He’s learning how to heal. Oh, and before you start reading, SPOILERS for Steven Universe Season 3 through 3×15, “Alone at Sea.”
We’re more than halfway through season 3 and Steven has been doing a lot healing, as well as getting involved in other people’s business. He is Steven after all. Our favorite human/gem fusion can’t seem to stop sticking himself in the middle of other people’s problems (see also 2×04, 2×17). “Monster Reunion” (3×14) and “Mr. Greg” (3×08) might be the most blatant examples, but almost every episode has one or the other. It’s pretty safe to say we have a theme here.
I prefer to call his actions ‘mediation’. Why? And why pair it with healing? They’re two sides of the same coin. Mediation is really a form of interpersonal healing and reconciliation. Steven as healer has been a highly anticipated development in Steven’s arc ever since he healed Connie’s eyesight (1×24). Rose was a healer herself, so it makes sense that her son would inherit those powers, though obviously with his own unique twist (healing spit instead of healing tears). Many fans have speculated that a part of Steven’s power will be the ability to heal the corrupted gems in the temple. I mean, come on, they’re Chekov’s bubbles.
But reconciliation? There’s not as much discussion in the fandom on that part. He is the kind of person that despises conflict, especially among his loved ones. He will do everything possible to bring people together when they’re fighting (see 2×11,“Cry for Help” and 2×12, “Keystone Motel”). It’s this impulse that I label mediation. He doesn’t just want the conflict to end, after all. He wants heal breaches between people as well as physical injuries. This is why I think it is a part of Steven’s healing power. Like I said, what is mediation if not interpersonal healing? But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Steven’s Healing Arc (Thus Far)
The very first episode of the season situates Steven as a healer and mediator trying to free Lapis from a toxic relationship (toxic to both of them, mind you). Steven has been trying to reach Malachite since the fusion began, though she’d been out of reach since 2×10 (“Chille Tid”). His desire to help rescue Lapis from Jasper leads to him using the Steven!melons to help Alexandrite split up Malachite. Lapis is released from her watery prison and Jasper is swallowed up by a fissure to spend some time getting to know earth from the inside out.
His powers are immediately put to the test in 3×02 (“Gem Drill”). When he and Peridot travel to the center of the earth to stop the Cluster, he is bombarded with their cries of pain. Rather than fight them, he listens to the shards. They aren’t angry, only lonely and seeking to make themselves whole again by finding the rest of themselves. He helps them understand that they don’t need to find the rest of their pieces. They have each other for company, broken as they are. Healing for them need not mean physical wholeness. As with the other gem shards in the temple, the Cluster ends up safely bubbled and the earth is saved. (Though I’m 100% certain we haven’t seen the last of them.) After “Gem Drill”, the show returns to the initial aspect of Steven’s healing arc: Lapis’ journey with her trauma.
Steven takes it upon himself to help the traumatized Lapis learn to adjust to living in a world that represents imprisonment and neglect. He’s healed her cracked gem (1×26, “Ocean Gem”) and now he seeks to heal her emotional trauma as well. He helps her see that Earth can be a home instead of another prison (3×03, “Same Old World”), and tries to mend the rift between her and Peridot (3×04, “Barn Mates”). While he is able to reconcile her to being on earth—and she is willing to befriend him when she won’t befriend anyone else—Steven is unable to mediate between her and Peridot.
In 3×14, “Monster Reunion” Steven discovers that his healing spit has returned, as he thought he lost it in 1×27 (“House Guest”). In hindsight, this was probably due to his self-doubt, as we’ve learned since that Steven’s powers are controlled by his emotions. Anyway, he convinces Garnet to let him try healing one of the corrupt gems (Centipeetle), and once she’s unbubbled, he uses his spit on her. She is partly healed, with a half-gem, half-Centipeetle body, but is still unable to talk.
