This Steven Universe review contains spoilers.
Steven Universe Future Episode 14
Steven Universe Future and Steven Universe as a whole have utilized metaphors in very powerful ways. Fusion alone is one of the series’ biggest, standing in for intimacy of all kinds. Even in recent episodes, Steven turning pink and dealing with his Gem fueled dreams seemed to be continuing the series’ use of metaphors.
“Growing Pains” however rips the series out of the realm of metaphors and into plain text. When Steven starts morphing in grotesque ways, Connie forces him to go see her mother at the hospital. It’s there that Steven has a bombshell dropped on him. Connie’s mother figures out that Steven’s body is reacting to trauma, even if it’s in a Gem-like way. They don’t give it a Gem name or try to make it seem alien. She flat out tells Steven he’s dealing with trauma.
“Adverse childhood experiences or childhood trauma can have a long lasting impact on how your body responds to stress.”
Its here the series brings everything it’s ever done to Steven to the fore. All of those times Steven thought he was going to die. All the times he thought his family was dying. In those past episodes Steven was able to recover and mostly laugh it off but it left deep scares on his psyche. We saw in “Mindful Education” he dealt with the trauma of Eyeball Ruby but there’s so much more that’s happened to him.
I’m glad this episode mentioned what happened in “Cat Fingers” because as much as it became a bit of a body horror joke amongst Steven Universe fans, that experience was genuinely horrific. As we see now, it truly was traumatic. Connie’s mom continues to tell Steven that his body “has been subjected to a harmful amount of stress. That’s affecting your ability to respond to new forms of stress in a healthy way.”
There have been a lot of powerful moments in Steven Universe. Moments that felt “painfully real.” This though? This cut me to the core because, as I’ve discussed in earlier reviews, I’m also a victim of trauma and this is what I’ve had to deal with everyday for my adult life. Steven was constantly dealing with new forms of trauma throughout his childhood. Even what that stopped, those feelings didn’t go away.
“Your body is responding to minor threats as if your life were in danger.”
It’s all Steven knows how to do. It’s the only way he’s survived in the past and it’s the only way he thinks he can survive now. The little problems of his present get saddled with the big reactions to the trauma in his past.
For so long Steven has avoided these feelings. Tried to shove them down. Pretend like everything is fine. Even when others offer him help, like Greg over the phone at the start of the episode, he can’t accept it. His trauma puts up a wall between himself and others. He’s afraid of how they’ll react. That he’ll be put in danger if he tells them what’s really going on. He doesn’t want to bring them down, doesn’t want to add their problems. When, of course, they’d do anything for Steven but he hasn’t been able to see that… until now.
Greg rushes in to help Steven and he finally breaks down. Steven hopelessly asks,
“How do I live life if it always feels like I’m about to die?”
That’s a huge question, the biggest and hardest question the show has ever asked. It’s taken years to get to this point but the payoff has been worth it. Steven is going to have to face his trauma head on. He physically can’t ignore it anymore. It’s killing him inside. It all feels too big and he doesn’t have the answers… but he does get some support for Greg. That’s the first step. He asked for help. There’s still a road ahead and we’ve got six more episodes so this isn’t the end for Steven’s trauma. It’s only the beginning. If you thought this was the worst it could get for Steven? I have a feeling it’ll be even worse.
Steven Universe Future is a masterpiece of television. I was shocked that they actually called what Steven’s been going through trauma and proceeded to explain what causes it. This is going to help so many people who watch it. So many people who have no idea why they feel so bad all the time will finally have SOMETHING tell them why. The power of that can’t be understated.
Steven Universe is taking all the power it’s amassed over its run, all the love, all the critical acclaim, all the awards, and using it to explore real and genuine trauma. Not couched in any kind of metaphor but plain and direct. I can’t wait to see how it continues this in the episodes to come. We’re in for the realest moments Steven Universe has ever had.
Also, Dog Copter is gay. Bless.