Each week Anais and Roz recap an episode of Steven Universe! Spoilers, amusing tidbits, and our thoughts on Episode 1.1 “Gem Glow”:
First off, I just want to commend Steven Universe and the creative team on a kick ass intro and theme song. The titles sequence says so much about the show. It’s upbeat, and cute, but a little melancholy, with visuals giving you clues about the town and key characters. Nailed it! It makes me so happy to hear those first few chords.
And we begin first with a lonely shot of a town by the sea, basically Steven’s entire world. Up to this point anyways. Every small town has a donut shop and Big Donut is perfect. As a kid, I remember going to our donut store so my mom could meet her friends for grown up talk time while my sister and I nibbled a chocolate confection in the corner. People smoked in shops back then. It was gross. Clearly, this is a quiet little beach town, the idyllic peace broken by Steven’s cry. This tells us such an important beat for the show, that Steven is the loudest, most exciting thing in town. But what’s he so upset about?
Cookie Cat. Hold on to your butts. I’m about to lose my mind. But first, Lars and Sadie drop some key bits of info in this scene. Lars mentions the magic belly button and Steven’s powers, which clearly Steven doesn’t even understand yet. Sadie indulges Steven and lets him take the Cookie Cat freezer home with him. In this short scene we totally get who Lars and Sadie are and how they feel about Steven. Efficient writing, your name is Steven Universe. Plus, “I’m stocking here” is solid.
So Steven runs home, humming something we don’t get yet, and skips into his house. It’s a humble cabin at the base of a giant statue of a lady. Watching it now, this all seems familiar and normal but I remember the first time this felt weird. Good weird. Lady empowering weird. And goddamn if there isn’t a monster in there! Several monsters! Steven gets jumped by an emerald centipede creature as he crosses the threshold into the gem house. This is not the world of that sleepy town. Shit in this house is messed up. We see the three gems, Amethyst, Pearl, and Garnet handle the monsters like a boss. It’s just Tuesday for them. No big deal. And Steven’s reaction tells us everything about his character. He is not afraid. He is curious, enthusiastic, and empathetic. Bomb drop: the mother of the monsters must be somewhere nearby.
Pearl, being true to character, delivers the information and admonition: let the big kids handle it. Because as we’ve already established, Steven has powers he doesn’t understand and can’t control. That’s such an exciting hook. We all feel like there’s something special inside us and OH MY GOD THE FREEZER IS FILLED WITH THE LAST COOKIE CAT ICE CREAM SAMMICHES ON EARTH!!!
The gems love Steven and want to make him happy. This is adorable and a huge part of the show. You learn Amethyst tried to steal them, because she likes to misbehave to challenge authority, Pearl paid for the treats, because she respects order created by rules, and it was all Garnet’s idea, because she is the leader and not too cool to be a good friend. I’m melting over here like a day old Cookie Cat left in the sun. It probably takes a week to liquefy whatever plastic/milk product blend they use to make ice cream sandwiches these days.
AND THEN THE COOKIE CAT THEME SONG WHICH IS BASICALLY THE STORY OF THE GEMS BUT CUTER AND WITH KITTIES
For a moment, Steven’s gem begins to glow. He panics and it fades. So, the gems explain in their own ways how to use their gem power to summon their unique weapon. Everyone does it in their own way, and no way is wrong. Listen kids, and adults who are less emotionally mature than the children, we might have different ways of seeing the world but we can still be a team. Like the gems. God, this show is so smart. And Steven’s power is revealed: a shield. Steven suspects he summons his weapon by eating ice cream. I wish everything worked that way. Can I summon screenwriting powers with ice cream? Just ass fat? Ok. That’s depressing. No, no. I’ll still take the ice cream. Thanks.
The show loses no time getting back to business. Monsters, remember? The centipede momma is still out there. This is the smartest big bad for the episode, because the mystery of what happened to Steven’s mom becomes central to the show. So, his first battle is literally against a mother. DAMN. And who is Steven Universe? He is a man who runs towards danger. He is a man who stands up to protect his friends. He is a man who wears pink and yells, “Cookie Cat Crystal Combo Powers Activate!” I want to live in a world where everyone’s grown up with shows like this. Steven’s battle cry is actually about family. But not the nuclear mom, dad, and kids, it’s about the loving people you surround yourself with. Hopefully, kick ass women because they look motherfucking cool silhouetted against the ocean.
Attention all humans. You have permission to cry when things are sad. If your favourite ice cream is gone forever and now you feel abandoned again because everything you love seems to disappear, shed a tear. Or don’t. THAT IS OK TOO. Steven has to learn to summon his powers in his own Steveny-way. And so do you. AND SO DO YOU.
I LOVE THIS SHOW SO MUCH
It’s so fun to go back and watch a show from the very beginning when you know how far it’s come, to see the characters as they looked at the very beginning when Steven Universe was taking its first steps into our lives – and hearts. Roz is right when she says that the opening sequence says a lot about the show. The music, the colours, and Steven who proudly shouts his name right before the episode begins. In those first few episodes, it really feels like he’s trying his darndest even if he has a long, long way to go, a fact widely supported by this first story.