Garnet warns Steven that corruption is like a crack in the mind, and that it cannot always be healed with spit. As with Lapis (see below), Steven has to learn that not all wounds can be healed with a lick or a kiss. Some wounds are deeper than cracked gems. Corruption is a disease of the mind and soul, not of the body, though it does effect the body. As a side note, this is an impressive way to explain to children that beings are holistic, pains of the heart and mind can manifest in the body as well and vice versa. Unwilling to believe that her wounds are beyond his aid, he finds a way for her to communicate what she needs to him.
He learns through her drawing that a part of her crew died in the gem war, part was separated from her, and the rest left her behind. Her commander (Yellow Diamond by the looks of it) ordered a retreat and she was left stranded on earth, believing all her crew dead and gone. She blames the Diamond Authority and is triggered when she tries to explain it to Steven. Basically, she’s a war vet and it seems like corruption is a cipher for PTSD, as reliving her trauma causes part of her to revert back to her corrupted form.
She eventually reverts completely and Steven feels like he failed her. Yet once again, we see that what she needed was not to be completely healed, at least not right now. She needed to be with the rest of her crew, the ones that survived and were stranded with her, though separated. Steven did help her, just not in the way he expected. Thus, Steven is learning that healing does not always look the way he expects it to. A true healer must listen to what the wounded party needs rather than attempt to force healing on them when they are not ready. This brings me to mediation, as the lesson there is the same.
Steven’s Mediation Arc (Thus Far)
After Lapis’ arc ends in 3×05 and a fluff episode (“Steven Floats”), Steven is confronted with multiple situations where he has to decide if and how to intervene. Steven, surprisingly, takes a back seat in Sour Cream’s problems in 3×07 (“Drop Beat Dad”). Rather than interfere, Steven does no more than support Sour Cream through his struggle. The choice is rewarded when Sour Cream calls out his dad, reunites with his step-dad, and puts on a kick-ass concert. Steven seems to have learned that not all interpersonal problems require his mediation, that sometimes, he has to let other people work it out for themselves.
Then comes “Mr. Greg” and I die a little bit inside. It is the apex, in my opinion, of Steven as mediator. He does his best work when he allows the people he loves to work things out themselves, with just a little boost from his presence. Sure, it’s a very different situation with Greg and Pearl than with Sour Cream and his dad, or even Lars and Sadie. Here, Steven takes it upon himself to basically plop himself down in the middle of the ghost of a love triangle. Instead of taking them over (as he does later with Lars), he brings the wounded parties gently together and facilitates conversation. Reconciliation has begun, proving that Steven works best when he’s on the fringes supporting, not in the middle controlling.
It’s a short-lived lesson, because two episodes later has him interfering with Lars’ and Sadie’s lives (3×10, “The New Lars”). Some people were happy with the ‘new Lars’ (i.e., Steven in Lars’ body). Nevertheless, Steven actually does more damage to the one person he was trying to reconcile with Lars (Sadie) and ends up admitting that it was wrong of him to interfere with their relationship. As much as Steven would like to fix every one else’ problems, he can’t and shouldn’t.
It’s a lesson he has to learn again when he accidentally uses astral projection to save Kiki in 3×13 “Kiki’s Pizza Delivery Service” (I see what you did there, Rebecca Sugar). Unbeknownst to Steven, he is fighting her anxiety for her by rescuing her every night from her nightmare of being drowned by a cheese monster (this is SU after all). Eventually, he realizes that he can’t fight someone else’s demons. Kiki did ask him to help rather than him interfering, but it still isn’t his job to take on everyone’s battles for them. It’s exhausting (literally), and doesn’t get to “the sauce” of the problem, as he puts it.
Where he succeeds with Kiki is in precisely this, getting to the sauce: helping Kiki realize that she’s lying and not setting boundaries with her twin sister Jenny. As with Steven helping Kiki, Kiki’s inability to say no was consuming her, exhausting her, and causing problems in her subconscious.
