It’s hard to accept that Steven has grown up. The little chubby kid who was a beacon of light and love for everyone has become a health-conscious teen, hardened by experience. He’s still Steven, though. He has the soul of a boy so optimistic that he was able to save Earth multiple times, though kindness, song, and family. The Crystal Gems wouldn’t be who they are without Steven. His love transformed them into a trio of caring, playful mothers. And unlike Steven, his mothers have essentially stopped growing in any large and meaningful ways. So now they must bear witness to the power of human aging in a way they haven’t before. Steven’s father Greg has remained largely the same, sleeping in his van with his farmer’s tan and collection of VHS tapes. But his son has been through too much to end up that way, and the more ambitious Steven gets the more the Crystal Gems realize that Empty Nest Syndrome is on the horizon.
Snow Day (B+) is the Gems’ plea for Classic Steven, the boy who wore a cheeseburger backpack, watched Dogcopter (now Pupcopter) and made Together Breakfast. But Steven is a teenager now. He drinks a protein shakes, is a vegetarian and has his own skincare routine (more on that in Stray Observations). He wakes up at 7 am and works all day, assuming most of the responsibilities for Little Homeschool. But perhaps the weirdest thing about it all is that he seems to enjoy living that way. His childhood has been so unusual, it would make sense for him to latch on to routine and a sense of stasis. Still, it feels like Steven is doing a speed run to adulthood, with little time for the kind of messing around that makes teenhood worthwhile. We haven’t seen him go on any lovey-dovey dates with Connie and because he doesn’t go to high school there isn’t much chance of Steven attending a rite of passage like prom. He has reached the time in his life where he needs to be around people his own age and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen for him. The episode doesn’t really touch on it, but I can’t help but wonder if Steven is feeling an underlying sense of isolation and is dealing with it by burying himself in work. He’s always been surrounded by parental love, but that can’t be enough, can it?
When snowfall kicks into high gear and Steven needs to cancel Little Homeschool, the Gems take it as an opportunity to have a good, old-fashioned snow day. Throughout the episode, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl are determined to make Steven take a break. Of course, he resists and the episode becomes a group effort to get Steven to play Steven Tag. The game is a fun excuse for fan service as the Gems and their respective fusions all morph into different versions of the young, chubby goofball we all love. It never occurs to them that favoring that version of him would upset him until nearly the end of the episode.
We’ve seen versions of this kind of story all across media. From movies like The Guilt Trip to the new HBO comedy Mrs. Fletcher, stories about mothers who can’t let go of their sons are a staple in media. But because the cartoon landscape is mainly populated by male creators with little interest in stories of motherhood, it’s rare to see that kind of story in a show like this. It makes me wonder how many young men are going to watch this episode and be exposed to a story that they would most often avoid. I’m incredibly curious.
A problem I’ve had with Steven Universe Future is how little time it spends with the original supporting cast. Steven is a teenager now and it would be nice to see how he interacts with Connie and early Crystal Gem converts like Peridot. “Why So Blue?” (A-) gives me a little bit of what I’ve been missing by sending Steven and Lapis on an adventure together. Despite Steven’s decree that colonialism is over, a pair of Lapises (Lapesi?) are continuing to terraform planets. The bulk of the episode is about Lapis, with her newfound love for organic life, trying to convince her fellow Gems that there is more to life than destroying. She even sings, with a joy and confidence that showcases how far she’s really come.
“How can the thing we’ve always done suddenly be wrong?” is the main question posed in this episode. It’s a question that’s currently being explored in other children’s media as of late, especially in Netflix’s She-Ra & The Princesses of Power. In that show, Adora realizes that the family she’s known her entire life is actually the bad guys. Throughout the show’s stellar four seasons, Adora must confront the damage she’s done and work to deprogram The Hord’s imperialistic hold on her and her frenemy Kat. It’s refreshing to see children’s television confront the current political landscape by looking to the past and critiquing the colonialist bodies that made the world we live in today. These explorations highlight the perils of just following orders and taking power for sport and world domination. But while She-Ra dedicates full seasons to these questions, much of the work Gems do in order to deprogram themselves occur offscreen. We see glimpses of it through character changes, but since we are seeing these events through the eyes of an optimist (Steven) there are nuances we as viewers are liable to miss.
With that in mind, it’s lovely to see Lapis at peace with herself and the world around her. She’s always been a contentious character, but now that we’ve met three other Lapises (Lapi?) it’s easy to see how far she had to come. Lapis is in perpetual anguish, no more. She sings, she loves nature and seems to have found her calling in protecting it. With Steven Universe Future, Rebecca Sugar is aiming to answer the big question: When the fight is over, where do they go from here? And I’m so glad they decided to share it with us.
- I have never heard of a teenage boy having a full skincare routine. Did he learn it from Connie or pick it up on his own? I want the full backstory, Rebecca!!!
- How long do you think Steven will stay a vegetarian? Now I want to go back and see how many episodes show him eating meat. Maybe he’s never been into it??? I can’t remember.
- Where is Connie? I want Connie. Give me Connie.
- It’s been fun to watch Amethyst become Head Mom. Did not expect that.
- Is Pearl with that other Pearl now? What about hot motorcycle chick???
- Garnet has done her “no!!!” bit twice this season and it remains the best.
- Pearl shapeshifting into Steven almost made me cry? Hormones are bad.
- Post-Steven Universe: The Movie it seems like the animation has gotten even more fluid and cartoony, which is awesome.
- “Et tu, Cat Steven?”