Steven Universe: So Many Birthdays   Rewatch 
January 6, 2015 7:35 AM - Season 1, Episode 13 - Subscribe

Steven learns that the Gems are ageless, and don't celebrate birthdays. Steven's efforts to throw them parties provoke a strange reaction from his own gem.

Written and storyboarded by Raven M. Molisee and Paul Villeco.
posted by JHarris (13 comments total)
  • "It's the tuna burrito from Aqua Mexican!" "That place closed like five years ago!" It's stinking up the whole temple. Apparently, despite the weird magical nature of the place, rotting food is a great equalizer. (Established: Amethyst has been eating human food for over five years.) A little later: "The pinata is an artifact from ancient Aqua Mexico." It's a throwaway joke, but I liked it.
  • The painting of the Gems, of them on the sea in a dinghy with a few humans, from centuries ago is great, not just in theme and composition (action shot of Garnet punching a shark!) but because that one shot fills in a few gaps in Steven Universe's backstory. The Gems knew each other at least a couple hundred years ago, they were having adventures then, and they were concerned enough with humans to save one of their crew members' lives. (Although Garnet says that the painting was posed.) It's also interesting to see the Gems' clothing changed with the times. An episode centering around the events of that painting would be cool to see sometime.
  • Amethyst is the one with the painting. They should probably hang that in Steven's Room, really.
  • The first half of the episode is entirely comic fodder, with Steven introducing the Gems to the concept of celebrating birthdays. They've been around for at least centuries, but still need to be taught about human cultures.
  • Singing: "It might as well be your birthday! So why don't we have a party, even though your age isn't real and your body's an illusion!"
  • Lion is back, and he's even more lovable the before.
  • Here's something that I've mentioned before. Pearl mentions that she likes pie, but later (Fusion Cuisine) it's established that the idea of eating disgusts her, to the extent that it repels her out of a fusion.
  • The way the Gems are freaked out at Steven's ideas about birthday parties are the highlight of the episode. Pearl, hiding behind Garnet from Steven's clown act: "I think this is why aging makes humans die!"
  • "That was fun, but a boy on the cusp of manhood can't spend the whole day wackering." Sly writing, there.
  • Onion is seen breaking into an arcade machine to get tickets. Oh, that scamp. (We get to see fuller development of his weird amorality in Onion Trade.)
  • Steven, rapidly aging, goes into a clothes store to get better-fitting clothes (not realizing that he's getting larger in the process). That must mean he has money, somehow, to pay for them.
  • We stop by with Lars and Sadie, who completely fail to see that the guy in their shop is Steven despite several hints. Well to be fair he's not wearing his star shirt.
  • In Big Donut Steven's full name is revealed: Steven Quartz Universe. His middle name is a nice touch, referring both to his mother's name and the Gem custom of naming after gemstones. It's a compromise between two very different worlds, much like Steven himself is.
  • The Gems reacting at Steven's advancing age is kind of heart-rending. This seems to be the first time they've really had to confront the meaning of human mortality, and how it might apply to one of their own. Pearl is particularly inconsolable, which I think is the beginning of her development as the most emotional of the Gems. You could be forgiven for missing this, but Garnet is crying too, but it's on-screen for like less than a second. British reserve, eh wot?
  • Have the Gems (other than Rose) known and cared about other individual humans? Is knowledge of human mortality the reason they don't generally mix with Beach City culture? We see sometimes that Gem understanding of time is different ("No TV... for a thousand years."), but that's something that seems to fluctuate with the story and comedic possibilities.
  • "I thought that violence would be the answer."
  • Fortunately for the Gems, and the status quo, Steven's age soon reverts to normal (mostly). Which brings up an interesting question: is this going to happen every time Steven starts to think more maturely? Considering how the events of the episode have never come up again, I'd guess this is just a temporary thing caused by Steven's evolving control over his powers. When Steven gets his shapeshifting under control, I presume he'll be able to be any physical age he wants to be.
  • At the end, check it out: Steven Monkey Dance!

posted by JHarris at 7:49 AM on January 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

The big question this episode raises for me is: Is Steven actually immortal? Pearl seems to think so, since she refers to taking him for a quick "50 year" journey to outer space in a later episode and as JHarris pointed out above Garnet thinks "1000 years" is a reasonable time-frame for a punishment. The gems also seem to implicitly exclude Steven from the category of human whenever they talk about other people. Either possibility is pretty heavy. It's going to be a serious adjustment for Steven if he's immortal and for the Gems if he has a normal human lifespan.
posted by Grimgrin at 7:57 PM on January 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's a good question. At the moment, at least, it's clear that the Gems really don't know if Steven is immortal, but suspect that he is. It's one of those questions that's far enough in the future that it's unlikely to come up soon on the show.

