How Steven Universe Future is both building up and tearing down

Photo Credit: Steven Universe/Cartoon Network Image Acquired from Turner Press
Photo Credit: Steven Universe/Cartoon Network Image Acquired from Turner Press /

Steven Universe Future, the limited epilogue series to the main run, recently wrapped up its season (or series?) and left us with an interesting footnote to the climax of this beloved story.

Steven Universe Future had a fascinating job to perform that we don’t often get to see. It’s not so much interested in pushing forward to a new chapter for Steven and the Crystal Gems, but instead it ponders what it would be to actually win. What happens after that?

This is especially potent for a character like Steven, one who has been so bent on helping other people and gems throughout the course of the five-season series. Essentially, his entire life’s work has come to a close at a remarkably young age. What are you supposed to do when there’s no one left to help and your job is done?

By the end of these ten episodes, Steven Universe doesn’t come away with a definitive answer and rightly so. These episodes largely track Steven as he struggles to find a place for himself after the dissolution of the Gem Empire and in the midst of facilitating other gems’ transition into life on Earth.

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Again and again, Steven tries to assist others in the way that he used to with less than stellar results. This most apparent in “Guidance,” where Steven attempts to help Amethyst find jobs for some of the gems and proves to be much less proficient at it than Amethyst. Steven’s heart is still in the right place but it’s not working for him the same way this used to.

Steven Universe Future can be described as a downward spiral for Steven as these things he would use so that he didn’t have to think about himself — i.e. helping others with their problems — is taken away from him and replaced with his own version of an existential crisis. This also comes through with how much he does not want to think about his mom at this point.

He’s aware that she’s done bad things but doesn’t want to focus on those things or reconcile those in any way. Steven is the dog in a burning room insisting over and over that everything is fine.

Steven Universe Future is the natural flip on one of its main conceits. Steven is a deeply empathetic person with this talent of getting to the core of what’s going on with someone else but when the time comes for him to turn that attention on him, he could not be more helpless. He has often in the past shied away from self-reflection to a grand degree. He’s more likely to refocus that attention somewhere else than onto himself.

So when we get to the part where the more toxic parts of Steven’s personality start to emerge and that demonstrates itself,  he shrinks inward without doing any kind of introspection. This is all backdropped against the emergence of Steven’s pink powers and relating this back to his connection with Pink Diamond.

“Volleyball,” an episode from Steven Universe Future where Steven and Pearl try to fix the cracks on Volleyball, Pink’s Pearl, it comes out that Pink was the one that damaged Volleyball when she’d become emotionally volatile and used her powers in destructive ways. Volleyball claims that Pink didn’t mean to hurt, her that it was an accident. That could easily be read as a victim apologizing for her abuser’s actions but there’s a really interesting parallel later in the season.

In the penultimate episode, “Little Graduation,” Steven’s emotions run rampant when he feels like all of his friends are leaving him and inadvertently traps them all in a pink dome. In this case, Steven didn’t mean to hurt anyone but he does. It’s an accident but it happens because emotions are too out of control for him to handle.

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In all of these ways, Steven Universe Future plays around with the concept of a happily ever after, which Steven Universe: The Movie also did to a different extent. You can get everything you want, your goals can be met as perfectly as they can reasonably be, and you can still be the hero of your story by the end of it, but what happens after that is just as hard. You still have to contend with yourself.

Steven Universe airs on Cartoon Network. What did you think of this recent series? Let us know in the comments below.