Not Another Top (X) List: Top 12 Episodes of Steven Universe Season 1

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Hello, and welcome to another edition of…

NOT ANOTHER TOP X LIST!

And today, what else should I take a look at but a season from one of my favorite TV shows?

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Steven Universe season 1 is an intriguing block of episodes. I mean, take a look at episode 1, where Steven tries to harness his powers by eating ice cream. Goofy sci-fi comedy, right? Now take a look at episode 52, where Steven and the Crystal Gems are arrested for crimes of treason and face death row just as he starts to realize what the title means on a political level.

Goofy sci-fi comedy, right?

The second half of Season 1, while not perfect, is impressive as all hell, taking what once seemed like a silly little show and making it one of the most stunning and moving shows on cable television. Even the first half, while lighter and more self-contained, is often given a poor rap by the fandom (at least in my opinion), bringing with it some rather intriguing episodes under its belt.

But what episodes, from the season as a whole, managed to leave the largest and most positive impression with me? That’s where this list comes in.

Now, I will admit that, with one or two exemptions, this is basically a recap of my episode rankings, specifically, the top 12. I just happen to go more into detail here – think of it as a happy medium between my longer reviews and the simple list of episodes on the ranking.

With that said, X=12. I present to you…

THE TOP 12 EPISODES OF STEVEN UNIVERSE SEASON 1

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Steven Universe Review: Season 1A Wrap Up

 

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Poster created by Rebecca Sugar, taken from Wikipedia.

 

“I summoned my weapon by eating ice cream!” + 24 episodes = “YOU CAN’T TRAP ME HERE ANYMORE!”

That’s pretty much the formula of Steven Universe Season 1A. Over the course of ten-and-a-half months, Steven Universe established itself as a valuable part of the sci-fi realm, as well as the critical centerpiece of the Cartoon Network canon. And, over the past ten and a half months, I have been reviewing it. Yes, that was a total coincidence on my part.

One particular stereotype about the fandom is that they tend to discredit 1A, mainly because of the thought that it is weak compared to the sublime rest of the show. While I totally believe that 1A is pretty great overall, I do think that, yes, 1A is the weakest stretch in terms of writing this show has had so far. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: "Ocean Gem" (Season 1A, Episode 26)

Before I begin the review, I would be remiss to not offer my deepest condolences to the victims of the recent terrorist attack at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, as well as their friends and families. Not only was this the deadliest mass shooting in postwar US history – with 49 dead and 53 wounded – this was also (as far as I’m aware) the second deadliest domestic terrorist attack in postwar American history, superseded only by the 1995 Murrah Bombing in Oklahoma City. That this particular massacre happened at a gay nightclub, in a region so many Americans associate with happiness and innocence, is especially heinous.

It goes without saying that this shooting was a disgusting act of hatred against LGBT people, an attack against all Americans and the values that the nation thrives on, and even a crime against humanity, which should have moved beyond acts such as this. I’ll save the political discussions for somebody else – partially because I don’t want this post to be overshadowed by talking points on issues such as homophobia, religious extremism, gun laws, tabloid media, and counter-terrorism. I will, however, proudly declare myself an ally to the LGBT Community.

And yes, I am very aware that Steven Universe is a show that has strong gay and transgender overtones. If anything, take the existence of this show – virtually unfathomable ten years ago in its current form – as a way of saying that attempts to set back rights and progress for LGBT people, especially via terrorism, will achieve so little in the end. As far as terrorists in general, no matter what ideology they use to justify their warped actions, well, Jon Stewart put it best after 9/11 –

“They live in chaos. And chaos… it can’t sustain itself. It never could. It’s too easy, and it’s too unsatisfying.”

And, remember – letting terrorism deter you from doing whatever you would normally do – whether going to a nightclub or marching in a Pride parade – only gives these madmen a sense of victory. We can’t let that happen.

Now, on what is hopefully a far lighter note…


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“Your pain runs deep! Share it with me!” (I may have just gotten myself banned from Trek fandom for life.)

