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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Steven Universe: “Open Book”

Illustration for article titled iSteven Universe/i: “Open Book”
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“Open Book” is a bit of a comedown from last week (even including the relatively quiet episodes), but it’s important that it, or an episode like it, falls at this point in the show’s run. After so much crazy action, it’s nice to have something with a laser-sharp, small focus (even more so than “Full Disclosure”), lest we lose sight of why Steven is so special and what it is he and the Gems are fighting to protect. After Steven’s relationships with each of the Gems, his more-than-friendship with Connie is his richest relationship on the show (sorry, Greg). She’s the one who pushes Steven to understand his human side in a way divorced from Rose. She’s also the smartest character on the show, in the sense that she’s the most interested in human culture in an ordinary way. In that sense, Connie’s role is to be one of the most important characters on Steven Universe.

Still, much of that relationship has centered on Connie’s confusion that Steven would want to be friends with her, and having them bond over a book series, as they do here, is a nice way of ensuring that their interactions perpetually revolve around Gem stuff. That would get boring fast, and would make their friendship awfully one-sided. Instead, the beginning of “Open Book” suggests that Steven has learned enough about continuity to be able to carry on a spirited debate, even while he can use Rose’s room to let Connie write her own ending to the series. That’s exactly why the passive Connie we get for most of the episode is a bit of a letdown.


The ”twist,” such as there is one, is essentially the same as it was back in “Rose’s Room”—the Connie we’ve spent much of the episode with isn’t real, and is just a creation of the room to meet Steven’s wishes in a “wacky holodeck” kind of way. This is fine as far as it goes (I imagine some kids might not pick up on it), but I was actually kind of hoping that there was a reason Connie was pushing Steven to be creative in coming up with his own ending for the book. Instead, Steven somehow manages to birth some kind of separate entity, one divorced from the room’s simple responses to his voiced wishes, something that the episode doesn’t quite interrogate. Is room-Connie a manifestation of Steven’s subconsciousness? Something else? Does the room have a mind of its own?

And its use in forcing a confrontation of sorts between Connie and Steven is a little strained. “I know how you really feel,” room-Connie tells Steven as she chases him through the room. The assumption here, at least in my mind (and certainly because of the wedding dress) is that room-Connie will reveal that Steven has romantic feelings for Connie, or force him to reveal them. That plot, done totally straightforward, would be a little on the lame said for this show, hitting beats closer to those of a sitcom than anything else. (Can you imagine if this turned out to be Steven Universe’s version of “Cooler?”) Instead, Steven admits that he likes the ending of the book, because it’s “sweet” that the two main characters got together, and wouldn’t tell Connie because he didn’t want her to think less of him. That’s pretty great, turning a standard romantic plot into an examination of people’s pop culture opinions and Steven’s perceived lack of intellectual heft in relation to his smart, bespectacled friend.


But, as we found out (or had reconfirmed) in “Full Disclosure,” Connie loves Steven, and of course accepts him. Her answer to his anxiety is priceless: “Of course you like the wedding. You’re Steven. You love schmaltz.” So my major complaint about “Open Book” is that it would have only added to the emotional effectiveness of “Full Disclosure” by strengthening Steven and Connie’s relationship (not that it needed much more work after they literally fused) had it aired in its intended order. I wouldn’t have traded the Steven Bomb for anything, and I know that it’s important to try to evaluate “Open Book” as its own episode, but it’s hard not to see it in the context of “Full Disclosure” and get the sense it feels a little out of place.

Of course, that doesn’t stop Steven Universe from being Steven Universe. Rose’s room is mostly a good way to set up simple visual gags, something that boarders Hilary Florido and Katie Mitroff use in relatively subtle ways (I especially loved the sitcom-esque falcon that appears behind Steven when he gets his costume). And the closing shot of the picture Steven drew showing off his fandom of the wedding is ridiculously sweet, proving that yes, even after a week of insanity, it’s hard for any episode of this show to leave a bad taste in the mouth.


Stray observations:

  • What Connie missed about the early books in the series: “Really self-aware about being a pastiche, you know?”
  • And Connie knows that half of infinity is still infinity. She is good at math!
  • I would very much like to read a 50-page description of a wedding cake. No, I’m not hungry at all, why do you ask?
  • No “Love Like You” this week because of the original production order, but in case you missed it: It seems like season two’s closing credits will be backed by this original song from Rebecca Sugar herself.

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