10th Apr2015

‘Steven Universe S02E05: Story for Steven’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“You’re awfully cute, and I really want to play with you…but your life is short, and you have dreams.”

Rose Quartz is the structuring absence of Steven Universe.  She’s the ducks flying north from Tony Soprano’s pool, the vacated desk of Laura Palmer, the hole around which the themes and characters of the series revolve and against which they react.  So why does she have so little to do in what is, essentially, her introduction?  “Story for Steven” is often touching and intermittently energetic, but only occasionally is it interesting.

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Like Laura Palmer, Rose is gone before the cameras roll but kept alive through the people whose lives she touched and the traces of herself she left behind in the world.  Unlike Laura Palmer, always a human figure for good and ill, she’s been largely symbolic and idealized throughout her posthumous appearances.  The best parts of “Story for Steven” begin to suggest the person behind and within the legend, someone lonely enough to steal away from her isolated home to watch a goofball rocker perform on the beach, someone who whispers an amused “His gimmick is space” as an aside to her friends; in short, she feels real here.  It’s a shame there isn’t more of it.

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Susan Egan does touching work as Rose’s voice actor, bringing a sweet, self-assured quality to the Gems’ huge but graceful leader.  Tom Scharpling as Greg is predictably excellent, and his “Like a Comet” opening number is a great way to bust into a story that isn’t without its charms.  Seeing the Gems in their pre-Steven days is a treat; Pearl getting jealous over Rose’s interest in Greg is adorable, and Amethyst in owl form threatening to kill Greg is a great gag, but too much of the episode feels like empty space.  Greg goes over the fence, wins Rose’s heart, and that’s that.  It never really seems like it could happen any other way.

Marty is a misstep as a character and his failure to generate believable conflict is a problem for the episode’s momentum.  The abrasive band manager (and, along with Vidalia, probable relation to Sour Cream and/or Onion) launches Greg’s story but doesn’t really bring anything to it, and the time he consumes being a generically greedy wad would have been better-spent exploring the attraction between Greg and Rose.  True love is cute, and it definitely isn’t out of place in this show, but the story doesn’t attain the impact it reaches for when Greg makes the life-changing decision to ditch Marty and remain in Beach City.  Rose likes his music, he likes (with refreshingly unfetishized genuineness) that she’s gigantic and mysterious, but there isn’t a lot past that to trade on.

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The current run of Steven Universe episodes hasn’t always benefited from being shown out of production order.  “Story for Steven” was originally meant to run before “The Message,” a context that helps place Greg’s relationship to the Gems.  Instead it winds up kind of spinning its wheels without anything to build up to, even it it is awfully cute while it does so. The moments between Greg and Steven in Greg’s van show how much more connected father and son have become over the show’s run, and the prominence of music in Greg’s story serves to highlight the important place it’s taken on in the show proper.  Good touches, good beats, but they’re not building on or toward anything in the context of the episode.

The most successful dramatic element of Rose and Greg’s courtship is a quiet one.  Rose fears she’ll hurt Greg by loving him, that his involvement in her immortal life will stop him from pursuing his mortal dreams.  “You better hurry,” she jokes gently in the mouth of the then house-less temple.  “You don’t want to miss your space-train to the cosmos.”  There’s no inkling in that exchange that Greg will be the one left behind, and that absence of foreknowledge echoes painfully out for him through the many signs and symbols of herself Rose left behind without his knowledge.

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