Steven Universe Go to Therapy Challenge
'Steven Universe' Go to Therapy Challenge
The final episodes of Steven Universe: Future are nigh, but will Steven let actually let anyone save him?
It's over, isn't it? The final four episodes of Steven Universe: Future are fastly approaching and we're not emotionally ready to handle the conclusion of a series that has truly changed our hearts.
In its final season, the groundbreaking LGBTQ+ inclusive cartoon asks what happens after you save the world? Steven has brought peace to Gemkind all over the universe but with no one left to save, he has an identity crisis: who is he if he's not helping someone else?
That frustration, combined with his budding Diamond powers, are causing violent outbursts that Steven can't—or doesn't want to—control.
His relationship to his Diamond powers is complicated, to say the least. The finale of the original Steven Universe arc proved once and for all that Steven is his own person—not his mother like many thought—but he's still left behind to clean up her messes. He feared the Diamonds for so long (and was nearly murdered by White Diamond when she pulled out his gem) that he's still harboring resentment toward his own family for everything they put him through.
But you have to face your trauma to heal.
Warning! Spoilers for Steven Universe: Future episodes 14-17 ahead!
In the episode titled "Growing Pains," Steven goes to the doctor for the first time. Dr. Maheswaran notes that throughout all his zany and oftentimes dangerous adventures, he's experienced severe physical trauma in his childhood. It's an interesting move for a children's cartoon to directly address that all the insanity Steven has been through has actually taken a toll on his body.
Dr. Maheswaran notes that Steven might have magically healed physically from the fights and broken bones, but has he healed mentally? If he hasn't fully processed the traumatic incidents he's been through, his body could respond to new stress, say a marriage proposal rejection, as if it's as bad as an otherworldly assault. These "adverse childhood experiences," she says, "can have a lasting impact on how your body responds to stress."
This is familiar to many who have dealt with trauma in their childhoods. When we're young, we learn to cope with all kinds of distressing and/or abusive situations. I, for instance, felt as if I was a burden to my family growing up and coped with that by minimizing any kind of pain and suppressing all emotions as to not burden anyone else with them. But when we get older, we use those same childhood coping mechanisms to deal with new problems in our lives because it's the way we've taught ourselves to deal. As an adult, I would respond to stressful relationship situations by avoiding them at all costs because that's the way my brain had learned to navigate my adolescent environment. Therapy helped me realize that I don't have to react to those kinds of situations with avoidance and I have to do the work to unlearn coping mechanisms that no longer serve me.
Steven, still a child and as angsty as ever, isn't ready to face his trauma and instead becomes self-destructive. We see that quite literally in the "Prickly Pair" episode. A cactus that mimics Steven's thoughts and emotions slowly becomes angry and aggressive towards his friends. Steven literally tries to box away this mirror of his thoughts and hide it from the world instead of actually telling the Gems what's wrong and why he's upset.
Even Greg, Steven's dad with whom he used to confide everything to, can't penetrate the wall Steven's put up. In "Mr. Universe", Greg thinks the key to helping Steven figure out who he's supposed to be is down the same path he took; driving around aimlessly and just figuring it out as you go along. He brings Steven to his childhood home (Greg calls it a prison) and reveals that his parents were so controlling and overbearing that he ran away to find himself and never looked back. He plays Steven the song that gave him his name and sense of purpose. Steven gets so angry that he crashes Greg's van.
Steven actually craves the stability and normalcy that Greg had with his family yet despised. Greg's rejection of his parents reminds Steven of his mother, who went down a similar route with her family. He's still so angry with what his mom did (lying, warmongering, mass genocide, etc.) that he lumps them together in his mind.
The zaniness Steven used to love about Greg now makes him seem irresponsible and childish. The episode heartbreakingly captures that moment when you realize that your parents who you've looked up to your entire life aren't perfect or superheroes; they're just people, and they're as lost and confused as all of us.