“I’m gonna bring the ocean back, or get really thirsty trying.” – Steven, stating his resolve. Gonna need a lot of water, kid.

Airdate: September 25th, 2014

Writers: Joe Johnston and Jeff Liu

Plot: Last time on Steven Universe, Pearl introduced Steven to a magic mirror, the mirror proves sentient and begs to be released from its prison, the Borg capture Captain Jean-Luc Picard and rename him Locutus, Charles Montgomery Burns is shot outside Town Hall after angering the entire town, Kryten creates a franchise-killing dinosaur with the Time Wand, Bill manages to start the Apocalypse via a distraught pre-teen, President Bartlet and his staff are targeted by assassins, and Lapis Lazuli is released before threatening to drown the Crystal Gems in an act of revenge.

Just as Steven is being reprimanded and grounded by the Crystal Gems for insubordination, they find out that the ocean has receded. To nothing. This presents a problem – Beach City stands to lose quite a lot of tourism dough. Realizing that he helped screw up an entire town’s economy, Steven, the Trio (who nullify the kid’s punishment), Connie, Lion, and Greg all go out to bring the ocean back. En route to the source, Steven finds out about a schism in the Gem society.

Review (Spoilers):

So, in the last episode, Steven Universe raised the stakes plot-wise. It hinted that our heroes might be in greyer territory than we thought. that Lapis might be morally questionable while still coming off as tragic, and that there is a universe of Gems beyond Earth.

This episode merely serves to confirm what we learned in the past episode, yet does so in a way that supersedes almost every episode up to this point in terms of quality.

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Don’t ask how Steven can breathe in space. Just assume “half-alien” and leave it be.

Lapis, in the last episode, was introduced something of an enigma. Did she have a genuine reason for attacking the Crystal Gems after being freed? Was it all an attempt to deflect any sort of blame on her part? Were the Gems justified in keeping her in the mirror… if they knew that they kept her in the mirror?

Well, we do get quite a bit of clarification in terms of her character.

On one hand, she’s pretty damn destructive. Lapis, for one, takes all of the water out of the ocean, therefore screwing with the world’s aquaculture, the weather cycles, and therefore, the environment and economy. Plants and animals will die. She’s all but callous as to wanting to drown kids – yes, children. Oh, and she destroys Greg’s van – their mode of transport to the center of the ocean. He lives in that place, it’s the Crystal Gems’ only way back, and it winds up beaten up. Has she no shame?

Well…

Consider her motives, her backstory. It’s been implied that Lapis has quite the negative view of Earth. She was, after all, effectively kidnapped there, held hostage  – and, as we learn in this episode, she was held hostage by a group she considers traitors. The one human she felt an emotional connection towards effectively decided to stay with a group that she has written off as callous and Judas-esque… mainly because it goes way back in Gem history. What, exactly, she doesn’t elaborate.

All Lapis wants is to escape Earth, to go back home. Her gem being cracked, though, makes this damn near impossible. There’s not enough water to steal from the Third Rock from the Sun, and, even worse, her water wings (literally, her wings made out of water) can’t generate with a cracked gem. Yet, in trying to reach her own home, she’s damaging the home of god knows how many people. Steven even brings this up, and Lapis gets a moment of clarity.

Thankfully, Steven has his healing saliva – y’know, the saliva that allowed Connie to pop the lenses out of her glasses. Lapis gets her wings and flies off into the stars, forever liberated. Right?

Yeah… we’ll get back to this.

Either way, Lapis Lazuli, with our knowledge of the Gem Conflict, manages to give off a very, very sympathetic and affable aspect to the opposing side.

Now, onto the Gem conflict… to see Pearl spin it in a way that they themselves were the heroes, when Lapis thinks otherwise, really showcases an impressive level of depth in terms of plot and character dynamic. Pearl notes that, for one, there are corrupted Gems – the Centipeetle, the Ice Monster, etc. – who the Gems bubble and trap in Garnet’s room. The way she mentions it – after noting that “not all gems are good” – leads to some hint that, well, not only do “Homeworld” Gems not necessarily approve of this idea of imprisonment (or the reasoning behind it), but that they might be doing more unseemly things to corrupted Gems.

