Steven Universe: The Future
March 27, 2020 7:04 PM - Season 6, Episode 20 - Subscribe

We draw a curtain on Beach City, the gems, and Steven Universe.
posted by JHarris (36 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What now?
  • Rebecca Sugar has said she's not finished exploring the show's world, and
  • When questioned on Twitter as to whether this the end, Ian Jones-Quartey said it is, the end, of "Steven Universe Future," which some take as being pretty evasive.
Those things said, we don't know what, if anything, is next, and it's probable Sugar And Jones-Quartey don't know for sure either. I have heard that next up is not going to be an official comic. That is all I know.
posted by JHarris at 7:37 PM on March 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Steven Universe Future: Crying Breakfast Friends, the series
posted by eustatic at 8:12 PM on March 27, 2020 [7 favorites]

Well, I cried, but I was very happy with the ending. The bookends really made it all the story of Steven's coming of age in Beach City, from when his gem powers manifested for the first time to when he finally left Beach City behind. Taking to the road for a while seems like it'd really do Steven some good. How much of the world he's been fighting for has he really seen? Just little snippets around the various warp pads. So much of the traumas he carries are associated with Beach City, I bet getting away will give him the distance and perspective for those wounds to finally start healing.

Also, it had just the right amount of Connverse, with their little kiss at the end and Garnet insisting that there's a wedding in Steven's future.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:29 PM on March 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

posted by DoctorFedora at 4:55 AM on March 28, 2020 [9 favorites]

seriously though I really liked this ending, and I would be entirely satisfied if this wound up being the way the series ends
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:57 AM on March 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Mod note: One deleted; please don't post spoilers for other shows.
posted by taz (staff) at 4:57 AM on March 28, 2020

I feel like something really dark and awful happened during the run of SU, and that Future has been a reflection of that in a way that made me incredibly uncomfortable. I'm not entirely sure how this show started where it did, and ended with the message, "Alternative [queer] family structures will give your children CPTSD and damage them so deeply they will never be able to return to their hometown again, we have to destroy the family car, deconstruct your room/these familiar sets, everything is a locus of so much trauma it has to be stripped down and completely obliterated." I have some clues-- I spread the gofundme one of the former animators posted, after a couple of years where he rose to enough prominence as a fanartist to get hired, thought the show was a safe atmosphere to transition. He was harrassed so mercilessly by the fandom for shipping or not shipping two characters-- people called for him to be fired, called him an abuser and a pedophile, etc-- that he had a mental breakdown and was taken off the show. Last seen with a gofundme for rent and medication on tumblr. I have been interpreting the unrelenting trauma narrative of SU:Future as Rebecca Sugar feeling the same way, but with a bigger safety net. Steven having nightmares of the Show being the only way to connect to his friends, the terror of creating a queer community and not knowing your own place in it, it all feels like a very depressing creator breakdown to me. It's a sad ending to something that started out as a beautiful thing, and I wish it hadn't gone that way.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 10:24 AM on March 28, 2020

I think you're falling to the assumption that the actions of a small number of highly toxic and vocal people means the whole must be like that. Nearly every fandom, if it gets large enough, appears to be like that. It puts the creator in a bad spot: ignore the bad actors and let their acts go unchallenged and become the presumptive face of the fandom, or condemn them but in so doing give them even more visibility, and so also allow them to become the presumptive face of the fandom. Whether it is the duty of the rest of the fanbase to condemn them is up in the air: I saw plenty of people upset at what happened, on Reddit of all places (which has a generally good Steven Universe fan community, prevalence of "Greg fucked a rock" memes notwithstanding), but there's always going to be people who didn't see that.

That doesn't excuse what happened to Jesse Zuke, of course, and I hope they're doing well now. For the short time they were on the show they brought a distinctive look and personality to two fan favorite characters, and I especially don't think Peridot would have become so beloved without his work. The show was poorer for their leaving it.

I also have to disagree with the presumed message of the show being that queer people will naturally have dysfunctional families, but I can understand how one might get that impression. There's so little queer representation on TV that any example of it, especially a show where it's prominent such as Steven Universe, gets taken as "TV's" depiction of the whole. Steven Universe is more than just a queer-friendly show though, it has a lot of messages to get across, and it's perhaps inevitable that some of them would get mixed.
posted by JHarris at 11:14 AM on March 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

Also: I'm not sure that the show meant to suggest Steven had to leave Beach City for his mental health. It might have helped, but he was seeing a therapist (I'm glad that the show listened to all the people who rightly pointed out that Steven has a ton of issues and needed therapy). They mentioned at the start of the last episode that it had been several months since his breakdown, which sounds like he had found some healing in the meantime or he would have had to have left earlier.

