'Steven Universe Future' Keeps Things Real And Painful In Its Latest Episodes

"Together Forever" and "Growing Pains" are the most heart-stopping pair of episodes yet of Steven Universe Future. "Together Forever" begins mundanely as usual, with the eponymous Steven (Zach Callison) skyping with his human companion Connie (Grace Rolek) and discussing her college plans. He's saddened to realize Connie will be so far away once she leaves. Clouded by uncertainty about the future, Steven looks to his usual relationship role model, the perma-Gem-fusion Garnet (Estelle), for guidance. But Garnet doesn't quite have the time for him. She has to split off into her Ruby (Charlyne Yi) and Sapphire (Erica Luttrell) forms for Gem teaching commitments, so Steven has to ask them for input. The boy takes the pairs' rather well-intended rash advice to pop the serious question to Connie. He thinks proposing marriage to Connie could be his salvation to his solitude.Knowing Steven's age and the typical direction of this series, Steven won't get what he thinks he needs. Even when committed romantics like Ruby and Sapphire fill him with their respective encouragements in their own cutesy eccentrics—Ruby creates a marriage proposal badge and Sapphire muses about the incalculability of love—the viewer is aware that the bubbly mood will pop very soon. Still, the buoyancy of Steven's jubilant preparations for the proposal is so infectious that the predictable outcome slams down as a rude awakening.Once Steven pops the question to Connie, the pressure goes hard on the blindsided Connie. Her refusal isn't quite a no, but a "not now." While Steven handles her refusal as maturely as possible, he can't easily shake off the irreversible mess. The end of "Together Forever" pelts down a tough lesson spoken by Garnet: A significant other doesn't complete you and shouldn't be seen as your missing piece. And it's all right to process the pain of it. "Growing Pains" follows the fall-out with an uncanny undertaking for the series: a clinical analysis of Steven's condition. After some mysterious swelling and pink-glowing provoked by his Gem, Steven is contacted by Connie who convinces him to make a doctor's appointment with her mother (Mary Elizabeth McGlynn). After some tests, Connie's mother gives Steven a breakdown of trauma, noting how his bones have constantly healed themselves and that Steven has experienced trauma. She explains how the loss of his support system could also exacerbate trauma. While the proposal to Connie was a recent blow, Steven also confronts flashbacks of traumatic incidents, near-deaths, witnessing near-deaths, witnessing Pearl's (technical) death—effectively showing Steven against the montage of his fraught youth and the revelation that he has been battered in invisible ways.Steven Universe has always expressed its audacious themes—consent, identity, mental health—through the illustrative inventiveness of animation and its science-fiction otherworldliness. To spell out trauma—"When humans are in crisis, the brain releases a brain called cortisol, your heart races, your muscles tense"—in a manner both clinical and compassionate is an accomplishment that could have been a cloying creative choice to set Future apart from its predecessor series. It also fixes a harsher lens in its preceding series, forcing the viewer to absorb the brutal hindsight of already terrifying incidents, like Steven's cat-transformation debacle and his near-descent into old age. Understanding Steven's condition from a human perspective proves part of the psychological puzzle. And due to Steven's status as a hybrid-entity with unfathomable powers, this shoves him into a precarious situation since there's no knowable diagnosis for his current Gem conditions. One thing is made clear, Steven needs to have a support system around, as demonstrated by his gratitude when he finds that Connie has phoned his father (Tom Scharpling) for him. There's a lesson there that just because someone turns away help doesn't necessarily mean they don't need it.Still, calling upon a support system come with complicated, unclean emotions. Steven feels guilty knowing that his father had to put off a commitment to tend to him. Despite his father's sincere reassurance, being cared for often comes with guilt.