People clown on season 1a, mostly with better-than-usual reason, but even the very earliest episodes are something, more often than not.
Sometimes it seems to me that people who regularly watch television really, really hate writing. Especially without a clearly signaled end goal.
The thing is, even if the show were nothing but Steven wandering around town and talking to people, it would still be an extraordinarily well-written series. That all of this just serves as context and connecting tissue for bigger topics and events should be a point of amazement.
That it’s written to this standard without a script is, I think, worth mulling over a bit. It’s just storyboards. People tell the story as they draw.
I’m not super jazzed about Jamie, and this whole episode is pretty strange, it being the first one they animated and… uh, not really matching the tone or stylization of anything to follow—but it’s these little conversations, showing the characters’ inner- and off-screen lives…
The way the show goes out of its way to avoid linear, A-B, obligatory transactions—if people are gonna talk, it’s going to be organic, tell us something about who they are, take some weird turns that aren’t strictly necessary because not everyone is on the story’s schedule. Even the walk-on characters—Jamie doesn’t turn up again for something like 50 episodes—are the main characters of their own lives, and aren’t necessarily invested in the priorities of whatever nonsense is going on with the people we’re following at the moment. As they wouldn’t.
Most of the drollery is in observing everyone’s strange habits and hang-ups and limitations, and how they define their bubbles and perspectives and way of thinking and way of responding to everything. There’s an unusual level of psychology to this show.
It’s interesting to view this sequence in the context of that conversation with Peedie, a few episodes earlier.
There’s a whole hell of a lot of Charlie Brown in Steven Universe. As the show openly acknowledges a few times.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I love the cautious way Sadie steps between Lars and this strange, potentially unhinged man who walked in. These are the little beats that make the show what it is.
There’s this level of melancholy behind everything the show does, no matter how gentle or light-hearted or weird. This yawning existential pit, that the show just barely manages to dance around.
Which fits with this discussion of the show’s relationship with horror. And, yeah; the horror sets in pretty early with this show.
I suppose repressed anxiety is one of the main driving factors here.
I keep talking about how messed-up every character is in this show. And that’s one of the things that the show both regards with love and refuses to treat delicately. Though it gets more nuanced as it goes along (even by the back half of season 1).
And it’s interesting the unspoken context the show sets out for everything—that it just lets you soak in until it reaches a saturation point, and is ready to squeeze. Like, from exactly one episode after the previous clip:
That’s what the show does. It drops things in, and lets you digest them as passing gags or non sequiturs, and you laugh them off, but they keep building up—and then when you go back, sometimes something clicks. And you think, oh. You know, there’s something going on here, huh. Season 1a, all the time it’s dinking around with food and toys and idiosyncratic street vendors, it sets up much of the festering that becomes unavoidable later. Even when it (very eventually) gets around to exposition, the show lets you add up most of the implications yourself.
Again, season one is frickin’ long. The back half is in practical terms the show’s sophomore season, and a sequel to or redo of season 1a, more clearly developing the notions it just sort of plants the first time around (ergo that previous clip, compared to the earlier ones)—all of which just makes the earlier episodes seem all the more messed-up, by the things they choose not to address quite yet.
Like, this stuff above—it explains what’s going on, but in the moment is never really addressed, with Amethyst’s general not-so passive aggression, and in this entire episode. Which at the time is just handled on the level that Steven approaches it. He doesn’t ask the questions. Not the right ones, anyway.
This show does so many things at once; at any given time eight of them are in deep background, one is just starting to breach subtext, and usually the least important possible one is being actively explored in dialogue and action, leaving you to wonder what the hell the point is. Until it reaches up through the layers and grabs you.
And even then you don’t quite know why, because you still don’t have the full picture. It registers, it means something. It all fits. But things are the way they are for reasons that take a long time to even start to explain.
Or, as early season 1b would have it,
Jesus Christ, this show just dances circles around everything else ever made for television. Even just this early material, if it were produced as live-action, with the exact same dialogue and design and shot framing, it would be heralded as a revolution in TV writing, several degrees above Arrested Development (with which it shares some structural similarities). Animation, though, it kind of makes something turn off in people’s brains. Which, to be fair, is part of why Steven Universe gets away with a fraction of what it does.
After an analysis I read a while ago, that lifted out some things I didn’t see on my own, I can’t watch “Steven the Sword Fighter” again except as the allegory it’s intended, the uncertainty of living under an unreliable parent, suffering from depression or other mental illness.
And, God. I mean. I’ve been… on all sides of this. It’s hard to see, but at the same time cathartic and necessary.
If it weren’t for Lapis, Pearl would easily be the most relatable character in the show for me.
In retrospect one of the things I appreciate the most about the mid-season finale is the way it opens up, partially, about the long game the show has been playing from the start (and will continue to, on levels only hinted at this point). Owning up here lets it keep on piling on.
The overt romantic elements between Connie and Steven sort of go on the back-burner after season one, as so much else starts to happen that they both have to prioritize before they figure all that mess out. But, early on the show is so raw about what an earnest mess it is.
I like the level here of, love is not minding how gross someone is, and not being afraid to be gross with them. Which is… kind of one of the show’s core messages, if not phrased always in those specific words.
The fact that it’s durian juice, of all incomprehensible things, that’s the catalytic element here, kind of… it goes with the theme, right?
There’s a level of judgment in my choice of vocabulary that the show wouldn’t go near, but it gets the point across.
Well, usually wouldn’t.
Where the show depicts bias or disgust, it’s framed as an arbitrary personal evaluation, based in factors that are close to incomprehensible from an outside view. It’s always a silly way to look at things, that demonstrates the foibles of a character.
(I’m regularly astounded at how often the background artists redo the exact same scenes from scratch with a slightly different angle or level of detail. I haven’t checked, but wouldn’t be surprised if they actually didn’t reuse much background art at all, even of “standing sets.”)
Anyway. I’m very fond of the brand of humor that goes, “Ho, ho, what you say makes no sense at all—but being human, I am familiar with the mode in which it makes no sense! Yes, those foibles are relatable from my own experience of being flawed and arbitrary.” To wit:
This observational silliness—what are you even doing, and why—is the sort of humor the show revels in.
There’s a philosophy here, in which we’re all these little imperfect bubbles biased by our experiences in what we’re able to see and understand in the present, and none of what we think and do actually makes much sense, so why not just accept this from ourselves and each other? It’s a view the show expresses in its humor just as it does through the drama and action and horror and tragedy and long story arcs built on carefully seeded mythology. And it’s there from the very first episode, and in every episode since.
I guess a better spin on the take from a few paragraphs up is, love is seeing beauty—not despite but because of all of the strangeness and complications and imperfections. The things that might put a person off, you’re not blind to them. But they’re facets of something far bigger.
Or, I guess,
As messed-up as everyone is in this show, and as the whole situation may be, that love is such a constant that it makes everything possible. It haunts me, this alternate vision of what a childhood could have been like. Of what in principle any close relationship could be like.