Mark Watches ‘Steven Universe’: S01E03 – Cheeseburger Backpack

In the third episode of the first season of Steven Universe, you can’t win ‘em all. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steven Universe. 

Well, that was an awesome message! And a pretty subversive one to stick three episodes into a show about characters who must defend the world against mysterious attacks. Sometimes, you aren’t going to win. Does that make you an awful person? No, not at all! In failure, growth can be found, and you know where that growth exists in this episode?

In Steven’s cheeseburger backpack.

Again, the same dynamic appears again: the backpack is so silly, so distinctly ridiculous and hilarious, and yet there’s a way the writers turn it into something that’s meaningful and fulfilling. But even if the backpack itself seems like a vehicle for jokes, I’d argue that it’s a meaningful thing right from the start. The whole reason Steven orders it is because he wants to contribute to missions the Gems go on, even though he can’t control his gem. (How does currency work here? Who paid for that backpack? Do the Gems get paid for what they do?) He believes that if he can accompany them with a bag full of supplies, then he can contribute!

On a purely detail-oriented level, I love this because I have a thing about backpack organization. Like, I literally backed a bag on Kickstarter (and get it next month!) because it was so perfectly organized for how I travel. So while Steven was excitedly freaking out about how each layer was a pocket (including the cheese), all I could think was that THIS WAS ALSO ME. I DO THE SAME THING. I also over plan everything, so perhaps I’m more like Pearl in this sense, too. But there’s a sincerity to “Cheeseburger Backpack.” Yes, that backpack is beautifully weird, and it holds way too much stuff. (Is that a Mary Poppins reference? I’ll accept it as one.) But it allows Steven to truly learn an important lesson.

Of course, I have a huge question: There used to be Gems on Earth before??? Pearl said that the Lunar Sea Spire was a haven for Gems on Earth, so… what? What happened to the Gems? Why are there so few of them now? What was the importance of that spire? My guess was preservation more than anything else. (Or maybe preparation for other Gems?) Pearl seemed intent on saving it because it had been part of their “heritage.” It didn’t threaten any humans if it got destroyed, so there had to have been another reason. I figured that Pearl wanted it preserved because she seemed so offended that Steven wasn’t taking things seriously. (Even though he was; he’s just a silly person.)

My favorite aspect of this episode came from Steven taking this all “seriously.” He proves to the other gems that he’s a lot more thoughtful than they realized. Not only that, but he can improvise under pressure. He’s able to use a couple sweaters to clear a scary gap, which gives Amethyst the idea of using her whip to get the Gems across. Then, his bagel sandwiches help distract the Crystal Shrimp, despite that Pearl had come up with a (complicated) plan to get rid of them. The look of pride on her face when she realized that Steven was adapting… IT WAS SO PRICELESS.

But this episode isn’t just about Steven’s ability to improvise without having access to his gem powers. His raft idea fails after it is swept away by a rushing current. When he accidentally leaves the Moon Gooddess Statue behind, his idea of replacing her with Mr. Queasy (BEST GAG IN THE WHOLE EPISODE. Get it? “Gag”? Okay, shut up.) fails. It doesn’t work, and the Lunar Spire collapses into the sea. Instead of having the characters wallow in despair, the writers take the story in a surprising direction. The Gems – especially Pearl – congratulate Steven on his ideas that he got right, focusing on the positive instead of dwelling on the negative. Because y’all, we all know it’s so much easier to think about our mistakes instead of our victories.

There’s another angle to this, though, that fascinates me. This is a show about saving humanity, and they’ve already given us an episode about how the Gems cannot save everyone and everything. That’s pretty cool in my book, and I’m interested to see how else this show is going to surprise me.

The video for “Cheeseburger Backpack” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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