//TV MISERY: ‘Steven Universe’ Season 1, Ep. 27-52 Ranked

TV MISERY: ‘Steven Universe’ Season 1, Ep. 27-52 Ranked

Steven Universe FeaturedI had a dream recently imagining Steven Universe characters in the Game of Thrones mythology. My mind actively strained creating a bleak and brutal ending for totally sweet, well-meaning characters, to the point where I jiggered into lucid dreaming. This is what happens when your binge-watching directives abruptly shift in a totally new direction.

Steven Universe is dominating my life, this being the 3rd week of Cartoon Network’s Summer of Steven, with new episodes premiering every weeknight at 7 pm until August 12th. Last week I started ranking episodes of the show’s first season, and this week I caught up with the latter half of them. It’s here where the show starts putting an emphasis on its expanding mythology, starts inviting necessary discord and self-examination into the group, and begins overtly exploring the trans and queer themes of its premise. If you haven’t yet, do dive in!

Island Adventure - Steven Universe#26. Island Adventure (1×30)
Written by Raven Molisee & Paul Villeco

As far as Lars being a douchy catalyst for conflict, Island Adventure is certainly on the lower end of the spectrum. Nothing is particularly revealed about him, Sadie or Steven’s ever-devoted relation to the two of them. It simply states what we already know. Lars is crabby, but over-sensitive. Sadie’s kinder than he deserves.

Shirt Club - Steven Universe#25. Shirt Club (1×47)
Written by Lamar Abrams & Hellen Jo

“Are the shirts destroying the wearers will to continue on in this mortal coil, thereby shutting down Beach City?”
“No! They’re just using my art in a way I don’t agree with.”

The conflict in Shirt Club is petty and one-dimensional, which, come to think of it, also describes Buck pretty well. As far as Beach City inhabitants go, he doesn’t inspire nearly as much fun conflict as Lars or Ronaldo. I mean, it’s an amusing lesson in property infringement, but not much more.

Secret Team - Steven Universe#24. Secret Team (1×29)
Written by Hilary Florido & Katie Mitroff

“So you two can’t get along unless you think I’m going to kill you.”

Stakes are on the low end in Secret Team, where Amethyst and Pearl’s mistake forces the disparate two to work together to solve it, but not to admit to it. That rupture isn’t particularly resolved; simply addressed, making Secret Team a bit weaker on resolution.

Future Vision - Steven Universe#23. Future Vision (1×39)
Written by Lamar Abrams & Hellen Jo

“Cookie Cat, you’re real? Oh no! I never considered that you would be evil?”

Garnet is a tough character to center on because of how seemingly invulnerable she is. That makes for blunt moments of comedy where she’s totally dry and easygoing about harmful events, but here she’s increasingly concerned about the consequences of her own actions and Steven’s paranoia. It’s a particularly childish episode for Steven, and not big on growth for either of them.

Watermelon Steven - Steven Universe#22. Watermelon Steven (1×34)
Written by Lamar Abrams & Hellen Jo

“They don’t need a king. They’re their own melons now.”

Steven creates an army of immoral, war-mongering watermelons. Yeah, the episode loglines for this show just keep getting weirder. This episode is pretty much what it says on the tin, not a whole lot more, but amusing for its own silly concept.

House Guest - Steven Universe#21. House Guest (1×27)
Written by Lamar Abrams & Hellen Jo

Steven hasn’t dealt with deeper personal betrayal until House Guest, when his expanding role in the Crystal Gems is jeopardized by Greg’s need to spend time with his son. It seems clinginess to loved ones is a gathered trait, and while House Guest lacks in memorable humor, the spiritual rupture that occurs in Steven is the kind of deep feeling of crisis that makes for strong drama.

Maximum Capacity - Steven Universe#20. Maximum Capacity (1×43)
Written by Hilary Florida, Katie Mitroff & Rebecca Sugar

“Hey Greg, it’s cool. I’ve seen your junk before.”

We’ve seen Amethyst push her prankish brand of humor too far on occasion, but Maximum Capacity shows how far it can go in dysfunctional relationship. Amethyst has a habit of slacking off that amplifies Greg’s lazier habits, and while there’s only so much active chaos you can create out of two people lazing around, it knows how to push the buttons of multiple characters. It’s also cute strictly Steven adheres to his own thousand-year grounding from television.