We see a similar resolution in 3×12 (“Restaurant Wars”). When trying to order off menu, he accidentally reignites an old feud between Kofi at Fish Pizza and Fryman at Beach Citywalk Fries. His first attempt to reconcile them—having Ronaldo and Kiki pretend they’re in love a la Romeo and Juliet—fails miserably. Ronaldo loses his girlfriend Jane, and the two men push their feud with as much vigor as before. It’s only after he sits all the children down and learns how the first feud ended that he is able to help resolve the conflict. Once he listens, he accomplishes a resolution quickly.
This brings me back to Lapis’ arc in 3×04-3×05. It might seem like the narrative applauds him yelling at Lapis for being mean because this action is never specifically called out. Given what follows, I would argue that this arc is a failure and Steven was wrong to yell at her that way, though understandably frustrated by her problematic behavior. It’s complicated. Neither party was entirely ‘correct’ in their behavior. Yes, Lapis was rude and mean to Peridot. She was also traumatized and not in a place where interpersonal healing was possible for her. She tries (though imperfectly) to explain this to Steven, but he’s attached himself to Peridot’s ‘side’ in the conflict and will not listen. He’s trying to force a reconciliation that she’s not ready for, and he fails.
Yet, in “Hit the Diamond” we see that Lapis has been allowed to be herself, to be Bob—a depressed, traumatized gem with little emotional energy and even littler interest in being a Crystal Gem. Even if she helps them defeat the Rubies and was willing to protect Peridot at the end of “Barn Mates,” she’s far from healed. And she’s allowed to be that way. Steven makes no more effort to force a reconciliation that isn’t in the right place to happen yet. Steven has decided to leave that alone, which I think is for the best. Lapis is too hurt to be able to make the effort to make friends right now and needs to be allowed to work through her trauma.
The narrative moves on from Lapis until 3×15, last night’s “Alone at Sea”. Steven and Greg rent a boat to take Lapis out on the sea and reconnect her with the water in an easygoing way. Any time she feels stressed or anxious, Steven distracts her, while also gently pushing her to test her boundaries and open up. She laughs and has fun. They fish, but instead of catching a fish, Lapis catches Jasper.
Before Jasper surfaces, Lapis admits to Steven that she misses Jasper and being Malachite. She warns him that she’s dangerous, a monster. When Jasper begs to become Malachite again, Lapis admits that she took her anger out on Jasper in an abusive way. Jasper continues to plead to become Malachite, saying she misses how strong they were together and that she’s changed. Lapis says no. She explains that their fusion wasn’t healthy and never wants to feel the way she felt with Jasper again. Steven defends Lapis’s ‘no’ and Lapis punches Jasper out into the ocean to protect him. I could write an entire meta on this episode, and maybe I will, but now is not the time.
As with Kiki, Steven allowed Lapis to fight her own battle with Jasper, and Lapis came out healthier for it. She recognized her mistakes, confessed to the problematic choices she made, and made a decision to be healthy in the future. He distracted her when she was sad and reconnected her with the ocean, a crucial aspect of her person. Instead of making her choices or fighting her battles, he let her be and defended the choices she made.
What Works, What Doesn’t
Given the threads, is there anything we can pick out about Steven’s growth as a healer? In both “Mr. Greg” and “Restaurant Wars”, the similar factor that leads to reconciliation is that Steven learns what brought the two parties together in the first place, or better put, he finds what they have in common and plays on that. “You love me and I love both of you” is the thread in “Mr. Greg”. A common enemy worked the first time to get Kofi and Mr. Fryman to work together, so Steven uses it again, and it works.
When doesn’t mediation work? When he attempts to force communication without common ground (Sadie and Lars) or when one of the parties is unwilling/not read for mediation (Lapis and Peridot).