As an aside, Rebecca Sugar spoke to TVLine about the final episode here.
posted by JHarris at 11:24 AM on March 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

(My intent isn't to say you must see it my way, I can understand how you'd have gotten those impressions. I offer my own perspective in the hopes that you find in it a way to feel better about the show. I have been wrong before, and could always be wrong again.)
posted by JHarris at 11:28 AM on March 28, 2020 did an interview with Rebecca Sugar that reveals, among other things, that they ended the show after five seasons because they found out the channel wasn't going to pick it back up for more. Then they managed to push to get the series conclusion, The Movie and Future. So, you can blame good ol' Cartoon Network for that.
posted by JHarris at 7:14 PM on March 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm glad that the show listened to all the people who rightly pointed out that Steven has a ton of issues and needed therapy

I don't think this was a result of that at all, but rather Rebecca's own experience. The constant fandom jokes about Steven needing therapy NOW and "tossing him into a doctor's office" or whatever have been pretty gross and upsetting. I like the impression Steven got therapy of his own volition with support because he wanted it, in a fictional universe in which that sort of choice is the absolute greatest gift and power. So much this has been a show about people not needing to heal one certain way. Children "needing therapy" isn't a great message to have in a world that often coerces them into it (especially queer children), and the choice Rebecca has spoken about not to show the therapy itself to give him privacy and how gently it was mentioned are things I really, really respect.
posted by colorblock sock at 8:35 PM on March 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

As far as queer families being inherently dangerous - being a Magical Child is the part that's the problem, not the queerness. The montage of trauma is all child soldier stuff. He breaks down at the prospect of becoming like his abuser - like a Diamond. It wouldn't have mattered if any one of the Gems had been portrayed as male. Being pursued by an intergalactic terror is always going to damage someone.

Like we looking at this from the outside, as adults, can see this from an adult perspective, and yeah, we can see some pretty shitty parenting from the Gems, back over the long arc of the series. He's ridiculously parentified - there's that great bit in The New Crystal Gems when Connie, in the Steven role, just lays into Peridot and Lapis for being big fucking children and expecting her to do the emotional labor of keeping the family together and happy. She does it again in the last episode, because she wasn't subject to that kind of childhood and so recognises how damaging it is and forces the gems to get their shit together for Steven. Steven's expected to act like an adult for most of his late childhood and tend to the Crystal Gems emotional lives and keep them functional. Most of that makes sense from an in story perspective because the Gems are not human and only have a distant idea of what a kid needs. From a narrative perspective too it makes Steven the hero of a show about feelings. But for real life, that shits toxic as hell. We can see that, as adult fans, that there's a lot of unreasonable weight on Steven's shoulders. I mean you could also read this as "gay people have shitty emotional control and zero growth unless a white heterosexual male comes along and fixes their problems", and really it would be pretty solidly supported by the text.

But for a kid watching this Steven is a hero. He grows up from an annoying kid to someone who saves the world, with singing and dancing and butt jokes. Steven is strong in the real way, aspiration, and the Bad Guy has always been the Diamonds. Even when it was mostly monster of the week battles between the zany stuff, the Diamonds were the problem.

And this is for kids. It's still for queer kids, and kids with abusive parents (and the huge venn diagram overlap in the middle), and it deals with a really massive trauma for a lot of them - how do you grow up and not become like the people who hurt you your whole life?

Like I know a lot of kids from abusive families who have a horrible time growing into adulthood off the back of that, and it never stops. I run out of fingers counting out people I know who would do anything to avoid being like their mothers or fathers, myself included.

So while I can see your point, moonlight on vermont, and I wouldn't say you're wrong, exactly, on the show being deeply dark. Take out the colours and tell this story from Greg's perspective or Pearl's or Amethyst's or Lapis' or even like Peedee or Connie's and it's a profoundly bleak chronicle. A failed alien invasion, the entire fate of humanity and all life on Earth only averted through the actions of a lying noblewoman, a rebel army defeated and almost wiped out, its soldiers warped into violent mockeries of themselves, a ball of dismembered remained interred in the earth, waiting to erupt, and all that is left is the inheritor of the noblewoman's power and a cluster of survivors - her lover, her adviser and a feral child, with a homeless man's child the only thing between Earth and Oblivion.

Then it gets darker.

It's fitting that there was some hard examination of what that actually means in the follow up series. Steven's a bit older so we can take the time to address that, and as Dr Maheswaran points out sometimes you can't process the trauma till you're in a safe place to do so, and that's where we are now for Steven.