By the end of the episode, though, one has to wonder… is the Crystal Gems’ side of the story completely, unreservedly true? I mean, there’s definitely more credence to their side of the story based on what we have seen, but there could very well be some inaccuracies – small, but still damning. Later episodes will flesh out the actions of the Crystal Gems a bit more, but to see the show take such a mature tone is, again, impressive

Oh, speaking of complete and unreserved… the animation. Formerly fantastic, this episode has some of the most sublime visuals I have ever seen. Lapis’s face in the water (which almost reminded me of Star Trek V‘s god… except actually well done), the tower of water, the detailed sea floor that Greg and Pearl drive across… I was amazed by it all. These writers, storyboard artists, directors, put so much effort in this show, it’s astonishing.

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And what amazed me even further is just how much Steven has evolved. Not only does he take complete responsibility for his actions, he tries to reason with Lapis. When Lazuli tries to finish off Steven and Connie, he manages to generate his shield. Yes, the kid who once flung his shield into a TV because he generated it by accident used it to save the Earth’s economy/environment/life and all that.

This not only cements Steven’s role as the “defense” of the Crystal Gems, but it really showcases just how in tune to his powers he has become since “Gem Glow” and “Cat Fingers”. And even then, he still tries to talk to Lazuli – not to destroy her, but to wonder… why? He’s baffled over this schism, and while both sides are willing to blast the other as irredeemable and write off the kid as naive (rightfully or otherwise), what manages to make this work is that Steven manages to quell the immediate conflict, at least for now.

He notes the hypocrisy of the situation – that Lapis is trying to go back home by devastating Steven’s home – and Lapis is able to admit that, yes, she only needs the water tower in the short term because her Gem is cracked. One application of saliva later, the earth is saved. There are still deep schisms, though, and none of those are really addressed, but to see Steven disarm a life-threatening disaster via diplomacy is very impressive, although it is tempered by the fact that, no matter what, this is only a band-aid over a larger conflict.

“Ocean Gem” finishes up the two-parter and Season 1A by blowing almost every other episode this “season” out of the water – the only episode that matches this is “An Indirect Kiss”. The characters are well-developed and sympathetic, the comedy is well-placed, the drama is intense, and the plot moves at the best possible pace. To see just how much the show has improved from “Gem Glow” is astonishing. There’s still one episode left in SU’s first five-parter, but I think it’s safe to say that we have entered the “best show on TV right now” territory, and I doubt we will leave it for quite some time.

“See ya, Lapis… wherever you are…”

Tidbits:

I am willing to concede right now that, as much as I wasn’t thrilled with the middle of “Mirror Gem”, to see Dewey there, campaigning, is one hilarious contrast to his role here, trying to fill up the ocean with a garden hose. All while sobbing. I rolled. Said it before, and I’ll say it again, but Joel Hodgson, man… he manages to make being captured on a satellite look dignified, and being in the annals of power look pathetic.

Credit also goes to Jennifer Paz, for giving Lapis Lazuli such a sympathetic, almost tragic, and downright brilliant aura.

Oh, and the fact that Connie goes with Steven to protect him will foreshadow “Sworn to the Sword”, one of Steven Universe‘s greatest episodes.

Wrap Up:

Favorite Scene: Lapis sends water versions of the Crystal Gems after them. All four gems respond by trying to ward off the threat. I like how it’s not even close to easy for them, and that ultimately, Steven’s shield is the most effective weapon.

Best Character: A carryover from the last one – Lapis Lazuli.

Memorable Quote: “…I just want to go home…” – Lapis. I love the regret and tragedy that Paz puts in that line.

ScorePlatinum. Safe to say, this show has ascended into awesomeness.

Steven Universe Review: "Mirror Gem" (Season 1A, Episode 25)

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“School’s out!” – Steven, after taking a class on a Gem mirror. His summer vacation takes a bit of a downward turn from there.

