On Monday, January 21st, fans of Steven Universe had almost all of their questions answered in a 45-minute special that is apparently NOT the series finale. (Though it was originally supposed to be?)
That’s right, it’s taken almost two years, but Season 5 is over. When I first started writing this post a few days after the special aired, I was under the impression that the show had already announced a Season 6, but that’s not the case. Instead, “Coming Fall 2019 to Cartoon Network” is the Steven Universe Movie, but rumors of a sixth season don’t seem to be going anywhere.
Being a Steven Universe fan is incredibly frustrating. This is not new information. During its five seasons, the show has evolved with lead character, Steven, from fun-loving and slice of life, to much more serious and plot-focused. This evolution, while fulfilling has also made Cartoon Network’s poor scheduling choices all the more infuriating. Even this last run of episodes had absolutely absurd premiere dates:
(Most Recent Examples:
– Episodes 19-24, which conclude with Garnet’s wedding aired over the course of 5 days (July 2-6, 2018), with episodes 23 and 24 combining to form one special episode.
– Episodes 25-28, “Legs from Here to Homeworld” through “Escapism” aired on a weekly basis from December 17, 2018-January 7, 2019, with season-finale “Change Your Mind” airing two weeks later on January 21, 2019.)
So, while we all often feel like hitting our head against a wall in between bouts of optimism, this last episode, which was originally meant to serve as series finale, would be a lot more fulfilling had it been billed as such. The episode “Change Your Mind”, which Cartoon Network billed as a special called “Battle of Heart and Mind”, went beyond resolving the conflict and into answering questions that we’d all wondered about at one time or another:
– What would happen if Steven’s gem was removed/can it be removed?
– What is Steven’s version of Rainbow Quartz like?
– What would Garnet and Steven’s fusion be?
– What happens when the four Crystal Gems fuse (Garnet, Pearl, Amethyst, Steven/Rose Quartz)?
– Is it possible to heal the corrupted gems?
Those are just some of the ones that have been knocking around for a while. “Change Your Mind” answered many questions and resolved almost every plot thread. Whether or not you found that ending satisfying, is debatable (which I did. On Saturday.). I felt that the show wrapped up in a way that was satisfying and made sense for a program aimed at children. While children’s TV can be very smart and do some really interesting things, at the end of the day, I feel that the ending needs to be satisfying for children, which generally means a happy ending that resolves the conflict.
The friend I debated with and my fiancé have differing views. My friend felt that there should have been greater repercussions for the series’ villains, while my fiancé thinks no ending should resolve everything. (I will admit, this is cheating since I have a blog, but I’m gonna call them out anyway, because they do make incredibly valid points.) While I agree with my friend that ‘justice’ was not necessarily served, going into the complex political repercussions of the finale feels like Star Wars: Attack of the Clones territory. Meaning, that while that stuff may be important and interesting, it’s not nearly as flashy or attention grabbing, which is why I remember Attack of the Clones as incredibly boring, since it came out the year I turned 12. (I think I’ve tried to maybe watch it once in the last 17 years, which says something since I am a girl who loves to binge prior to a big premiere.) Steven Universe is literally more accessible; it’s a cartoon program that airs on Cartoon Network and can be found on Hulu (and often YouTube). It’s available to a much larger age range. So, while I’d love to hear more about the political fall out, I’m not sure it’s the sort of thing a cartoon aimed at children could do. Perhaps if it were on Adult Swim/Toonami, it would work, but I’d even love to see it done as a novel. If we get a sixth season, I’d hope we’d hear about the events, even if we don’t directly witness them.
Now, on to my loving fiancé, whom I love and cannot wait to marry, who believes a creative work should leave audiences with more questions than answers: Children’s. Program. When we last discussed this topic on Saturday, I vehemently disagreed with my fiancé, but after giving it some thought, I have a new answer. I absolutely see where he is coming from. Some of the best creative works leave us wanting more, or with an ending open for interpretation (which means everyone can have their own satisfying head canon), or with philosophical questions about life/society/etc. However, I am a 28-year-old English teacher. My tastes and preferences have evolved as I’ve gotten older, but generally speaking, while I see the value in open endings, I still want to see everything resolved. I think most people do. Children, who see the world in much more black and white terms, certainly do. I don’t know many children who aren’t hoping for a happy ending that wraps everything up. Again, that doesn’t mean everyone feels that way, just that a show aimed primarily at children should have an ending children can connect with. Until a show becomes classified as ‘For Adults’ (I again look at Cartoon Network’s Toonami block, which is under the Adult Swim umbrella), it has to be satisfying for its target audience, children– and be something their parents can approve of.
