Steven Universe Recap: “Story for Steven”
The first draft of this recap was done entirely in tearstained caps lock. Prepare accordingly.
The Recap: Greg tells Steven about his first meeting with Rose (now with Marty). It seems Mr. Universe was so starstruck that he gave up his musical career just for the chance to get to know that Mysterious Giant Lady.
Not a whole lot happens in this episode, really. Even the conflict that incites the telling of the story is nearly an afterthought, so much so that Steven’s apparently been hearing this story for years without it. It’s a meet cute, so what.
Everything, that’s so what. This is the sort of episode that proves the depth and vibrancy of the world (my immediate mental comparison was Adventure Time’s “I Remember You”—and maybe “Gold Stars”—a simply plotted character check in that sends out emotional ripples based on prior knowledge). Which is, on the one hand, great fun as a fan; on the other, it gives your recapper a bit of a puzzle for topics beyond “hey, did you notice that Easter egg.” Nonetheless, we endeavor.
So, before we get to that egg hunt, let us indulge a minute in the meat of things: one Greg Universe. Even from the beginning he was an unusually endearing version of the “bumbling dad” archetype, a sterling bit of writing that insisted that having a bit of a dead-end life (the failed musical career and all) was no reason not to be a strong emotional support system for his son. “Maximum Capacity” added another layer deep to that, reminding us of Greg’s lingering grief over Rose and (notably, in the episodes that followed) his ironclad determination not to let that grief hurt his relationship with Steven. And now we have this. The knowledge that Greg didn’t fail to “make it” but instead chose to give up professional music to pursue love at first sight (and boy is it a mark of SU’s writing that I was not one whit tempted to roll my eyes at that) is heartening from a character perspective. It’s also doubles as a potent little theme for the millennial viewers in particular.
As many shows as there are now highlighting the difficulties of The Artist Lifestyle, those series always have a vague concept of success as the main goal—a single work that changes the world, comfortable fortune, a traveling life of excitement, whatever. Those things are always the carrot on the end of the stick, no matter how much more prominent the heartaches become. And if the big artistic dream doesn’t work out… well, then that character is the sad, bumbling loser. Meanwhile in children’s media, giving up on the dream for a love interest generally just means that you’ve passed a secret test of character and the universe will now grant you both. But Greg didn’t “lose” anything. He looked at the state of his life, at the way the people he was around treated him, and decided that something else was more important to him. He didn’t give up on music, since his love for audio and composing carries forward into the present day, and there are days when he seems wistful for his musician days, but he never seems to regret choosing Rose. That’s not even on the table. And that’s important.
We tell kids that only a small percentage of artists are (across all mediums) are able to support themselves only from their art. What we don’t emphasize is that they’re not failures if they don’t become one of those success stories (while we hold up the wunderkind success stories), or if they lose interest in their artistic passion, or just decide that they want to keep doing the thing they love as a hobby. Those choices are all legitimate, and it’s wonderful to have a character (especially a male character) who’s grown up happy to have chosen a family over his career. Full-time parenthood and a family isn’t “losing” anything, if that’s the person’s choice (and the pointed excellence of the “women are people” conversation goes without further comment, doesn’t it?).
They don’t even imply Greg would’ve been a failure had he stuck with the rock star thing. I mean, his manager is a terrible, toxic waste of space but Greg’s got skill in that 80s-power-ballad kind of way. More importantly, he’s genuine when he sings. “Stronger Than You” set a high, high bar for the show’s musical set pieces, and “Like a Comet” meets those marks pretty handily (the show’s best work is shaping up to be these small musical character portraits)—that earnestness almost leaks through the screen, and it’s hard not to get caught up with the sweeping visuals (I know they were likely trying to evoke a general hair band aesthetic, but man did that sequence take me right back to my ill-advised Gravitation days, right down to the “grab the mike against the flaring stage lights” shot). If we weren’t sure before, those couple minutes give us a crystalized idea of who Greg was and is: a passionate, honest person who chases his goals with everything he’s got, and puts all of himself in to taking care of what he loves.
Now, because we are nerds and this is what nerds do, how about that minutiae?
- It seems to be round about the 80s, with the hair band aesthetic and Pearl’s leg warmers and the glorious van tape deck. If Steven is ten around 2014, Greg and Rose were together for possibly as long as two decades (at least one, if this is the 90s featuring 80s holdover) before they decided to have Steven.
- Meanwhile, the Gems are all in different outfits and the temple is intact. So there was some kind of calamitous event between Greg and Rose meeting and the present day.
- While the Gems aren’t actually shorter, they are absolutely dwarfed by Rose and that creates (supported by their attitudes and less “mature” outfits) a kind of mother figure and kids dynamic between Rose and the other Gems. While in the moment this is kind of cute, it raises more questions (some potentially disturbing) than answers. These range from “what does this mean for that glorious sea faring picture (where our Gems looked a fair bit like they do now)” to “is this an act put on for the humans of Beach City/an effect of Greg telling the story” to “does this mean the Gem Rebellion was fought by child soldiers.”
- Amethyst and Pearl have a much more comfortably intimate dynamic even in those few moments, propping up an old fandom headcanon that the loss of Rose splintered their relationship (I fully expect this to come up more in future). Meanwhile, Garnet seems quite prominently “Rubyish” this episode.
- Speaking of relationship dynamics, Pearl. This episode was originally meant to air pre-Steven Bomb but got pushed back (in fact, the original order puts it right before the Steven Bomb, so there’s a tone setter). You readers may recall that “Rose’s Scabbard” was my favorite episode in that bunch and I’m…still not sure how to square that episode and this one. Pearl’s feelings are definitely in evidence, but it’s more in a “kid tries to ward off competition for their way older crush” way (think Sakura Kinomoto). And if it was truly an unresolved, uneven case of unrequited love, that casts kind of a sour note over…well, over everything. And Rose, as we’ve seen her, just doesn’t seem like the sort of character to let someone stew in their feelings like that. There’re too many unknowns for a judgment call yet: the fact that this is a story being told, not an “objective” scene, the fact that Rose says she wants to “play” with Greg (putting him on the same ‘kid’ level as the other Gems, which we know winds up in them having a child together), the fact that we don’t know how Gem relationships work (but there’s some pretty screaming loud poly subtext to play with). We’ll have to see. But I’m keeping an eye on this one.
- Do I spy a Labyrinth reference with that “owl leading into a land of fantasy and also the literal person of your dreams” thing?
- Rose continues to be both unapologetically fat and one of the most gorgeous characters on the show.
- Can’t wait to see Onion’s mom in the modern day. Think she kept the punk jacket?
- The next episode, “Shirt Club,” seems to be bringing back Buck Dewey (and probably his dad, I’m guessing). After the impression he left in “Joy Ride,” I’m pretty excited – let this mark a new round of character development for the denizens of Beach City. Hope to see you there!
Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; if they had a dollar for every animation hiatus they’re enduring, the Corrupt a Youth program would probably be going a lot more smoothly. You can read more essays and find out about their fiction at Fashionable Tinfoil Accessories, or remind them of the existence of Tweets.
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]