In the eleventh episode of Steven Universe Future, Steven and Peridot bond over their favorite show, but it has disastrous consequences. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steven Universe.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of trauma and anxiety.
Oh my god, this was such an appropriate follow-up to “Prickly Pear”! I noticed that Pearl, Garnet, and Amethyst did not make a real appearance in this episode. After the events of the previous story, this almost suggests that Steven is avoiding the people who heard his darker thoughts vocalized through Cactus Steven. And I don’t blame him! What an uncomfortable, awkward thing to experience! The Crystal Gems now know some of his deepest and most disturbing thoughts. Can he face them yet? My guess is that he’s not quite ready. At the same time, my hypothesis that Steven’s unresolved fear and anxiety is at the heart of his new powers seems even closer to confirmation. BECAUSE LOOK. Look what happened with all those unacknowledged thoughts!!!
I wasn’t sure where this episode was going initially, and I thought that the dream sequence that opened “In Dreams” was merely an anchor for Steven’s emotional state. He’s still worried about not knowing his place. “Prickly Pear” certainly didn’t solve that. With people leaving Beach City, with Steven’s resignation from Little Homeschool, and with his future on his mind, it seemed very realistic that he would subconsciously deal with all these issues while he was asleep.
No, I thought that this was going to be about him catching up with Peridot and maybe he’d open up to her a bit more about what he was going through. Truthfully, the plot of this episode manages to tie together ALL of these things. Peridot was a joy here, not just because she’s such a fun and interesting character, but the writers respect how far she’s come along in her own journey. She’s so, so different than she was at the beginning of her arc, and it was easy to remember that with the nostalgic use of Camp Pining Hearts. That’s the show that she watched and soon became obsessed with! THIS MAKES ME EMOTIONAL.
Yet even that wasn’t immune from the exact thing that was triggering Steven’s anxiety. The reboot of the show was a huge departure from the original, and it was yet another reminder that the world is changing. It’s even more insidious; this was something from Steven’s childhood. It follows the pattern we’ve seen of him trying to grapple with what happened to him when he was younger. And now, as a young adult, he is being faced with the truth that everything he loves can’t stay the same.
No wonder his dreams had all that disturbing imagery! There’s a certain dream logic to them all, too, since the images are directly linked to his emotional state. Steven couldn’t attend the dance party everyone was at; his doorway to said party disappeared; an image from his childhood (Cookie Cat) speaks words of doom; he falls into an endless void, reaching out towards the home he just wants to be a part of.
And then, because of his strange power, Steven RECORDS HIS DREAM ON HIS VHS TAPING OF THE CAMP PINING HEARTS REBOOT. In a sense, it was like what we saw with Cactus Steven. Steven’s magic allowed him to externalize what was internal. Here, Peridot glimpses the tail end of this dream, but instead of reacting to the content of it, she sees this as a means to an end. What if Steven DREAMS a version of the rebooted show that they actually like? I love that this got so metafictional at one point, since it was about audience expectations and desire. I mean… those dreams were basically fanfiction and its tropes, weren’t they?? Steven and Peridot wrote a fix-it fic of the show. They cast a hunky version of Steven that was a self-insert. THE ROMANCE TROPES! The shifting of the plot to be what they wanted it to be!
Except the purpose of Steven’s dream is affected by his own subconscious reasserting itself. We see the Diamonds in the background. Then Dogcopter appears. Then the Crystal Gems show up. THEN BABY STEVEN REPLACES STEFAN. All of these aren’t just references to past episodes; they’re references to Steven’s childhood. To his trauma. To all these difficult (and sometimes joyous) memories of his.
And like “Prickly Pear,” the truth spills forth publicly to the person he never expected to know these things about him. It takes a dream-fakeout for Steven to start vocalizing how distraught he is, particularly about why he wanted to hang out with Peridot. God, there was that disturbing sequence where Steven looked more and more exhausted between his dream periods, and I’m tired just THINKING about it. But guess what? This is yet another example of Steven putting other people and their desires first because he’s afraid of not being needed. It’s the trauma response all over again, but with a new face, so to speak! Instead of it being Cactus Steven, Steven’s dreams (and the imagery within them) are how his trauma manifests.
As embarrassing as it was, I’m glad Peridot knows now. In this, we get to see Peridot and Steven make it clear that they don’t need a reason to hang out; they can just choose to spend time with one another! Plus, there’s a sweet touch to the end of “In Dreams.” Not only do Peridot and Steven accept that their favorite show changed irrevocably with the reboot, they find a way to enjoy it in a new context. Hate-watching! A time-honored pastime!!! One thing doesn’t change here at all: Peridot and Steven are still friends, and they still deeply love one another’s company.
MY HEART. FRIENDSHIP!!!
The video for “In Dreams” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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