Fusion Cuisine - Steven Universe#19. Fusion Cuisine (1×32)
Written by Lamar Abrams & Hellen Jo

“Hello. This is Mom Universe. Yes, the children are playing swords. Sorry, playing *with* swords. They’re bleeding. Oh no. They are dead. Don’t call again.”

Steven has neither a conventional childhood or a conventional family, which makes his friendship with Connie difficult given her mom’s by-the-book parenting style. In Fusion Cuisine, he has to compress his multi-faceted family unit into a nuclear framework, which turns out about as well as you can expect Garnet, Pearl and Amethyst’s personalities to jive with one another. As alluded to in Secret Team, the Gems have a difficult time getting along when not forced into saving the world, or Steven, together. It’s odd, though, for Steven and Connie to suddenly run away because of a negative fallout, much less for it to resolve so cleanly.

Open Book - Steven Universe#18. Open Book (1×46)
Written by Hilary Florido & Katie Mitroff

“Then her falcon turns into a human and they get married? It completely dropped all the anti-authoritarian stuff and described a wedding cake for 50 pages.”

There are stronger Steven and Connie showcases this season, but Open Book does a nice job articulating the importance of being honest about disagreements in a relationship. Connie has intellectual readings of everything, but Steven has a soft spot for schmaltz that he’s keeping secret to please Connie. I feel this episode could’ve done more to portray Steven’s discord, but it sweetly conveys its core conceit of communication.

Political Power - Steven Universe#17. Political Power (1×50)
Written by Hilary Florido & Katie Mitroff

“I saw humans get on fine with power for millennia. You used to hunt and gather. What happened to that?”

In the wake of The Message, we once again see glimpses of the Gems in the private panic mode we saw in The Test. Rather than hide his reaction for their happiness like he did in The Test, though, Steven knows that the Gems need to talk through their distress if they’re going to prepare for it. And there’s an B-Plot of Steven covering for the mayor’s political denial of an energy crisis. It leads Steven back to the resolution of A. It also occurs.

Garnet's Universe - Steven Universe#16. Garnet’s Universe (1×33)
Written by Joe Johnston & Jeff Liu

“He’s not ready to learn that I have secret animal friends.”

I’m detecting a trend of late-Season One episodes of Steven Universe going light on mythology, stakes, or any meaningful anchoring in reality at all. Garnet’s Universe is basically an imagined fantasy of what Steven thinks Garnet does when she’s out on missions, sketched in crude anime with samurai bunnies, gamer frogs and evil onion rings. It’s a pointless one-off that, nonetheless, is adorably charming from start to finish.

The Test - Steven Universe#15. The Test (1×38)
Written by Hilary Florido & Katie Mitroff

“We’re bad at this. You can’t control him, and he shouldn’t be taking advice from me, and we don’t have Rose to tell us what to do.”

Unlike many other late-Season 1 episodes, The Test is less about the frustrations of adolescence than the struggles of guideless parenthood. We get that Steven still doesn’t feel he’s being taken seriously enough by the Gems, but they’re also struggling with how to raise Steven and protect him while still allowing him to make mistakes and grow. This is also an episode where Steven chooses to look past his own feelings for the benefit of his guardians, which is an important kind of growth in itself.

Marble Madness - Steven Universe#14. Marble Madness (1×44)
Written by Joe Johnston & Jeff Liu

“It’s okay! I don’t know anything all the time! It’s my whole life!”

Knowledge is power as the Crystal Gems’ blunt tact in dealing Earth’s robot invaders fails to attain any answers as to why this is happening. It’s sweet how Connie and Steven’s fascination and confusion with a fantasy book series lays the groundwork for Steven’s positive curiosity about the world around him and the conflict he’s trying to understand.

Warp Tour - Steven Universe#13. Warp Tour (1×36)
Written by Raven Molisee & Paul Villeco

“This is new. I kinda like it.”

This is the moment a larger threat comes into focus for the Crystal Gems, but Warp Tour also brings back into focus Steven’s increasingly combative relationship with the gems and their patronizing behavior towards him. Nothing has the blunt, unnerving impact of Steven slapping Garnet in the face, but it’s clear there are undercurrents of resentment and frustration in the Gems’ foster parentage of Steven. At least they’re less brutal in their rejection of him than alien-android Peridot is of her worker drones.

