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Steven Chooses His Own Direction in SU’s Season 4 Finale

It has been a real pleasure covering this latest Steven Bomb for you all. We love Steven Universe here at The Fandomentals (obviously), and for good reason. It is a smartly written show full of incredible and diverse characters. The amazing Crewniverse led by Rebecca Sugar does a wonderful job covering a variety of issues in a responsible and healthy manner. The show’s optimism is a breath of fresh air in the current television landscape.

As we discussed in yesterday’s review, some fans have soured on Steven Universe during S4 because of the season’s preference for the citizens of Beach City rather than Homeworld and the Crystal Gems. That despite the amazing Zoo arc which showed us Blue Diamond. “I Am My Mom,” the finale to both this week’s Steven Bomb and S4 as a whole, hopefully made clear just why the Crewniverse opted for this focus. Season 4 built up to this Bomb and this finale in an incredibly intelligent and thoughtful way, and we can’t imagine them pulling this off any better.

And with that, Bo and Gretchen are here again, as Betchen, to tackle “I Am My Mom” and S4 as a whole.

Spoilers for 4×25 “I Am My Mom” below

Recap

At the beach house, Steven tells the gems about Aquamarine and Topaz. Pearl and Garnet react badly to the identity of the gems (what do they know that we don’t??); Pearl thinks this means the Diamonds sent them personally. They all wonder why Steven’s friends are the ones being abducted. Steven, of course, thinks it’s because his friends are the best.

He gets a text from Connie’s phone showing a picture of Funland. They go there, and Steven gets a call from Connie’s phone. Surprise, it’s a trap! Aquamarine and Topaz appear with all Steven’s missing friends still trapped in Topaz’s body. Yep, still terrifying. Aquamarine realizes Steven knows everyone “on their list”. She also reveals the list came from ‘a Steven’. (As with the “My Dad” thing, you might see where this is going.)

Sheesh, Crewniverse, way to go Dark.

Aquamarine dismisses the Crystal Gems desire to fight her, saying they were in the same report listing which humans to capture, but they’ll be left alone if they tell her where ‘My Dad’ is. Their list was based on the report Peridot made after first meeting Steven at the Prime Kindergarten. Yep, all the way back in S1. Excuse us for a moment; this both crushes us because of the guilt Peridot will feel and makes us laugh because Peridot believed “Onion, I think” and “My Dad” to be separate specimens of human beings.

To be fair, she might be right about Onion.

The gems try to save everyone, but Aquamarine demands to know where My Dad is or the captured humans die. Not even implied, Topaz straight up starts to Oberyn Martell Jamie. Steven stops them by telling them he is My Dad. Aquamarine suspects he’s lying, but accepts it so they can leave. Topaz traps Steven in her fused body and they head up to their ship. He tries to free them with his bubble power but Topaz is “too thick.” That she is.

Steven eventually succeeds and splits the fusion apart, freeing everyone. In the confusion, Lars runs and hides. Steven and Connie fight a fused Topaz (SO COOL) while Steven apologizes for everyone’s capture. Before the ship can take off, Alexandrite forms and grabs hold of it. Everyone except Lars jumps from the ship to the water below. They’re going to do it! They’re going to escape!

Oh wait, Aquamarine has the most OP gem weapon ever made.

She uses her wand to freeze everyone but Steven. In order to help them, Steven confesses he’s not My Dad. He is his mother, Rose Quartz, the gem who led the Crystal Gem rebellion and shattered Pink Diamond. He thus surrenders himself in exchange for everyone else’s freedom. It isn’t what his mother would want, but only he can end the conflict between Earth and Homeworld and that’s what he wants.

He leaves with Aquamarine and Topaz while everyone else cries. Betchen included. STEVEN NOOOOOOOOOOO!

Delightful Little Gems

  • Alexandrite had a new design adjusted for Amethyst’s reformation!
  • The list callback might just be the best callback in Steven Universe history. Ugh, poor Peridot.
  • Steven and Connie didn’t fuse despite Steven’s suggestion because he was too emotionally unstable. We’ve seen before how mental state determines the success or failure of fusions and it was interesting to see this apply to Stevonnie.
  • Lars is still on the ship. LARS IS STILL ON THE SHIP AND IS GOING ON A LIFE-CHANGING ADVENTURE WITH STEVEN.

Lingering Questions

  • We wonder what else Peridot put in those reports to Yellow Diamond.
  • ARE WE ACTUALLY GOING TO SEE HOMEWORLD???
  • We can probably attribute this to Rose’s sword, but how was Connie standing up to Topaz’s blows?

Closing Thoughts

So here we are at season 4’s end. Steven and Lars are aboard a Homeworld ship as prisoners. Steven chose to surrender himself to save his friends and face judgment for Rose Quartz’s crimes. There is so much to dissect about Steven’s choice here. The guilt he feels over PD’s death, the burden he feels to make it right, his Magical Gem Destiny, the responsibility he feels to protect Earth from Homeworld. Not to mention the feeling of abandonment and failure the Crystal Gems must feel watching Rose’s son leave them and Connie’s anger about Steven breaking his promise that whatever one of them faced, the other would always face it with them.

We can’t hope to unpack it all in the space of a review, so we’ll settle for mentioning it and defer analysis for potentially a larger piece down the line. But we do want to point out what Steven’s choice means for his character growth. He spent all season concerned about Rose’s legacy and his place in it. To us, it’s no accident that this bomb started with “Lion 4: Alternate Ending” and ended with “I Am My Mom”. Steven begins this week recognizing that he has no Magical Gem Destiny. That his only ‘purpose’ is to be himself and make his own choices. He ends this bomb and season making the choice to sacrifice himself for his friends.

