In the twentieth and final episode of Steven Universe Future, Steven figures out what his future might be. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish Steven Universe.
Trigger Warning: For extensive discussion of mental health, particularly relating to death, grief, anxiety, trauma, and PTSD.
I’m just piecing something together as I sit here and try to figure out what to say about this emotional and satisfying finale. The answer was in the title. (And, to some extent, the closing credits, too!) What was the future of Steven Universe’s life? Where would he go? What would he do? Who would he become? And this whole time, Steven knew gems who could glimpse future timelines. Why not just use them to help him guide himself in the right direction?
Aside from the fact that this show long ago established that this wasn’t something Garnet would just do for Steven. Yet Garnet’s ability comes back up here in a fascinating way that supports the greater theme. Yes, she looked at the many branching lines of Steven’s life for her own reasons, but this was never about predicting the future.
It was about taking control of what you can.
I have repeatedly referenced my own therapy throughout these twenty reviews, but I don’t think it’s solely because I use the personal to analyze fiction. I mean, yes, I have been doing that for over a decade LMAO. But in this case, this whole extended epilogue was explicitly about Steven’s mental health. So I feel compelled to bring up one more thing that my therapist asks me all the time: What can you control?
I have fairly extreme anxiety, and when I started therapy with my current therapist, my answer had been simple: Nothing. Nothing was in my control, the world was a deck of cards stacked against me, and nothing would ever truly go well for me. As I’ve digested the episodes of Steven Universe Future, I see a similar sense of fatalism that developed in Steven. He began to believe that there was no hope left for his own life, even while he clung desperately to multiple possible solutions to his existential crisis. He tried toxic positivity; he tried giving in to violence; he tried the Diamonds’ powers to heal or fix himself; he tried going to the hospital.
Truthfully, there were small solutions in each of these things, but none of them ever made him feel whole. It was the combination plus the epiphany that came from his meltdown, and even then? What finally helps Steven is when he takes charge of what he can control. And in this situation, where does he have agency?
He can leave Beach City.
“The Future” brilliantly jumps forward a few months after the events of “I Am My Monster” to show us that Steven has done work to change elements of his life, but namely? It’s time for him to find a life outside the only city he’s ever truly known. Well, there’s also STEVEN IN THERAPY, which… oh my god. Y’all. I know it’s a longstanding thing where I just wish characters experiencing trauma would just get therapy, and yet it pretty much never happens within the show itself? EXCEPT IT DID HERE. OH MY GOD. I’m so happy for Steven!
Anyway, I noticed that while Steven maps out how he’s going to see his friends on this journey of his, at no point does “The Future” ever tell us the future. We don’t know what’s in store for Steven, which is the point! We can’t know the future, and Steven is deliberately throwing himself into the unknown in order to claim his own destiny, one that may take him out of Beach City forever. It’s an emotional choice, of course! Much of this episode was a tearjerker. We all associate Steven with Beach City. How could he leave?! So I also understood why Steven reacted the way he did to the Crystal Gems’s muted behavior. This was a huge deal! Why weren’t they as messed up about it as he was? Even worse, THE REACTION OF BISMUTH, LAPIS, AND PERIDOT BROKE ME. Because it’s absolutely true: These three characters would not be who they are without Steven. He guided them into their new lives. He gave them hope. He loved them unconditionally!!! And then he went ahead and gave them the most punch-in-the-heart gifts imaginable, so yes, I was very emotional during all of this! God, even Jasper’s goodbye hit me hard. And I appreciated that they kept this within character; Jasper wouldn’t have cried over Steven leaving. She would just… punch out two doors? (Which makes me wonder if she never uses doors and always punches a hole for herself. Probably.)
It’s also that this hit so many wonderful points for an ending. The “Cookie Cat” song was a beautiful reference to the beginning of this show. Remember when many of us thought this was just a silly, absurdist cartoon? Oh, how little we knew about the emotional devastation that would be waiting for us. That scene, plus the gifts that Steven gives others, are all signs of a beautiful, inspiring life lived here in Beach City. Even as Steven leaves Beach City, there’s a brief shot that’s another reminder of what has transpired here because of Steven’s life. Watch it again and take note of how even the pedestrians on the sidewalk tell a story. What would this place have been if it were not for Steven Universe? Would gems and humans have existed alongside one another like this? What about Onion having his dad around? What would have been the future of the Big Donut? All of that was a reminder that Steven lived here, and he changed everyone’s lives.
Of course, it’s the original trio of gems—the Crystal Gems themselves—who may have changed the most because of Steven, and so the show gives us one last cathartic moment in them letting their guard down and expressing how they really felt about Steven leaving. And bless this show for combining sorrow and comedy like they do, because I started crying again, only to burst in laughter in how they animated Garnet and Pearl crying. I will always, always love that mixture of tones and how often they pulled it off.
As Steven got in his car that second time and drove away from Beach City, I was overcome by emotions. I was overjoyed that Steven seemed to have found a place of safety. Yeah, he was doing something uncomfortable and scary, but he wasn’t in pain anymore. He was finally ready to charge into the great unknown, knowing for sure that the people in his life loved him. And isn’t that what we all want in some form? To know that people care about our lives? To know that we have people we can depend on if we need them?
My journey through Steven Universe has been a multi-year undertaking, spread across two homes, a relationship, a death, and my attempt at rebirth in a world that felt like it has fallen apart. As I mentioned earlier, I know I project a lot onto fiction, but few things I have ever watched have ever made me feel as seen or understood as Steven Universe. It’s queer. It is nonbinary. It is deeply caring and loving. And now, through Steven Universe Future, it has unequivocally stated that people dealing with mental health issues deserve love, compassion, understanding, and the right for us to choose our own futures.
But I want to thank all of you—the many, many people who have commissioned videos, who have followed along with these reviews, who have commented and screamed in delight and joy with me—for getting me into this show and for your patience as life took me away from it from time to time. I associate all that with this show, but I also associate one thing more than anything else: those times I sat on my couch in Los Angeles next to Baize as the two of us discovered this queer-affirming show for the first time. He loved it, more so than literally anything else I ever watched for Mark Watches. I have nothing but positive associations with him and this show, and I can’t thank you all enough for that. It’s been over a year since he passed. What I didn’t say in my review of “Rose Buds” is that I’m still in a lot of pain. Complex grief, it’s called. I didn’t even realize that was a thing. But most days, his death feels like it happened last week, and my anxiety brain will often go to the darkest places.
Not with this show. Because yes, the old theme song is a trigger, and yes, I get sad when I hear it, but it’s because I only remember the joy. I remember the joy of being next to him and being fake annoyed at his singing, and I wish so deeply I still had that. I don’t, but I do have this show. I have those memories. And part of what therapy is teaching me is that while there are things I can’t control, I can control so many others. And I choose to remember Baize and Steven Universe with nothing but the most fondest of feelings.
As a reminder (if you haven’t seen the last two videos): Please check the Master Schedule for the schedule of posts for Star Trek: Discovery, which is what I’ll be watching next! I am taking a couple weeks off to deal with two particularly gnarly book deadlines I have. (Yes, you read that right. I have to finish two separate novel projects by the end of the month, H E L P.)
The video for “The Future” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff
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