I honestly had no idea what I was in for when I started getting into what I thought was a silly little Cartoon Network show all those years ago. If ever there was a series that fools you into thinking that it was something silly only for it to become something deeply psychological, meaningful, and heartfelt, it’s Steven Universe.
Steven Universe Future, however, goes to much darker places. This is a series that takes a boy who we have spent the last six years getting to know and getting to love and then, over the course of an epilogue season, slowly reveals that he is actually the villain of his own story.
The first of two new episodes, “Mr. Universe” has Stevens dad, Greg, try to help out Steven’s depression by taking him on a road trip so that his son can discover who he is. In doing so, Greg gets the bright idea to show Steven who he used to be and takes some to his childhood home. Greg, ever the free spirit, reveals to his son that he left his childhood home and never looked back. Unable to live with curfews, rules, and parents telling him what to do, he adopted the name Mr Universe, and became a traveling rocker.
The heart-wrenching twist to the story, is that Steven learns that his father had everything that he wanted… the normal life, normal family, structure, and boundaries. This leads to a confrontation between Steven and his father that is, I’m not going to lie, very hard to listen to. this is like watching somebody that you love have a mental breakdown right in front of you and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The episode is practically bursting with symbolism, the wrecking of Greg’s beloved van symbolizing the damaged relationship between Steven and his father and Stephen sadly deleting the picture that he took of his father’s yearbook, symbolizing that Steven is finally giving up on ever having a normal life like the one his father walked away from.
Amazingly, “Fragments” is an even heavier episode and, I believe, represents Steven’s breaking point… in the most literal way.
Still angry from his trip with his father, Steven walks out on the Crystal Gems while they are trying to help him and seek solace with the one person he never expected to, Jasper, one of his greatest and possibly only irredeemable villains. Steven believes that he can learn how to harness his anger and his new powers by training with Jasper, while Jasper simply wants a rematch with Steven to prove that she is the strongest one of all.
By the end of the episode, Steven is broken. He allows his anger to overwhelm him, he allows his new powers to overcome his gentle nature and do something terrible. It all crescendos in a scene that is so heartbreaking to watch, a combination of the arch of the entire season, some amazing voice acting by Zach Callison, and a very witty call back to the very first episode of the season.
Jasper finds a new respect for Steven, and Steven finds himself turned into something he never wanted to be.
Next week is the series finale. Four more episodes, and it’s over. I am looking forward to these last episodes with a mixture of excitement and dread, the type of which I don’t remember ever feeling before when it comes to an animated series. I am simply amazed that the series that started out with a fat little boy crying over the discontinuation of his favorite ice cream has turned into such a deep and psychological journey into post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
I know that I’ve said this before, but it is such a unique situation to have an epilogue season after the main story of the television show is complete. What does the hero do after all the bad guys have been defeated, and the only villain is himself in his own story?