18th Sep2015

‘Steven Universe 2×20: Sadie’s Song’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“Well, let’s just try to keep it simple?”

It’s a baffling decision on the part of whomever at Cartoon Network pulls the particular levers that determine these things to air two episodes about the overbearing mothers of supporting characters back to back. ‘Sadie’s Song’ doesn’t really cover any territory that last week’s ‘Nightmare Hospital’ didn’t get to, dealing again with a young woman whose life is circumscribed by her mother’s controlling behavior. Sadie is older than Connie, her mother Barb more blustery and forceful than reserved and strict, but the parallels are immediately clear.

The repetition of themes between the two episodes might skate if ‘Sadie’s Song’ moved the show’s arcs forward, delivered a strong visual experience like ‘Nightmare Hospital,’ or gave parent-child conflict a different or more nuanced look. It doesn’t bring its A-game on any of those fronts, nor is the bubblegum pop single performed first by Sadie and then by Steven particularly infectious or engaging. The episode feels like mildly entertaining dead air, its only real contribution providing context for Sadie’s timid and avoidant behavior in other, better installments of the show. Even there, Barb’s pushiness and controlling behavior are ladled on thick with unwanted gifts, overbearing mannerisms, and a noisy, boisterous presence.

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The basic premise of the episode is simple. Steven catches Sadie singing in the break room at the Big Donut and encourages her to sing at Beachapalooza, a local talent show. Sadie agrees, with some reluctance, and then it transpires that her mother is loving but pushy. Steven and Barb combine to push Sadie out of the preparatory process for the talent show in a series of sequences that feel oddly empty, dominated by a character we hardly know(Barb) and by an uncharacteristically insensitive Steven (I can buy his enthusiasm getting the better of him, but he always seems so defined by his being attuned to the emotional states of others). Sadie goes along with their fussing and fretting, sitting white-knuckled as they apply glam makeup and pick out her clothes, and then freaks out moments before going on stage.

She’s mad at Barb, it emerges, over years of pushy behavior and overenthusiastic encouragement. Showing conflict and conflict resolution between parents and children is an important service for a show like Steven Universe that strives so directly to portray healthy growth and alternatives to mainstream culture, but the only improvement here over the rushed emotional resolution to ‘Nightmare Hospital’ is that we don’t have to listen to what Barb and Sadie say to one another. It’s a bizarre choice to skip away from the moment to which the entire episode has been building. Is the idea that since all relationships between controlling parents and their children are identical we don’t need to see the conversation hashed out a second time? If so, why bother producing ‘Sadie’s Song’ at all?

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Steven’s big moment on stage will doubtlessly produce its fair share of hot takes and think pieces. I have little to say about it except that I hope it isn’t just a one-time nod toward normalizing all clothing as genderless. The sequence itself shares the rest of the episode’s deflated emotional timbre, but it’s cute enough with its soft pastel lights and close-ups of Steven’s starry eyes. What thrills await us next week? Maybe after eleven minutes of aimless shrugging that Fryman guy will apologize warmly to his sons for making them labor in the brutal heat of his fry shack, a sweltering monument to his own mediocrity.

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