We meet Steven at his town’s donut shop. The first impression we get of him is that of a somewhat dramatic boy. It’s funny because I always thought that a very loud scream disturbing the peace of a quiet location was a fun way to enter a story. I didn’t even remember that “Gem Glow” started this way and it made me laugh way harder than it should have.
So Steven is upset, and understandably so. I’m 26 and my day is ruined if I realize I’ve run out of chocolate. Here, it’s way worse: not only is the donut shop out of Cookie Cats, but we learn from Sadie and Lars, the first two characters we’re introduced to after Steven himself, that they stopped making them altogether. Steven is devastated. Lars doesn’t care – he clearly thinks he and his ears are too cool for Steven, Sadie gives Steven the empty Cookie Cat freezer to cheer him up a little, and we get the crucial first look at Steven’s gem.
This first shot on Steven’s chubby belly adorned with a shiny pink gem, all this without him being put down for it, is what won me over the first time. It may seem silly, but it made me happy then and I still love seeing it now. Steven is a little dude who has a pink gem for a belly button and the show makes it perfectly fine. That’s how it should always be.
So Steven goes back to his home, the coolest house ever, only to be brutally attacked by monstrous centipedes. Did you know that Steven Universe was nominated for Annie Awards in Production Design and Character Design back in 2013? It doesn’t necessarily mean much given the reputation of this particular award ceremony (the same that gave 48 awards to The Simpsons for some reason) but it’s still only for animation and Steven Universe was only in its first few months of existence when it happened. When you see how colourful and unique the show is, you just get why. I want to go to there.
The quick action scene that follows is a very nice introduction to the Gems’ powers and a first clue on their life mission. They fight monsters, they protect people, and they’re searching for gems. There are also 3 of them: Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. Notice the change in the music when we see each of them. It’s a neat first insight into their character: the gems are very different from one another and they all kick ass. We understand that Steven worships them but that he’s also part of the team… sort of. As Pearl points out as the gems are getting rid of the last baby centipedes, he can’t really join them on missions before he can control his gem powers. This is not only a show about a little boy and his awesome, unconventional family, it’s a show about a boy who’s growing up and learning. Another show may have chosen to make Steven master his powers quickly to focus on the action bits. Steven Universe is better: it gives you action AND character. It’s about magic and it’s deeply grounded in the human experience. I love it so much.
It turns out that the Gems went out of their way to fill the freezer with Cookie Cats just to make him happy. Warm and fuzzy feelings, be mine! Steven, delighted, busts out the first (but not the best) insert song of the series: the Cookie Cat jingle. He’s so happy that his gem starts glowing. It’s probably one if not the first time it’s happened. Everyone is a little frantic but Steven outright panics, which causes the glowing to fade, which leaves Steven disappointed but not beaten. He asks the Gems to show him how to summon a weapon.
As expected, the lessons are not fruitful but they’re full of information about the Gems themselves, because their powers and weapons are tightly linked to their personalities. Pearl is a perfectionist, Amethyst is a carpe diem sort of gal, and Garnet is a quiet badass. Steven is not any of those things – he’s only a boy after all, so their explanations don’t make much sense to him.
Steven decides to reenact the moment when his gem glowed. Of course, his stress prevents it from working but Amethyst and Pearl cheer him up, assuring him he’ll get there and he’s a part of the team anyway. Steven is happy again when he take a new bite from his precious Cookie Cat ice cream sandwich and it happens! A bright, shiny pink shield appears from within Steven’s gem. The simple fact that Steven gets a shield, and not a sword, is really refreshing. How many male characters on TV get a pink shield as their main weapon? I can pretty safely assume that Steven is the only one. It’s even more pleasing because he’s happy to have that shield – so happy that he starts jumping around, sending the shield bouncing around the house until it crashes into his television set. Oops. Steven believes that he successfully summoned his shield because of ice cream but we don’t get to really think about that for too long – the mother centipede appears! The gems rush outside to fight it. They command Steven to stay inside but the boy, now confident in his power to summon his shield by eating ice cream, decides to follow them anyway.
The fight is hard. The baby centipedes spat a little acid but the mother seems to have liters of it. The Gems soon find themselves hiding from a shower of corrosive saliva behind a giant sculpted hand protruding from the ground, but it soon starts to crumble. Fortunately, Steven arrived with a full Cookie Cat freezer. He summons the power of the Cookie Cat, eats one… And nothing happens. He eats more without a hesitation, but it doesn’t seem to do the trick anymore. Steven barely escapes the mother centipede’s acid. The freezer is destroyed. OH NO, GIRL. YOU DON’T GET TO ATTACK STEVEN’S FAMILY AND DESTROY THE LAST COOKIE CATS ON EARTH. Steven uses the busted freezer to knock out the centipede and then the gems summon their weapons and destroy the centipede, which goes poof and turns back into a gem.
Steven buries the last Cookie Cat wrapper to the music of his upset stomach. The Gems comfort him once again and we end this first episode on a sweet family moment. Steven may not have mastered his powers this time, but he has proven that even without them, he’s brave, loving, and definitely a part of the team. After all, the Gems are all awesome, each in their own very unique way. Isn’t that a great lesson for people, big and small?
Action, feelings, songs, and smart writing. That’s the show in a nutshell. I hope you’ll join us next week for episode 2!