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

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

 

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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: “Nightmare Hospital” (Season 2, Episode 15)

 

Nightmare Hospital
Somewhere, a Huffington Post commenter is using this scene to show how it symbolizes healthcare in the pre-ACA era. And somewhere, a Breitbart commenter is using this to write a rant about the need to destroy Obamacare and rescue Britain from the NHS. And somewhere, Rebecca Sugar still wonders what the hell Molisee and Villeco drank during the boarding process.

Maybe you’re just like my mother.
She’s never satisfied.
Why do we scream at each other?

This is what it sounds like when doves cry.
– 
“When Doves Cry”, Prince.

Airdate: September 10th, 2015

Written By: Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco

Plot: A complete lapse in timing leads to Steven meeting Dr. Maheswaran again at the Maheswaran townhouse. He and Connie brought Rose’s sword with them. Dr. M, however, is no fan of swords, fearing that one accident can turn a person’s face quite bad, so she confiscates it and prepares to ground Connie until the Tories win in Liverpool. Fortunately, she’s called into work to deal with a strange patient at the Hospital. Unfortunately, she takes the sword with her, leading Connie and Steven to sneak through a dark corridor at night, where the trio faces the wrath of one of the Gem experiments.

Review:

And we’re officially out of the Week of Sardonyx. It was an emotionally taxing block of episodes to take on, and even the “lighter” episodes of that entire week contained some sort of deeper symbolic meaning. It was probably my own personal favorite “StevenBomb”, not only as far as my reviews have gone, but probably of all time. (No, the Summer of Steven does not count, for that was more like a StevenNuke.)

So, the drama’s over, right? WRONG! For now, we’re full-swing into Steven Universe the dramedy. Long plot arcs will become more frequent, and even the oft-critiqued (not without reason) “Townie” episodes begin to take their own little arcs. We’re two episodes out from the next long-form arc, one involving one of SU‘s most celebrated characters and her own personal bottoming out.

To bridge the gap, we have two episodes focusing on two of Steven’s friends and their rather tragic relationships with their mothers. In “Nightmare Hospital”, we get Connie Maheswaran and her mother, Dr. Priyanka Maheswaran.

Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Keystone Motel” (Season 2, Episode 11)

Steven Unvierse Keystone Motel

Mirror’s on the ceiling.
The pink champagne on ice.
And she said:
“We are all just prisoners here of our own device.”

And in the master’s chambers
They gathered for the feast.

They stab it with their steely knives
But they just can’t kill the beast!
– “Hotel California”, Eagles

Airdate: July 14th, 2015

Written By: Paul Vilecco, Raven Molisee, and Rebecca Sugar

Plot: Garnet’s not particularly pleased – Pearl sorta tried to manipulate Garnet into forming Sardonyx a day or two ago, and the two are not on speaking terms. Greg, though, barges in with a possible reprieve – a road trip to the state of Keystone to pick up some car wash brushes from an internet man. Despite tagging along with Greg and Steven, Garnet mentally breaks… and splits into two. Ruby and Sapphire are on edge – the former in an uncontrollable fit of anger, the latter just wanting to move on. And Steven winds up caught in the middle of it all, out a hotel room and the ability to swim in the pool.

Review:

Last time on Steven Universe

…boy, Pearl done goofed up, huh?

I mean, wow. Our heroes have failed before, but this time, man, Pearl really threw a wrench into the Crystal Gem dynamic. So, what, does it carry into the next episode before things get back to normal.

Well, it does carry into here. And the next episode. And the one after that. And the one after that before coming to a conclusion. This is actually an intriguing strategy. It allows for us to focus on the Crystal Gems as individuals – nothing unusual except for the fact that this time, there is a serious interpersonal conflict that is causing a schism within the three, all while Steven looks at this complete and utter disaster.

In a rather gutsy move, the show decides to start this journey by looking at Garnet, a gem whose personality has historically been a tough nut to crack… and paradoxically does so by breaking her down to her key components – Ruby and Sapphire.

Go ahead and squee. I’ll wait…

Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Chille Tid” (Season 2, Episode 9)

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“‘Sleep is a curse, and yet a curse I need to live.’ – Steven Universe.” – Hey, that kid stole my quoting thing!

Airdate: June 19th, 2015

Written By: Lamar Abrams and Lauren Zuke.

Plot: Unable to find Malachite in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the Crystal Gems return back to Beach City exhausted. While Garnet continues an expedition of her own, she tasks Steven with forming a slumber party with Pearl and Amethyst. Amethyst takes to it like a fish to water. Pearl has some difficulties comprehending the entire thing. And Steven, well, his dreams send him in contact with Lapis Lazuli as she enters the struggle of her life.

Review:

“Chille Tid” is one of the most unusual Steven Universe episodes ever.

That’s saying something, right? I mean, the very nature of Steven Universe itself lends itself to a broad story engine. Want to guess Garnet’s day in a life through a parody of Shonen anime? You got it. Want to cross over with the most eccentric show to air on Cartoon Network in ages? Well, hello, Uncle Grandpa. Want to explore an Alex Jones wannabe in his attempts to achieve documentary fame? Ronaldo Fryman will take care of that. Want to do a loving tribute to Broadway musicals? “Mr. Greg” don’t cost nothing, my friends.

