ORIGINAL AIR DATE: Jan. 4th, 2016
SONG: Yes, "Something Entirely New"
SYNOPSIS: Garnet tells Steven the story of how Ruby and Sapphire met.
Garnet wakes Steven up at midnight since it's officially his birthday. Originally she was going to tell Steven that she was a fusion, but since he found out prematurely, she compensates by regaling him the tale of Ruby and Sapphire's first meeting.
5,000+ years ago, Gems from Homeworld have taken a stronghold on Earth. This was at the heart of the rebellion, lead by Rose Quartz. Back then, Sapphire was a rare aristocratic Gem under direct service of Blue Diamond, one of the leaders of Homeworld. "The Answer" is a smorgasbord of worldbuilding and Gem lore. This is the first major appearance of a Diamond leader (though Blue Diamond has her face veiled), but their presence has been felt from the start. You can see it via diamond symbols plastered on numerous Gem locations Steven and the Crystal Gems visited throughout the show. The episode further touches on the dramatic class divide within Gem Culture. Peridot touched on this disturbingly when she mistreated Pearl because she was "just a Pearl", one in million of similar, common Gems that only existed to serve higher Gems. Gem hierarchy seem to rely on an individual Gem's rarity. As far as I know, there is only one Blue Diamond, indicating her leadership; a few, rare Sapphires; and of course, the common Rubys.
Sapphire is escorted and guarded by three Rubys. They roughhouse for a bit until one of them accidentally collides into Sapphire (much to the shock of the Blue Diamond Court.) Ruby nervously apologizes, but Sapphire is a kind soul, so she doesn't mind. She also knew it was bound to happen since she possesses psychic visions. Sapphire reports to Blue Diamond, stating that the rebels will attack, but they'll be captured, ending the rebellion. With the future secured, all the court has to do is wait.
The Crystal Gems - just Rose Quartz and Pearl - invade the court shortly after. The Rubys defend the place by fusing together, forming one huge Ruby. Pearl easily knocks her down, taking two of the Rubys with her (reverted to their dormant Gem state, that is, never murder.) Pearl is about to do the same for Sapphire who has already accepted her fate since she knew of it, but the third Ruby defies Sapphire's vision and jumps in to save her, unintentionally fusing with her in the process. Garnet is formed for the first time or as fans have collectively called her, "Cotton Candy Garnet." It's a messy fusion, born out of random chance and last minute thinking. Pearl and Rose leave while the Court is distracted from this ungainly sight. Ruby and Sapphire quickly unfuse, but they're surrounded by the Court. They're offended a lower class Gem like Ruby fused with the likes of Sapphire. Blue Diamond personally issues an execution on Ruby. Sapphire saves the day by dragging Ruby out of the court, leaping from above to the Earth below.
This is probably the first time Sapphire has ever had to improvise. She's relied on her visions all throughout her life because it was what she saw - what was expected of her to do. Gem culture is adamant that each Gem is localized based on what they are, so they have a specific job they were made to do from the get-go. Sapphire is a prophet for Blue Diamond, it's all she needed to be. Ruby protests the entire time during the escape, noting that she's not worth saving. After all, there's tons of her. Self-sacrifice is one thing, but to have it embedded into your mind from birth is incredibly warped and a sign of severe conformity to the Diamonds' system.
Ruby takes Sapphire to a small cave to evade the rain. There, they get to know each other, prompting a musical montage as Ruby and Sapphire sing about their developing feelings, the weird situation they're in, and this crazy little thing called "fusion." Steven Universe's animation triumph is the color scheme they use on their backgrounds. Their pastel colors are beautiful and it's hard to choose one which I enjoy the most. "The Answer" is my favorite episode when it comes to this. Some of the best includes the stark black outlines of the Court amongst the fluffier blues and pinks, the contrasting red and blue, and the soft forestry and stars that emphasizes Earth's naturalistic unpredictabilities (you'll notice the Court is deliberately flat in comparison to Earth's uneven environment.) There's so many screencaps I could link you to - it's a pretty episode.
Ruby and Sapphire fuse once more, both curious and elated at this new form. Sapphire's never fused before and whenever Ruby fuses with other Rubys, she's essentially just a bigger version of herself in both body and mind. They become Garnet again, but it takes time to control her, so she slips up and falls straight into enemy territory. Pearl is about to cut her, but Rose steps in. She sees Garnet for who she is: a new possibility. Garnet has a million questions about herself and why this feels right. Fortunately, she's stumbled upon the one group that can help her. That was the day Garnet became a Crystal Gem.
Garnet concludes the story by telling her the power of love gave her a new purpose, much to Steven's awe.
If I really have to nitpick one thing in "The Answer", it's that an eleven minute episode is not enough time to establish Ruby and Sapphire's bond. Garnet declared that love at first sight doesn't exist, leaving plenty of heated debates amongst fans on this episode's supposed hypocrisy for showing Ruby and Sapphire doing exactly that.
I think it's a tad more nuanced than that. Ruby certainly was curious about Sapphire, maybe even crushed on her, but attraction to someone you barely know is a common behavior. It's not an indicator of instantaneous romance. But we know Ruby and Sapphire will fall in love and become Garnet so any innocuous gazes are obvious tips to something greater. None of them announce their love or utter devotion though, the episode is far more about their questions and the improvisation between the two in a situation they unintentionally rushed into. The answer comes later. I think the problem is pacing. I don't know if the montage indicated the passage of time, but if it did, it's hard to tell, so I don't blame anyone who thought the relationship went too fast. However, I'm not sure "The Answer" needed a full half-hour either. It told exactly what it wanted and any extras are window dressing for future developments that Rebecca Sugar and her crew wanted to hold off on. While the montage could have done a better job defining Ruby and Sapphire's affection as a slow, but gradual process, it's a standout episode otherwise; altogether beautifully animated and heartfelt.
If you didn't know about it, "The Answer" also had a picture book adaptation which quickly went on to become a major New York Times bestseller. The artwork is reminiscent of Little Golden Books and equally as vibrant as the episode. It's a swell book to own if you're a fan or a child. Though it adapts an episode that relies heavily on background material, it's written in a way that it can be enjoyed as a standalone piece. It lovingly adapts the episode, but also serves to condense Steven Universe's message into one specific piece of media: the benefit of freedom of individual expression against a major oppressive force and how changing the status quo can bring an entirely new person within you. Oh, and the Power of Love. Never forget that.