Since 2013, Steven and his family of gem-based aliens have been protecting the citizens of Beach City from their kind, gems from their homeworld that didn’t understand the importance of Earth and people who live there.
The Crystal Gems can fuse to become stronger, giving us Dragonball Z energy while also drawing from shows like Sailor Moon to sing to us why coming together is the most significant sign of strength. Along the way, the young half-gem half-human has helped people from both sides of the Milky Way, using his unwavering positivity and firm moral compass to be a helping hand or a guiding pink light for anyone that’s had the fortune to cross his path.
But in the last four episodes that make up the series finale, it’s Steven that needs saving.
He’s been holding onto a lot of baggage from his past adventures, and not being able to process his feelings properly is making his gem powers spiral out of control. Countless life-threatening battles that sprouted from his late mother’s unfinished crusade, along with his surviving parent’s touch-and-go relationship has Steven seeing pink.
It’s painful to watch such a beloved central character internalize his past trauma when it’s screaming to be let out, but it’s satisfying to watch a fictional character mature and reflect on their tumultuous past. Can you imagine if we saw Gohan unpack all the mess HIS father put him through?
In “Homeworld Bound,” Steven comes bursting out of the bathroom after having just reassembled a shattered Jasper in a frightening display of his new powers. The Crystal Gems are confused and terrified of Steven’s recent reticent behaviour.
They implore him to let them in, but he continues to refuse to explain to them what’s going on, choosing to isolate himself or seek help from people who aren’t Garnet, Amethyst or Pearl. Steven puts a literal wall in between him and the Gems as he beams himself up to Homeworld.
Led by Spinel, another Gem whose life’s been changed by his energy, Steven meets with Yellow, Blue and then White Diamond to ask for help.
Thanks to Steven finishing the battle his mother started, the Diamonds now use their powers to reverse the damage they’ve done to their kind. Even their powers work in reverse: Yellow’s once destructive aura can now be used to alter sizes to rebuild bodies, Blue’s contagious tears of sadness are now generous clouds of joy, and White’s new power is empathy (only in a cartoon).
These powers work wonders on the Gems of Homeworld, but the only thing they do for Steven is show him how his problem is an internal one that can’t be zapped away with gem magic, not even from a Diamond. Inflated and still confused, he decides to return to Earth to figure things out.
In “Everything’s Fine,” Steven returns to Earth and insists that he doesn’t have a problem. The Gems, Greg and Connie, are stunned to see that he’s grown twice in size, his gem power using his body to say what he continues to try and bottle up. He doubles down on his denial and switches to Helper Steven mode, floating from one Little Homeschool classroom to the next trying to be of service to the students. Chaos ensues with everything he touches.
When the dust clears, we finally see Steven breakdown and admit that he’s not ok. He begins spilling out recent traumatic occurrences, some of which the Gems are just hearing about, as they pile onto each other until finally, he reveals that he shattered Jasper with his unchecked power. His emotions hit a fever pitch and begin to fully take over his body, which leads to “I Am My Monster.”
As the show digs deep into its anime bag, the culmination of Steven’s powers being amplified by his repressed emotions is a giant, rose-quartz studded kaiju-esque monster that threatens to flatten Beach City.
This is a perfect metaphor for the result of internalizing years of psychological trauma; one is very likely to turn into a toxic version of oneself, someone even their closest friends and family members don’t recognize. It was smart to make Toxic Steven a full-on monster instead of giving him a humanoid look because it makes his family’s duty to show him the love he needs much more poignant.
It can be the hardest thing in the world to give love to someone when they’re at their lowest. It can be even harder for one to love someone whose current trauma is partially their fault. They’re likely to lash out in anger, but as Connie so eloquently put it, one has to push through their own guilt to give love to the person that needs it the most at that moment. It’s easy for caregivers to lose themselves by putting everyone first, so their community needs to be ready to give that care right back when the time calls for it.
The final action scene of Steven Universe gave us Godzilla/Power Rangers tokusatsu realness. Garnet uses Yellow Diamond’s power to grow to the monster’s size. The Diamonds charge in to back her up, with the rest of the gems riding Blue’s clouds like a young Goku to get Steven back to normal. Even Greg jumped in, and he usually avoids smoke like an asthmatic with no albuterol. The only part not tokusatsu about this scene was the fight ending in a big hug and not the gems turning to face the camera as the monster fell into a giant explosion. Steven wakes up in a blanket with his family gathered around him. Tears that have been waiting for ages to fall drop onto Lion’s cotton candy mane. Our boy is back.
“The Future” is the last time we see Steven. He’s all packed up and ready to leave, but the gems look oddly unaffected. He gives everyone a warm but sterile final farewell.
He begins to drive off, but as soon as they’re out of sight, he slams on the breaks and hits reverse back to the house, where Steven all but demands a teary goodbye from all of them. They drop the act and turn the waterworks up to 20, and we get a GOODBYE goodbye. This family’s been through too much not to be as vulnerable with their emotions as they want to be. Now Steven can start the next chapter of his life on the right sandal-covered foot.
Steven Universe changed the landscape of kids’ animation, and we are forever grateful for it.
The main character is an emotionally vulnerable boy who’s always wearing pink. The queer and trans representation is groundbreaking; the partnership of Ruby and Sapphire and the fusion of Stevonnie are proof that LGBTQ characters can be fully realized on screen and teach kids to love themselves no matter how they identify.
The gems are voiced by a team of strong, emotionally intelligent women, and women aligned folks who will beat your ass and then eloquently explain why they had to do it. These final four chapters were the perfect end to a life-changing 7-year journey. Rebecca Sugar gave us a complete story, and I couldn’t ask for more.
This show taught me that it’s ok to feel that it’s okay to open up even more to the ones that are close to you. It’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to need to be held, no matter what age.
The story of The Gems may be over, but as Garnet says in the final scenes, they’re part of all our possible futures.
They’re the Crystal Gems, and they’ll always be there to save the day.