In the eighteenth episode of Steven Universe Future, everything’s fine. Really! It is. If you’re intrigued, then it’s time for Mark to watch Steven Universe.
Trigger Warning: For extensive discussion of mental illness and mental health, PTSD, anxiety.
So, I texted my therapist after this episode finished so I could check in with her before writing this. It’s something I’m thankful for and have been utilizing over the last year. (I’m writing this review on March 5th, and I’m happy to say that March 10th is my one-year anniversary with my therapist, making her the longest therapist relationship I’ve maintained in my life.) As many of you have seen across Mark Reads and Mark Watches, I have coincidentally read or watched many things that hit real close to home in this past year. So it’s nice that aside from our two sessions per week, we’re in an age where there are means to communicate with therapists between sessions. (Assuming the therapist is willing to, of course.)
Anyway, the point being: I learned most professionals don’t really use “nervous breakdown” as a term anymore! It’s too vague and general, and there are much more effective ways of communicating why a person is in extreme mental stress. I say this because at the end of the video, I mentioned that I have had a nervous breakdown (well, more than one) before, and thus, Steven’s breakdown felt incredibly familiar. I don’t want or need to get into the reasons why, but I last had one about two and a half years ago. What struck me about “Everything’s Fine” is that in the days leading up to it, even though I knew something was wrong, I quite literally tried to convince myself that everything was fine. I didn’t go about it like Steven did, of course, but I tried to maintain regularity and normalcy in my life. I was convinced that if I worked harder, everything would turn out all right!
That sort of toxic, forced positivity did not work. In fact, I’d argue that it can’t. Without addressing the root cause of a person’s mental distress or unhappiness, forced positivity only pushes the problem deeper and makes it worse, especially once catharsis happens. I mean… look what happens as the episode cuts to the credits here.
Lemme back up, though, because this episode builds up so spectacularly from what came before. Throughout “Everything’s Fine,” Steven is now perpetually in his pink form, distressed by his experience on Homeworld and pushed even further when Connie calls and expresses concern over Steven’s wellbeing. Steven isn’t just in denial in this episode, though. He entertains a delusion, one spawned by that phone call and also seeing diamonds for pupils in the reflection of the TV. This is an existential crisis! Who is Steven anymore? Do his actions define who he is, or is he the young boy he’s always been? That’s what my interpretation was of that brief moment where he looks at that painting of him and Garnet. Right after that is where he decided to be “fine.” So, I see that as his conscious choice to try and be the unchanged version of Steven Universe.
Which is absurd, but that’s the point. Of course he’s changed! Yet each scenario is an exaggerated disaster, a demonstration that Steven is absolutely not the same person anymore. In Peridot’s greenhouse, one tiny bit of his saliva creates like a dozen Topiary Stevens, who all insist (as Steven does) that they’re here to help. All while doing… well, deeply unhelpful things, like breaking the greenhouse’s windows. He follows that with a visit to Bismuth’s forge, where we see that his physical strength is so overloaded that the tiniest tap from a small hammer shatters Bismuth’s anvil. Again, it’s not helpful! Even a little bit! But it’s that exaggeration that makes this so effective, since we’re able to see how deeply Steven is committing to this delusion.
I think the baseball game is the most upsetting one, though. BECAUSE HE ACTUALLY WAS ABLE TO CONTROL HIMSELF. There was that moment where he had hope that everything would be fine, all before he made it quite literally worse than it had been before. I felt for Steven so strongly because I know how hard it is to accept that you can’t fix something for yourself. Steven has tried this over the course of the entire season in various ways, and he keeps ending up back here. What’s the solution?
I still don’t quite know, y’all. It’s not that he needs to admit the truth, because once Steven got back to his house, there was a deeply uncomfortable scene where Steven does tell the truth about how he feels. Is the act cathartic? Does Steven feel release after admitting that? Well, sort of, but definitely not in a positive way. “Everything’s Fine” is the culmination of denial, terror, anxiety, and trauma, and it comes to a shocking head here. That whole moment where Steven’s positivity morphs into self-hatred and revulsion? It was eerie. Upsetting. Heartbreaking. Because Steven now believes he’s become exactly what he feared he would become, even more so than he did in “Homeworld Bound.” In his mind, the transformation is complete: he’s a monster.
At least that’s how he sees himself, despite that no one around him does. But isn’t that exactly what mental illness does to a lot of us? Sometimes, we are made the most unreliable narrators of our own lives because mental illness can skew our perspective. Steven has hurt people, and he has made mistakes, but is it true that the people around him don’t want to hold him accountable? Or that they don’t see him as a fundamentally different person as he was before? The answer to that is complicated! “Snow Day” showed us that the Crystal Gems sometimes did make Steven feel badly about how much he had changed. Still, Steven is at a point now where he’s convinced himself of a specific narrative. I’m guessing that’s why we see those spikes protrude from his back. Like Steven’s ability to manifest his thoughts in televisions or through phones, his power has a new way of expressing itself: By massively warping his body. It already WAS changing him, but now, it’s much more violent and visceral.
I am… frightened. Oh god, how is this all going to be resolved in just two episodes???
The video for “Everything’s Fine” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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