This is connected to how he handles the situation with Connie/Stevonnie, and Kevin (3×11, “Beach City Drift”). He experiences for himself just how hard it can be when he is one of the injured parties. Suddenly, he feels hurt and damaged and unwilling to make true peace. He starts out wanting to use Stevonnie to hurt Kevin, and Connie joins him because she feels hurt as well. It isn’t until he realizes that he doesn’t want Kevin’s feelings and actions to control him, or dictate how he relates to Connie/Stevonnie, that he is able to let go. He and Connie then find peace together as Stevonnie, reconciled to themselves without need to get revenge or prove themselves to Kevin after all.
Each of these situations represents Steven learning how best to use his powers of interpersonal healing. As I mentioned in the introduction, I think it is connected to his healing power. At the very least it is a human skill enhanced by his gem. We know Rose was able to inspire loyalty in even the most unexpected quarters (Pearl). It isn’t hard to imagine that Steven has added his own twist on Rose’ healing and ability to inspire loyalty by extending his healing to interpersonal conflicts.
I love that as a part of this process, he gets opportunities to succeed and fail along the way. He succeeds with the Cluster, then fails with Lapis/Peridot. He steps aside with Sour Cream/his dads, then succeeds with Greg/Pearl. He fails with Lars/Sadie, then succeeds with Kofi/Mr. Fryman, with the help of his friends of course. He starts failing with Kiki, but ends up succeeding once he stops fighting her battles for her. He believes he fails with Centipeetle, but Garnet reassures him it is a success because Centipeetle needed something different than he expected.
Thus, Steven’s ‘meddling’ is really his exploration of his power, albeit an unconscious one. Not long after he has success with a particular tactic, we find him applying it to a new situation. After helping the Cluster it’s no wonder he throws himself into mediating between Lapis and Peridot, this time with less success. The Cluster was lonely. He conceives of Peridot and Lapis as being lonely too. They just need to see that they can be friends and help each other feel less lonely while they’re on earth, just like the gem shards. But Lapis isn’t so much lonely as hurting and traumatized, so his appeal doesn’t help. He can’t make Lapis want a friend.
He uses astral projection, dream manipulation, and mind control with the watermelons and the Cluster, then again with Lars and Kiki, all with varying degrees of success. He uses a love story to bind together Greg and Pearl, then tries again with Kofi/Fryman and ends up bungling it up. The collective lesson is that there is no one-size fits all way to mediate between hurt parties.
So what is the key to Steven’s success? Listening. The Cluster, Greg/Pearl, Kofi/Fryman, Centipeetle, Kiki, each of these resolutions involves Steven listening to what the aggrieved parties need or want most and finding a way to give that to them.
He helps the Cluster not be lonely by showing it that it has friends with the other broken gem pieces. He helps Greg/Pearl reunite by listening to their shared need to grieve and express their pain and hurt and love regarding Rose. He helps Kofi/Fryman team up by listening to what their families know they need to get them onto the same team. He helps Centipeetle reunite with its alienated (heh) comrades by listening to her story and helping her accomplish tasks she was physically incapable of doing. Once he lets Kiki take control of her subconscious anxiety, she able to defeat the pizza monster herself. He moves to the sidelines, acting as a cheerleader rather than a champion.
The Lesson For Us
As with all of Steven Universe, Steven’s arc is a lesson for the audience as well. Through Steven, Rebecca Sugar and the Crewniverse are teaching children how to be a good friend to those who are hurting, in pain, and traumatized. You cannot rush reconciliation or force friendship (Lapis). You cannot fight someone’s battles for them (Kiki), or interfere with their love lives (Lars and Sadie), no matter how well intentioned you are. You ought not to use your pain to inflict damage on someone, else it might ruin a relationship you care about (“Beach City Drift”). Not listening can cause collateral damage, like breaking up Ronaldo and his girlfriend Jane* in “Restaurant Wars”. You cannot tell people what their healing ought to look like (Lapis, Centipeetle).