It comes down to who the person hurting Steven was. He identifies them as the Diamonds. He tells White to her face (from inside her face!) that she should pay for all the things she put him through. He doesn't have that kind of vitriol for the Gems. In Prickly Pair he talks about the least charming parts of the Gems (Garnet is high and mighty, Amethyst is putting on a show of maturity, and Pearl is too weepy) but it's never about the things they did that were what we, adult viewers, would consider abusive. Garnet is distant and puts him in danger she can literally foresee, Pearl treats him as though he's an idiot through a lot of the early season and is over-invested in him, and Amethyst is genuinely reckless with his safety, and they all rely too much on him to keep their emotional garbage in check. I mean he gets close with identifying the problem when he's talking about Pearl, but it's not what he focuses on.

Like he doesn't consider them to be part of what's hurt him. He's got more beef with Greg. And I'm okay with that, because it's his trauma, not mine. Maybe a few years of therapy and he'll have a new opinion of all that. But for now, at the end, it's the Diamonds who hurt him, and who he desperately wants to avoid become anything like, at all costs.

So yeah. I have complex thoughts about this. I think people worried about queer people parenting children are not going to take SU and SUF as examples of good family structure. It's not what I see by the end, though. I'm more with Mr. Encyclopedia, in that this is a coming of age story for a singular creature. There really is no one else in the world like Steven, and there's really no way to map him perfectly to human experiences. It gives us room to take from the series the things that help us to be strong in the real way. And it's still revolutionary in so many ways. My son understands that there's many ways to be a girl because of the Gems. We had a lot of talk about the Rubies, and how they're still girls, even though they are fighters, play sports and don't wear dresses or pastels or anything. It's been really important for him, and for me, a gender flexible parent. Our circles are queer and his takeaway is you can have a family that doesn't look like anyone else's and you can still be loved, be special, and be the hero of the story.

And I'm going to be thankful for that, here, in my little weird family, for a long time yet to come.
posted by Jilder at 4:05 AM on March 29, 2020 [13 favorites]

Is Steven Universe somehow darker than life in the United States, tho? I mean, the failed rebellion of Reconstruction and equal rights, the inevitable doom from climate change, and the rule by oil executives that we constantly avoid discussing, the legacy of genocide and imperialism that we perpetually ignore as our inheritance, while we try to put on a happy face and learn our donut safety video.

All these things just resonated with me as "life in the United States, but simpler because it's a kid's show"
posted by eustatic at 9:34 AM on March 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

On a lighter note, there are some delightful little gifts to the fans as Steven drives past the Beach City "Goodbye Steven" crowd at the end: Mr. Frowny and Mr. Smiley together again! Grown-up Peedee! Ronaldo and his girlfriend! Nanefua's human AND gem bodyguards! Bixbite hanging out with the Pizza family! Onion wearing the cheeseburger backpack!

And then, as Steven continues driving: a trio of happy little sentient squash trotting along!
posted by sugar and confetti at 10:28 AM on March 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Now Steven gets to go out into the US (which I presume, from Andy's mentioning that talk radio exists and Connie knowing about peak oil, still has our kinds of problems) and gets to find out that Earth life is just as messed up as space life. But them, I'm still sad the one character who really seemed to get that was Peedee, who, as I remind everyone, had only one standout episode. That's getting off track though.

Peedee seemed taller in the intro than in the farewell group to me.
posted by JHarris at 11:04 AM on March 29, 2020

Someone on Reddit collected all of Rebecca Sugar's interviews from around the major sites. I present them here so you don't have to venture out into those woods:
LA Times - Variety - Washington Post (warning: obnoxious paywall) - TV Line (already linked above) - Entertainment Weekly - Vulture - CBR (linked above)
posted by JHarris at 12:26 PM on March 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've said this before, and to him: my 12yo son has had Steven Universe in his life since he was 5, and I credit a lot of his emotional education to the show.
He was heart broken by the show's end.
It will _always_ be a part of him and our family.
posted by signal at 12:53 PM on March 29, 2020 [6 favorites]

I first discovered the show during a binge during which I watches most of the first half of the first season almost one after another. I loved the strangeness around the gems and their history, and the juxtaposition of that against a seemingly normal human world. The LGBQT representation was the icing on the cake. I hadn't been that unreservedly a fan of a new show since Mystery Science Theater 3000, and I feel like it won't happen again for a long, long time.
posted by JHarris at 2:42 PM on March 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Someone on Reddit discovered, on a background in this episode, a sign on a washing machine reading:

Peridot, please stop stealing parts from the washer & dryer. We are running out of replacements.
posted by JHarris at 6:58 AM on March 30, 2020 [5 favorites]

This episode made me cry three times. It feels like a gift and very much in keeping with the show's emotional intelligence and generous compassion that the final episode was so much about grief and saying goodbye and how that's hard for everyone and, also, that stories and relationships don't ever really end. Like the moment when Steven tells Peridot, "Be the Steven you wish to see in the world" felt like Rebecca Sugar telling the fans--it's okay to be sad and also you can channel your longing for this kind of kindness into real world action.