His anger is what sends him running to his ex-but-still-kinda-sorta-rival Jasper in "Fragments," one of the most shocking episodes of the entire series. Creator Rebecca Sugar spoke on Steven and Jasper's relationship in Gizmodo, explaining that, "when you’re in a self-destructive place, you are drawn to people who don’t like you and you trust them because they are being like you. You say 'This person who said this horrible thing about me is more right and is more real because that’s how I feel about myself.'"
Jasper pushes Steven to unleash his anger and Diamond powers, insisting that he can't be afraid of who he is. After a hilarious training montage, the two Gems have a sparring rematch and Steven doesn't hold back—at all.
Steven lets go of his inhibitions and the fight gets so intense that his hair and eyes morph to resemble Pink Diamond's original form. The attack he sends Jasper's way is so powerful that Steven shatters her gem.
Steven's worst fear is that he's just like his mom, but now he's done something he never thought he could do—severely injuring another Gem. He tearfully puts Jasper back together and his actions push him to do what he's been avoiding all season: go back to homeworld to consult the Diamonds.
In "Homeworld Bound," Steven's back in the place he wants to be the least. The Diamonds remind him of all the pain his mother caused and the terror and trauma they subjected him to for years.
He meets with each of the Diamonds one by one and they all seemed to have learned their lessons, actively working to correct their past mistakes and their reign of horror. Yellow Diamond's old go-to move was destabilizing Gems, but she's now repairing them and modifying their bodies to the form of their choosing. Blue Diamond used to cry tears that would force everyone around her to feel her emotions, but she now creates clouds that supply temporary happiness. And White Diamond used to physically take over and control any Gem she wanted, but now she allows Gems to channel their thoughts onto her body, presumably so she can learn what they're feeling.
If we're searching for metaphors here, Yellow's powers could represent society's aspirations for beauty and body-optimization, Blue's could be seen as self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, and White is quite literally allowing Gems to project their problems onto her. It's clever storytelling for the creators to have each of their healing methods to be ways to assuage trauma without actually having to do the work to heal emotionally.
And if all the Diamonds' powers reversed, does that mean Steven's healing and rejuvenation powers are too?
In the horrifying climax of the episode, Steven projects himself onto White Diamond and his worst fears come to life. White turns Pink, like his mother, and it's Steven's voice coming out of the body. "I don't want to be you," he screams at the projection. "I don't want to be anything like you." He's so afraid of being hurt by the Diamonds that the resentment and anger he feels towards them becomes vengeful. Since he's controlling her body, he tries to smash White Diamond's head on a pillar, attempting to shatter her gem.
But the illusion breaks, and it's Steven whose head hits the pillar.
Since Steven Universe: Future began, Steven's fear of his Diamond family and self-loathing of what the Diamond inside him might mean manifests into ugly, self-destructive, and outright dangerous tendencies, especially for the Gems and people around him. While he was fixing the universe, Steven was able to compartmentalize his anger at the Diamonds (including his mom) and bury it deep down, but with the vastness of the future ahead of him and nothing to do but sit around and think, his suppressed emotions are exploding out of him and hurting himself and everyone around.
Like it or not, Pink Diamond is a part of Steven. He's trying to suffocate this part of him that has caused him and the universe so much fear and pain. But you can't run away from your past if you ever truly want to heal. You have to make peace with it and embrace everything you've been through. They are the waves that make up your ocean, the pieces that create a gem. It's tough to dwell on trauma and face the awful fry bits head-on, but accepting all of who you are opens the door for healing, and will make you stronger moving into the future.
So my advice to Steven is this: GO TO THERAPY. At the very least, be honest with your loved ones around you, even if it's anger and hurt that spills out of you. Bottling your anger up only corrupts you in the long-run.
We'll see what he decides soon enough.
The final four episodes of Steven Universe: Future premiere tomorrow on Cartoon Network at 7pm. Watch the trailer below!