Steven Universe: The Test
January 23, 2015 11:33 AM - Season 1, Episode 38 - Subscribe

Steven finds out the mission to the Sea Spire was a test, and asks for a new one.
posted by Small Dollar (17 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Another great episode I thought. Steven's just had that moment, the one where you're a kid and realize that the adults don't necessarily know anything more than you do.

It also served as a kind of commentary, if you can believe this, on contemporary video game design, where designers are so reluctant to produce something that players could possibly fail at and throw down their controller and say mean things about them on the internet that all the puzzles are easy but make a big deal about their solving to mask how easy they were.

When I look back on the episode (not to make a full geeklist yet), I notice:
- Steven does "fail" the test, or he would have failed it in his own eyes, the moment the crusher came down. But interestingly, the Gems never accounted for the possibility that he could fail it, that he would notice none of the traps could possibly harm him. That overestimates his physical abilities, but simultaneously underestimates his intelligence, which has been a theme throughout the show. Note how condescending the balloons that pop out when Steven finishes an area are.
- When Steven chases the ball up the ramp, he emerges into a kind of glitch zone outside the trial. People who have played a lot of video games will recognize this kind of place: it's like the top-of-the-level in Super Mario Bros., or the black areas outside of mansions in Castlevania II, or less intentionally, countless places outside of the level geometry in 3D games, where you get to a high place or fall through a polygon seam, turn around, and see the whole world is suspended in a sea of black. The designers seem to be consciously referencing this by how the working parts of the traps actually physically exist outside the "dungeon" in null space.
- Before Steven figures out what's happening, iron bars fall behind him as he advances into each new area. But once he realizes the whole thing is a sham, those bars are quietly forgotten by the writers. You could consider that a mistake, or you could see it like Steven's knowledge has given him the ability, somehow, to ignore such a barrier -- it's probably just a fake anyway, like the traps are.
- When the Gems open the door, four gems on the star glow, and they go somewhere entirely new. Does every possible combination of glowing door gems go someplace different? That would result in 30 possible destinations, of which we've now seen five. It's also a subtle confirmation of the Garnet-is-a-fusion theory, and why the basement is not referred to as Garnet's Room like Pearl's Room and Amethyst's Room are; because when she opens the door two gems glow, it doesn't go to the rooms of the component parts of the fusion, but someplace else. The door opens a special way for this combination of opening gems as well.
- Finally, Steven's choice at the end is a neat mirror of the Gem's own choice in giving him the test. They wanted to give Steven a boost to his confidence, to help the kid out, and so engaged in a bit of kind-hearted deception to try to give that to him. At the end, Steven deceives the Gems, but not cruelly, in order to help them out. It wasn't Steven who was tested, it was them.
posted by JHarris at 1:10 PM on January 23, 2015 [8 favorites]

To me the most interesting thing is that the Gems seem to think that Steven is the most powerful of them, but they have no idea how to help him develop and control his power.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:19 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well, they know that Steven's Gem is potentially very powerful because Rose was very powerful. Pearl can make animate holograms, Amethyst is an excellent shapeshifter, and Garnet is bad-ass and seems to have sensory powers, electricity powers, and SPOILER. But Rose has profound abilities: she can create things maybe (like the chamber and objects in Lion 2), and give life to plants, and heal Gems (and maybe humans too -- it wasn't confirmed if Rose could heal humans like Steven did for Connie).

But yes, I think there's something else there too. Pearl said at the end of Monster Buddies that maybe Steven would eventually find a way to help the corrupted gems in ways even his mother couldn't, but that seems to be something long-term. The first sign that Steven is something really different was Alone Together -- fusing with a human being is something they thought was utterly impossible.

Finally, the Steven Crewniverse blog posted a charming promo illustration for the episode, which not only puts the Gems in Japanese schoolgirl uniforms, but also has cameos by Rose, Lapis and Peridot! And Greg's even in it! And Pearl really seems to be enjoying herself in it too.
posted by JHarris at 1:32 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

The feels. THE FEELS!
More tomorrow when I have the time.

Where was that company that would make custom dice for you with whatever glyphs you wanted? Gotta get a set of those kitchen game dice. Also that game reinforced the message of the episode and foreshadowed stuff and aaahhhh feelings
posted by Mizu at 4:11 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just have to throw this out there: Pearl's face when Steven figures out it was a test. Sitting there with that queued up and playing her weird 'euwuw' noise as a response to any and every statement has had me and my girlfriend in stitches all day. Because we're adults.

So many emotions this episode! Steven sparing the Gems' feelings! Pearl legit proud of how far Steven's come, worrying about his confidence! Also, uh, acknowledgement that he might never have gotten his healing powers back after House Guest, which could be a problem. And Amethyst getting real; "you can't control him and he shouldn't be taking advice from me!". All of them still missing Rose and feeling lost without her, right? Aww.