Also video chatting with your therapist, it's like the show knew our collective future!

I'm in the camp of "this show isn't saying queer families are traumatizing, it's saying Steven's very particular saving the world from intense threats experiences were traumatizing." I do think that almost any childhood is going to leave some kind of emotional damage. I also deeply appreciate that the show centers the failed Gem invasion--like honestly it feels like it's grappling with the history of colonization and the realities of how capitalism views all life on Earth as expendable in a pretty deep and radical way. That's definitely not perfect and I do wish there was more shown of how the change happened with the Gem regime but still the fact that the show goes there is so impressive and so needed, IMO.
posted by overglow at 2:46 PM on March 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

I would add that the darkness, I think, is darker earlier on, when sugar et al were probably fighting a lot more with the studio, who didn t want the queer representation in the show, I'm sure.

I feel like the first and second seasons have a bunch more of the edgelordy stuff that feels like it s there, maybe because the crew was finding its way, but also it feels like a kind of cover / response to a certain kind of executive who is a Ren And Stimpy fan. Maybe it s just because those episodes are the ones referred to as traumatic in this show, I'm thinking that.

And I'm sure what representation did make it was fought for. The show is so tightly plotted, it s an amazing work; but it was also probably so tightly plotted to counter studio interference about direction of the plot.
posted by eustatic at 12:30 AM on March 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

We loved the easter eggs of the place names in the show- Beach City is in the Delmarva area, reminds us of Rehoboth. There's:
Charm City = Baltimore
West Keystone City = West Philly/Pittsburgh?
Providence Island = Providence, RI. Is Connie going to Brown?

And others that I can't remember. But it's so charming in an alternative universe way!
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 9:55 AM on March 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

A couple of episodes back Greg mentioned that his parents were off on their timeshare on Florida Island. There's been mention of "ancient Aqua Mexico." The center of the film industry is Kansas.
posted by JHarris at 9:07 PM on March 31, 2020

I also love that aspect of the world building. Humanity has existed alongside gem stuff for all of recorded history and the scars of the gem occupation persist. This caused history to change in a lot of ways. Steven also says he plans to visit "all 39 states"
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:34 PM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yeah, in one sense it would be misleading to describe SU as an alternate-universe post-apocalypse story (mainly because of the "vibe" that conjures) but it's basically accurate.
posted by sugar and confetti at 4:55 AM on April 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

Are we talking about Greg here?: 'I mean you could also read this as "gay people have shitty emotional control and zero growth unless a white heterosexual male comes along and fixes their problems", and really it would be pretty solidly supported by the text.'

This part seems obvious to me but I will state it as it seems to have gone completely unspoken in this thread. A major theme of the show, maybe the theme in my reading of the show,is the trauma of losing your parents at a young age. How do you come to terms with them "leaving" you when they are not even there to confront? And since they are not there, where do you direct that pain and anger if not at yourself? The penultimate episode of the whole series "I am my monster" directly calls back to the 4th season episode "I am my mom" and this theme ran through the show and is baked into its conception.

In some ways, Greg's responsibility to Steven is treated really lightly, and his relative absence from Steven's life unexamined. I was glad that it was confronted somewhat in this last season with Steven's anger at his father boiling up, but I found it strange throughout that Greg was mostly treated like a distant relative or supportive older friend rather than a non-custodial parent. Greg wasn't treated as someone who failed Steven as a parent but rather someone who was easily excused for not being up to the task.

I guess there is some tension between what I think are two clear central themes of the show, that having two heterosexual parents is not necessary to have a good family and that it can be difficult to deal with the loss of your family of origin. Putting these two themes in play in a particular story with other powerful themes must have been challenging to execute from a storytelling perspective, but I think it produced a really unique experience that I'm glad I was able to share with my daughter. Despite the Crystal Gems' weaknesses, which had to do with their lack of experience with humans and the fact that they were partisans in an on-again off-again anti-colonial war, they picked Steven up and raised him to be a beautiful person, though the process was not easy or perfect or painless.
posted by nequalsone at 2:21 PM on April 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

I think treating Steven Universe as allegory is dangerous. The Gems and Greg did the best they could to raise Steven and if they were unsuccessful I don't think the blame can rest entirely on them. Steven is literally something that has never existed before, with needs nobody could anticipate. Greg did the best he could as an indigent single dad before voluntarily giving custody to the gems, who did the best they could given that raising a child doesn't come naturally to them.

