I’ve compared Steven Universe Future to Sailor Moon, Dragonball, Twin Peaks: The Return, and perhaps most accurately, the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In each example, what I’m trying to do is make sense of a story with no real precedent in American children’s cartoons. Shows like She-Ra: Princesses of Power and OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, wouldn’t exist without Steven Universe, just like Steven Universe could not have come to be without Adventure Time. But while Adventure Time reveled in ambiguity, Steven Universe has been more direct, emotionally, and with its battles too. Every battle on Steven Universe has a direct emotional purpose and outcome. What makes Steven Universe Future so difficult to discuss at the moment is that the entire limited series is one large battle with no clear outcome: Steven is fighting with himself, and there’s no telling which side is which or what the ending of it all will look like.
Each episode we’ve seen Steven approach a problem and have it seemingly resolve, but his pain lingers. That is until “Together Forever” (A) an episode that makes it clear that Steven is not going to bounce back this time, at least not immediately. In this episode Steven is feeling directionless, so he, like many boys before him, decides the best way to solve his problems is by marrying the girl he loves. He proposes to Connie with his usual sweetness, with a picnic on the beach where they met and a beautiful song. But Connie has always had big dreams for her future and getting married now would be sure to derail them.
She’s been studying nonstop since the beginning of the limited series, attending cram school and planning for college. When Together Forever opens, she’s trying to decide between majoring in political science or sociology, which is totally in line with her personality and the adventures she’s gone on with Steven. In the past, Connie had set her studies aside to protect Steven in battle, even studying under Pearl to learn how to use Rose’s sword. For a while there, it seemed as if Connie was on her way to becoming a knight. I thought about Utena Tenjou more than once while watching her in battle. But the magical girl life was never Connie’s path and Steven was the last to know.
Watching a 16-year-old boy propose to the first girl he ever loved is such a uniquely 90s experience. It’s the kind of boundless optimism that became popular in the wake of Lloyd Dobbler, arguably the most influential 80s romantic hero to hit the screen. You can see his footprints in everything from Can’t Hardly Wait to the Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies. He’s the guy that sticks around. He’s the guy that watches the girl and loves the girl forever. But the romantic boy hero Steven reminds me most of in “Together Forever” is Cory Matthews, the boy who got it all very young and spent the rest of his tenure on Boy Meets World trying to hold on to what he had. And he succeeded because he lived in a comforting world with very little trauma or hardships. Steven, on the other hand, has only known trauma. And now he’s 16 with no idea what normal is for him or how to get it.
Thankfully, “Growing Pains” (A) pushes Steven to recognize that what he’s been experiencing is trauma. The term PTSD is never used in the episode, but that is exactly what’s going on here and why I’ve spent the first 12 episodes being so frustrated. I had no idea how worried I was about this cartoon child until I finally watched him go to the doctor and talk to a health care professional about what he’s been experiencing. As a person who goes to therapy twice a week, I know how important it is to talk to someone safe about life’s hardships. And I really hope that at this point kids are still watching, because the earlier they hear about these things, the better.
Steven has been turning pink all season, but now that Connie has refused his proposal, he’s turning pink *and* swelling into a giant. Connie rightfully brings Steven in to see her mom, who gives Steven his first-ever check-up. Connie’s mom has always been a necessary voice of human reason on the show and it’s great to see her back in the final episodes. She’s perhaps the only person in Steven’s life who treats him like a regular kid, and at this point in his journey, that’s what he needs. He’s been shouldering the burden of the universe for years now, and he’s burned out.
I don’t need to rehash the entire speech she gives him here. You watched it, you know. But I do want to add, as a person who has dealt with too much trauma in my short lifetime, that she is absolutely right about everything. Physically enduring trauma is one thing, but emotionally healing is something completely different. Just because Steven saved the universe doesn’t mean that he has the tools to save himself. That’s why it’s so important to ask for help and consider counseling in some form. That’s all I’ve wanted for Steven this entire season and that’s also what I want for everyone else.
“Childhood trauma can have a lasting impact on how your body responds to stress”, as Connie’s mother put so eloquently. “Your body is now responding to minor threats as if your life was in danger.” Steven has played his entire life on hard mode and doesn’t know how to slow down. Now that he understands that, what is he going to do about it?
- “You’re 16 years old and you’ve never been to the doctor?!” THANK YOU. SOMEONE SAID IT.
- Ruby and Sapphire encouraging Steven to propose to Connie is Peak Them.
- Dogcopter is getting married!!! And he’s gay!!! Love that for him.
- I’m not going to lie, I probably would have accepted Steven’s proposal.
- “Your soulmate is your compliment, not your missing piece.” Sage Garnet.
- That part where Connie’s mom tries to test Steven’s reflexes and his leg bubbles itself is a small moment with so much meaning.
- “How do I live life if it always feels like I’m about to die?!” is the most heartbreakingly real line I’ve ever heard.