At the beginning of Steven Universe, Rose Quartz was a venerated, absent presence. Everyone missed and mourned for Steven’s mother. For Pearl and Greg her death was at their center. To Steven, Rose was a question mark, a portrait hung over the door that always left him wanting more. To the Crystal Gems, she was a perfect, noble leader. Now, on the other side of Season 5, Rose’s secrets are exposed. She often had good intentions, she loved the Earth, she loved the Crystal Gems, she loved Greg and Steven. She was not a good person.
What makes Rose so problematic? Why are feelings for a figure characterized by kindness and laughter suddenly so complicated? Well, SPOILERS AHEAD but for starters…
10 Rose Lied To EVERYONE
Everyone reading this already knows what's coming. Rose Quartz, the leader of the Crystal Gems’ rebellion, was born-- created?-- Pink Diamond. The episode “A Single Pale Rose,” shows her creating the Rose Quartz persona out of boredom. She first infiltrated the ranks of her guard of Quartz Soldiers, then fell in love with the planet she was supposed to be strip mining.
Seeking her own freedom, she led a rebellion, declared war on the Gem Homeworld and the Diamonds, and risked thousands of lives. She faked her own shattering and let her Homeworld family mourn for thousands of years. She told neither the Homeworld Gems nor her surviving followers on Earth who she really was.
Of course, there was one person who knew the truth...
9 She Forced Pearl To Keep Her Secrets
Pearl loved Rose. There was nothing anywhere near the borders of right and wrong she wouldn’t have done for her Diamond, lover, and friend. Even knowing this, Rose’s last act as Gem royalty was giving Pearl an unbreakable order: she could never tell anyone about Pink Diamond or her Shattering.
It hurt Pearl’s psyche, knowing this giant truth she was physically incapable of sharing. Perhaps Rose’s motives were pure at the start, but she used the Crystal Gems to free herself from a life she never wanted, and she almost used Pearl up in the process. It was an unforgivable thing to do to someone she loved.
8 She Forgot She Could Talk To Her Family
In the Season 5 finale episodes, viewers finally go to know the Crystal Gems’ most powerful enemies, the Diamonds. At first, they seemed like true villains-- and in fairness, they are the eternal despots of a perpetually expanding stellar empire. However, Steven learned that Blue and Yellow and even White cared about Pink. Blue spent more than 5,000 years crying, trying to perfectly preserve what was essentially her daughter’s memory. Yellow reacted to Pink's disappearance with rage, pouring herself into conquest and avoiding her feelings, crushing even more worlds under Homeworld’s heel.
In a way Rose was right to leave-- the Diamonds abused her, couldn’t accept her. Instead of speaking out against the injustice she saw she faked her death and provoked an interstellar war. Rose learned to talk to Greg. If Pink had learned to talk to the other Diamonds she could have saved billions of lives.
7 She “Forgot” About The Cluster
Rose Quartz made the Earth her home and with the other Crystal Gems she swore to defend it. Too bad the planet-destroying geo-weapon at Earth’s core slipped her mind.
Earth was Pink Diamond’s planet. She was in charge of Earth’s conquest and, as she also led the rebellion against the Diamonds, was the perfect double agent. She must have known Homeworld had slipped a massive collection of Gem shards into Earth’s core but she told no one about the experimental weapon that was definitely going to destroy the world. Why? She may not have wanted to confront the problem, or have been too ashamed of her previous attempt at preserving Earth’s life, The Zoo. Regardless, she did nothing but leave The Cluster as a problem for her son to solve.
6 She Left The Crystal Gems Unprepared For Steven
Rose gave up everything for her son-- literally. After his birth there was nothing left of her. She knew what she was doing. She knew she was making a new life, and that Steven’s existence would end hers.
Rose also understood that her Crystal Gems were fanatical warriors, perfectly loyal and perfectly lost without her. In “Three Gems and a Baby” Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl kidnap the infant Steven away from his father’s care. They don’t understand what he is or where Rose has gone, and Pearl even talks about removing Steven’s Gem-- a horror we later see perpetrated by White Diamond. Only Pearl’s love for Rose and Garnet’s wisdom prevent a tragedy from unfolding.