I don't think that's supposed to say anything about queer families, unless maybe it's that queer families are unsuited to raising a half-magical child that has to save the galaxy. Maybe that's true, but it's not really a meaningful lesson.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:50 PM on April 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I mean Steven, nequalsome. If you read the asexual space rocks as queer people, as a substantial part of the fanbase does, then Steven is the white heterosexual male who literally fixes their entire universe and shows them how to have real, equitable relationships.

But you raise some valid questions about Greg's role in Steven's life. Given what we see of the gems, and how inept they are at forming decent relationships, I have always personally assumed a lot of Steven's emotional intelligence comes from him. He's never very far and spends a lot of time with Steven. We mostly see the dramatic gem stuff because that's what the show focuses on, but there are whole episodes that are just Greg and Steven doing stuff together. All the Story for Steven episodes are the two of them hanging out, sharing their history, and you see a lot of the two of them just doing things together as the series progresses.

In the end I think this is a rich enough text to have space for more than one interpretation of those strong central themes. I really do think you're right in that it doesn't examine Steven's loss of his mother nearly enough. Pearl is only acknowledged as a surrogate mother in the explicitly off cannon episodes, and I think the only bit where his motherlessness on its own is even lampshaded is at the end of Monster Hospital when Connie and her mother are reconciling, and just squeezes his gem as he watches. Pretty much every other time its his Roselessness that's examined, or the legacy of being a Magical Boy, rather than what his mother could have done. Even in Storm in the Room it turns from Steven's desire to have a mother to how he has to deal with her legacy, rather than just what her absence means for Steven as a person.

I mean it's a lot all the way down, the more you slice it, and that it holds up to scrutiny so well is a pretty solid testimony to how strongly written both series are.
posted by Jilder at 3:12 AM on April 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the clarification Jilder. I don't think of Steven as being definitively male or heterosexual, so that is not an intuitive reading to me. I guess I think of Steven as somewhere in the territory that Rebecca Sugar defines by identifying as a non-binary woman. (Maybe I am too emboldened in this interpretation by seeing some resemblance between them.) Relatedly, it seemed like a small thing to criticize but I was a tiny bit thrown by the kiss between Steven and Connie at the end, especially coming in an episode so close on the heels of the wedding proposal. The proposal seemed like it was purely coming from Steven's reaction to his feelings of loss of control and loss of identity, a false, reactive attempt to define himself, comparable to his destructive behavior at Little Homeschool. Even though there was a time jump, having them seem to have embarked on a romantic relationship in the last episode felt a little off and maybe like they wanted to put a bow on something that would have been better left open-ended.
posted by nequalsone at 10:18 PM on April 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

To my mind, the brilliant thing about the kiss is that it's clearly not their first. It's far too casual for that. Even Greg is completely unfazed. Which means we skipped over their first kiss, and all the drama and emotional awkwardness it no doubt involved. So if you don't ship them, you didn't have to watch that. It's just about the least intrusive way of advancing their relationship imaginable.

(I mean, okay, we've seen Connie kiss Steven on two occasions previously, but Steven wasn't doing any kissing either time.)
posted by baf at 12:31 AM on April 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

I don't think of Steven as being definitively male or heterosexual

Given that he frequently fuses with a woman and with agender but female presenting space people... it's certainly the case that he isn't *consistently* male or heterosexual.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:25 PM on April 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Relatedly, it seemed like a small thing to criticize but I was a tiny bit thrown by the kiss between Steven and Connie at the end, especially coming in an episode so close on the heels of the wedding proposal.

I read the proposal episode as that they were in a relationship already, and the rejection was that Connie wasn't ready to get married, not that she didn't want to be with Steven romantically at all.
posted by signal at 7:44 AM on April 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

There is a page at the Steven Universe Wiki of unproduced episodes. It's looking more and more like the show was hurried to conclusion so it wasn't left hanging by Cartoon Network.
posted by JHarris at 7:26 AM on April 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm going over a selection of earlier episodes. There's so many wonderful moments throughout the show. It feels like a damn tragedy that Cartoon Network ended it where they did, and in the final tally that won't count in their favor, although the fact that they allowed this beautiful show to air for six seasons and a movie isn't nothing, and it did get a kind of conclusion. It still feels like there are so many stories left in this universe.
posted by JHarris at 7:21 AM on January 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

I agree. I'd be happy if they continued the story in some other medium, like comics, or even if they made a spinoff series that wasn't steven-centric.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:01 PM on February 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

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