Keep Beach City Weird - Steven Universe#12. Keep Beach City Weird (1×31)
Written by Raven Molisee & Paul Villeco

“Truth is searching for anything that proves you’re right, no matter how small, and holding onto that, no matter what.”
“That kinda sounds like the opposite of truth.”

Steven gets taken in by the out-there obsessions of a conspiracy theory blogger. Keep Beach City Weird is a cleanly dicing political satire, sending up internet nut-jobs and far right extremists for their desperate warping of reality to give themselves a sense of purpose and authority over their small, meaningless lives. So what’s the cure for madness? Just let the crazies live their truth! They’re not really harming anyone, right?

Space Race - Steven Universe#11. Space Race (1×28)
Written by Joe Johnston & Jeff Liu

“I think your calculations might’ve been off.”
“Well, they can’t be off if you don’t do any.”

If perseverance is a core trait of Pearl’s, it’s a potential flaw. Space Race might be the first episode to confirm that the gems are an alien species, so naturally there’s some lasting feelings of loss & homesickness in the gems, Pearl especially. Here her hard-headed attitude matches with Steven’s ballooning enthusiasm as a potential vehicle for disaster, until they give up on what they want to appreciate what they have.

Horror Club - Steven Universe#10. Horror Club (1×41)
Written by Raven Molisee & Paul Villeco

“Steven, you’re friends with Lars?”
“Yeah, isn’t everybody?”

A much better Lars and Sadie showcase than Island Adventure, and arguably better than Ronaldo’s in Keep Beach City Weird, the genre thrills of Horror Club are a superb vehicle for Sadie’s rough-and-tumble resourcefulness, Ronaldo’s proudly bizarre outsider status and Lars’ own long-term anxieties over how he’s perceived by others. It’s also a strong portrait of how childhood friendships can warp into deeper resentments over time as people grow in different directions.

Story for Steven - Steven Universe#9. Story for Steven (1×48)
Written by Joe Johnston & Jeff Liu

“Marty? He’s just an old amigo from way back when… He’s dead to me.”

A romantic origin story for Steven’s parents, Story for Steven plays like a star-dazed fairy tale from the first moments, immersing us in Greg’s space-gimmick music and the other-worldly thrill of playing in front of people, even if the people aren’t there. It’s hilarious seeing Greg meet Amethyst, a talking owl that suddenly says she has to kill him, and Pearl takes as defensive to Greg’s presence as we could expect. The most resonant details from this episode are about Rose, painting her as an impulsive groupie easily swayed by sweetly romantic gestures. It’s a good slice of who Steven would turn out to be.

The Return - Steven Universe#8. The Return (1×51)
Written by Raven Molisee & Paul Villeco

“But this is my home, and you are all my family!”

The penultimate episode of the season does a thrilling job of amplifying stakes for the finale, but also invokes a distinct sense of fear and concern. It’s in Greg’s prioritized concern for his son. It’s in Beach City’s families assembling on the roadside. It’s in Steven’s last-minute call to Connie. It’s all building up to an affirmation of family between Steven and the Gems, against a prejudiced villain who sees them as defective, overcooked and shameless. It also ends on a devastating beat that leaves the nerves raw for the follow-through on that buildup.

Lion 3 Straight to Video - Steven Universe#7. Lion 3: Straight to Video (1×35)
Written by Joe Johnston, Jeff Liu & Rebecca Sugar

“I need you to know that every moment you love being yourself: That’s me, loving you and loving being you.”

A totally out-of-left-field tearjerker the pulls us out of a mundane stretch of non-sequitur episodes, Lion 3: Straight to Video only gathers serious power in its naturalistic third act, told entirely from the perspective of Steven’s Mom via an old-fashioned VHS camera. It’s the first and only memory Steven has of his mom, and it’s as mundane and cheerfully superficial as the eight mythology-light episodes that came prior, but it inflects even the most silly, senseless moment with a vague sense of pathos; that Rose is perhaps still a present influence in every thing Steven does and feels.

The Message - Steven Universe#6. The Message (1×49)
Written by Lamar Abrams & Hellen Jo

“And you might think she’s a criminal, but her friendship comes through subliminal.”