Speaking of parents, some may not be thrilled with the insidious underlying message of acceptance and understanding. Since watching the episode when it aired, I’ve seen a number of headlines/articles which point out the trans-inclusive message. Upon additional viewing this past weekend, I absolutely agree. Steven Universe has long been an LGBTQ+ friendly show, depicting relationships between females and starring a character that, while identifies as male, doesn’t seem to pay much attention to gender conventions. The issue of gender in this show is one that has been wondered and puzzled about for some time, but “Change Your Mind” really addresses the issue.
(Beyond the theory that Lars is trans, which, although no less important, is not as deeply explored.)
SEASON 5 SPOILERS AHEAD
Canonically, the essence of Rose Quartz/Pink Diamond, her gem, is part of Steven, which is why they cannot both exist at the same time. Additionally, Homeworld gems find fusions (or relationships) between two different types of gems taboo. The latter point serves as a metaphor for same-sex relationships. The first point, however, is one that until now has really only had importance to the plot. Steven’s ability to connect with Rose/Pink and see her memories has helped to advance the plot. While he’s struggled with his identity in relation to his mother, it’s only become the central focus since we learned about Rose Quartz and Pink Diamond.
Coming to Homeworld, Steven begins experiencing Pink’s life and seeing more of her memories. In “Familiar”, he even has a song in which he questions why everything is so familiar to him when he is not Pink Diamond. In “Change Your Mind”, we get a new side to the issue. While Blue Diamond and Yellow Diamond have struggled to accept that Steven and Pink are not the same person, it’s White Diamond’s response that best serves as a metaphor for trans issues. Over the course of 45 minutes, all three Diamonds eventually come to understand and accept that Steven is Steven, but White has the strongest and most violent reaction and it is her actions that best help the audience and Steven understand the truth of his identity.
EPISODE SPOILERS AHEAD
At the episode’s climax, White Diamond insists that Steven has just been fooling himself, that he really is just another form of Pink Diamond, like Rose Quartz. To prove it, she says she’ll make him change back and removes Steven’s gem***. To the surprise of everyone, Steven’s gem reforms as…..
Steven. “[Pink Diamond]’s gone!” (Gem Steven, “Change Your Mind”)
It answers some major questions and reaffirms Steven’s personal identity, ending a journey we saw in the very first episode: what does it mean to have his mother’s gem and who does that make him? This key moment also highlights the trans metaphor as Steven has been insisting that his name is Steven. That is who he really is, and White needs to accept that. It parallels the trans struggle to be accepted for who they really are, rather than how their parents see them, because, in many ways that’s what White is to Pink, a parent. By this time, we’ve already seen how Pink’s relationship with White, Yellow, and Blue parallels Steven’s relationship with Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst, the gems who raised him. In a reference to a song from episode 30, “Island Adventure” (for reference, “Change Your Mind” is the 157-160th episodes overall), Steven suggests White Diamond (and maybe parents everywhere) to let everyone be whoever they are. It’s a message that goes beyond where you fall on the sexuality or gender spectrums into something that is true for everyone. And honestly, were Steven and Rose/Pink not different genders, the trans metaphor wouldn’t be as clear.
While the episode answered many questions, I went into the season finale knowing that there would be more content. As a result, I was left with additional questions, beyond ‘what is going on with that heart-shaped gem?’. During White Diamond’s revelation, she talks about how she is meant to be perfect. This left me wondering, what are her origins? What are the origins of the gem species as a whole? I saw one reviewer ask, ‘where did the Diamonds go when they left Earth?’ (I’d assume back to Homeworld to rule an empire, but that’s just me.) What is going to happen to Steven and the now-uncorrupted gems? Since 2013, Steven Universe has been looking at the importance of family, love, acceptance, friendship, and been providing viewers with more questions than answered. “Change Your Mind” marks the end of the initial story and several of the series’ main questions. Time will only tell what this new story will be, what new questions we’ll inevitably have, and if Cartoon Network’s schedulers will keep making poor choices.
***One thing I’d like to point out about Steven’s gem that I find suspicious and interesting and is something I suspect we may see or learn about in the movie or future season: once Steven is reunited, we do not see Steven’s gem bellybutton. Even when he is topless with a bathing suit, his stomach is carefully hidden through the end of the episode.