Steven Universe Review: “Message Received” (Season 2, Episode 24)

Steven Universe Message Received

I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever get a chance
Just to sing with my children in a holiday jam.
Our lives seem petty in your cold, grey hands.
Would you give a second thought? Would you even give a damn?
“Stand Down, Margaret”, The (English) Beat.

Airdate: January 7th, 2016.

Written ByRaven Molisee and Paul Villeco.

Plot: Peridot and the Crystal Gems are on the outs at the moment, given how Peridot seemed to be rather enthusiastic about the Diamond Authority’s plans to turn Earth into a barren wasteland. Turns out, old allegiances are hard to shake, particularly if they have been lionized as gods of their society. Also, Steven finds out that Peridot has a communications device picked up back on the moon base to contact Yellow Diamond. The gang winds up in a chase to try and stop Peridot from using it. However, Peridot might just have a trick up her sleeve to appeal to the Diamond Authority and save all of their bacon.

Review:

Well, ladies and gentlemen… welcome to the big one. The climax of Season 2 of Steven Universe. And if I had to put one overarching theme around this season, it would be “recovery, refocus, and reconstruction”.

Yeah, consider everything that’s happened thus far during Season 2. “Full Disclosure” had Steven recover from the Great Flying Hand Battle, as well as refocus his relationship with Connie back on a mutual partnership of one another. “Sworn to the Sword” and the Week of Sardonyx showcased Pearl’s descent into insanity and self-loathing, forcing her to claw back up to a state of respectability and driving her to refocus her self-loathing back into a personal renaissance, as we saw in “Back to the Barn”. Hell, even “Sadie’s Song” (despite my own personal dislike of the episode) had Barbara Miller reconstruct her relationship with her daughter to be less constraining, as well as Steven refocus his own personal desires back onto himself and not onto others.

This theme manifests itself with the overreaching Peridot Arc across the season. From “Joy Ride”, she was the sword that lingered over Steven Universe. Peridot has had her per viewpoints challenged thanks to landing on a world that didn’t rigidly enforce the authoritarianism of Homeworld. And it all seemed to be going so well… at least superficially. Unfortunately, “It Could’ve Been Great” cast a major source of doubt in this development, as it demonstrated just how the prejudices of one’s upbringing can carry through even in new surroundings.

So here we are. Peridot is at a crossroads, to use the old cliche. When two tribes go to war, one point’s all that you can score. Does she go towards the icons of her past or those that have celebrated an icon antithetical to her former society? Does she buy a ticket to go to a game at Gillette Stadium or at Metlife Stadium?

Will Peridot choose Homeworld or Earth? Continue reading

Advertisements

Steven Universe Review: “It Could’ve Been Great” (Season 2, Episode 23)

screen-shot-2018-07-08-at-3-43-38-pm.png

“Hey, look over here. I think it’s a door. (Opens said door, all the air begins getting sucked out of the base) Yup. We’re on the moon!” – Amethyst, almost sucking the Crystal Gems out into space.

Airdate: January 6th, 2016

Written By: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu

Plot: Well, smoke me a kipper, they did it! The Crystal Gems and Peridot managed to construct a drill. But before they drill, they have to locate coordinates to get the Cluster. Therefore, they decide to take a trip up to the Moon. They arrive on a former Homeworld base that contains the schematics of all of Homeworld’s plans for Earth. Unfortunately, this piece of nostalgia and Peridot’s attachment to it begins to drive the wedge between her and the Crystal Gems back in.

Review:

One of the great themes of Steven Universe that is often overlooked in favor of it’s more “academic” sociological themes is the concept of leadership. In short, the question that the show often poses is “what drives people to follow leaders, and what makes a good leader”?

I first dissected this in my review of “Political Power”. In that review, I compared Mayor Dewey’s approach to leadership and public presentation to those taken by more populist figures, such as Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn or President Donald Trump. As part of that analysis, I noted that people tend to follow those leaders that can present a certain charisma, as well as appeal to their Id – for good and/or for ill. Figures often lure us in with their ability to communicate our deepest desires, making us dismissive (if not blind) to their faults.

This cuts every which way – as demonstrated here, in “It Could’ve Been Great”, we get to see how both propaganda and ideology drive protagonist and antagonist alike to defend their leaders and their philosophies. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Steven’s Birthday” (Season 2, Episode 22)

screen-shot-2018-06-28-at-8-22-46-pm.png

“My powers mean nothing to an infant!” –  Garnet. No wonder why this show wound up knocked off the schedule in favor of Teen Titans Go! Damn their bright colors and lack of intense drama intended for twentysomethings who still watch cartoons.

Airdate: January 5th, 2016

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff.

