Steven Universe Review: Winter Forecast (Season 1B, Episode 16)

 

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I have a bad feeling somebody’s gonna try and use this in a PSA.

 

“If we leave Beach City, bad things are gonna happen. I’ve seen it. Bad things. Several bad things!” – Steven, surprisingly not suffering through hallucinations… well, not exactly.

Airdate: February 19th, 2015

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Hellen Jo

Plot: A blizzard is plowing its way through to Beach City – thus, Steven must get Connie home before they wind up stranded. However, in an attempt to get more time together, they wind up screwing up, Greg winds up crashing his car in a snowbank, and the three have to trek through the tundra. The Maheswarans, surprisingly, aren’t too pleased with this turn of events. Thinking that he may have pulled a David Cameron with his friendship with Connie, Steven begins seeing a pattern on the back of his father’s suit… only to return to the scene of the crash.

Yes, before leaving, Garnet gave Steven a bit of a look into the future. But how does he use it? Who will live in his mindscape? And who could die with every turn?

Review:

Starting with a personal tangent here – winter is not my favorite season. I dislike the cold, layering up in clothing is an irritating waste of time, snow is a nuisance for the road (although snow days for schools are rather cool), digging out is a nightmare, and any sort of outdoor activities are restricted (granted, I’m not an outdoorsman, but still). Not helping is that, in the New York area (where I live), winter conditions (within a week, like this past one) often vary from “barely present” to “makes New York residents forget the intricacies of global climate change.”

 

Uh...
Yes, because man-made global climate change always results in unseasonable warmth during the winter. (Fun fact – thanks to this particular New Yorker’s newest hobby, this sage advice will be stored by the federal government in perpetuity.)

 

Still, I will admit that winter tends to stir up some rather passionate and warm feelings. While there’s a loud passion about summer, a nostalgia about fall, or a romance about spring, winter gives us a more subdued, warm atmosphere. All I want to do when the snow falls is switch the kettle on and drink a nice cup of tea. In short, while I dislike the technical aspects of winter, I absolutely admire what it symbolizes.

I think that explains part of my warm feelings towards this warm, warm episode of Steven Universe – a fine showcase on one of the most enduring partnerships I’ve seen in any sort of media, as well as a more positive follow-up to the more dramatic “Future Vision” and a damn fine analysis of leadership presented by Steven and Garnet.

Back in “Future Vision”, Garnet indicated that her titular power allowed her to analyze several possible outcomes to various dilemmas that she and/or others will encounter. What does seem like a rather cheesy and cop-out-esque power at first glance is actually handled very well by the Crewniverse – as Garnet’s choice in that episode drives Steven into a bout of nihilistic madness. The writing team of Lamar Abrams and Hellen Jo reflect on the gamble that Garnet made in telling Steven about the drawbacks of future vision – that maybe he would take it in stride and understand the complexities that are involved with that the decisions. Didn’t work out too well, given that Steven wanted to get struck by lightning.

So, why would Garnet take the gamble again? Simple – it fits into her role as the Crystal Gems de facto leader. Through this show, Garnet has had a relative patience with Steven, only occasionally getting cross with the kid (and one of those times was a very reasonable reaction, another in a fit of panic.) Giving him a second shot, while a small gamble, really does show off the trust she has in him – especially given that, as she admitted in “The Test”, she’s largely flying blind at this whole human and raising a child thing.

Speaking of “raising a child”, this episode goes beyond “things happen to Steven in various alternate universes”. Every time the scenario goes south for Steven, he takes a note from what exactly backfired for him, Connie, and/or Greg. He actually comprehends what Garnet’s future vision entails – taking every possible scenario, wondering what the hell went wrong there, correcting it, and applying the solution to the final decision in hopes that it all flows together. By doing this, Steven gets a glimpse at what Garnet actually goes through with her future vision, and how she comes to the conclusions that result.

And it’s done at a time of great urgency. Yes, getting your friend home in a snowstorm is enough of a hurdle to clear. But consider just how much Steven and Connie care for each other. Consider that Connie’s mother – whom Steven had a rocky relationship with, given the events of “Fusion Cuisine” – was livid at the fact that Steven, Connie, and Greg trekked god-knows-how-many-miles through a blizzard – giving her daughter, horror of all horrors, the common cold. (Also, the risk of frostbite and various other ailments). Who knows if Dr. Maheswaran would even let Steven near his best friend – his closest friend, even – with a 39.5-foot pole?

The worst part is that it’s the least disastrous of the scenarios presented to Steven. The second one results in Mr. Maheswaran crashing into the Universe Van – likely killing them all – and the third vaporizes the entire temple. Looking back at “Future Vision” again, his increased paranoia there does have some interesting parallels with the increasingly destructive alternatives Steven sees in his future vision. However, it’s now tempered with his knowledge that nihilism isn’t ubiquitous with future vision. His actions after seeing all of the possible scenarios are proof positive of how it’s affected him – as well as Garnet herself.

