“If all pork chops were perfect, we wouldn’t have hot dogs.”
I’ve been a huge fan of Steven Universe since the summer of 2015 when I decided to casually watch the series over the course of a week. I heard phenomenal things about the show and how it was considered one of the best animated shows of all time, ranking up there with Avatar: The Last Airbender, Gravity Falls, and Batman: The Animated Series. Back then I was floored with what I saw, but after looking back at everything that happened from then to January 21st, 2019, when the show aired its finale, I can’t believe at just how good the show got.
It’s hard trying to actually discuss the finale, titled “Change Your Mind,” especially when a majority of viewers haven’t seen it yet due to the show’s… unique approach to releasing episodes. While I want to justly praise the show for just how beautifully it all ended, I realize that it would be an entire page of me ranting about how a tiny green person flew on a trash can lid; how it’s nightmare fuel from conformity; how Steven is and isn’t his own mom; and why I was screaming how Mary Poppins and Poochie fought Voltron without any context. So instead, let’s look at the show itself, where it goes from here, and if the show really does deserve to be called one of the greatest cartoons of all time.
Steven Universe is a show with many themes. On the surface, it’s a show chock full of LGBT acceptance, gender fluidity, and the need to have discussions over violence, but the final season brought a new and interesting theme into the mix; abuse. Specifically, familial abuse. The definition of family was always amorphous in Steven Universe, what with his mom being “dead” and Steven being raised by three rebels, called the Crystal Gems, who are fighting against an evil gem empire and become his mother figures. However, the fifth season really shined a light on family in the literal sense. The main antagonists, the Diamond Authority, are all family members, but we see how the eldest sibling, White Diamond, emotionally and psychologically manipulates not only her siblings, but everyone she meets in an attempt to become a beacon of hope for all gems.
While that relationship is undeniably toxic, the show goes to great lengths not to portray the Diamonds, or any of the other antagonists throughout the show, as evil. Rebecca Sugar has said on multiple occasions that she doesn’t believe that any of the characters in the show are evil, but are instead flawed. While we do get some juicy villains, like Jasper and White Diamond, they’re nothing on the levels of Bill Cipher from Gravity Falls, who just wants to watch the world burn because it’s Tuesday. Every character, even the crappy ones like Renaldo the conspiracy theorist, are all developed as people first rather than characters.
And that’s admirable. It would have been easy to have stock characters and tell wacky adventures with them, which is what the show did in its first season, but it slowly but surely grew up. As the series progressed, we got fewer one-off adventures and more serialized stories that tied into difficult topics like grief, remorse, unrequited love, and forgiveness. The show would frequently go off the air for months on end, only to return for a weeklong series of episodes called “Stevenbombs,” where five episodes would air and tell a single story arc. This approach had a plethora of problems — like how the “Stevenbombs” typically dropped without much fanfare and were over so fast that most people forgot the show existed except for the diehard fans — but it allowed for consistent storytelling that focused more on telling a comprehensive story than just goofing off for five 11-minute episodes.
All of that came to a head in “Change Your Mind,” where every possible plot thread from the show reached some kind of resolution. As a fan, it was everything that I could have asked for. We saw the return of beloved characters, new transformations for our heroes, a psychological deconstruction of the biggest twist from season 5, as well as a truly shocking moment that no fan was ever expecting and the uncomfortable ramifications it brought. Yet, somehow, we got a happy ending. Both heroes and villains come to an understanding and the show’s message of talking through problems reached its climax. It’s rare for a show to wrap up well, but Steven Universe gave us a finale that felt definitive. No matter how much I wrack my brain I can’t think of any new direction that the show can take. I don’t often call something perfect, because there’s always room for improvement, but all of my criticisms of the finale come off as nitpicks more than anything else. The show truly had a perfect ending.
So why are there rumors that there’s going to be a sixth season?
It’s difficult to get a clear answer about whether or not the show will continue. While we do know that Steven Universe is going to get a movie, with last night’s finale confirming that the movie will premiere/air sometime in the fall of 2019, we don’t know what happens after that. Will the movie give Steven one final adventure and be the show’s true finale? Is it a non-canon spin-off in the same way that anime feature films based off of popular franchises are? Or will it set the stage for a new saga that will take us beyond 2019?
The short answer is we don’t know. That’s why I’ve never referred to this finale as a season or series finale. It’s an ending for sure, but to what is unknown. If I had it my way, I don’t think the show needs to continue on. It had its time in the sun, with millions of viewers tuning in to the escapades of Steven and the Crystal Gems, but I think it should end on its own note. This finale does everything right and leaves you with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Another season may ruin that finality. Even the new movie may ruin that conclusiveness, though that has yet to be seen.
So is Steven Universe one of the greatest animated series ever created? In some ways, yes. In others, not so much. I can’t think of any other cartoon in the past decade that made me feel for its characters and their dillemmas more than Steven Universe has. If I could describe the show as a feeling, it’s the feeling you get when you’re sitting on a grassy hill on a quiet spring day. There’s no noise, no action, just you alone with the world and alone with your thoughts. That’s the feeling that the show brings across through its best moments and for most of the later seasons.
But in order to get to the fulfilling plot and characters, you have to put up with the first season. Not to say that it’s bad by any means, but it falls into a lot of the trappings that your average kids’ shows fall into. Steven was somewhat annoying in the beginning, with episodes dedicated to him learning generic life lessons from the Crystal Gems, or having him help out random characters with their inconsequential problems that screamed of filler. We would occasionally get some sublime episodes like “Rose’s Sword,” “Lion 3: Straight to Video,” and “Ocean Gem,” but those are only a small handful of great episodes amongst a deluge of meh ones.
But then I think back to the quote at the very beginning that gets brought up sparingly throughout the series but was brought back for the finale: “If pork chops were perfect, we wouldn’t get hot dogs.” Steven Universe isn’t perfect, and that’s alright. The imperfections allow the show to develop into a better product. Looking at the very first episode of the show to now, it’s like looking at two completely different beasts. Like Steven and the rest of the Crystal Gems, it’s grown so much. It matured into a show that deserves all of the praise that it received and should take a bow for how far it’s come over the course of five years. Make the movie a last hurrah of sorts and let it sit alongside those aforementioned animated greats that ended on their terms.
And also give us Blu-Ray releases for the show, damnit.