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Steven Universe Recap: Steven’s Dream/Adventures in Light Distortion

I, too, am crying giant Miyazaki tears.


steven's dream

The Recap: Trying to uncover why he’s been having strange dreams, Steven and Greg travel to Korea to find the Palanquin that once belonged to Pink Diamond. There they encounter Blue Diamond, who, still thinking the planet is going to be destroyed by the Cluster, has come to mourn one last time. Seeing Greg as an opportunity to preserve Pink Diamond’s legacy, she kidnaps him before Steven can intervene.

Figuring that Greg was taken to the “zoo” PD kept while she was alive, the Gems and Steven head to space in the Rubies’ ship; the ship’s gravity drive proves to be a challenge as the Gems struggle to keep their forms in the face of lightspeed travel.

Welcome back, readers! The world seems to be a little more on fire every time we take one of these breaks. But there’s no sense in burning ourselves out. To that end, I hope this show and these recaps can be a place to recharge before you go back out to the good fight.

Oh, also while we were gone, apparently Cartoon Network claimed that they’d been doing all those leaks on purpose. I have dents on my desk from this terrible marketing decision. Also, if the fandom could stop being horrible to Lauren Zuke for, like, a second. For like a second, though.

Right, that’s cleared up (oh! And as usual, if you saw the episodes ahead of time please be considerate of spoilers). So, how about that premiere?

Both of these episodes are, for the most part, comfortably within the wheelhouse of the boarders who worked on them. Liu and Howard give “Steven’s Dream” bittersweet, character-focused melancholy, with just about every character featured trying to claw some answer or redeeming light out of their sadness. Molisee and Villeco’s “Adventures of Light Distortion,” by contrast, is almost manically comic until finally paying off that underlying tension with an extended nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a strong pair of episodes, two opposites matched in their ratios of joy to sadness.

It helps that these episodes move at lightning speed relative to the show’s usual sense of pacing. It could be that this is a response to fan frustration, but it’s so built into Steven’s fears and breakdown at the end of the episode that it’s hard to brush it off as unplanned. The Crewniverse seems to have a handle, or at least an acceptance, of how Cartoon Network’s decided to market them now, planning what looks to be a fairly tight and focused arc (“let’s rescue Greg”) while leaving things open on a more episodic level for when (SPOILERS) the show returns to a weekly schedule in February.

The point from which all this stems is the long-awaited reveal of Blue Diamond, not as an ominous figure in a storybook (a scene now itself complicated by the knowledge that Blue must have been in very deep grief over Pink’s recent shattering) but as a voice, a face, and a past. This is singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan’s second acting role, the first being in 2014’s Song of the Sea, and she’s thrown right into the deep end with her first scene.

Hannigan’s detached, floaty-broken delivery creates a perfectly fine aura of mystery against Scharpling’s frank openness, but the reveal of Blue’s design winds up owning the scene in the end. It’s wonderfully Miyazaki-esque, reminiscent of the Witch of the Wastes with the large, drooping eyes and pointed features peeking out of long, rolling lines of fabric that engulf the screen. Even elements of design that aren’t immediately obvious as hers are carried off well – the cut from a small tear on Blue’s face to Steven’s overflowing eyes is a clever trick, recontextualizing something most viewers (particularly anime fans) wouldn’t have thought twice about.

But as always, new casting on SU really means new speculation as to future music, and it will be particularly interesting to see how the Crewniverse chooses to play Hannigan’s indie folk background against LuPone’s powerful, brassy sound.

First, though, we have to get the Gems there, and the second half of the premiere is a largely functional episode on that front. The gravity drive provides a wealth of opportunities for design goofs in the vein of “Reformed,” and I will never not be glad to see Peridot. But the undeniable star of the episode is in those last few minutes, as we all take a very uncomfortable moment to realize that as much as Steven is growing up, he’s still a kid.

Rose died before he could know her, so we can’t really say he “lost” her, and the Gems have always come back. Even Connie can defend herself with Rose’s Sword. But Greg is both the most physically vulnerable character and the cornerstone of Steven’s support system, and while he’s been hurt in previous battles he’s never been so palpably absent. Steven crying for his dad subtly and beautifully calls back to Greg’s monologue about grieving for lost loved ones, and Callison’s performance is perfectly fragile in a moment that could’ve easily gone over the top. It feels not unlike the moment when we all realize our parents are mortal.

That sentiment leaks through to the Gems, too, as Garnet’s attempts to prevent a worse outcome indirectly create the need to rescue Greg in the first place. Both episodes are full of subtle shakings of the status quo: Steven and Garnet argue, which is practically a first; Pearl has her own moment of realizing that Greg is a person they can lose, and all the while Steven is fighting through the terrible transition period of trying to get your parents to see you as an equal and not just their child.

All of this is fertile ground for character exploration, though I suspect much of this Bomb will be concentrated on Homeworld sightseeing and further backstory about the Diamonds and the revolution. Tomorrow, though, is a Florido/Zuke joint titled “Gem Heist,” so we might be in for a few more shenanigans before the back half of the Bomb plunges us into the inevitable maelstrom of weeping we’re all here for. Ah, it’s good to be back. Take care of yourselves out there, and I’ll see you for the next episode.

Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; they were not prepared for these Blue Diamond feels. You can read more essays and find out about their fiction at Fashionable Tinfoil Accessories, listen to them podcasting on Soundcloud, support their work via Patreon or PayPal, or remind them of the existence of Tweets.

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