In his book The Power of Now, spiritual author Eckhart Tolle identifies a concept he calls “the pain-body” in which “accumulated pain is a negative energy field that occupies your body and mind.” Tolle goes on to flesh out the concept:
It has two modes of being: dormant and active. A pain-body may be dormant 90 percent of the time; in a deeply unhappy person, though, it may be active up to 100 percent of the time. Some people live almost entirely through their pain-body, while others may experience it only in certain situations, such as intimate relationships, or situations linked with past loss or abandonment, physical or emotional hurt, and so on. Anything can trigger it, particularly if it resonates with a pain pattern from your past. When it is ready to awaken from its dormant stage, even a thought or an innocent remark made by someone close to you can activate it.
A large piece of this description mirrors what Connie’s mother told Steven in “Growing Pains.” This somewhat controversial moment underlined the very purpose of Steven Universe Future, which is to deal with Steven’s childhood trauma once and for all and determine how he was going to move forward in his life. Would he live in his trauma and let it consume him, or would he learn how to manage his pain and find peace? The truth is, trauma is something that never really goes away and being triggered is unavoidable. And by “triggered”, I mean its real definition as an involuntary response to past trauma. Despite the bright colors and fun songs, Steven has been facing death, genocide and war for most of his life, with only his positive attitude and burgeoning powers to lighten the load. Of course he’s never fallen apart before. Up until recently, he never had enough time alone for it to happen. Now that he has his whole life ahead of him, his pain-body has emerged—both angry and scared of the future.
Steven Universe Future has shown us the awakening of Steven’s dormant trauma. His pink outbursts are triggered by past trauma, preventing him from relaxing, talking about his feelings honestly and accepting love and care from his friends and family. “I Am My Monster” (A) marks the full emergence of Steven’s pain-body, a monster born out of fear and his creeping suspicion that he doesn’t deserve to be happy.
Steven’s life has been personified by heroism, so the only villain left to fight was himself. Thankfully, he has people around him to help. Steven has been a friend to everyone by this point, so it’s lovely to see all the humans and Gems come together to defeat his inner monster. And after so many brushes with darkness, the return to love is a relief. Only on Steven Universe would hugs be enough to defeat a monster, and thank God for that. Ultimately, this entire series has been in exercise in the unlimited power of kindness and friendship. There is nothing more healing than letting love give you the power to heal yourself. No one person can get you the whole way there, but a push can be powerful.
“I Am My Monster” resolves the issue of Steven’s pain-body so cleanly that I found myself wondering what was gained by stretching Steven Universe Future out so long. It was lovely to spend so much time with the characters for the very last time, but I still feel a sense of longing for the major characters who didn’t get much time to shine throughout the season. It makes sense from a storytelling perspective—if Steven had spent the entire season close with his family and friends, his feelings of isolation likely wouldn’t have blown up in such violent and dramatic ways. Or if they had, someone would have noticed how bad it had gotten much sooner.
Still, I would wager that there was a sense of awkwardness among the writers regarding their approach to Steven’s teenhood. Portraying him as a loner goes against everything we’ve learned about him so far, and even though it was clear everyone was moving on from the beginning, the distance felt eerie. And with so much going on with him internally, Steven had fallen into a familiar pattern of outward behavior. He would pretend to be happy, someone would notice it was false and press for answers, and he would avoid them. Or he would find himself getting too invested in a hobby or the business of other people, until things spiraled out of control. At which point someone would save the day, and he would go off pretending that all his problems had been solved. There are only so many ways to show Steven refusing to grow, and the show cycled through a few too many before the satisfying conclusion of “I Am My Monster.”
Which is likely why “The Future” (B) has very little meat to it. There’s nothing left to say about Steven’s mental state now that his pain-body has been beaten. All there is left to do is say goodbye to Beach City for the last time. Sugar and her team accomplish this with ease, hitting on all the right notes for a farewell. Everyone is Steven’s cheerleader as he prepares to go off on his own, with the only conflict being Steven’s silly anxiety that the Gems are being too cool about him leaving. The lack of tension makes me wish that the last four episodes had been edited together into a second film. With them all being released on the same day, it seems like the logical next step.
But enough of my nitpicking. Steven Universe has been my favorite show for nearly seven years of my life. When the show started, I had just begun my final year of college and my youngest sister was a newborn. I was getting ready for graduate school and dealing with the anxiety of leaving my family in Georgia to move to New York and start a new life. Steven Universe was my security blanket show, providing me with warmth and light in a city that often had too much or too little of either. And now, I have no idea what to make of the first 27 years of my life or what they say about me as a human being.
In that sense, I’m right there with Steven, trying to figure out what kind of person I want to be for the rest of my life. We all go through patterns of feeling worthless and unredeemable. We all find ourselves at crosswords, no longer knowing how to respond to our situation. We can spend seven years barreling through our lives making decisions out of necessity and living on that adrenaline. But eventually, we have to learn how to slow down and look at our lives with a calm, analytical eye. We have to trust that there are people in the world that love us. We have to trust that we can be okay. In the end, Steven finally was able to do that. That’s all we as fans can hope for.
- All… 39 states? I would like a full list of the states and their capitals, please. And where is Beach City supposed to be?
- Finally, Greg is living inside a house!!! Now he just needs to discover aloe vera.
- Are Bismuth and Pearl gonna..? I mean… in “Everything’s Fine” she’s making wedding armor. So it has to be that, right? Can we have a comic of that story, please?
- Love that Jasper is now basically Spike to the Crystal Gems. (You know, villainous but not overtly dangerous and fights with the good guys from time to time.)
- There wasn’t nearly enough Amethyst in this series and I’m going to sulk about it.
- That Steven and Connie kiss was cute!