Plot: On Steven’s 14th Birthday, Connie comes over to the Barn. The initial satisfaction of her visit is nuanced when Connie discovered the 1.25 year age difference between the two and the fact that Steven might not physically age at the same rate as humans. Disturbed by this, Steven decides to force himself to grow a few extra inches. But this could prove to be to his detriment.

Review:

Just in case I haven’t mentioned this before, Steven Universe is quite possibly the among the most romantic shows on television. And before anybody asks, yes, that is intended as a double entendre.

On one hand, Steven Universe is quite philosophically dedicated to the art of romanticism. It doesn’t quite adhere strictly to this – the show is inarguably socially liberal (often tied more to the enlightenment in some circles), and the approach to morality is tinged with a touch of grey for both protagonists and antagonists alike. But the mere concept of Steven Universe revolves around a society that broke from the perceived technological admiration and social stratification in favor of a more natural, humanistic (for lack of a better word), meritocratic world.

However, Steven Universe is also fundamentally a show about romance. It depicts the joys of a budding romance, the liberation that love can bring, but also the tragedy that the failure of love thereof can inflict on humanity. Ruby and Sapphire’s relationship (chiefly “The Answer”) analyzes the art of a romance that defied social mores despite not harming anybody. Pearl’s arc has depicted the trauma of a love lost, and how one has to put stock in oneself when they have measured themselves against an idol for so long.

Which leaves us with the Ballad of Steven and Connie. Continue reading

Sketching The Next Several Months of The Review Nebula

Hey, look – I posted for the first time in a week and change!

Yeah, sorry about that. I have no real excuse this time. I got a bit caught up in World Cup action (really, Germany), took advantage somewhat of the nice weather here on Long Island… but really, those aren’t even great excuses.

Simply put, I think I hit something of a writer’s block with my recent review, for reasons that will become apparent when it posts tomorrow morning. Don’t worry, the next few things I’m reviewing should pique everybody’s interest. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “The Answer” (Season 2, Episode 21)

Steven Universe The Answer

“The Earth. 5,750 years ago. It was a promising site of a new Gem colony, but progress was being thwarted by a small, persistent group of rebels. A team of diplomatic Gems were sent from Homeworld to investigate. Among those Gems was Sapphire, a rare aristocratic Homeworld Gem, with the power to see into the future. Assigned to her were three Rubies, common soldiers, with a mission to protect her.” – Garnet. Hey, as long as we don’t have to alternate between intergalactic Senate hearings and pod races, I’m cool.

Airdate: January 4th, 2016

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff

Plot: The clock has struck midnight on Steven’s birthday. As a result, Garnet decides to partially fulfill a promise she made to herself… by telling Steven the ballad of Ruby and Sapphire.

5750 Years prior, the diplomatic Sapphire was assigned alongside the rest of Blue Diamond’s troupe to analyze the Earthican gem colony. While there, Sapphire predicts a rebel attack on the base… which happens. She also predicts that seven gems will be poofed – four civilians, two out of three Rubies, and herself. Well, four civilians are cut down. Two out of Three Rubies are also cut down after having fused into one Mega Ruby. However, the Third Ruby refuses to let that stand. One save attempt later, Garnet is formed… leading to disgust from everybody not to fly the banner of the Crystal Gems. The duo all but leg it down to Earth, where they come to terms with what the hell just happened.

Review:

So.

“The Answer”.

In a show with quite a few beloved episodes… this is one of them.

In fact, while Steven Universe has had plenty of iconic episodes before and since, and plenty more “important” episodes to the canon or the show’s overall popularity, I could make a case that “The Answer” has become the most iconic episode of Steven Universe to not involve a punch-up with Jasper. I mean… it was adapted into a children’s book. A fecking children’s book!

Only the deliberately contrarian would try and call the episode trash… which I won’t do in this review. Because I don’t hate the episode – far from it. I think it’s one of the most well-produced, heartwarming episodes of the entire show, up there with “Alone Together”. If anything, the only question I have is simple… is this episode somewhat overrated?

Not to a level of “this episode is actually a load of rubbish”, but is it merely “great” rather than the masterpiece that fandom holds it up to be?

Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Too Far” (Season 2, Episode 20)

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 3.09.18 PM (2)
Suddenly, Amethyst proclaiming her hole as “me-sized” doesn’t have quite the goofy ring to it…

The Pearl here has exhibited an aptitude for engineering that I begrudgingly respect. But that doesn’t explain the spontaneous singing… crying… singing while crying.” – Peridot. Hey, she has a point. I mean, I love this show and how it stitches up the characters like kippers, but damn if these writers don’t love to take us on mood swings.