Airdate: September 22nd, 2014

Writers: Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco

Plot: Steven, as it turns out, hasn’t received formal schooling. At all. He manages to get Pearl to teach him a lesson – one revolving around a magic hand mirror. At first, it appears that the magic mirror doesn’t work. However, it begins repeating phrases that it overhears during Steven’s walk. In a way, it becomes sentient. And when the Gems find out, they all begin to think that Steven might be in danger. However, Steven also begins to think that the mirror itself is in danger.

Review (SPOILERS):

“Mirror Gem” is well known in the Steven Universe fandom for it’s twist, one that completely re-routed the plot development in Steven Universe and marked the show’s transformation into a dramatic, science fiction epic…

Pearl stabbed MC Bear Bear! 

That’s just an absolute tragedy, unforeseen in the show’s canon. And for one of our heroes to do it? An action on par with the destruction of Alderaan, that is. It’s as if a stuffed bear cried out in shock… and then was silenced…

…oh, and Steven lets loose a gem, one that’s hostile to the Trio and wants them dead because, apparently, they effectively imprisoned and kidnapped her before tossing her mirror prison aside like a subpar movie that they got at the Walmart dollar bin.

Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: "An Indirect Kiss" (Season 1A, Episode 24)

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“Just today, you were crying about snakes!” “They don’t have any arms!” – Steven and Pearl, engaging in riveting conversation about the tragedy of snake biology.

AirdateSeptember 18th, 2014

Written By: Raven Molisee and Paul Villeco.

Plot: Steven and Connie have come a long way from almost drowning together. Now, they have a pic-a-nic together. Thing is, Steven’s undergoing a bit of an emotional malaise. Also, there’s a fence by the lighthouse where they are having the pic-a-nic. Steven notes that the two are connected, but that the story ends sadly.

Apparently, Steven and Amethyst were horsing around on the edge. One thing led to another, and Amethyst fell off the edge, onto her gem. It cracks, causing her eye to dilate. Thus, Pearl requested, and presumably constructed, a fence up by the cliff.

OK, that’s not a sad ending. Connie inquires about the rest, and Steven finally cracks.

Apparently, Rose used to have tears that healed Gems. Unfortunately, Steven can’t muster up the tears readily. To fix Amethyst’s gem (lest she be permanently damaged), they go for plan B. (And no, it’s not moving the town 5 miles down the road.) The quartet wind up at Rose’s fountain, which apparently has magical healing abilities. Unfortunately, the entire fountain is overgrown, driving Pearl to the brink of insanity. And Steven still can’t muster up the tears. An internal crisis ensues.

Review

This episode marks the second part of Steven Universe’s first five-part arc – one that fleshes out the Crystal Gems, Steven’s role in the dynamic, and everybody’s backstory. This time, we get a look at how Steven feels about the legacy he feels like he has to live up to. What follows is a very impressive episode – one filled with introspection and brilliance. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: "Monster Buddies" (Season 1A, Episode 23)

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Looks like the Centipeetle literally has a rock. But can it inspire her? All we know is that it feels no pain.

Airdate: September 8th, 2014

Plot: Steven gets another pet! This time, it’s a pet that tried to kill him.

Yeah, remember the first episode, where Steven tried to beat the Centipeetles with Cookie Cat Ice Cream? Well, this time, he winds up accidentally un-bubbling one of them – the mother, in fact – and letting them regenerate. Against Pearl’s wishes, Garnet decides to let Steven domesticate her. That proves to be difficult, what with her spitting acid and all that. Oh, and it seems to have a hatred against the Crystal Gems.

Review: “Steven and the Stevens” explored Steven’s role in the Crystal Gem dynamic by temporarily removing him from anybody but himself, and noting how they bounce off of each other on a comic level. Now, “Monster Buddies” shows him and the trio engage in something of a division within the ranks – one where the personalities clash on a dramatic level. Continue reading

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

 

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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. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: "Joking Victim" (Season 1A, Episode 21)

 

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“Sorry, the sign on the side of the store states that The Big Donut is not liable if you start breathing fire. Your lawsuit is dismissed.”

