As an important milestone episode, Ocean Gem gave us some information to chew on. We’ve already discussed the implications of the magic mirror, and tomorrow we’ll talk about what Gem society might be like, but today we’ll be talking about the Crystal Gems and what their history might be.
Though she only talked a little bit, and about the Crystal Gems only some of the time, Lapis Lazuli still gave us more information about the Crystal Gems than we had been able to glean from the previous twenty-four episodes.
Before, all we really knew about the Crystal Gems was that they (or at least Rose) were involved in some sort of war on Earth, and that they were all that was left of Gemkind on Earth aside from artifacts and monsters.Their words and deeds both indicated a mission to protect humanity, but we were left to wonder why.
Now we have an important piece of the puzzle: Lapis is very distrustful of the Crystal Gems, telling Steven that they only care about the Earth, not other Gems.
The origins of the Crystal Gems
Right now there’s not really much to go on to say what a Crystal Gem is. It’s probably just a name given to a group of like-thinking Gems who all happened to have gems that were some form of crystal, but like so much we’re in the dark over where exactly the group known as the “Crystal Gems” comes from. The five-point star appears to be their symbol as it appears on all Crystal Gems we’ve seen and Lapis Lazuli was able to identify Steven and the others as Crystal Gems by sight despite not appearing to know them as individuals.
One chain of facts that’s easier to guess is that the Crystal Gems used to take part in the wider Gem society (Pearl is always going on about “Gem culture” and not “Crystal Gem culture”), came to Earth for some reason, and developed an appreciation for the planet that other Gems didn’t—Lapis says that she never believed in Earth, while the Crystal Gems did. Also, when offering to take Steven home, she seems to mean that they both have the same home, even though he’s a Crystal Gem and she isn’t.
Earth before the war
Everything always comes back to the Gem battlefield and temple mural from Serious Steven, and that means talking about the war on Earth. Before Ocean Gem, all that could be confidently stated was that the Crystal Gems were survivors of the conflict depicted in the pyramid temple mural.
Considering what Lapis said, it seems likely that the Crystal Gems instigated the war to protect humanity from something. The catalyst for the conflict could have been almost anything, as Lapis’s actions in trying to get home indicate that Gemkind has great power and the willingness to use it without regard for what might happen to those who might get caught underfoot.
It wouldn’t have happened immediately, however. None of the static Gem infrastructure we’ve seen suggests military preparation, though the sky arena certainly suggests an appreciation of martial prowess. Places like the Sea Spire or the Sky Spire actually suggest a cultural interest in Earth, as a meeting place and nature trail respectively. Either any fixed military structures on Earth were demolished long ago, Gems only use artifacts like the Desert Glass to construct fortifications as needed, or the war came on suddenly.
At some point, the Gems must have developed plans for Earth that would have disastrous consequences. If the Crystal Gems raised objections, then they were obviously ignored. The conflict began and Rose took her place at the head of an army, composed of either other Gems or perhaps drone soldiers (it seems unlikely that humans could prove very helpful in battle against Gems).
Something happened to end the war, perhaps the very same catastrophe that turned most Gems on the planet into monsters. Maybe Rose was losing the war and was forced to turn to powerful magic to transform her foes into mindless beasts, or perhaps one side was winning and the other side corrupted themselves in an effort to salvage victory in the conflict.
No matter how it ended, Rose won. The only non-corrupted Gems left on the planet were the Crystal Gems, containing between them just five gems out of the hundreds or perhaps thousands that were on the planet, who became its protectors.