After dropping two lighthearted breezers with light at the end of the tunnel, Steven Universe Future heaved out a double-feature of darker antics with its two latest episodes. As his familiar community of Beach City fades around him, Steven (Zach Callison) bottles up his turmoil instead of talking things through.

In “Little Graduation,” Steven is about to celebrate Little Homeschool’s first graduating class, featuring the Off-Color Gems. When he pays a visit to Lars’s (Matthew Moy) bakery, he clocks in Lars’s discomfort around Sadie (Kate Micucci) when she mentions a new significant other. Steven’s insecurities go beyond just being a hardcore shipper of Lars and Sadie when he finds that Sadie’s band is breaking up and Lars plans to fly off to the cosmos with his Off-Colors gang. It breaks his heart but he keeps tight-lipped about these grievances until it predictably festers into his Pink Steven powers—visualized by an eerie glow—summoning a closing dome that shuts everyone in. He learns that despite lingering awkwardness, Lars and Sadie are mutually happy as amiable exes. And Sadie hammers in that Steven can’t just stick his nose in people’s business—“because it’s private!”.

Lars-and-Sadie plot-lines tended to be the more contentious arcs of Steven Universe, so I was a bit nervous that Future returned to the Sadie and Lars dynamic and how Steven feels about them. But “Little Graduation” caps off their dynamic with bittersweet poignancy, grappling with how valid it is for Steven to process sorrow over other people’s changes while denoting that he should learn to let people change on their own.

On another note, what a fine way to wrap up 2019 by pushing the bar for queer representation through the introduction of the loveably chill Shep, voiced by POSE star Indya Moore, as the first non-binary human (aside from Steven and Connie’s temporal quasi-human fusion-Stevonnie form) seen in the show. And Shep doesn’t stand in the background or just looks good at Sadie’s side. They pop as the sort of character who has earned a Fan Favorite Title. Despite knowing the titular character for an hour, Shep participates in the proceedings by cooling down Steven. 

The episode doesn’t end on a smile but a bittersweet song about moving forward, just Steven staring with uncertainty at the stars. Just because he’s accepted the situation doesn’t mean he can cast off the mourning.

“Prickly Pair” follows-up on Steven’s discontent. After leaving Little Homeschool duties, Steven has busied himself in his greenhouse and plants. It seems like a swell coping mechanism, except for the part where he names his plants after friends who departed from his life.

As it had done for his Watermelon-Stevens, Steven’s magic spit compels a cactus to grow sentience and grow into his shape, into a little Cactus-Steven. At first, he’s thrilled to create a new pal. But Steven rants to the cactus about his stewing negativity and resentment against the Crystal Gems (Estelle, Michaela Dietz, Deedee Magno Hall). But it goes awry when the Cactus-Steven begins parroting Steven’s bitter words and Steven is in a scramble to contain the creature or else it will leak his resentful words against the Gems.

Moral of the day: little creatures shouldn’t be outlets for your pain. While deploying some prickly combat-comedy (poor Pearl getting pricked and poor Steven having to hug his cactus), the episode illustrates in its own eccentric cartooniness how internal resentment can explode. It’s a Frankensteinian plot where a human must take responsibility for his sentient and miserable creation—and the hugging solution is not unlike how the Creator embraces the Creature in Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein.

Steven figures he must act nicer around the Cactus-Steven, so it can copy his niceness rather than his bitterness. The ensuing visuals seem optimistic when Steven’s Cactus counterpart blooms flowers and walks off on its own. But the uplifting moment is undercut by the Crystal Gems checking up on Steven if he wants to talk. He doesn’t. “I said enough.” Even though Steven worked a resolution to short-term conflicts, time will tell how his long-term anguish will grow more out of control. 

Cool Posts From Around the Web: