Thursday, April 13, 2017

Hang in There, "Steven Universe"

It's been about a year and a half since I last checked in with "Steven Universe." Another fifty-something episodes have come and gone, and we're now somewhere close to the end of Season Four. Because the show's airing patterns have been so erratic, it took me a while to realize that I actually was caught up on all the episodes. There have been several long hiatuses and a lot of the show's momentum seems to have cooled. Some minor spoilers ahead for the first three seasons.

The last time I checked in with Steven and the gang, they were busy convincing Peridot to be a good guy, and Garnet was reassuring her about not rushing into fusions, the act of combining with another Crystal Gem to become a stronger warrior. Well, all this time later, Peridot still hasn't fused with anybody. In fact, since the Cluster was neutralized at the very beginning of the third season, there hasn't been much plot progression going on at all. The series is taking its time easing Peridot and Lapis into the show's regular roster, and introducing a handful of new characters - Blue Diamond, Bismuth, Holly Blue Agate, and a team of Rubies. There's only been one new fusion too, who has barely appeared.

And frankly, after two wonderfully paced seasons full of steadily escalating danger and excitement, it's hard not to get restless. Lots of groundwork is being laid for future big storylines involving the Gem homeworld, and Steven reckoning with his mother's dark side, but the characters haven't had much development. Lapis and Peridot, obviously, have had the most progression as they've gone native. Amethyst had a crisis of confidence, good for a weeklong arc, that resulted in her maturing a bit with Steven's help. Pearl and Greg finally patched things up. Nothing particularly dramatic. Instead, the time has been mainly taken up with digressions like Greg getting a big payday and visits from figures from the past like Bismuth and Cousin Andy.

Meanwhile, the lurking presence of villains Jasper, the Rubies, and the Diamonds is still hanging over everyone's heads, but they don't show any signs of being any immediate danger. The last encounter with Blue and Yellow Diamond was barely a skirmish, really just a quick way of introducing some more characters and aspects of the Gem culture that will be important in the future. We haven't even seen White Diamond yet. I've heard rumors that Jasper is the next in line for a redemption arc, which would be fine, but if they're not going to do it simultaneously with the next impending clash with homeworld, I feel like it's just going to drag things out even more. I mean, look how long it took Lapis to finally call Earth home. At the time of writing, there are only five episodes left this season.

One of the things I initially liked about "Steven Universe" was how quickly it moved compared to the similar "Adventure Time," where the worldbuilding was great, but the continuing storylines went very, very slowly. They just finished up a big event miniseries that resolved a bunch of the hero's ongoing family issues, after eight seasons. While I don't think that "Steven Universe" is going to end up following the same model, and some of these more incidental, laid back episodes have been fun, I am concerned that the lack of more action-oriented plots has caused some of the viewership to drop out. I mean, it's got to have been at least half a season since we last saw the Gems in proper combat together.

"Steven Universe" is the only currently airing cartoon that I'm still keeping up with - not counting "Venture Brothers" and "Rick and Morty" with their multi-year hiatuses. I'm still enjoying it, but not as much as I enjoyed the first two seasons, where we were learning something new and exciting about these characters and their world practically every week. Instead, I'd characterize the show as currently being in a bit of a rut, treading water until they decide to get the next major storyline going. I'm going to stick with it and hope for better things to come, but I will be very upset if the show gets itself cancelled before that can happen.

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