Airdate: October 15th, 2015

Written By: Hillary Florido and Lauren Zuke

Plot: Tensions between Peridot and the Crystal Gems are still rather high. Her views of Pearl are still rather reluctant, her views of Garnet get her tied to a fence, and the existence of Steven perplexes her. That, and Earthican English still perplexes her. Amethyst takes advantage of this for giggles. However, when the trio wind up at the Kindergarten, Peridot tries to emulate… with pathetic results.

Review:

I’m willing to admit that I went a bit “Cal State sociology professor” in my review of “Back to the Barn”. I mean, the response so far has been quite positive, but that’s not normally my style. So, let’s head back to something more of a character analysis with the review of this episode, “Too Far”… which is actually a sequel to “Back to the Barn”.

And we all know that sequels are hit and miss. For every Star Trek IIThe Wrath of Khan, there’s a Highlander II: The Quickening (a movie so loathed that practically every home release has tried to edit the movie into some form of sanity). For every Toy Story 2, there’s a Hunchback of Notre Dame II. And for every Fraiser (tossed salads and scrambled eggs… mercy), there’s a Cleveland Show. (Yeah, Cleveland from Family Guy once had his own show. It lasted four seasons, weirdly enough, although I think Bob’s Burgers drove a knife in the show’s back.)

Unfortunately, that trend does not abate here. It’s not to as dramatic an extent as I listed here, but it’s not quite as compelling an episode as it’s immediate predecessor. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Back to the Barn” (Season 2, Episode 19)

 

Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 8.40.10 PM
Fair play to Pearl – she got a traffic cone on her robot. And you know things went wild if you obtain a traffic cone.

Mrs. Bennet“A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam Darcy: “All this she must possess, and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”
– Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 8. Wait, wait, wait – wanting to court a woman that doesn’t just act like giddy arm candy? This snob must be quite a radical man to reject truths universally acknowledged about the sexes!

Airdate: October 8th, 2015

Written By: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu

Plot: That cluster thing is getting ready to cause Earth to go kerplooey. Therefore, Peridot decides to team up with the Crystal Gems to try and save the planet. Trouble is, Peridot doesn’t want to cede the drill project to Pearl. Apparently, Pearls are intended to be decorations back on Homeworld. As a result, the two begin to raise voices. As a result, Steven decides to settle this with a robot building competition.

Review:

Before we begin, I must warn you that this review deals with something of a controversial topic, one that might lead to raised voices. As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer to look at the character interactions in Steven Universe, and leave the sociological aspects into the background outside of brief mentions of the show’s liberalism. That said, there are always exceptions that prove the rule. This review might count as one of them. Sort of.

You know what I find particularly interesting about Steven Universe? For a show with a majority-female character sheet, penned by a self-described feminist, a writing crew that has relative gender parity (maybe a slight tilt towards women), and has a generally liberal philosophy, SU is relatively subtle about its support for feminism.

I don’t think this is a bad thing – get too strident and you risk alienating a decent chunk of your potential audience. Still, SU practices what it preaches by having a wide variety of female (or at least seemingly female) characters, with their gender being secondary to their character traits, dispatching stereotypes in favor of actual characterization. Sure, there’s Kevin and the chauvinistic tones found in his own characterization, but that was more an indictment of sexual harassment (which affects people regardless of gender) than anything. For the most part, gender is just something that exists in Steven Universe, not a rallying cry, and with that, I prefer to focus on the character interactions rather than the sociological aspects of Steven Universe.

Emphasis on for the most part. Sort of. Maybe.

Because here, we have a rare exception.

Ladies and gentlemen? Welcome to Steven Universe‘s “Misogyny Episode”. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “When it Rains” (Season 2, Episode 18)

Before we begin today, I just want to inform people that came here based on my “Recap of Channel Awesome’s Utter Collapse” that I have no immediate intent to do anything like I did with that post. Not that I won’t provide any coverage of future elements of the CA drama, but long-form posts about said drama are unlikely at this stage.

Steven Universe When It Rains

I know you used my toothbrush!” – Steven, talking to Peridot. You know Steven is a weird kid given how he doesn’t immediately toss it in the trash bin.

Airdate: October 1st, 2015

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Katie Mitroff

Plot: Peridot has still locked herself in Steven’s restroom, refusing to divulge any information regarding this mysterious “cluster”. Going nowhere, the Crystal Gems decide to investigate on their own merits, leaving Steven to keep watch over the prisoner. There, he gets a good glimpse at the severity of this cluster. But what is it? Thanks to a little meteorology lesson, Peridot might be willing to help.

