In the ninth episode of Steven Universe Future, Steven struggles with complex feelings when students graduate from Little Homeschool. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steven Universe Future.
The ways in which I loved this episode, y’all. LET’S TALK ABOUT THEM.
I just… a human who uses they/them pronouns!!! Who isn’t white!!! Who might be nonbinary but certainly isn’t cis! (Not all people who use they/them are nonbinary.) AND HOW THIS ALL CONFIRMS THAT SADIE IS QUEER, TOO. And also, Indya Moore????? That was Indya Moore!!!! An actual nonbinary icon???? Oh my god, I felt like I was going to explode watching this, and it’s only ONE PART of this fabulous episode. I’M OBSESSED, I HOPE WE SEE SHEP AGAIN.
The framing device in this episode is the graduation ceremony of the Off Colors, the rejected gems that Lars became close friends with during his time in space. And just the idea of that is so thrilling to me: the Off Colors escaped Kindergarten, and they found meaning and purpose in their lives. Now, it’s time for them to move on. Thus, the graduation is the perfect way to explore a complicated feeling. Graduation typically is a time of celebration, but it’s often bittersweet. You are done! You made it through whatever program you were a part of, and you DIDI IT! But that also means that the people you’ve been with during that journey… you might fall away from one another. It’s a natural part of life, and I’d argue that most of us have to deal with this reality at one point or another. At least here in the US, that’s a major right of passage, the biggest one being our graduation from high school.
So here, we know that this graduation means that the Off colors are off to take what they’ve learned and start a new life. The complication, of course, is that Lars is going with them.
The conflict in “Little Graduation” is so deeply internal and emotional, and I love that Steven Universe has found ways to make the internal an external thing. Even better, this episode ties in perfectly with Steven’s story thus far. Of course the Off Colors and Lars have their own feelings about this graduation, but we see all of this through Steven’s eyes. From that first moment in Lars’s’ shop through the end of the conflict, it’s Steven’s anxiety and fear that’s on display.
This functions in two ways. I think at some point during this show, we’re going to see what Steven decides to do with his life. It’s clear now that it’s not just that Steven is overworked; he also feels a little trapped. He’s been in Beach City his whole life, and now he’s watching people he loves leave it. So it’s natural that it’s making him think of himself: Is he going to be in Beach City forever? Will he always be at Little Homeschool? What happens if there are no more gems to teach? What happens to Steven’s life then?
This isn’t explored in detail, though, and as I said earlier, I suspect we’re going to see more of that in the future. So the main function of the emotional plot is Steven’s desire to keep his friends close. On the surface, that’s an admirable thing. He loves Lars and Sadie! There’s a certain stability in having them all around! However, as made clear by the scene in the bakery, nothing is the same anymore. God, this episode does such an incredible job with that kind of awkwardness, too! It’s hard to deal with friends who once may have had something with one another, especially if that “thing” is now one-sided. Plus, in this case, Sadie has a new partner, and her band is also no longer together as Sadie pursues a new musical venture with Shep.
Everything is changing around Steven.
Except Steven himself.
All of this builds first to Steven’s conversation with Jenny, which also pushes him to realize just how much the world will change in the immediate future. Because with the Suspects ending, there’s now time. Jenny can pursue her INCREDIBLY great idea of making jackets for mobile phones. The other band members? They’ll have lives that may have nothing to do with music, or nothing to do with Beach City, for that matter.
Then, we get the HEART-PUNCHING musical number at the heart of this episode. “Looking Forward” hits the point on the head, but that’s only because Steven ISN’T really looking forward. He’s still rooted in the past and the present. He’s not imagining new futures because, once again, he feels stuck. I don’t know that he’s ready to admit that out loud, but I really think that’s what this is, y’all. For now, though, Steven’s feelings emerge in an external show of force.
Which finally gives me a new theory about what’s going on with Steven’s weird powers!!! It’s not stress or anxiety; Steven’s powers are manifesting because of bottled up emotions!!! What isn’t he saying? What is he keeping to himself? Oh god, I bet I could analyze past episodes with that understanding, y’all!
In “Little Graduation,” Steven’s internal problem–the fear that all his friends are leaving him–manifests as a massive pink dome that traps them all inside of it. It’s a metaphor made literal, as Shep later points out. Steven doesn’t want his friends to leave Beach City, so he traps them there. But the other thing this visualization does is prove how toxic and unfair this attitude ends up being. Steven assumes that Lars and Sadie are having problems because he didn’t witness their conversation. He centered himself throughout all of this! Obviously, this wasn’t a malicious thing, and it definitely came from a place of love. But that doesn’t negate the impact.
It’s an important lesson to learn, and putting it in the context of this being storytelling for children makings me love it more. Because most of the kids watching this will have to deal with their friends moving on to other things, like different schools! It’s something we all have to learn: People have lives outside of our own, and we HAVE to respect that. I loved how Shep vocalized that, too: This kind of behavior is suffocating!
Steven comes to accept that Sadie and Lars, as well as other gems, are leaving his life. It doesn’t mean they aren’t friends anymore! Their friendship will change and it’ll look and act differently, but it won’t end!
However, the end of this episode loops back to the other personal element of the story. What is Steven’s place in all of this? I adore that we only had music and no dialogue for that final scene. It was so much more powerful to see Steven silently cope with the growing existential crisis that he is having. What’s his destiny? Where is he supposed to go and do? Is he really going to be stuck in Beach City for the rest of his life?
GOD I LOVED THIS ONE SO MUCH.
The video for “Little Graduation” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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