“You could just be going on about your business, eating your fry bits, and then suddenly you choke to death!” – Garnet. Hey, dying eating fries ain’t a clean way to go, but it could be worse. Far worse.
Airdate: January 29th, 2015
Written By: Lamar Abrams and Hellen Jo
Plot: After saving Steven from an object on the stairs, Garnet informs the kid about her “future vision” – one that allows her to see the paths that the world can take. At first, Steven uses Garnet’s power to decipher what path his life will take. Unfortunately, Garnet also notes that he can see possibilities for a more permanent end for our little Stew-ball. Kid goes paranoid, and even contemplates suicide just to fulfill Garnet’s predictions.
This airs on a network aimed towards children. Just putting it out there.
Should we have access to what could happen in the future? Can we change the concepts of causality, or does our knowledge of the future only damn us to it with an increased sense of fear? These concepts have been explored in various science fiction shows and books. Hell, it actually provided the plot of Red Dwarf‘s second episode – “Future Echoes”. In that episode, the Red Dwarf crew (or what’s now left of it) experience the titular phenomenon – events in the future that are seen in the present. Lister slowly becomes paranoid after seeing a vision of his death and tries to prevent the future, but when events shown in the echoes start occurring, he prepares himself for the end. (When all is said and done, the only thing that they find out is that Lister will wind up with twins – and that doesn’t happen until series 2, thanks to Lister having a drunken one-night stand with a woman who happens to be himself. He has to have a caesarean. Yes. He.)
As you can tell, it’s a very fun topic to send up – allowing for cool comedy and delicious drama. Steven Universe adds its own twist to the equation by having a character experience these future echoes all of the time.
So, what about Garnet’s third eye? Yeah, we don’t see it that often because she has those shades (which are, quite frankly, freaking awesome), but she does have it. We saw it in “Arcade Mania”, as a way for Garnet to succeed at the Meat Beat Mania game. How did she do it? Well, one could argue that Garnet is focused on whatever task she has in front of her, and uses that third eye to that advantage. This episode proposes option B – that she saw what was going on in the future, and used insane dexterity to reach that goal.
In effect, this adds another reason as to why Garnet is described as the leader of the Crystal Gems for the first season or so. After all, if you had the ability to analyze any sort of future paths, wouldn’t the ultimate decision best lie with you? And wouldn’t one take the most logical path in doing so?
That’s where this episode’s drama comes in. Garnet is inherently rational – for reasons which will become clear as day in “Jailbreak”. (C’mon, most of you know why.) She even puts it as such – “I have the map, and I steer the ship.” Steven, though, is not – he relies largely on the Id for his thought process. This has led to a lot of good, selfless, kind actions from him – but can prove itself as much of a vice as it is a virtue.
When he finds out that some possible paths in life involve a sudden death, he rapidly becomes paranoid as all hell. Suddenly, everything becomes deadly – a threat to his life. He is too emotionally driven to process the idea of worst case scenarios being just one in a select few choices – here, they are almost certain to happen. Even if not now, his mind believes that eventually, something’s gonna happen that will wipe him off this mortal coil. Or, to quote Morty Smith…
“Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.”
Whoda thought that we’d get a bit of dramatic nihilism in a TV show? On Cartoon Network?
But what makes this more impactful is that it happens to Steven. He started the series so optimistic, so cheerful, so innocent. Even over these last few episodes, he’s taken great strides in his self-confidence – what with Stevonnie, Peridot, the meaning behind the rigged simulation. This new aspect of self-doubt serves as something of a repudiation. Initially starting out this episode by proudly declaring himself “a big boy”, the words of Garnet – “You’re a Crystal Gem, too” – now echo in his mind with a tragic aura.
The reason is simple – his fears of death lurking around every corner no longer make him like the heroes he tends to idolize – such as the fearless Garnet, for example. In trying to be more like her, he has driven himself to borderline suicidal nihilism. And yes, I do mean suicidal – he climbs up on the roof, begging for fate to just get on with it, run him down the curtain and appoint him a member of the choir invisible. The scene where he snaps is so well-executed, so dramatic that it manages to take over the comic aspects of the first half of the episode. (Maybe I have been a bit harsh on Lamar Abrams. His animation style is still a bit wonky, though.)
This all happens just in time for Garnet to come back from her mission. Steven confronts a clearly agitated Garnet about the nihilism of the future vision, and out comes a bombshell – their conversation was the endgame of Garnet’s prediction. In this moment, Garnet exposes her own self-doubt – the rooftop scenario would be the worst-case scenario. Unfortunately for her, it has come to pass.
It’s a repudiation of her confidence in her powers, in herself. This power allows her to see both the best and the worst scenarios. Now that Steven is in the mix, that’s another pressure that she has to deal with – how her future vision can showcase the horrors that will affect Steven.
“Steven, I see so many things that can hurt you… I should never have let one of them be me.“
For Garnet, the stoic mask is falling. Slowly, she’s exposing herself as just as vulnerable, just as able to mess up, as any other character – and worse, with a kid that she’s raising. As Steven tries to come to terms with his alien aspects and how he fits in with his family, his icon is revealed to be more human than ever before. It’s incredible the trajectory these characters are taking in their development – one is reaching new heights, the other coming down to Earth.