But it isn’t just about what not to do. Steven’s successes are lessons as well as his failures. Ultimately, we learn that the ideal place to start is by listening. What a story to be teaching children. Listen to what your friends want and need. Don’t assume you know better than they do what help and healing should look like. Help when you can and encourage them along the way. Be a source of light, love, and understanding. Be a true healer, not a controller or meddler. Seriously, after all the shit we see on our screens in adult programming, I can’t praise this enough.
Someone sent Kylie this anonymous ask on Tumblr:
“So, Steven is definitely going to mess something up really bad and learn a lesson soon, right? He has been really manipulative lately. Everyone is pointing to “The New Lars” alone, but it’s beyond that one episode. He showed no understanding for Lapis’s feelings towards Peridot. He wanted to use Stevonnie out of hatred for Kevin. He was manipulative in both “Mr. Greg” and “Restaurant Wars.” SU is not the kind of show to ignore his behavior or be blind to it. They’re setting up something big.”
To the author of this ask, I say that the problematic behavior you mention is a part of Steven learning how to use his healing powers, which includes mediating in interpersonal conflict. It might seem like Steven is ‘meddling’ and ‘manipulating’, but I think he is unconsciously accessing his unique powers of interpersonal healing. Of course, as I’ve pointed out, there’s mixed results so far.
As far as prediction goes, this is not a show that takes problematic behavior lying down. It would not surprise me if a part of Steven learning how to be a healer/mediator involves him messing up big time. It could be hurting one of his close friends (perhaps Amethyst? There is an upcoming episode called “Steven vs. Amethyst” after all), or it could be something else. Episode titles aren’t enough to go on, and I’m not one to speculate on thin evidence.
Suffice to say, I don’t know what all is coming, but I know it will be good and will not neglect to address Steven’s more problematic choices. He will have his successes and failures, I don’t doubt.He has had them this season already. Whatever damage he may or may not cause will be handled with care and be resolved in a satisfying way. Yet, it seems to be an upward trajectory. Slowly but surely, Steven Universe is learning how to heal others, and—because this is Rebecca Sugar—whatever comes next will be both nuanced and beautiful.
I do have to add that not all manipulative behavior is bad. The art of mediation, like international diplomacy, is basically a form of positive manipulation that attempts to bring warring parties to peace. Steven being manipulative isn’t entirely bad, though he does need to learn that it can make things worse if not done well, i.e., when it is done out of selfishness or when he doesn’t listen to what the parties involved actually want/need.
This is why I think the season opened with the Cluster being subdued, because the real arc this season isn’t about the danger the Cluster represents, but Steven learning and growing as a healer. Because ultimately this show isn’t about danger, but about love and healing and growth, about learning how to help others and let them heal at their own pace if they need to.
The fact that healing and mediation are so interwoven this season is significant. They just have to be connected somehow. While I love that Steven has inherited Rose’ healing powers, mediation appears to be something uniquely Steven. He has a way of using his words to bring peace that I think is a part of what makes him both a powerful gem and a lovely human being. Some might see it as meddling, but I call it interpersonal healing and reconciliation. His failure is due to him being still a human child as well as a gem. He means well even if he isn’t perfect. It doesn’t excuse his behavior, but it does mean we need to see that he is learning, growing, and making mistakes along the way.
At the end of the day, Steven is a unifier, the soul that binds the different personalities of the Crystal Gems together. He is the peacemaker. He chooses love and words over violence. He unifies disparate forces in his life (like Greg and Pearl, Pearl and Amethyst, Lapis and the rest of the Crystal Gems, Peridot and the rest of the Crystal Gems). It’s been a part of him from the beginning. I think it is leading up to Steven mediating between Homeworld and Earth. We might see a further healing arc with Jasper, the rest of the gems in the temple, or even the Cluster. Believe me, we have not seen the last of Steven the healer.
Images Courtesy of Cartoon Network
*Editor’s Note: The first draft of the article incorrectly had the name “Sarah” for Ronaldo’s girlfriend.