In the seventeenth episode of the fourth season of Steven Universe, Steven deals with the complicated feelings that were unearthed during his recent adventure. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steven Universe.
Trigger Warning: For grief, loss.
I have a general idea of what I want to say about this episode – which is brave and vulnerable and written brilliantly – and I also felt a wave of sadness pass over me as I watched it. If you’ve been around the Mark Does Stuff world for any length of time, I’m certain you’ve seen me write about affection, particularly the ways in which I craved it growing up. Earlier this year, I gave a friend a copy of the most recent version of my manuscript – the one that got me an agent, actually! – and they helped me realize how deep-seeded this desire goes. I had written an entire novel, they said, in which I act out a power fantasy. What if I had had a mother who was affectionate? Present? Understanding? What would that have looked like? Ironically, the character who is also a transracial adoptee was the one I had most based on myself, and yet, unconsciously, I had created this entire narrative around something I wanted for decades.
Thus, despite that I did have a mother physically present in my life, I found myself drawn to the sense of absence that permeated “Storm in the Room.” It’s there in that opening scene as soon as Dr. Maheswaran arrives to pick up Connie, and I recognized it instantly. You know why? Because when you grow up in a house without affection, without outward expressions of love or adoration, when every depiction of family on television seems loving and supportive (even if those families did suffer through conflicts), then it becomes agonizing to see it in others. That’s not Connie’s fault, nor is it her mother’s, and Steven clearly doesn’t blame them. It’s an unavoidable situation, and it makes him sad because he’s never had a mother to rush into a room and hug him. Instead, the image of his mother haunts him, hangs on that wall, always smiling and never saying anything.
That’s the most important part, though: she’s never there to say anything. And that’s where my story differs greatly because there’s a physical absence that I can’t relate to. Steven’s perception of his mother lives through other people, and it’s always going to have to. With one exception, of course: the video tape she left him. Otherwise, though? She exists in stories. Anecdotes. Tales of glory. Tales of cruelty and hypocrisy. He knows lots about her relationship with his father, and all the gems have spoken openly about her capacity for kindness and acceptance. And then there’s Bismuth, who clashed fiercely with Rose Quartz, who was bubbled for wanting to shatter gems, despite that Rose did the exact thing to Pink Diamond.
This show is remarkably vulnerable, and it’s kind of the main reason I love it so much. Seriously, the main character cries every other episode. PERFECT FOR ME. But watching Steven turn on the version of his mother constructed in her room in the Temple was assuredly one of the most vulnerable scenes in the entirety of the show. While I’m still bitter about Bismuth’s treatment, at least there is an explicit acknowledgement that what Rose Quartz did was hypocritical, that her actions left a horrible mess on Earth, one that Steven and his family now have to deal with. Why did she shatter Pink Diamond? Why did she believe it was worth it? Did she think that she could stand against all of Homeworld?
For now, Steven doesn’t know. He can’t know. Thus, “Storm in the Room” works as a chance for him to accept that, which doesn’t mean he’ll give up, per se. But the final scene of this episode works to remind Steven that while Rose Quartz isn’t in his life as he wants her to be, he does have a family. He has a loving father and three incredible friends who have all helped raise him. That is perfect.
The video for “Storm in the Room” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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