In the nineteenth and penultimate episode of Steven Universe Future, Steven believes the worst of himself. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steven Universe.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of trauma, PTSD, and general talk of ableism with regards to mental health.
Oh, Steven. My heart is so full after this experience, which is very much needed after everything that Steven has gone through since the first episode. While I may have picked up on a number of the pieces of Steven’s true state along the way—like his struggle with PTSD or his constant valuing of others over himself—this provides the full picture.
Steven didn’t want anyone else to see who he was.
Part of my commentary involves making one last guess, and the finale will confirm this or not, but I liked that final twist because of what it says about mental illness, especially the effects of trauma. If Steven didn’t want others to see who he was, it means that in some way, this “monster” is part of Steven, and it may be there for a while. Or forever. There’s a lot of fiction that presents mental illness (and trauma specifically) as a thing to be easily or quickly cured. That’s not to suggest that there is no hope for those of us dealing with trauma, and healing is absolutely possible. It’s more that the solutions to trauma and their realities are rarely presented as many of us experience them! And it’s not just the whole ableist trope of easily curing mental illness, but there’s also this notion that depictions of mental illness fall on opposite ends of a spectrum. They’re either exaggerated for dramatic effect, or they’re sanitized.
The truth is that having a mental illness can be very difficult. It can be embarrassing. It can lead us to hurting other people or hurting ourselves. As challenging as it was to watch this recent batch of episodes, I appreciate them because the writers didn’t shy away from showing how messy it can be to deal with this sort of thing! It’s not done in a way to exploit Steven’s mental state, but rather, I felt “I Am My Monster” offered the sympathy and understanding that people struggling with mental health actually deserve.
For example, even before all these characters truly understand the situation or what needs to be done, they do their best to not hurt Steven while trying to restrain him. They all also view him as Steven! No one was making comments that it wasn’t him or that someone had taken over his body, and I found that little detail so refreshing. It is unfortunate that this episode happened as it did, but that doesn’t make this not Steven, you know? It doesn’t mean that he suddenly doesn’t deserve care and love!
Actually, this episode takes that a step further after the Diamonds show up and, just like they did in “Homeworld Bound,” they each fail to solve Steven’s problem. Why? Oh my god, I AM SO EMOTIONAL about what Connie manages to do here. And I loved SO MUCH that it was Connie who was able to point out that there are harmful ways to care and love someone. Her monologue builds off of what was established throughout Steven Universe in general and certainly what we saw in most of the first half of this show. Steven has the hardest time advocating and loving himself. He will almost always choose to help others before turning that energy inward. It’s no surprise that of all these characters, Connie was the one to understand this and be able to communicate it to everyone else.
Because everyone blamed themselves for the state of Steven’s mental health, but how did anyone suggest to actually help him? Yes, each character’s claim of how they may have failed Steven is probably right, but Connie redirects it all, centering Steven deliberately. What does he need? What would help him most? Take accountability! That’s an important step! But at that exact moment, that wasn’t going to help. Steven needed love. Blaming one’s self wouldn’t do anything at all.
From there, there’s another brilliant story choice that really summarizes this whole show’s aesthetic. I know in the past, I spoke about how often Steven Universe episodes were resolved by talking or being emotional or crying. Here, this massive fight, which the show has been inching toward the whole time, is resolved by Garnet rushing Steven and… hugging him. She hugs him, and she reminds Steven that he has helped her every time she’s needed it. It’s an avalanche of appreciation: Each character tells Steven how much he helped them, and then they pledge to do the same for him.
I mean… no one should be surprised I was crying during this. It was clearly a huge moment for this character, and on top of that all, it felt rejuvenating. I was watching a traumatized character be showered with love and support, all of which allowed Steven to finally let go. He felt safe, didn’t he? He knew then that their love for him was genuinely unconditional.
And isn’t that what most of us want? Don’t we want to know that the people we love and care for will accept us, scars and all? Disorders and all? Illnesses and all? That who we are and what our bodies are and what they do… all that is just part of the whole, and the whole is still accepted? Finally, at the end of all of this, Steven is granted that love. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t there before! Of course all these people love him! But the directness in which they communicate it is all intentional. Led by Connie and then Garnet, they are making sure that their love is completely undeniable. Because sometimes, when you’re in the middle of an episode or are in a dark, dark place, you can’t see these things. Your brain will tell you it’s all fake, it’s a conspiracy, you don’t deserve it, etc.
I wanna close this out with one particular piece of praise, though. I love this episode, and I’m excited to see what sort of closure Steven gets in the finale. However, I gotta appreciate Zach Callison’s voice work. It’s always been amazing, but I was haunted by how he portrayed Steven’s crying at the very end. You can hear Steven go from relief to actual sorrow over what’s happened, and it was heartbreaking. Callison knocked it out of the park, and I’m so thankful for this show’s attention to detail.
The video for “I Am My Monster” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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