Airdate: August 21st, 2014

Plot: Steven’s attempts to chase down some fire salt fries (thanks, Amethyst) with soda lead to a mess at the Big Donut. Lars shirks his responsibilities via a “back injury”, and Sadie gives him the day off. Steven, therefore, is appointed as a temporary Lars, and even manages to do a better job at the Big Donut. Still, Sadie can’t just fire him – the two have something of a relationship.

To try and cheer Lars up, the two bring donuts to his house, only to catch him on the trampoline with the Cool Kids. A distraught Sadie reveals that this may not have been the first time this has happened, and vows revenge. Cue the fire salt donut. The consequences are really heated… as pictured above.

Review (SPOILERS): At first glance, this episode has such little a point as to it’s existence, it’s probably a sphere. However, a closer look does damage to that hypothesis. Yes, this episode is a “canon-light” one – an episode that does not have a whole lot of bearing in terms of major plot development. The episode isn’t completely disposable, however – it fleshes out characters, and introduces a theme that will become a major one in season 2. In fact, dare I say, it’s probably the most overlooked episode of the show’s canon. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: "Coach Steven" (Season 1A, Episode 20)

 

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You’ve messed with Sugilite for the last time! Prepare! For! GLOBNAR!!!!

Airdate: August 21st, 2014

Plot: A Gem communication hub is causing bursts of electromagnetic interference. The effects? As Garnet puts it, “it’s hurting television”. Rather than one of Pearl’s strategic moves, Garnet instead opts to use raw power.

“Amethyst, fuse with me.”

Enter Sugilite. Built, arrogant and boisterous, she becomes reckless in her destruction of the hub. This doesn’t deter Steven, who suddenly wants to become macho, buff, full of muscle. Hell, he even recruits others (Lars, Sadie, Greg) to join him in his quest to become built. Pearl, though, is driven up the wall because of this.

Review (SPOILERS): First, no, I don’t really listen to Nikki Minaj’s music. I could not care less about it. I’ll stick with the Pet Shop Boys and whatever’s playing on WBAB and WLIX, thank you very much. She does a rather good job in voice acting, though.

Now that my disclaimer is out of the way…

There’s a lot of irony in the title of this episode. Despite the title indicating that this will focus on Steven, instead, we get what might be the very first “Pearl Pathos” episode – an episode revolving around fleshing out Pearl beyond her neurotic exterior. That helps combine with a bit of social analysis to create what might be the standout episode from Season 1A. Continue reading

Steven Universe Review: "Rose’s Room" (Season 1A, Episode 19)

 

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Steven’s gonna have a whale of a time with this room. I am the duke of bad puns.

 

Airdate: May 14th, 2014

Plot: It is a pretty bad night for Steven. First, the Gems can’t go mini-golfing with him because they have a mission. Then, his attempts to play video games are interrupted with the trio’s post-mission idiocy. Irritated, he wishes for things to go his way for once – a wish that opens up Rose’s Room. In effect a holodeck, Rose’s room can generate whatever Steven wishes for. Unfortunately, the effects can often be… dangerous.

Review: “Better Than Life” is my favorite episode of Red Dwarf. The episode features the trio’s exploits in the titular Total Immersion Videogame. However, it winds up rooting itself in self-generated psychological terror on Rimmer’s part, with his sweetest dreams turning into nightmares. He goes from being a respected, opulent real admiral to a married, bankrupt piece of ant chow, and he drags down the rest of the Red Dwarf gang with him. Needless to say, I died laughing… and brought more Red Dwarf episodes on iTunes.

Speaking of which, “Rose’s Room”. It takes a similar path. Except with less comedy. And very more emotional overtones (which, considering that the Red Dwarf episode involved Rimmer learning that his abusive father died before Arnie suffered radiation poisoning, is a rather hard feat.) Continue reading