The Importance of 'Steven Universe: Change your Mind'
A Review and Summary (Spoilers Ahead)
"Hello Starlight," those two simple words, that one simple greeting, sent chills down my spine when the Antagonist of Steven Universe was finally revealed.
What is 'Steven Universe?'
Steven Universe is a cartoon that first aired on Cartoon Network on November 4, 2013. Following its initial release in the United States, it was released in Canada on November 11, 2013, and everywhere else on April 24, 2014.
It was an instant fascination that made history in the children's television industry; more so, in Cartoon Network's history. Steven Universe is an animated series that is completely produced by American animator, screenwriter, producer, and songwriter Rebecca Sugar. Which makes Steven Universe the first animated series on Cartoon Network solely created by a woman.
Steven Universe is a show about a preteen half-alien boy who lives with a small group of self-appointed guardians of the universe known as the Crystal Gems. These gems are warriors and the last survivors of the great war between Rose Quartz and Homeworld, where these gems were originally created—excluding the spunky, short, loving, childlike Gem, Amethyst, who was created here on Earth.
Who are the Crystal Gems?
The Crystal Gems, consist of a Pearl, who we later find out worked alongside Pink Diamond, a Ruby, and a Sapphire, who come together in a harmonious dance number to form Garnet. Garnet is a fusion Gem and the form that Ruby and Sapphire choose to take because of their love for each other.
Which is taboo on the planet Homeworld, and a form of disgrace against the species of Gems and the Diamonds they follow.
There's also Amethyst, and later Bismuth, Lapis Lazuli, and Peridot who all follow the ideas that Rose Quartz had, fighting for their freedom to live the way they want to live and not the way the Diamonds want them to live.
Who is Rose Quartz?
Rose Quartz, the leader of the Crystal Gems, decided that she wasn't going to destroy the planet Earth and rebelled against her Diamond, Pink. Thus, the war for Earth began, where Rose Quartz shattered and killed her commanding officer Pink Diamond, or so everyone thought!
It turns out that Rose Quartz was actually Pink Diamond herself, who fled from the hardship of being a diamond on Homeworld; she took on the Persona of Rose to live among the Gems and Quartz that she controlled in her colonization of Earth.
With her old-self dead and gone, and the war for Earth at a standstill, Rose's love for Earth and its beauty continued to grow. She fell for a human musician named Greg and later gave up her form to give birth to her son Steven, our protagonist.
Now, for a short summary on everything that has happened in 'Steven Universe' leading up to the 'Change Your Mind' special.
Throughout the series you see a young and innocent Steven grow up and try to fill his mother's shoes. He learns how to summon his shield, he figures out that he can fuse like Amethyst, Pearl, and Garnet. He learns how to bubble poofed gems and even makes a human friend named Connie who he loves and trusts enough to share the truth about who he really is and who loves him and trusts him enough to risk her life for him any time Homeworld gems come to Earth and threaten their community at Beach City. He even discovers he has some psychic abilities that he can only unlock when he's in a state of sleep. This power becomes important in later episodes.
Somewhere between finding out that Rose shattered Pink Diamond and finding out that Yellow and Blue Diamond are still hurting about the death of their sister Pink, Steven's mindset changed and he went from filling her shoes to trying to fix what she, and excuse my form of words, shattered by destroying and breaking this family of Diamonds who run Homeworld.
Even though he wasn't there when Rose killed Pink, he felt responsible for Pink's death and decided he was going to face the Diamonds head on. He decides to go with the gems that were looking for Rose through Steven's friends. In order to save everybody. Only finding out after the ship left Earth's atmosphere that his friend Lars was still on board.
Figuratively putting himself in his mother's shoes and taking responsibility for his mother's war actions, he was taken to Homeworld and placed on trial where he discovered just how Pink Diamond was killed.
He escapes Homeworld when it becomes clear to him that Yellow and Blue Diamond were not interested in hearing his side of the story. Once he returned to Earth, Pearl finally tells him about Pink's shattering and we find out it was a rouse so Pink could live freely and be herself far away from the judgment and persecution from her sisters, Yellow and Blue Diamond, finding out once and for all that his mother wasn't a murderer after all.
When Yellow and Blue decide that they weren't going to let Steven's escape go unpunished, they head to Earth themselves and find Steven and the Crystal Gems had reunited. Blinded by their anger they begin destroying Beach City, sending Beach City into an absolute panic. This is where we discover that he can psychically communicate with not only the Gems, but also the Diamonds, and after getting knocked unconscious by Yellow and Blue he shows them who he really is.
Yellow and Blue being thrilled to bits that Pink Diamond wasn't actually killed all of those eons ago, finally they listen to Steven and everything Steven has been wanting to say to them since the trial. Yellow and Blue try to reverse all of the damage they had done to the gems that were left over and turned into monsters after the final battle between Rose and the Diamonds. The discover they can't do it between the two of them and decide that they need help from White Diamond, Yellow and Blue's superior Diamond. The literal head of Homeworld.
So Steven, Pearl, Amethyst, Garnet, and Connie return to Homeworld with Yellow and Blue Diamond. This is where we finally meet White Diamond and those beautiful words "Hello Starlight"are said, sending the whole entire Steven Universe fandom into an uproar of excitement.
Fast forward to this past Monday, January 21, 2019, almost half a year after we are first introduced to White Diamond. We see our protagonist Steven Universe try to attune to his new surroundings after momentarily meeting the bright light of Homeworld. No matter what he did and how he did it, the literal head of Homeworld wanted nothing more to do with him. He hosts a ball in hopes that White Diamond will make an appearance and fuses with Connie when she doesn't and everything goes to Hell from there.
