Steven Universe Future Mr. Universe Review

Steven Universe Future is racing toward the finish line. It’s difficult to watch how much Steven (Zach Callison) has grown out of his chipper childhood state, but the overwhelming hindsight of trauma has caught up with him. It doesn’t help that last week’s Future featured Steven at his first doctor’s appointment and reckoning that his childhood trauma—“trauma” was very much a new word for Steven and something rarely discussed in children’s cartoon—has ruined his function.

And the reckoning doesn’t end here. “Mr. Universe” concerns a homecoming of sort for Steven’s free-spirited father, Greg Universe (Tom Scharpling), who has dropped his music tour to care for Steven and accost his son on a road trip in the van. But Steven is in for a surprise when Greg takes Steven to break into his childhood home to show off his music mementos.

There, Steven samples another dimension of his human heritage, one that was shut away from him. Greg speaks acerbically of his childhood and parents’ strictness, but Steven is more enraptured by the well-kept interiors, quirks of his grandparents’ house, and the yearbook mementos of Greg’s childhood. Seeing a template of human normalcy only provokes Steven’s frustration. As I touched upon, Steven seeing the human world cleared of Gem matters—and burdens—allows him to view other modes of living he missed out on. And comparing his father’s mundane childhood to his current apprehensive adolescence. Not to mention the revelation he had never been taken to a human doctor who gave him overdue insights. And these pent-up concerns become powerfully articulated at the climax.

We learn about Steven’s father too and what drove him away from what looked like a stable home. Greg is a lovable character, a provider, a father with empathetic insights, although he is illustrated as occasionally oblivious. “Mr. Universe” does not dent our impression of a loving father, but it is one of the more critical looks at the shortcomings of Steven’s upbringing in an unusual environment. And for something that was breezily illustrated in the previous series, the horror of growing up in a van now hits Steven. And that’s not something he can pretend was hunky-dory. Little heartbreaking moments, such as Steven’s incredulity (“don’t steal!”) at witnessing his father break into a house—his childhood home it turns out—remind the viewer of Steven’s limited background. 

Hearing his father reject his seemingly cushy childhood drives Steven mad. After being battered by his Diamond side of the family, Steven’s counterpoints have considerable weight. It is a selfish, and I mean an understandable human kind of selfish, that Steven weights his father’s childhood in terms of himself, despite it being clear Steven has never experienced any of Greg’s mentioned childhood struggles (the episode does not use flashbacks and Greg’s past is told through testimony and visual suggestions). 

After the mess, nothing is fine in the follow-up “Fragments” where the Crystal Gems confront Steven’s car crash, his increasing moroseness, and the undefined Gem illness that causes him to glow pink and ramp up his powers. And Steven has discovered two Gem powers, relevant to his alienation. He literally throws up a wall in front of the Crystal Gems, conjuring a force field far cry from the rosy shield of his late mother’s identity. He also discovers he has a super speed that allows him to escape confrontation with the Crystal Gems.

So desperate that Steven takes a measure that even I have a bit of trouble believing in the episode’s 11-minute format: He hides out in the wasteland camp of the hot-headed Jasper (Kimberly Brooks), the most brutal and toxic Gem to date. Seeing how she uses her training (at the expense of the environment) to control her rage, he decides to take lessons—or shadow her—from her over the course of three days, resulting in their climactic rematch and a bone-chilling outcome.

These are the most humorless pair of Future episodes, and far from a bad thing. They remain as impactful as expected. Although it asks the viewer to absorb some dramatic stretches, such as Greg (a human man emphasized to be fragile in comparison to the Gems) being physically fine and Steven shaking off the impact of a car accident that over-accentuated the conflict. Levity isn’t absent, such as Jasper’s “quit helping the local ecosystem recover” in response to Steven’s compulsion to heal destruction and the mild humor of Steven commenting on Greg’s childhood photos. But these episodes do weigh dourly, compared to more previous shattering episodes that balanced levity with candid grimness. If there’s anything the final shot of “Fragments” tells us, Steven has become his Diamond of a late mother, or rather he has become a Diamond of his own making. It’s going to be an intense four-part finale next week.

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