The point is, there are only two rules. A, keep it PG. B, put it in the perspective of one Steven Quartz Universe.

So here we are – Steven, through his dreams, gets to experience Lapis Lazuli on the business end of psychological trauma! Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Political Power” (Season 1B, Episode 25)

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Every civilization is three meals away from revolution. Beach City, meanwhile, only made it one night without power.

“Tip the truck!”  – Nanefua. Politics is strange…

Airdate: March 11th, 2015

Written By: Hillary Florido and Katie Mitroff.

Plot: Pearl’s EMP, constructed to destroy the robonoids, instead takes power out in Beach City. With the power still out the morning after, Mayor Dewey is forced to go to the Crystal Gems to try and get some assistance. Steven tags along and gets an inside look at how spin works, as well as how the facade of strength factors in the chain of command. Kinda timely

Review:

I know it’s a bit of a strange way to start off a review of Steven Universe, but stay with me…

Why was Donald Trump elected President of the United States?

I don’t pose that question in a “holy macaroni, we actually elected him” sort of way, although, holy macaroni, we actually elected him. I pose the question in a more contemplative, analytical way – what drove so many people to vote for a political neophyte? The answer, like most things in life, is complex. Reasons given include a rejection of the Democratic Party and the perceived elitism in modern culture, a feeling of the working classes being left out economically and socially over the past few decades, Secretary Clinton coming off as inauthentic and manufactured, concerns over terrorism and crime rates, a few votes used him as a vehicle for more odious rationales, etc.

Still, say what you will about the man, but President Trump’s campaign was undeniably grandiose. That made him stand out amongst a crowd of politicians that stuck to their own platitudes – all while creating a few of his own, ironically enough. He promised his supporters the world by appealing to their Id (even if that attracted and included more insensitive and politically incorrect elements), and generally speaking, it worked enough to get him in.

Now, what does this have to do with our silly little TV show? (Besides the fact that the writers probably got inebriated the day after the election?)

Three words – Mayor Bill Dewey.

…you’re all prepping your torches and pitchforks, I presume?

Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: “Maximum Capacity” (Season 1B, Episode 17)

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Looks like Greg’s storage unit is at… no, not completing that joke.

I haven’t really cleared this place out since your mom… ahem. – Greg, admitting he just collected 13 years worth of junk. TLC cameras are coming – people have to learn about this insanity!

Airdate: February 26th, 2015

Written By: Hillary Florido, Katie Mitroff, and Rebecca Sugar.

Plot: It’s almost New Years, and what better way to celebrate than looking at Greg’s storage unit, full of garbage collected over 13 years. As Amethyst comes over to sort through the trash, she discovers old tapes of Lil’ Butler, a sitcom that Greg and Amethyst used to watch way back when. The two binge watch, neglecting the world around them.

Review:

Steven Universe is a psychologist’s nightmare come true.

Shocking, right?

Yeah, anybody that’s watched from “An Indirect Kiss” on can probably generate an undergraduate thesis on this goddamn show and how messed up its characters are. (Gotta get that diploma from State somehow!) Unfortunately, there are no therapists in fiction (and even if there were, I dunno if Steven would afford one), so these characters have to work through their mental anguish/trauma/lost Lenores with each other… and in so doing, wind up screwing up Steven mentally for years to come.

This episode… is another example of the characters’ collective descent into madness and despair.

And it all started with Rose Quartz. Continue reading

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, it gets dark out way too early, 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 a peculiar feeling inside me. While there’s a loud passion during summer, a nostalgia within fall, or a romance about spring, winter gives us a more subdued, mellow 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. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: "The Test" (Season 1B, Episode 12)

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Ow.

“I’m now the owner of the golden can opener. Yes… yes…” – Garnet. Ah, the thrills of opening a can WITH GOLD!

Airdate: January 22nd, 2015
Written By: Hilary Florido and Katie Mitroff
Plot: It’s a rainy, miserable day in Beach City. While looking for another board game to play with the Gems, Steven comes across the Moon Goddess Statue. One thing leads to another, and Steven finds out that his trip to the now-destroyed Lunar Sea Spire was a test – and a relatively easy one at that. Demanding a new challenge, the Gems create a module for Steven to avoid high-intensity dangers. As he almost finishes up, he finds out that this test was fixed, as well.

Review:

Dear Cartoon Network schedule builders, thank you for your obsession with Teen Titans Go and “The Answer”. Because of that, this episode barely airs on TV. I betcha that Rebecca Sugar probably wrote several letters to this extent, and Cartoon Network simply responded by threatening to go back to the days of November 2015, when Teen Titans Go aired with a borderline illegal frequency on the network. (Yes, we get it. The award for sound design went to Rob. Please shut up.)

So, anyway, “The Test”. Whereas “Warp Tour” focused more on driving the plot forward by introducing one of the show’s most beloved characters (by featuring her squishing one of her robonoids), this episode focuses more on fleshing out the Crystal Gem Trio, their relationship with Steven, and how the hell they can function as guardians – especially with the specter of Rose lingering over the quartet.

Continue reading