One week from the sequel series’ end, Steven Universe has never been more unlike himself.

Following a premature marriage proposal and troubling diagnosis, “Mr. Universe” sees Steven (Zach Callison) spend some quality time with his dad, Greg (Tom Scharpling). Convinced that Steven needs a change of scene, Greg takes his son on a road trip in which the two attempt to reconnect.

The episode is one of Greg’s finest, digging into his backstory and strained relationship with his own parents. Steven’s main conflict has been reconciling with his mother’s complicated past, but the human side of Steven’s family isn’t without its troubles either.

Scharpling has always effortlessly perfected the role of Steven’s goofball dad, but his performance in “Mr. Universe” deserves particular praise. Greg may not know much about interstellar wars, but he understands people, and although he doesn’t know what’s right for his son, he offers a perspective none of the Crystal Gems are able to offer.

The episode culminates with Greg breaking into his parents’ house to retrieve a CD from his childhood, taking Steven with him on his trip down memory lane as he sings along to “Mr. Universe,” written by Jack Pendarvis and sung by Jemaine Clement in his best David Bowie impression. Following an argument where his dad insists Steven is better off without the controlling-yet-structured life Greg lived in his youth, Steven experiences another pink outburst, crashing the van.

Both survive unscathed, but their relationship doesn’t.

In “Fragments,” Steven runs away from everyone in the last place they’d think to look: with Jasper (Kimberly Brooks). Not seen since Steven Universe Future’s premiere, the former villain agrees to train Steven how to channel his outbursts into power if he agrees to a rematch. 

Following a three-day training montage, Steven has transformed, and not just physically. More gruff and muscular, Steven embraces Jasper’s toxic mindset of obsessing over power, enhancing his powers at a visible emotional cost. The rematch features some of the show’s most impressive animation, with Steven not only defending himself but actively attacking Jasper as well. The result, however, is dire.

As Steven Universe Future, and Steven Universe as a whole, reaches its conclusion, it’s hard to imagine an ending in which this isn’t all resolved. Rather, the question is how Steven will come to grips with his past trauma and future uncertainty. These two episodes have shown Steven at his worst. As has been heard a lot recently, things are likely going to get even worse before they get better.

@JosephStanichar

js080117@ohio.edu