Part of the joy of it, for me, is in thinking about the implications of these things, and then finding out the answers Rebecca Sugar and the writers decided upon. Those areas of ambiguity give the show its energy, or compelling quality. They are interesting to think about.

Because the more we find out about Gem nature, the less compatible it seems like it would be with human biology. I mean Steven's makeshift birthday song in this episode outright says to them: your age isn't real and your body's an illusion. That's borne out in the episode where Pearl gets killed for two weeks, then revives from out of her gem. If Steven got killed, could he do the same thing? Is his body an illusion too? But he has to eat, and can drown....

What's more, Word Of God is that the Gems are actually asexual, because they don't naturally reproduce -- they only appear to be female. So how can Steven be half human and half Gem?
posted by JHarris at 9:26 PM on January 6, 2015

My pet theory is that giving birth to a half human is something Rose Quartz and only Rose Quartz could do. Given that her power set seems to be centred around healing and growth, she may have figured out how to use her powers to conceive and give birth to Steven. I kind of figure Steven and the Gem are symbiotic; she took something of Greg's DNA or cells and connected it to her gem to create Steven. Which is why Rose Quartz died (okay, gave up her physical form) when Steven was born, after a certain point the gem could no longer sustain both of them. But, again, that's just my speculation.
posted by Grimgrin at 9:56 PM on January 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

That's plausible I think. My own speculation is --

When Pearl "died," when she returned she was different. Notice, her costume from that point on had the sash and not the gauzy tutu. Word Of God says that Gems have a primary physical form that they stick with, but when they retreat into their gems they have an opportunity to work on it, and so may be different when they come back.

My speculation is, in a way, Steven is Rose Quartz, that is to say, the projecting power that gives a Gem substance is being used to support him instead of Rose, who is still inside the Gem, resting. Two incarnations in one Gem, with Steven's incarnation mixed somehow with Greg. They both can't exist, but if Steven ever died she could appear again. But if that happened, it seems likely it wouldn't be for long -- Rose may never get to meet her son, but she still loves him, and doesn't want to deprive him of life.

An alternate possibility is a more literal sense of what Rose said in her videotaped speech at the end of Lion 3; Steven literally is made up half of Rose. At first I had the idea that whenever you see the stars in Steven's eyes when he gets really excited about something (the five-pointed stars, not four-pointed ones), that was Rose's personality peeking through, but one other character has done the star-eye thing -- Greg. It's when he crowns Steven with the watermelon rind in Watermelon Stevens.

New episode is Thursday, BTW!
posted by JHarris at 1:33 AM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think Connie has done the four-pointed stars in her eyes also. I remember at a panel, someone asked if they planned on aging Steven the same way that Finn was aging in Adventure Time and the answer was a slightly elusive no, that they were going to just focus on exploring Steven at this age. This was months before this episode aired, so I wonder about the possibility that Steven won't ever age.
posted by sleeping bear at 1:12 PM on January 22, 2015

When I mention the star eyes, I mean the five-pointed ones. Several characters have done four-pointed ones (even Pearl has).
posted by JHarris at 1:47 PM on January 22, 2015

Storyboard for So Many Birthdays.
posted by JHarris at 8:09 AM on January 25, 2015

A note on the storyboard says that the painting is supposed to represent people in the "colonial era," so, the Gems were active during the American Revolution. That would be a fun story to see.
posted by JHarris at 8:23 AM on January 25, 2015

That must mean he has money, somehow, to pay for them.

I just finished watching the first season, and I've been trying to remember: do we ever see Steven pay for anything? It seems to me that when he goes to get donuts or fry bits, for example, they're just handed to him with no payment taking place.
posted by webmutant at 10:12 PM on January 27, 2016

He does, in Cat Fingers. In Watermelon Stevens he collects "100 pieces of money," which he's careful to run all over town returning once he finds out the watermelons are living moving creatures.
posted by JHarris at 3:04 PM on January 28, 2016

Okay, yeah. I'd completely forgotten he bought something in Cat Fingers, and in Watermelon Steven, that seemed to me more like "returning their money" than "buying them back," if you see what I mean. Which totally seems like something Steven would care about, whether he really grasps how money works or not.
posted by webmutant at 10:30 AM on January 29, 2016

Pearl crying during the pie gag was some great clowning by the writing team. expert stuff.
posted by eustatic at 11:37 AM on August 21, 2016

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