Also alleged kids' show Steven Universe referencing the congratulations scene from Evangelion was pretty great.

I guess maybe technically the room they built the test in might have been Alexandrite's? At least in terms of, that would presumably be the door configuration she would open. Except she didn't really seem stable (gonna speculate Rose was the stabilising influence there, too) or to have a distinct personality so much as fluctuate between the three of them; maybe that's why her room is super malleable.

Pearl's little holographic glyphs for the three Gems are kind of amazing. Also primo Steven expression in that frame.
posted by emmtee at 6:22 PM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Ah, I didn't get that was supposed to be the three of them. I thought maybe it was a couple of them standing around a golf flag.
posted by JHarris at 6:26 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

New game: Pearl or golf flag?

posted by emmtee at 6:30 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is one of these: pearl_eueww1.wav - pearl_eueww2.wav what you wanted to link there?
posted by JHarris at 8:17 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

That's awsome - I was just making a joke about that being where I would link it if I were less lazy, but now everyone can enjoy the Pearl Noise :D
posted by emmtee at 10:44 PM on January 23, 2015

What kills me about this episode is that Steven is now alone in a way that he's never been before. Or rather -- he KNOWS that he's alone, sort of marooned between two worlds that don't really understand each other and mostly only interact through him. He doesn't go to school; it seems likely that he's never once left Beach City; his father is well-intentioned but borderline dangerously unreliable; he lives with three more "responsible" guardians who fundamentally don't understand his needs or his internal life; it's becoming clear that he's involved by proxy in an enormous interstellar conflict with dangers and actors who are totally unknown to him, any of which may come popping into his life with little or no notice.

His childhood innocence and ignorance are evaporating and there is no one there to help him. Greg, ironically, is probably best equipped to actually understand how scary a situation Steven is in, but he lacks the information and the constitution to do anything useful to help his son. Connie is a brilliant ally handicapped by her own youth and inexperience.

The Gems...are the Gems. They have obviously made some decisions that will drastically impact Steven's life -- likely the lives of everyone on Earth, to some degree --without the ability to understand the consequences. Because they don't really understand humans. And I get the sense that maybe Rose didn't understand them well, either -- that she had a huge amount of affection for Earth and for all its living organic creatures, and for Greg specifically, but that these things were just as alien and mysterious to her as they are to Pearl, Garnet and Amethyst. It seems like Rose brought Steven into the world so that he could be the bridge that allows the Gems and humanity to meaningfully connect with each other.

And JEEZ that is just an ASTONISHING amount of pressure to put on a kid.

Sokka Shot First and I were talking about this in person earlier this morning -- SSF pointed out that this is an interesting and compelling variant of the "Chosen One" narrative. Because it's not that Steven has a destiny, so much as he has certain tools available to him that didn't previously exist. Steven isn't destined to unite Gems and humans, or to help the Gems deal with whatever conflict they're hiding from as they isolated themselves on Earth. But he's uniquely able to do those things. And if he doesn't do them, it's possible that no one will. And Steven is a KID. And it's just a lot! A lot. And maybe this stuff can't wait for him to grow up.

In other words, this show is destroying me and I can't wait to see what the hell it's going to do.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:18 AM on January 24, 2015 [9 favorites]

I'm skeptical about Steven's complete loss of healing powers. I feel like his powers have to be motivated by love? or something like that.
posted by sleeping bear at 10:27 AM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

That's a very nice description Narrative Priorities. And sleeping bear, that seems accurate too, Steven had no feeling for the geode, it doesn't even seem alive, so he could have no love for it.

While we're talking about our theories, here's mine about the corruption of the monster Gems --

I hate "corruption" as a thing in shows, movies, comics and games. It's kind of ubiquitous in sci-fi and fantasy media and has been for decades, especially how it always seems to get tied up in notions of sin, gets depicted by things turning black, results in "corrupted" people getting sexy outfits with leather straps and spikes, reinforces notions of purity == virginal, and pure people are of course white and shining like they were something you could clean with detergent, etc. I could go on, I've got a ton of hate for this trope. All of that can just get shot into the sun. But I digress.

Maybe it's just my dislike for it, but I somehow think Steven Universe's "corrupted" gems actually aren't. My theory is that, on Earth, gems from some colonizing wave got separated from each other. We don't yet know what other planets are like in the Steven Universe universe (I love that phrasing yes) but we've had hints that Earth is really different from them. I'm thinking particularly of Pearl's observation that the gem battlefield in Serious Steven is now a field of wild strawberries, with her saying "That's what I love about the Earth!"