Consider how he evolves through the episode. From trying to soak up every damn moment with Connie possible, he does so first by sabotaging the attempts to get home – which almost separates the two forever thanks to the hand of Dr. Maheswaran. The second reality has him stay in the van with Connie, keeping the two together for longer, but not informing her parents – an oversight that results in Connie’s father wrecking his car, and possibly killing the trio. The third causes him to outright defy his friend’s parents in an apparent act of heroism – one that is subverted when a delicate operation from the Crystal Gems fails and vaporizes all within a radius of a few meters. His childish love of fun is shown to have consequences, and his attempts to preserve it in some way or another all result in increasingly damning consequences.

Thus, he has to make the relatively hard decision to sacrifice his short-term personal happiness for the needs of the many. And while it does work out for him at the end, it’s this type of leadership skill that Garnet directly teaches him. It’s a trait we’ll see from Garnet in season 2,  but here, it really does reflect on Steven’s growth as a character. In her frame of mind, if only for a second, he’s able to take command. The kid that was more concerned about Cookie Cat Sandwiches is transforming into a leader in his own right, and it’s silly little things like this scenario that are just a taste of what is to come.

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Of course, the dominating question that lingers over this episode is… what does make Steven and Connie so appealing as a couple? It’s something I’ve been thinking about, and one that really gives the episode an emotional weight. Connie isn’t just “the cute girl that Steven pines over” – she’s his confidante. A logical intellectual, she serves as her own agent, while also simultaneously complementing our protagonist. It’s hard to do that, but my god, the Crewniverse pull it off. All of this, though, is topped off by the mere fact that it doesn’t feel forced – from “Lion 2” to “An Indirect Kiss”, all the way through “Alone Together”, the two’s lives have become intertwined, partially by fate, but partially out of their own choices. And they’re both the better for it. We saw it with Stevonnie, but even apart, they get each other.

The pure joy the two have together, in fact, bookends the episode. At the start, Steven and Connie are just dorking around, roasting marshmallows and discussing the idea of sleeping over and watching the snow fall through the night. And at the end, they’re up late at night, in Connie’s townhouse, sitting back in the den and watching the snow fall. There’s no music, no dialogue… just Greg snoring, and the wind blowing the flakes through a cold night, in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. It’s simply a gorgeous, gorgeous scene of a gorgeous, gorgeous series.

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Admittedly, “Winter Forecast” ain’t perfect – the Shooting Star that vaporized the quintet in the third reality seems like a more interesting plot, the dialogue isn’t quite as sublime as other episodes, and the Abrams style of character design does weird me out at times (and not particularly in a way that helps the episode). Those strikes against the episode, though, are but minor. “Winter Forecast” is just a nice eleven minutes of television. Put the kettle on, pour it over a teabag, let it simmer, kick back, and take the episode in.

Tidbits:

  • Personal note – as I finished this review, a blizzard had just battered Long Island with 12 inches of snow. I knew things were gonna be bad when Stony Brook University cancelled classes twelve hours before a flake fell on the Island. Ice is just melting, and I just chilled at home. I had Diet Pepsi and an electric kettle, though, so it was alright.
  • This episode, honestly, puts Dr. Maheswaran in a much more sympathetic light compared to “Fusion Cuisine”. Whereas that episode portrayed the Doctor as borderline callous and just there to contribute to the off-color cringe, this episode gives a more nuanced view into her character – one that does give off a vibe of “trying her damnedest, if a bit overt on the sternness and overprotective of her daughter”. Mr. Maheswaran, meanwhile, gets a more comically self-aggrandizing aspect to his character, in that he thinks he can drive during whiteout conditions. Although I still consider “Fusion Cuisine” one of my least favorite episodes, it makes it a bit easier to swallow. A bit.
  • One interesting aspect of this episode is that, despite the snow falling through the eleven minutes, it’s not even close to being a Steven Universe Christmas episode – at least, in my personal opinion. Closest I think this show has gotten is probably “Gem Harvest” and its role as a Thanksgiving/talk-to-your-conservative-relative episode.
  • Finally, I’m wondering how the carbon monoxide didn’t affect the trio in the Universe van after they crashed into the snow bank. Either I’m overthinking that particular scene, or I need to read up on my cars and carbon monoxide.

Wrap-Up:

Favorite Scene: Steven and Connie, sitting in the den, staring wordlessly at the beauty of the blizzard. One of the best scenes in the entire series.

Best Character: I’m tossing this one to Connie. All the characters worked well in this episode, but she adds an extra ounce of joy to this fantastic episode.

Memorable Quote: For the second episode in a row, I’m not giving a quote. That’s because the wordless scene at the end of the episode carries more weight than the rest of the episode does.

Verdict: Gold. It’s a heartwarming, funny, and all-around brilliantly executed episode. It comes in between “Lion 2” and “Warp Tour” at #10 in my power rankings.

Strangely enough, I’m not done with the awards yet, because I have a rather special award to give out to something that’s not Steven Universe related. There are few moments in life that are epic, and even fewer that combine epicness and tragedy. That’s why I present the very first Hillary Rodham Clinton Award for Suicidal Arrogance to the Atlanta Falcons, for blowing a seemingly surefire win in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI despite a plurality of their nation backing them. It will hold this award indefinitely until another group of surefire winners slack off and cede to a largely disliked opposition. (Look alive, Trudeau.)

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