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The latest episodes of ‘Steven Universe Future’ deal with Steven’s need to be wanted by others. (Photo provided via Cartoon Network on YouTube)

TV Review: Steven struggles to let go of the past in ‘Steven Universe Future’

Following a pattern of lighter stories, Steven Universe Future’s latest pair of episodes return to a darker place, although the conflict doesn’t come from intergalactic battles or giant monsters—well, there is a giant monster, but it isn’t the main problem. Rather, Steven’s biggest challenge becomes finding purpose in a world that he feels doesn’t need him anymore.

In “Little Graduation,” Steven Universe (Zach Callison) finally reunites with the will-they-won’t-they former coworkers Lars Barriga (Matthew Moy) and Sadie Miller (Kate Micucci), only to find out: They won’t. In the time Steven has spent dismantling the Diamond authority and running Little Homeschool, Sadie has started a relationship with a new character, Shep (Indya Moore).

Distressed by what he sees as a problem that needs to be fixed, Steven tries to bring the two back together during Little Homeschool’s first graduation. Even more distressing, Steven learns that Lars is leaving his pastry shop to explore outer space with the newly graduated Off-Color gems, and that Sadie has broken up her rock band, Sadie Killer and the Suspects, to do duets with Shep.

“Prickly Pair,” the first episode of the series to truly follow directly from the previous one, sees Steven quit running Little Homeschool in favor of taking up gardening plants, without using his magical healing spit to grow them. Some accidentally gets on his cactus, however, creating a sentient Cactus Steven (Callison) to whom Steven confides his internal struggles and angst. 

The cactus ends up with not only Steven’s speech, but his anger as well, rampaging through the Crystal Gems’ beach house while repeating Steven’s rants, including those about his fellow gems.

The pair of episodes continues the trend of Steven’s desperation to be needed, whether as a teacher, matchmaker or just as a friend. Where previous episodes would present the struggle in a comedic way, the new set casts a darker tone. Just as in real life, real problems can only be laughed off for so long without significantly affecting one’s mental health, and Steven’s wellbeing is now actively deteriorating.

In her duet with Shep, Sadie sings a new song, “I’m Looking Forward,” a much more mellow melody when compared to her loud and raucous debut in her rock band. Not only does the song convey how Sadie and Lars have matured and moved on, but stands in contrast to Steven’s insistence on holding firmly onto the past.

Saturday’s episodes are much more grounded — literally — than previous ventures, but also offer a more raw look into Steven’s struggle to let go from the past, in a way that is far from resolved in just 11 or 22 minutes. More than any space battles or monster of the week plots, that arc continues Steven Universe’s excellent record of portraying human struggles in ways that are easy to understand yet offer more complexity underneath the surface.

Steven Universe Future will return to Cartoon Network sometime in 2020.


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