Steven Universe Episode 1: Gem Glow

steven universe episode 1 gem glow

Ingrid and I are watching the entire Steven Universe series for the third time, and since we’ve been spending so much talking about it the first two times, I thought I’d blog some of my observations about it. Please note: I’m not writing these Steven Universe posts as a series summary or recap. I’m just writing down some of my observations and reactions (not necessarily coherently), both to the show as a whole and to the individual episodes. These posts will probably make more sense to people who are already watching/ have already watched the show, but I hope they inspire the rest of you to check out the show, as it really is one of the richest and most emotionally intense things I’ve seen on TV. Note: This post may contain spoilers about Steven Universe: the show as a whole, and/or about Episode 1: Gem Glow.

I once read an essay about Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I promise this isn’t a tangent, it really is relevant) that talked about how, in stories about interactions between ordinary people and space aliens or supernatural beings, there are more or less two arcs the stories typically take. The story is either about (a) humans exploring the alien/ supernatural world, or about (b) aliens/ supernatural beings exploring (or invading) the human world. The essay argued that the (b) storyline is almost always the same — shock, disbelief, being forced to accept the reality, often with the aliens/ supernatural beings trying to conceal their non-humanness at first — and as a result, it’s almost always boring. It argued that one of Buffy’s strong points is the main civilian characters go through this (b) arc very, very quickly: for Xander, for instance, it happens in one word, after he overhears a conversation between Buffy and Giles and says to himself, “Vampires?” So while in the most literal sense the show is a (b) arc, it’s about adventure and exploration as much as it’s about shock and defense.

Here’s why I bring this up. One of my favorite things about Steven Universe is the fact that, for the townspeople of Beach City, the (b) storyline is already in the past. The ordinary people have already accepted the existence of the Gems. It’s not clear how long ago this happened, whether it was just a few years ago (maybe shortly after Steven was born?) or whether, in this universe, people have always known about the Gems. But Lars at the donut shop makes a passing reference to Steven’s “magic belly button” in the first minute and a half of the first episode. It’s clear right away that this show is not about the Gems trying to keep their alien-ness from the townspeople. Everyone already knows, and while it’s a bit weird and sometimes scary, it’s not surprising, and really not that big a deal anymore. This makes much more room for more complicated, nuanced, interesting interactions between the townspeople and the gems, and a more complicated, nuanced, interesting exploration of ordinary people’s experiences of the unusual, and unusual people’s experiences of the unusual ordinary.

Some other notes:

Steven’s obsession with Cookie Cats really captures how children’s priorities are so different from adults’. The Gems are battling dangerous, gross centipeetle things, and he cares about that — but he’s so easily distracted by the freezer full of Cookie Cat ice cream treats.

I like how the advice from all three Gems about Steven using his power is all contradictory — and yet, it’s all useful and accurate.

I like how Steven is learning that inspiration and skill can’t necessarily be channeled by re-creating the circumstances of the last time he got inspired. Heck, I’m still learning that.

I love how the Cookie Cat back-story parallels the Gems’ backstory.

I love how Lion Lickers become a thing later (Lion!), even though Steven is angry about them now.

It’s fascinating watching the early episodes again, and seeing how young Steven is. It makes me realize that, among the many ways this show is honest and accurate about childhood (and especially about children’s shifting understanding of adults), it’s accurate about Steven become more mature as the show progresses.

Ingrid commentary: Ingrid is not okay with the fact that Steven doesn’t go to school. Yes, of course he needs to learn about how to be a Gem — but doesn’t he also need to learn human stuff?

She’s also noticing that in this first episode, Pearl has the strongest personality. Garnet and Amethyst take time for their characters to develop.

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Steven Universe Episode 1: Gem Glow

4 thoughts on “Steven Universe Episode 1: Gem Glow

  1. 1

    I like that Steven doesn’t go to school.
    School eats a lot of conceptual space in the work centered around the daily life of a child and would overshadow the diversity of the human world Steven lives in and is saving. Consider Hey Arnold, another good show that’s recently been in the headlines: Arnold’s world is “classmates” vs. “weird adults”. Steven is open to everyone, and the writers get to develop way more characters than just those who have or are schoolchildren of a particular age.
    School would probably introduce the sidekick dynamic and/or create an underclass of mundane children, to the detriment of the show. In Steven’s world, almost everyone possesses a measure of authority by virtue of being older and/or in charge of something. It just happens that Lars’s area of expertise is “donuts” and Steven’s is “otherworldly threats”.
    A message about the importance of school, as seen through Steven’s eyes, would send mixed signals and undermine itself. A show could only bear so many episodes in which school drama is juxtaposed with an existential threat “but is just as important, honest!”
    Finally, not going to school and being deprived of a chance to become a trained professional is the opportunity cost he’s paying for training to be an interdimensional protector. Having the decision made for him is unfortunate for Steven the person but great for the story and Steven the character. Saving the world isn’t a trivial thing to do during a lunch break.

  2. 2

    The clarity of Pearl’s character in the early episodes led me to think she was the leader for quite a while.

    There is a graphic novel coming out in December about Stephen going to school with Connie for a day. Apparently there is a very good reason why Steven doesn’t go to school, which will be revealed.

  3. 3

    Spoilers below:

    While we know that the Gems interacted with humans for several generations (since they helped William Dewey when he came to settle Beach City), it doesn’t seem like they actually interacted with them much before Greg came along. When he came to town they still had a fence up and seemed pretty uncomfortable with a human being in their area. Sometime in between Greg’s arrival to Beach City and Steven’s arrival this separation broke down. We know this because of Vidalia and Amethyst’s friendship. Sometime in the 5ish years of Rose and Greg’s relationship these walls between the Gems and Beach City decreased, and this melding of the two groups probably continued after Steven’s appearance and was likely pretty complete by the time they build his room when he was about 5.

    So over the course of the past 15-20 years the people of Beach City have gone from a general awareness that there are weirdos on the other side of the fence to complete acceptance of aliens in their midst. I think that’s pretty cool.

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