Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled iSteven Universe Future/i is shattering our hearts
Screenshot: Steven Universe Future
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“Now that I know I’m me, it’s like I have no idea who that is.”

Throughout Steven Universe Future, our titular hero has uttered some variation of this sentiment in nearly every episode. And at the end of every episode, his heart hurts because no one has an answer for him. Steven Universe is on a journey of self-discovery that has transformed the show into something that’s more than a little difficult to watch. At least, for adults. I think that the kids watching—if they are still watching—are getting something that they need. They’re getting a frank, raw journey about dealing with pain, confusion, and trauma. Judy Blume did that for multiple generations of children, including mine. Her writing still resonates today because she treated growing up with the gravity it deserves. And it’s clear to me that Rebecca Sugar and their collaborators have the same hopes for Steven Universe Future.

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Unfortunately, it feels like the limited series chose to front-load the lighter stories while leaving most of the meat for the second half. That stalling has made this last stretch of episodes all the more jarring. Maybe that’s the goal—to make us feel off-balance. But the further it goes, the more emotional these recaps become. And it’s hard to tell how much of myself I should put into these things. We adults have a habit of making everything we watch about ourselves and our past. We believe that responding to a child’s problems with our solutions is the best way to relate to them. I’m currently very guilty of this. I have three younger sisters—13, 10, and 6—and I often find myself recommending books, films, and music I experienced at those ages with the hope that they will also find magical healing qualities in them. Most of the time I’m wrong. It’s a grounding experience. It’s important to know you’re wrong sometimes, and children are the best reminders.

In “Mr. Universe” (A), Greg is absolutely wrong. His childish approach to parenting Steven was charming before, but it’s time for a change. There’s a reason why Greg left Steven in the care of the Crystal Gems. A lot of it has to do with who Steven is and who his mother was, but there’s more to it than that. From the beginning of the series, it’s been abundantly clear that Greg Universe didn’t know much about fatherhood. He’s reckless with money. He never sets any boundaries for Steven or himself. He’s never attempted to buy or rent a home. Hell, he can’t even remember to put on sunscreen even though he lives on the beach. All of these things make Greg cool, fun, and unpredictable. But none of those traits really work when raising a teenager, especially one as different as Steven.

When Steven blew up at Greg, it felt like a release. We love Steven for being a nice boy, but that doesn’t mean he should be a doormat. His dad didn’t prepare him for adulthood. He didn’t give him structure or a sense of stability. These are things that he needed and he has every right to be mad at Greg for not providing them. The most fascinating thing about their confrontation is that at no point does Greg consider the fact that his structured upbringing was integral to him becoming who he currently is. It wasn’t “Mr. Universe” that made him into who he was. His entire being is reactionary—he doesn’t want to be his parents. And he’s defined his entire life by that mantra. Perhaps if he had grown up like Steven, he would find himself at 16 yelling at his parents too. The whole dynamic is reminiscent of Lorelei’s relationship with her parents in Gilmore Girls. She thrives on hating her parents, so when her daughter Rory ends up loving them, it feels like a betrayal. I don’t think it would be off-base to consider that Greg hid Steven from his parents because he was afraid his son would forge a connection with them that he never could. So, he gets what he wants, but Steven doesn’t even get to choose.

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Steven is facing personal choice for the first time, and the burden of it is growing inside of him. That is the tension that fuels “Fragments” (A), a jaw-dropping episode that left me speechless. Steven intentionally shattering Jasper is a nightmarish image I won’t soon forget. And it’s a shame because Steven really does need someone to work with to harness and control the full extent of his power. We know now that Jasper can’t be that person; all she knows how to teach is war games. Steven needs to learn how to use his powers offensively as well as defensively, but he needs to train with someone with the emotional maturity t0 know when to stop pushing him. There is a middle ground between being a marshmallow and a battle ax.

Will Steven find that middle ground? Frankly, I’ve been worried that the show ends with him becoming a villain. Wouldn’t that be bittersweet? Bringing peace to the universe only to disrupt it again? It seems like that’s what Jasper has been waiting for, too. I keep thinking about her thanking Steven for essentially murdering her. How is a kid supposed to respond to that? As great as the episode is, it feels like a gigantic trauma dump on a kid who has seen enough death and despair to last a lifetime. Hopefully, the fallout of this leads to more healing. Steven can’t handle much more pain. Someone needs to get through to him, and fast.

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Stray observations

  • Was that Jemaine Clement singing “Mr. Universe”?
  • I want to meet Steven’s grandparents!!!
  • Greg is... kind of a loser, huh?
  • When will someone on this show see a therapist?
  • Steven has discovered sarcasm and it’s weird!
  • “Lesson 2: SHUT UP” is such a good line, it almost made me like Jasper.
  • The DBZ vibes in “Fragments” are off the charts.
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Jourdain Searles is a writer, comedian, and podcaster.

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