“She wouldn’t have wanted this, but I do.” — Steven

The phrasing, and what it implies, matters. She, Rose, wouldn’t have wanted this. Steven acknowledges that he and his mom are two different people. He understands her and and what she wanted for him. And he makes his own decision. So, by going against what his mom would have wanted (turning himself over to Homeworld), he also inadvertently fulfills something she did want for him: to make his own choices.

Just think about the growth this exemplifies! Steven has reached a point where he no longer feels burdened to fulfill his mother’s role or destiny in the Crystal Gems. Paradoxically, by embracing his lack of Magical Gem Destiny, he actually found one, though not the one he expected. By sacrificing himself to ‘fix’ his mother’s mistakes, he is bearing the burden of her legacy in a way. But note that he does so by his own choice. He knows Rose didn’t purposefully make him to avoid dealing with the repercussions of her choices. He’s not acting out of misplaced obligation or guilt for what she did. He’s doing it because he, Steven, wants to. He can now say, without rancor, that he believes he can solve the problems Rose left behind. That’s huge.

SAME, PEARL. SAME.

On the whole, this was an amazing finale, which hopefully erased whatever questions or concerns fans felt about the direction of season 4. Every episode spent with the townies that you wished had been spent on Lapis or Jasper now has a clear focus. Every second Steven spent agonizing over his mother was justified by their impact on his choice to surrender.

Even “Onion Gang” has a retrospective impact you never would have expected when it aired. How sad was it to see Steven search those empty woods for Onion, knowing how happy he had been there with his friends?

Season 4 certainly drifted a bit away from the gems themselves, and for a good reason. This was the first season which was not meant to revolve entirely around them. Season 4 belonged to Beach City and its citizens. It was all about establishing a clear threat towards them and making sure you felt the fear and tension when Homeworld came for them. That’s why even the Zoo arc, which so centrally involved Blue and Yellow Diamond, was all about humans and the threat they faced from Homeworld.

And Steven is half human as well as half Gem. It’s only fitting that in a season that saw him fully embracing himself as a human child rather than purely a mystical being with a Magical Gem Destiny would focus on his human family and friends. It’s a reminder to Steven, and us all, that he’s more than a magical being with powers. He’s a human boy, a child of loving parents with loving Gem moms, with interesting and fun human friends. He is a citizen of the earth and a human town with human people who see him as a friend more than a superhero.

As easy as it is to get caught up in the Gem mythos and worldbuilding, it bears remembering that Steven Universe is a show for children. Yes it deals with what some might consider ‘adult’ themes like PTSD, trauma, healing, emotional regulation, overcoming toxic hierarchies/histories, and mental illness. The show also takes great care to address concerns pertinent to children in particular: fitting in, making friends, consent, unrequited love, and, yes, purpose.

In a society that puts a whole hell of a lot of emphasis on what one is suppose to do with one’s life, the message that it’s enough to be human, to be a person and live life as a unique individual, is extremely relevant. Kids face enormous pressure to decide who they are going to be. They may not have a Magical Gem Destiny or superpowers, but the weight of the world can probably feel like that to them. “What am I supposed to do, to be? Why do I exist?” Steven Universe has an answer to that, and it’s “Just be a person.” Like what you like, enjoy what you like, love who you love, and be what you are. That’s all we’re meant to be. And not in a pejorative or condescending way; Steven Universe celebrates the uniqueness of human beings.

Greg: Steven, she just wanted you to be you. When you have a kid, you have no idea who they’re gonna be. Even Garnet couldn’t predict it. That’s what was so exciting to your mom, that life is full of so many possibilities, and you would get to explore them for yourself. I mean, you could be Steven or Nora or anyone else. And you can always change your name. Hey, I did.
Rose: Because you’re going to become something extraordinary. You’re going to be a human being. That’s my favorite part. A human being. A human is an action. I wonder who, how you’ll be, what you’ll think, what you’ll want. Oh, I’m so happy for everyone who’s going to know you.

That’s not ‘settling’, that’s exciting. Steven Universe revels in the idea of human-ness. This bomb, and the season as a whole, has focused on the human element because that’s what we’re meant to focus on in our lives. Being a human being. Looked at from a certain perspective, Rose literally gave up her Gem-ness to become a human being in the only way she could, as half of Steven. She’s willing to sacrifice her life to be something beautiful and special. Not a half-gem hero, a human.

And that? God…that just makes us emotional all over. What better message can children have than that being themselves and making their own choices is precisely who and what they’re meant to be? No matter their gender, orientation, skill, talents, level of social comfort, interests, whatever. No matter what, they’re something amazing and glorious just by existing.

Rebecca Sugar has talked about this time and time again, how she wants kids to watch this show and feel accepted in ways cartoons never made her feel growing up. She wants to help kids understand exactly the lesson this Bomb and season spent so much time relating to its audience. We think she succeeded.

Excuse us while we go sob in the corner for a while.

All that to say the Crewniverse brilliantly structured this season towards this Bomb and Steven’s final choice. Maybe some fans will never care about Beach City enough to feel the impact, but we do and we LOVED it.

See you May 31st and June 1st for the start of S5! Betchen out.


Images Courtesy of Cartoon Network

Bo
Written By

Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and feels slightly guilty over his love for Villanelle.

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