Mark Watches ‘Steven Universe’: S04E05 – Future Boy Zoltron

In the fifth episode of the fourth season of Steven Universe, Steven helps Mr. Smiley reunite with an old friend. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steven Universe.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of depression

I FINALLY GOT A MR. SMILEY EPISODE AND IT WAS SO GREAT AND I LOVE THIS SHOW. There’s such a tenderness to this story about depression and the way it can affect people, both those who deal with it and those around them. Normally, I wouldn’t care much for the latter; as is often the case, abled people tend to make stories about the disabled about how hard it is to live with a disabled person. There’s some much-needed nuance here, though, that shows us how Mr. Smiley’s and Mr. Frowney’s act ended because these two characters needed to have a real heart-to-heart. And it’s unfortunate that they didn’t at the time they were working on their comedy act!

But that’s the central conflict here. Mr. Smiley and Mr. Frowned both assumed that they were doing what was best for the other person. This comes about through Steven’s work as Zoltron, and I honestly thought this episode was going to be about Steven’s advice. I did! Like, I expected that all of his “future” telling was going to get more and more complicated and turn into some sort of wacky shenanigans or something. You know, like one of those episodes that just keeps escalating further and further. And for what it’s worth, I really admired that instead of actually trying to predict the future, Steven just said all these nice, supportive things to the people who came up to Zoltron. HE IS SUCH A PURE BEING FULL OF LOVE AND JOY, I SWEAR.

Yet Mr. Frowney’s problem is not so easy to solve. I was initially worried that they were playing his sadness as a joke, so I appreciate that the script very clearly turned away from that. Mr. Frowney’s depression is ultimately not a funny thing. Here, he’s depicted not just as a pessimist, but as someone who believes the worst in himself. GUESS WHO CAN RELATE TO THIS you’re right IT’S ME. Depression does an awful thing to my brain (and, as I’ve learned, to the brains of others): it tricks me. Constantly. I’ll give an example: I have depressive episodes fairly often, and whenever I get one, I inevitably begin to have intrusive thoughts about my self-worth. I can convince myself that no one reads my work, every person ever hates me, and that it would be much better if I just disappeared to an island and never spoke to anyone again. I am writing this while not in an episode, and I can recognize the absurdity of such a thought. But when depression hits, it all goes out the window, and my mind latches on to any negative thought and holds on to it tightly.

It’s kinda hard to describe to folks whose minds do work this way, so I liked that Mr. Frowney’s depiction gave me a means to say, “THAT. THAT RIGHT THERE. THAT’S WHAT IT’S LIKE IN MY HEAD.” I assume the worst. Every scenario has a bitter, terrible ending. I literally cannot fathom an outcome that’s positive. It’s just like Steven’s future vision, except usually there are 20 endings instead of three.

Depression makes it hard to maintain relationships of any sort, too. Here, we find out that Mr. Frowney thought Mr. Smiley wasn’t taking the act seriously; we also learn that Mr. Smiley believed he was such a terrible friend that he couldn’t do anything to cheer Mr. Frowney up. This wasn’t what was actually happening, but depression and miscommunication combined into a nightmare, and the two went their separate ways. (Also, look: I know I ship everything under the sun, but MY GOD, Mr. Smiley and Mr. Frowney are G A Y or queer or NOT STRAIGHT and they were totally in a relationship IT’S THERE, I SWEAR, IT’S NOT SUBTEXT).

It took Steven’s help (and a little bit of Garnet’s!) to get them to talk again. Maybe they can’t rekindle the past, but at least Mr. Frowney finally got an outcome that wasn’t dire or distressing. He got one of acceptance and love.

The video for “Future Boy Zoltron” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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