Steven Universe Review: "Serious Steven" (Season 1A, Episode 8)

Who designed this? Who? Who?

Airdate: January 13th, 2014

Synopsis: A massive accident at Funland (the amusement park where Steven and Connie almost got flattened by a roller coaster) weighs heavily on Steven, as two weeks later, they go to the Strawberry Fields, which used to be a battle site for the Gems. Characterized as Steven’s first “serious” mission, Steven tries to prove himself worthy to Garnet. This can only end badly, especially when a pyramid that they walk in flips over, thanks to Steven.

Review: Fans who started watching new episodes in Season 2 (ya know, half of the fandom, up to and including myself) might be a bit put off when they first see this episode. You see, we’re still in the part of the show where Steven is more like that kid that the Gems happen to have on their backs. With the gems treating this as his “first serious mission”, Steven has a hell of a lot of weight on his shoulders.

Most impressively, he’s hanging out with Garnet this time. A tall order for the ten-year-old, indeed.

This episode marks the third of, well, three episodes that cement the dynamic that Steven has with the “Power Trio” of Crystal Gems on an individual level. We had “Frybo” (creepy episode, that was), which had a subplot between Pearl and Steven showcasing the former’s superego tendencies. We had “Cat Fingers” (an even creepier episode, if that’s possible), showing how Steven interacted with (read, could be egged on by) Amethyst, the manifestation of the Id.

Now, he’s with Garnet. As I mentioned in my review of “Gem Glow”, Garnet is the premiere enigmatic – thus far, she’s been largely stoic, reserved, and no-nonsense, yet also intense and able to show some emotions in the most unexpected of situations. (“Don’t mess with his funky flow!”) In hindsight, it was relatively easy to judge how Steven would work with Pearl and Amethyst. Garnet, on the other hand, we could only guess.

The aforementioned “funky flow” line, though, was but a harbinger for the next episode… as in, this one. And right off the bat, we get a sense of the relationship between Garnet and Steven.

If Steven looks up to Pearl as a parent, and Amethyst a sibling, then Garnet might be the idol. He is desperate to make her proud, deeply believing that she wants the utmost from him. And, to an extent, that is true – Garnet is naturally reserved, straightforward, all that jazz. However, this episode also shows that her stoicism doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s a complete hard-ass. Don’t be mistaken – she does maintain a serious attitude to the mission itself. Her interactions with Steven, though, do show that she’s not the aloof commander we first saw – at least, not on an absolute level.

Now, it’s pretty clear why Steven wants to impress Garnet – idol, wants to be like her, ya know how that goes. However, it also is a desire to atone for perceived failings in the past.

The teacup incident, you see, seems to have been a microcosm of Steven’s own slip-ups through the past seven episodes. None of these are genuine faults of his own, but his own character has driven a good chunk of the conflicts so far, especially those in “Frybo” and “Bubble Buddies”.  Not necessarily his fault, but still, it weighs on his mind. The teacup incident was just the most severe of failures, given that it probably caused a few casualties (nobody seems to have died, but still.)

Here, presented with the “first serious mission”, Steven now fears that he’ll be shunned by the others if he so much as slips up a little. His standards having been self-inflated by the failures he faced in earlier episodes, it does seem like his dreams of becoming one of the Crystal Gems are damned to the abyss.

And yet, they aren’t. For out of his largest failure comes, thus far in the series, his greatest triumph. In using the teacup ride, he solves the maze. On a storytelling level, this is not only a clever twist on the idea of overcoming the biggest failures we face, but also showcases a genuine brightness on Steven’s part. Not that he was dumb beforehand, but this is the first time he uses his intellect, not his emotion alone. Note that I said alone – the show doesn’t degrade his Id. In fact, it leads him to use his brain to save the day.

The twist involving the pyramid is actually rather quirky. One of the (admittedly many) things I personally love about Steven Universe is the quirky science fiction elements within it, and how the writers handle those elements. This episode takes a science fiction twist on the old “escape the maze” trope and still manages to make it relatable.

Everybody’s in character, the plot is fun, the drama is cool, and Mr. Smiley got to speak (read, almost had a nervous breakdown as he exiled Steven from the park he damaged). Quite a good episode all around.

Tidbits:

  • Mr. Smiley, in hindsight, had a damn good reason to turf Steven from the theme park. Besides the massive property damage this time, dude rolled onto the roller coaster, forcing it to stop short. Man must not have been in the mood.
  • Speaking of which, I loved the flashback to the teacups. Pearl’s “I misunderstood the point of this ride”, alongside Amethyst dozing off, is hilarious. Anybody can do slapstick or toilet humor, but comedy based on characters will always win.
  • I also love Pearl’s frustration at finding out that Steven put two and two together when it came to the maze before her. On a semi-related note, this works a bit as foreshadowing.
Favorite Scene: The teacups. The teacups. Oh, the hilarious tragedy.
Best Character: Steven, for developing even further as a character. This episode showcases a more complex side to him.
Memorable Quote: “Steven! You are banned from all the rides! Forever!” – Mr. Smiley. I just love the delivery on that line. Awesome job, Sinbad.
Score: 8.5. (Silver)
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