I love this show’s strong ties to music, its characters conveying their feelings through song when conversation won’t do. Steven and Greg’s separate iterations of the same song longingly convey their desires to prove themselves; Steven to Lapis Lazuli and Greg to the Crystal Gems. It’s nice to see Greg prove the Gems’ underestimation of him wrong after Laser Light Cannon at the start of this season, but the episode’s strongest moment comes at the close. The feelings of dystopia and terror that come through in Lazuli’s message convey how warped the Gems’ society has become since they left.

Winter Forecast - Steven Universe#5. Winter Forecast (1×42)
Written by Lamar Abrams & Hellen Jo

“I’ll make up the couch.”
“A couch? Ooh la la. Chateau Maheswaran.”

Steven and Connie’s relationship is becoming a remarkably careful guide on how to portray a pre-teen romance with adult depth and complexity. In Winter Forecast Steven learns firsthand the consequences of his naive attitude towards impending danger. He and Greg may be accustomed to making the best out of messy circumstances, but learn in the process that not everyone can be as laid back as they are. It also finds a really stirring grace note to end on, with Steven and Connie quietly watching snow billow outside their window.

Rose's Scabbard - Steven Universe#4. Rose’s Scabbard (1×45)
Written by Raven Molisee, Paul Villeco & Rebecca Sugar

“Sometimes you even sound like her.”

An instant classic episode of the series, Rose’s Scabbard brings to fruition Pearl’s long-held romantic feelings for Steven’s Mom, and her feelings of grief and abandonment that she directs at Steven. It’s a blow for Pearl to realize she wasn’t the person Rose confided *everything* in, implying that she didn’t have as exclusive a bond with the woman she loved as she thought. It’s tough for Steven to understand, but his positive outlook on everything and everyone ensures a sweet, lovely resolution.

Jailbreak - Steven Universe#3. Jailbreak (1×52)
Written by Joe Johnston, Jeff Liu & Rebecca Sugar

“Did I make a good first impression?”
“Oh Steven. We already love you.”

Unveiling a quintessential piece of series mythology with grace and power, Jailbreak‘s centerpiece is the revelation of Garnet’s character, which helps explain what felt so incomplete and frustrating about the Garnet-centric episodes of this season. There’s a lot to unpack about Garnet’s revelation, how she’s so much more than her own reactions, but a combination of two personalities in positive conversation. It’s a confident display of unified power that Jasper misunderstands and promptly manipulates, to more than her own downfall.

On the Run - Steven Universe#2. On the Run (1×40)
Written by Joe Johnston & Jeff Liu

“I’m not gonna let you stand there and remind me of everything I hate about myself!”

There’s a massive undercurrent of anger and existential shame in On the Run, an episode which naturally starts with Steven and Amethyst spontaneously emulating old-American hobos. The title song does a wonderful job emulating the rugged individualism of that era of Americana, before elegantly segueing into the episode’s latter-half confrontation with Amethyst’s rough origins. Amethyst was made in a bleak place for a cruel purpose, something she’s still confused about; whether to feel proud or ashamed of her origins and her very existence. The resolution courses with such somberly conflicted, delicate emotion, quickly switches to the humor of Steven choosing comfort over coolness, and just as quickly ends by foregrounding the sinister nature of the Kindergarten.

Alone Together - Steven Universe#1. Alone Together (1×37)
Written by Hillary Florido, Katie Mitroff & Rebecca Sugar

“A gem fusing with a human being? It’s impossible! Or at the very least inappropriate.”

This is the moment that made me fall in love with Steven Universe and it could represent the desires and anxieties of trans people as well as cis kids. It’s the show’s most mature episode yet, tackling the discomfort of social interaction in an environment you feel abandoned and isolated in, even among friends. It also conveys the joys of being at home with yourself, and your closest friends, all at once. I’m glad the show has a character like Stevonnie (beautifully voiced by A.J. Michalka), combining the best traits of Connie and Steven for someone who’s charismatic, confident, yet emotionally honest. And I love that it finds room for Sadie to be as star-struck by her as numb-nutted Lars.

Born in California, resident in New Hampshire, Lena is film studies graduate with a intense passion for queer cinema, stop-motion animation and all things Greta Gerwig. Full Bio.