems fought left behind a dormant piece of itself for them to bubble and warp back home. Though the full extent has yet to be revealed, this episode states these things are not just collectible trophies for the Crystal Gems, but creatures whom they want to cure from an allegedly corrupted state. But none of the Crystal Gems have the power to do so and Steven is still not at the stage where he can equally match Rose's powers. But Steven's sympathy is as much a healing factor and it's like him to give the Centipeedle a second chance.
I love the design of the bite-sized Centipeedle. It's a decidedly ugly-cute creature, suitably adorable for the audience to clutch their hearts in emotional "awwws" and simultaneously nasty-looking to emphasize its still feral qualities.
"Monster Buddies" continues what Steven Universe has always been good with: being sweet without the saccharine nonsense lesser shows would be plagued with. This show knows when to let in a little heartbreak.