This Steven Universe review contains spoilers.
Steven Universe Season 4 Episode 17
Only a show like Steven Universe can go from a wacky Peanuts reference to confronting your deepest fears and anxieties. This episode certainly didn’t provide the answers that fans have been hoping for since the last Stevenbomb, but it does do one hugely important thing.
It sets up a road map for Steven’s next big character arc, the acceptance that his mom was a flawed person. Oh sure, he’s slowly become aware of the questionable things she did but a lot of that was denial. Steven tried to believe she had reasons for what she did and he shoved it down, which lead to the events in “Mindful Education” where this caused problems with Stevonnie.
In this episode Steven finally unleashes his anger but has to work through the denial first. When he gets to talk with his vision of Rose it all seems fine at first. The two play video games, throw a football around, and emotionally bond. While those moments seem like Steven trying to catch up on all the time he missed with his mom, they each contain clues that something is off. Her words all seem cribbed from the videotape he saw of her back in season one. He can’t take a picture with her.
The football bit especially is perhaps the best visual representation of Steven’s feeling about Rose. He keeps hoping beyond hope she won’t let him down, but no matter what it keeps happening.
Steven isn’t stupid though. He knows this isn’t really his mom. He knows he’s just having her say all the things he wants to hear. That’s when the episode takes a sudden tonal shift from introspective yet playful to downright chilling. His anger finally comes to the forefront and he lashes out that Rose is nothing but a liar, hiding from the mess she made.
He accuses her of creating him solely so she wouldn’t have to deal with her mistakes. Even if she isn’t real, he still needs to say this. He needs to get it out. The vision of Rose comforts him, that everything she said on the tape was true… But how much can we believe that? After all, this Rose isn’t real. Maybe, like earlier in the episode, this is just Steven hearing what he needs to hear.
Personally I don’t think Rose created Steven solely to run away from her problems, but it might have had an influence on her. Steven is trying to boil his feelings about his mom down to a simple black or white view. As the show goes on I believe he’ll start to realize that people are more complicated than that. After all, even Steven’s run away from his mistakes before.
He expects Rose to be better than him, when that just isn’t possible. It’s understandable he thinks that, what with the Gems talking her up so much. In dealing with these stages of grief, Steven will have to disassemble everything he’s heard about Rose and try to piece together his own image. Not one from the words of others or even the one that hangs in his house, but one he’s able to come to on his own terms.
It won’t be easy. To Steven, Rose left him with all her problems to solve. He’ll have to answer whether the sins of the mother become the sins of the son. Does he have to carry on what Rose did? Does he, as he says in the extended opening theme, have to “fight to be everything that everybody wants me to be when I grown”?
I wonder if the upcoming episode that sounds like a sequel to “Tiger Millionaire” will have Steven trying to find his own goals outside of Gem stuff. When you think about it, Steven doesn’t have a life outside of protecting Earth with the Gems. In “Mr. Greg”, Steven says he’s too busy to go to college because of Gem stuff. Steven needs to find an identity outside of that world. Maybe Tiger Millionaire will be the answer?
With Steven firmly in the anger phase of grief, how will he deal with bargaining and depression before he finally accepts what Rose did? Will he ever accept it? Only time and hopefully a Cookie Cat or two will tell.
This episode was a triumph. At first I was worried this would be another bait and switch with a chance to give us answers, but Steven Universe masterfully was able to ask even more questions while still keeping my interest. More shows could learn from it. More shows should learn from it.
Shamus Kelly learned to stay true to himself by watching himself die. Follow him on Twitter!