Review:

“When it Rains” is the second episode in the “Cluster Arc”, an arc not only focusing on the development and tackle of a major “cluster” that threatens the Earth, but also takes time out to showcase Peridot’s changing relationship with the Crystal Gems. It’s not just a story of science fiction mystery, but one of personal humbling, regret, redemption, and an appreciation for humanity and the world we live in. I call it probably Steven Universe‘s most poignant arc not just because of how applicable the themes are on both a personal and global scale, but because it really serves as a microcosm of the series itself.

What we see in this arc is the restructure of a character along these lines – that character being Peridot. The last episode had her physically humbled – stripped of her physical attributes and reduced to somebody barely any taller than Steven. The next episode will see her social views challenged and rebutted. Now, though, it’s time to challenge her psychological perception of Earth itself.

And boy, do the writers do it – with one of the most powerful moments in the entire series. But what about the rest of the episode? Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Catch and Release” (Season 2, Episode 17)

Just letting you know why I posted this relatively deep into the month. A, schoolwork. B, I’ve been engrossed in what appears to be the utter collapse of Channel Awesome. 

 

Steven Universe Peridot in a Toilet
“It’s agreed – if the International Drainage Commission places a nine hundred dollarydoo call to respond to this, Peridot’s paying.”

 

“Goodnight, happy bear. Goodnight, sad bunny. Goodnight playful kitty. Goodnight, ominous triangle at the foot of my bed.” – Steven. Sometimes, even I wonder how this kid has survived thus far.

Airdate: September 24th, 2015

Written By: Lauren Zuke and Hillary Florido

Plot: Peridot kidnaps Steven out of his bed in a last-ditch attempt to get the hell out of dodge. Unfortunately, Steven’s healing saliva can’t repair the warp pad, and Peridot begins breaking down. She begins to fret about a potential threat to Earth… but before she can complete her warning, the Crystal Gems poof and imprison her. Unnerved by the potential danger to Earth, Steven decides to free Peridot and try to talk to her.

Review:

What arc is more indicative of Steven Universe than any other?

I’m not talking about my favorite SU arc – I mean, I can’t possibly choose between them. I wonder what arc encompasses the themes of Rebecca Sugar’s creation than any other. Is it the Pearl/Rose/Greg dynamic, dealing with themes of loss, regret, delusion, resentment, and a longing for the past? Is it Amethyst’s arc, dealing with intense self-loathing thanks to a society that yearns for the ubermensch and created her as a war machine? Do we focus on Garnet and how her genesis exposed the acerbity of Homeworld against the unknown, the readaptation of tactics for purposes outside their “intended use”? Is it Steven trying to wonder what exactly his life encompasses, and what is expected of him by the Crystal Gems?

All of these are valid answers, but I would like to throw one arc in the mix… the Peridot arc, at least that from the first two seasons and change. That arc has a technician revealed to be her antithesis, going from a stoic heartless cog in the machine to an eccentric, paranoid dork not afraid to question authority.

She’s been sliding down for a long time, but with this episode, Peridot officially and dramatically crashes into rock bottom. By kidnapping Steven.

Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Sadie’s Song” (Season 2, Episode 16)

Sadie dunks her head in a water pitcher.
Me too, Sadie. Me too.

“Ever since my act two years ago, there’s been a rule that you gotta wear clothes.” – Steven. The good news is that that is a very good rule in most situations. The bad news is that the episode only once eclipses the brilliance of that line.

Airdate: September 17th, 2015

Written By: Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco

Plot: While trying to promote the annual Beachapalooza, Steven overhears Sadie belt out one of the highest charting pop songs on the radio, “Haven’t You Noticed I’m A Star”. Impressed with her ability to sing, Steven encourages her to sing for the event. Unfortunately, her overenthusiastic mother, Barbara (Kate Flannery) gets wind that her daughter is going to sing pop records. It all goes downhill from there, leading Sadie ona  path to a breakdown before her pop career even starts.

Review:

Well, all good things must come to an end, and so must Season 2’s run of “very good-to-exemplary” episodes stretching back to “Keeping It Together”. And it ends in the most unusual way – a sequel to the previous episode, written by the same damn people as the previous episode, dealing with many of the same themes as the previous episode.

Yet, while “Nightmare Hospital” could’ve challenged for one of the best episodes of the entire season, “Sadie’s Song”… doesn’t.

Jay from Steven Universally absolutely tore this episode to shreds, even going so far as to call it his second least favorite episode of the entire series (dispatched only by the questionable ethics of “Island Adventure”). And honestly, the more I think about it, the more I have to say… he’s not too far off base. Thinking about this episode enough makes me wonder what the hell happened in the writer’s room. The fact of the matter is, this does not feel like a Steven Universe episode in the slightest. Continue reading