There, we get the lesson de jeur – even if you can see the possibilities that your future could yield, it’s up to you to take advantage of them. The future is not set in stone – it’s always fluctuating. You are in control of what happens. It really ties into the humanistic aspect of Steven Universe – that we have free will – and, to an extent, the vaguely left-libertarian aspects of the show.
Steven takes this to heart and comes down from the roof. He hugs her just as Garnet gets the opportunity to protect Steven from a lightning bolt. Makes you wonder if she was lying about the rooftop being the end game because Steven defied her request to stay off the roof, or not.
Hey, the fact that I can ask these questions and still feel fulfilled with these characters speaks to this show’s ability to craft even the silliest of plots into a compelling drama. While the shift between comedy and drama was slightly over the top for me, and the dialogue isn’t as polished as the rest of the series is (a problem that tends to appear in episodes that Mr. Abrams episodes, at least up to this point), the rest of the episode is yet another good one in Steven Universe‘s coffers. A great moral question and pretty on point characterization? Definitely another fine episode from a fine show.
- Honestly, the chibi displays of Steven’s many, many, many fears of his demise had me rolling. Again, while I felt the shift from comedy to drama was a bit too over the top, I think that it helps the show’s perception of screwing with your emotions.
- Kudos to Garnet for laying waste to Steven’s exercise boombox. What is it with Steven and the destruction of his electronics? How can he afford all of his stuff?
- While we’ve seen Garnet without her visor before, it was used either as the development of the show’s overall plot or to strike utter and complete terror in our souls. Here, she takes it off as Steven is up on the roof. It’s portrayed as tragic – almost as if she’s been crying. She’s in terror now. The tides have turned.
Note before the wrap-up:
I figure that I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the elephant in the room… the orange-haired, bombastic, chauvinistic elephant in the room.
Yes, in a Presidential Election that was effectively between two less than likable people, real estate and media mogul Donald Trump managed to complete the biggest upset victory in anything this year. (Sorry, Leicester City.) I’m admittedly quite skeptical about his upcoming tenure, partially because of his brash and egocentric personality, and partially because I don’t agree with many of his views on how to reform America. But, those are the breaks. I will respect the Electoral College, strange as it turned out this year, and I tip my hat to President-Elect Trump. I just hope he, Sen. McConnell, and Rep. Ryan govern more pragmatically than I fear they might, especially since Mr. Trump came in second in the popular vote.
I also won’t be patronizing to people over their vote, though I may disagree with you. We live in a democracy, flawed though it may be, and the participation in the political process is paramount, whether to protest or to advocate. I think it’s a great time for all of us – left, right, and center – to learn from the mistakes made by all sides during this campaign. Maybe next time, the Democrats will nominate somebody in a less “coronation-y” manner, and deliver a left-slanted populist policy while not trying to get “down with the kids”. (Handling a terrorist threat in Lybia more appropriately and not being investigated by the FBI over the handling of classified information would also help. Then again, I did reluctantly back her by the end of October. So sue me.)
And if you do take umbrage with the actions of your government, remember that we are the third estate. Call or write your representative – meet them, if at all possible. Hold your elected officials, as well as the media, to account. Should you feel they need to be replaced, the federal midterms will be held in two years. Register, and vote in those. Even for those of us who are in a safe seat, let’s make sure our officials work for our money.
Can’t speak for anybody else, but I’m keeping a stiff upper lip and listening to some rather apropos music. And hey, if this ultimately results in a worst case scenario, an apocalypse as projected on social media the day after… well, the UK can’t be a bad place to live. Brexit may have meant Brexit according to PM May, but I doubt London is going to turn into Cleveland once Article 50 is invoked and followed through on.
With that PSA out of the way…
Bernie Sanders’ shock win in Michigan during the primaries – truly a sign of things to come. Uh, I mean, Steven freaking out under his coffee table. That was a pretty dark piece of introspection from our little Stew-ball.
Best Character: Surprisingly, not Garnet! It’s actually Steven. Again, who’d have thunk that this kid would be freaking out about his own role in the Crystal Gem dynamic 39 episodes ago? It’s sorta like going back in time to April 2015 and telling the Democrats that a TV star would create the party’s worst crisis since 1984.
Memorable Quote: “It has not been easy for me. I started out in Brooklyn. My father gave me a small loan of $1M.” – President-Elect Donald Trump, on The Today Show about a year and change ago. This is the guy who 59 million people believed represented their ideals and would have the most experience to change their lives. When you lose to this guy, you need to stare at a wall for a while and rethink everything.
Oh, right, you want something from the episode. (Just wanted to get some of the pent-up political snark out of the way.)
“I’m supposed to be a Crystal Gem!” – Steven. Yeah, that scene is quite crushing. Self-doubt from our goofy main character? Handled well? Sorry for doubting you, Mr. Abrams.
Verdict: Silver. It’s very good, albeit not as sublime as other episodes… such as the next one. Part of this comes from the slightly dramatic tonal shift – one that’s somewhat less dramatic in, again, the next episode.
Anyway, as for Steven Universe reviews, don’t expect any for the next month or so. I will be focusing exclusively on the Boys from the Dwarf. Hey, if reviews about a silly sci-fi show serve to ease any potential malaise from the election of an egotistical, chauvinistic spray-tan enthusiast, I’ve done my part.