5 She Bubbled Bismuth
When Steven found Bismuth’s Gem, bubbled and locked away inside of his lion (long story), the audience had every reason to trust Rose’s judgement. Then a confused Bismuth attacked Steven and tried to shatter Steven’s Gem. This reinforced the idea that Bismuth was dangerous. And she was dangerous-- to Pink Diamond.
As Bismuth herself pointed out, the Pink Diamond revelation shows Rose's behavior in a terrible new light. Rose attacked Bismuth, a friend who trusted her completely, and disappeared her for selfish reasons. Only Rose (or Steven) could find Bismuth, and Rose didn’t leave any clues about her whereabouts. She was willing to let her friend disappear forever.
4 She Ignored Pearl’s Damage
Pearl spent thousands of years with Rose, secure in herself and in the knowledge that Rose would always choose her. When Rose chose Greg instead Pearl's security ended. Her sense of self-worth was destroyed when Rose died. Rose's decisions were not entirely wrong-- Rose deserved to be happy with Greg and she deserved to have the child she wanted. She had the right to trade her life for her child's.
Even when Rose was learning to care about others, though, it’s obvious she didn’t see what she was doing to her Pearl. Rose and Pearl were together for thousands of years. They loved each other. There’s little evidence she tried to soften these blows for Pearl and whatever she did do, it clearly wasn’t enough. Pearl shows signs of untreated PTSD and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and her instability has endangered both the Crystal Gems and Steven’s life.
3 She Left Monsters In Her Wake
For much of the series the Crystal Gems’ primary mission is protecting Earth from dangerous Corrupted Gems-- monsters. All well and good, but what about protecting Earth from Rose’s special monsters?
There’s the peculiar mutated moss that Steven encountered in “Lars and the Cool Kids.” Not actually malicious, it still could have consumed Beach City, but it was Rose’s favorite. It was placed in half-baked quarantine instead of being bubbled or destroyed.
Similarly, Rose created Lion, Steven’s willful and uncanny “pet.” Fortunately, the (admittedly delightful) beast isn’t interested in normal prey (or people). However, he is stubborn, eccentric, functionally immortal, and powerful enough to destroy a major metropolis. Rose lived on Earth for thousands of years. She “bent the rules” for any creature that caught her capricious fancy. How long before similar monsters emerge?
2 She Built A Human Zoo
Blue Diamond carefully guarded her daughter-figure’s legacy. Her regret and love forced her to. This included the Zoo that Pink Diamond established as a sort of animal preserve. To her credit, the Zoo seems to be an Eden-esque garden of bliss for its inhabitants. To her detriment, she stole dozens of people from their families and deprived them of even the illusion of free will, keeping their descendants in bondage for thousands of years.
Disturbingly, Pink must have been the Zoo’s architect as well. She must have designed the Zoomans’ behavior routine, their cycle of constant benign distraction, their choice-free system of pairing and mating. As Rose Quartz, she did start to appreciate both human beings and human rights but she never tried to free her prisoners. An order from Pink Diamond could have returned every Zooman to Earth.
1 She Started A Thousand Year Interstellar War
We see the fallout from the Gem War everywhere in Steven's universe, from the Corrupted Gems to Lapis’ mirror. The psychological damage inflicted on the Crystal Gems and Homeworld Gems alike is horrific. The toll on prehistoric human life must have been similarly terrifying, as godlike superbeings battled not just on the planet’s surface but deep within it.
Rose started this destruction with no clear plan because of personal dissatisfaction. She underestimated Homeworld’s tenacity. Worse, she tried to end the war by faking her Shattering. The Diamonds were fierce warrior goddesses who loved her. That misstep led to Earth’s Corruption, and the thousands of years of suffering and bestial madness that followed for almost every Gem left on Earth. At the end she did her best for her followers and friends, but her mistakes were too large to ignore.
Rose understood this and never forgave herself. She grew and matured because of her failures. She understood the value of life and of guilt… thousands of years too late.