My guess is that Earth is unique not just for its regenerating powers, but also for its wildness. Notice, all the Gem ruin locations we've seen are in wild places: on scenic mountains, in distant fields, in the middle of the ocean. There's only one Gem site we've seen that's near humanity: the Crystal Temple itself, right on the outskirts of Beach City. Why this is is unknown -- it's possibly humanity's fault actually, shying away from this crazy magic stuff.

I think Earth is unique in another way too: humans are oddly like Gems in form and intelligence. We've seen a character now, Peridot, who's had no contact with humans but is still generally humanoid.

So this is my theory: Gem forms are not set in stone, but are based on what they've observed. Gems around Gems have evolved a human-like appearance by chance (two arms, two legs, a torso, a head , standing upright, etc.), and that is reinforced by Gem socialization with each other. When a Gem disincorporates, upon regeneration their form can be different, as we saw when Pearl regenerated her clothes were different. I think the Gems that landed in the wild places of Earth got disincorporated by exposure to Earth's natural dangers (particularly animal attacks -- we've seen Gems are powerful but far from invulnerable, Earth has many predators, and Gems have no way of reproducing so their numbers are always set while animals multiply and are isolated so can't band together). And without socialization with each other, regenerating Gems begin to pick up attributes of their environments, which explains why they turned into monsters -- they're not monsters, they're just unsocialized, and adapted to their environment. This adaptation isn't just physical but psychological, which is why they became bestial. The Crystal Gems overcame this because, whenever they disincorporate, the have each other, and in the worst case Beach City humans to reinforce their humanoid forms.

When Steven released the Centipeedle, it adapted again, but this time the thing nearby it had to go by was Steven. So it became smaller and friendlier. It retains aspects of its past form though, so it's still a Centipeedle, but it needs more opportunity to interact with friendly humans and Gems to continue to recover. These opportunities it's not getting in that bubble, but on the other hand, it can't be left to roam free and destroy things.

Well, this is my theory. I quite like it, and I think it could produce a lot of opportunities for entertaining stories. I'd be surprised if it was entirely wrong, but some of the details might be inaccurate.
posted by JHarris at 11:12 AM on January 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

Have any of you seen the list of episodes on Wikipedia? It has descriptions of upcoming shows and so may be considered a spoiler, but they're still vague and only give away basic premises. There are some cool Beach City episodes coming up, and a couple of Amethyst episodes, which is good because she hasn't been getting a lot of attention lately.

I'm starting to think this show needs a FPP. Beginning to compile material for it.
posted by JHarris at 11:45 AM on January 24, 2015

I kind of suspect that Steven's powers aren't so much powered by love, as that there's some kind of block between his conscious mind. Gems are shown as thinking very differently from humans, but their emotional reactions seem to run along basically the same lines. Steven has a human body and (at least partly) a human mind. So gem winds up reacting to what it can understand, which are Steven's feelings. His healing powers start when he desperately wants to be able to heal, and they go away when he thinks he cant. When he wants to have the most impressive watermelon seed spit, he gets a huge patch of Watermelon Stevens. They only start to move when Onion rips baby melon of and he wants it back. He feels a connection with Connie when they're dancing and the gem triggers fusion.

Speculating then, I'd say that, in true anime style, Steven learning to control his powers is going to be about him coming to terms with himself. It'd also tie into the "Steven as the bridge between worlds" idea. Steven has to form the bridge within himself so he can be the bridge between others.

Having said that, if there's not a scene where Steven rises into the air with an expression of serene determination on his face while he and the background go all sparkly and glowy before the end of this show I for one am going to be very disappointed. Even if he's just making a sandwich or something.
posted by Grimgrin at 10:00 PM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Huh. The glyph of Garnet in that hologram of kind of looks a bit like the black things around the image of Rose in Serious Steven (a little down the page).
posted by JHarris at 11:17 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just rewatched this one while sitting on my hands so I could give it my full attention. Amethyst starts it off with, "We're bad at this," and Garnet sums it up with, "We don't know what he needs." Steven though, knows what they need, like a leader should. He passes his test, just not the ones the Gems set out to give him.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:48 PM on January 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

I am constantly amazed at how much sensitivity the creators of this show let Steven have. It was heartbreaking and beautiful when Steven realized he needed to do what he did for the Gems -- that it wasn't about him. He understood he could do that for them.

I think it's such a rare thing that a character's sensitivity is treated as a strength, especially for a male character. I love that Steven's inherent sweetness and capacity to love is treated as something that's wonderful and positive rather than something he needs to overcome.

I love Steven. I love this show so much. I joked that before every episode, I tell myself "I am totally not going to cry this time." And at the end of every episode, I am basically "Dammit, maybe next time ..." The love and empathy this show exudes is so delightful and refreshing. I'm going to go wherever it goes.
posted by darksong at 8:30 PM on January 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

« Older Archer: The Archer Sanction...   |  Project Runway All Stars: Vers... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments