Steven Universe Review: "Steven and the Stevens" (Season 1A, Episode 22)

Steven and the Stevens
 Go on, guess who the drummer is! Here’s a hint – it’s not Ringo Starr.

Airdate: September 4th, 2014

Plot: While on a rather silly mission, Steven comes into possession of “the Glass of Time” – which allows him to, well, control time. His original plans for his Beachapalooza performance scuttled due to an issue with his dad’s business, he decides to merely copy himself thrice over, forming the eponymous band. When appointed as the leader, however, conflict breaks out between the four Stevens.

Review: “Steven and the Stevens” is another episode that, while at first glance appears disconnected to the rest of the show, actually makes up for its canon-lightness. In this case, we have an episode that takes a look at the Crystal Gem character dynamic, as well as how Steven bounces off of everybody else in the show. Oh, and how power corrupts and all that.

Time travel is probably the most insane and malleable sci-fi trope ever. Depending on the type of episode you’re dealing with, the end result will likely be copies of the time traveler. Red Dwarf‘s Arnold Rimmer was confronted with this situation in “Stasis Leak”, and not only damaged his relationship with the captain (or it would if it wasn’t in the dumps already – thanks, Gazpacho Soup), but also was ruled to be suffering from a mental breakdown.

Yup – it gets a bit nutty.

Here, Steven uses the “glass of time” (an hourglass) to create copies of himself. Of course, he uses it for his own gain, not only creating a band that is literally full of himself, but becoming a control freak. He gets overthrown by, well, himself, causing him to try and prevent himself from using the glass of time as his copies attack him for trying to stop their conception.

Get it?

We’ve seen this before in sci-fi shows, but I’m willing to give it credit that the execution made the plot not feel like a re-used cliche. That, and the target audience (children and pre-teens) might not have seen other shows that have used this trope before, so, yeah. Also, the original Steven isn’t fixed at the end. In fact, he dies. Yes, the main character in the show technically sacrifices himself to save himself. Ah, the alternate timeline theory.

This episode also takes a closer look at Steven, and the Crystal Gem dynamic. One of the few complaints that this show got in its early stages was from a (rather vocal) sector, arguing that Steven was a bit of a nuisance, that the show would’ve been better had it focused on the Trio. This has become a very rare viewpoint as the series has gone on, mainly because Steven has become an essential component of the team.

What “Steven and the Stevens” tries to do is dissect Steven, by the original Steven giving his clones roles – the “smart one”, the “funny one”, the “sensitive one”, and the “handsome one”. In effect, he gives him traits that the Crystal Gems can sort of be stuffed into – the intellectual Pearl, the goofy Amethyst, the enigmatic/”cool” Garnet, and the lighthearted and sensitive Steven. I spy with my geeky eye two things.

First off, the fact that he’s trying to punt the archetypes of the Crystal Gems onto his clones seems to indicate his own desire to connect with what is essentially his surrogate family. Yet, the Crystal Gems seemed to grow into these “archetypes” naturally, and aren’t confined to them. The original Steven is aggravated when the three Stevens don’t follow his “smart”/”handsome”/”funny” edicts. The lesson here? There’s more than meets the eye. Human beings don’t exist in single dimensions – they have their own nuances.

On a larger level, this does indicate that even the normally kind Steven can become overwhelmed with power, and can have the power to go on a major ego trip. Admittedly, it does require a bit of a stretch of disbelief for Steven’s character shift. It definitely is a bit of a strike against this episode. On the other hand, not only does this show that Steven isn’t always the “super nice guy”, but it also showcases the aforementioned message – that people don’t normally stick to the archetypes assigned to them in the public eye.

The unifying aspect of this episode is how Steven gets the glass of time – he goes on a mission with the Crystal Gems. There, all four of them bounce off of each other naturally. While other groups would’ve had any one of them stand out in either a good or bad way, here, they come off as a cohesive team. Also, although their exchanges do generally sit within their characterizations, it doesn’t feel like hokey attempts to fulfill stereotypes. The dialogue, for example, feels like something you would hear in real life. It flows far better than any “boxed-in” character ever could.

Even Steven seems to take this to heart – with Steven and the Crystal Gems ultimately performing at Beachapalooza. There, we get one of the most hilarious songs in the show’s canon. “I accidentally created/an alternate timeline” and “I learned to stay true to myself/by watching myself die” are hysterically dark. Oh, and this Early 60s throwback rock band had both Garnet playing a keytar (which might be important for reasons I won’t get into yet) and Pearl playing a violin. It is hilariously awesome.

Either way, it’s still a funny song, and it showcases just how much the four’s relationship has evolved from “Gem Glow”. (Speaking of which, the fight goes back to the first episode – which causes that Steven to hurl in shock.)

“Steven and the Stevens” is just a simple, funny time travel episode (yes, that is a relatively rare sentence), if a bit of an underwhelming one. Take it in – we’re about to leave the part of the show that runs on comedy. Two episodes from the line…

Tidbits:

  • Pearl’s performance in “Steven and the Crystal Gems”, bizarrely enough, reminded me of the Simpsons episode “Homerpalooza” (yes, I am aware of the coincidence), where the London Symphony Orchestra, who were booked for Peter Frampton, instead played for Cyprus Hill. “We mostly know classical… but we could give it a shot.”
  • I love how Greg tries to mitigate Steven’s disappointment over the fact that he can’t perform in Beachapalooza… the fact that the town has “like, 15 people”.
  • Also, Amethyst winds up replacing the Original Steven in the band. Her reasoning? “I’m down for whatever”.
  • Yes, “Big Fat Zucchini” is a throwback to The Ramones. The worst part? I can now imagine Steven and the Stevens performing at Mr. Burns’s birthday party.
  • Oh, and for all the stink that the show made about Onion not seeing his father often enough (thus causing him to be a criminal), I don’t get why they excluded the kid. Then again, he probably would’ve just remained a prop if he was included. So, pick your poison.

Favorite Scene: I’m gonna go for the final Beachapalooza performance. The Crystal Gem Quartet is really starting to take hold.

Best Character: Steven, tied with Steven, Steven, and Steven.

Memorable Quote: “I learned to stay true to myself/by watching myself die.” – Steven. Kid’s gonna need therapy soon.

Score: Bronze. My relatively low score of this episode, admittedly, might be a result of finding out that this was written by Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu, who have generally written some great episodes so far. This is merely a “good” episode.

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