The Crystal Gems are poofed and bubbled and Steven and Connie are once again imprisoned in Pink Diamond's room where Steven was sent after meeting White Diamond.
This final act starts off this episode.
Blue Diamond enters the room where Steven is being kept and begins to reprimand and speak down to Steven, which by this point, Steven is used to. The scene changes and Steven is now Pink Diamond. He's shocked by this outcome and becomes very disoriented as Blue Diamond's words echo around him.
"Why do you always do this Pink?"
We know that Steven is of course dreaming and his dream quickly morphs into a nightmare as he relives seeing his family get poofed around him because He and Connie fused, he transforms between Rose and Pink a few more times and finally wakes up.
And the prior scene begins to play out again except Connie is with him now.
After dissecting this first scene, we'll call it "Steven's Dream,"I knew that this particular episode was going to highlight exactly where Steven plays a role in all of this. Now that Blue and Yellow Diamond know he's holding Pink Diamond's Diamond in his body, they begin treating him like their sister and even welcoming Pink back into their family. But Steven isn't Pink, he isn't even Rose, he's Steven. And in this scene we see him struggle with his identity. We see him relive one of Pink's memories, which has been piling on his psyche since he found out that Rose Quartz was really Pink Diamond.
Blue and Steven talk and Steven finally understands why his mother left in the first place when Blue Diamond continues to use her power to punish Steven for making yet another scene. He tells Blue Diamond that he and Connie need to eat or else they'll starve and Blue becomes flustered once again and dismisses his claim as an 'another made up problem' she demands he apologizes for fusing with Connie and he simply responds with "No."
This sends Blue into an episode of sadness and she fills the room with her energy causing Steven to drop to his knees and begin to cry as Blue Diamond cries.
I find this the most interesting because at the same time Steven finds out that this was how they would punish Pink Diamond (by making her feel extreme sadness). Steven tells her that his mom may have thought that is what "right to lock her in her room," but Steven "knows what it's like coming from a loving family" and explains that loving families don't do stuff like this to each other. He then explains that at home the Crystal Gems knew he was Rose and called him Steven anyway (because that was the form Rose had chosen) which when broken down is a not-so-subtle hint that she and Yellow should stop calling him Pink because he's not Pink. He then tells her "you punished them for sticking up for me and that's not normal."
This enrages Blue and she uses her power to fling Steven across the room. This is where Steven joins the audience and realizes that what the Diamonds were doing to his mother and to him wasn't normal and then asks her: "How many times did you lock her in here? How many times did you make her cry?" these questions break through to Blue Diamond and she decides to help Steven, Connie, and the Crystal Gems get home.
After Blue Diamond decides to help Steven and Connie, they sneak into Yellow Diamond's quarters and are confronted by Yellow herself. And one of the most rewarding lines that have ever been spoken on Steven Universe comes from Blue Diamond (and in my opinion is probably why it was so rewarding) after Yellow Diamond asks, "What are you doing, Blue?
"Take Pink back to the tower,"Blue says."She prefers to be called Steven."
After I heard that, I legitimately squealed like a zodiac pig. It was such a progressive move to Blue Diamond's character arc after SO MANY EPISODES OF HER mourning Pink Diamond, to her calling Steven "Pink" every time she talked to and about Steven.
It just filled me with so much happiness to see that and experience that in a children's cartoon.
Which makes it not only progressive to the story of Steven Universe, but also to the many children who struggle with their identity or who are scared to come out to their family about their identity, and seeing something like this broadcasted on children's television is exciting!
Yellow and Blue get into an argument that escalates into a fight and we eventually see Yellow Diamond break down and cry. This shows growth in Yellow's Character arc as well because up to this point, Yellow was seen as muscle. She was strong and was always the shoulder Blue Diamond would cry on.
Yellow agrees to help the Crystal Gems, Steven, and Connie get off Homeworld, but are quickly discovered by White Diamond and the final battle between Steven and Homeworld begins.
Just when Steven, Blue, Yellow, and Connie think they're screwed, Steven's friends from earth, Bismuth, Lapis, and Peridot show up in Yellow and Blue's ships which the pair had left completely destroyed in the ocean off the shores of Beach City.
Bismuth, Lapis, and Peridot use the ships to knock White Diamond's ship back and a small fight between ships begins.
Steven refuses to run from the fight, and with the help of Yellow and Blue, they force White Diamond to listen to them.
Yellow begins to explain her pain as does Blue continuing where Yellow had trailed off. White Diamond then uses her powers and turns them into puppets, gaining control of Blue and Yellow's arms and the battle continues.
With Pearl, Amethyst, Ruby, and Sapphire still in their gems Steven tries to run with them in his arms and drops them as he grabs hold of Connie and Peridot. They fall from his arms and into the abyss of Homeworld, Steven jumps down after them and pulls them from their gem through fusion, which at this point of the series had never happened.
We are then reintroduced with Smoky Quartz, a fusion between Amethyst and Steven. Then we are introduced to Rainbow 2.0, a fusion between Pearl and Steven, and finally, we are introduced to Sunstone, a fusion between Garnet and Steven.
Personally, I was a little taken aback by Sunstone. I wasn't a huge fan of the 90s "skaterboi" vibe, but after watching this episode for a few times I can say, Sunstone is growing on me.
It's always exciting to see fusions and meet new characters in Steven Universe because they're a rarity. But we got two new fusions and finally, after six years of knowing about her, we finally got to meet Obsidian, the fusion between Amethyst, Pearl, Garnet, and Steven.
As Obsidian they climb up to White Diamond's ship and enter it through the eye.
This is where the Crystal Gems get captured become mindless puppets like Yellow and Blue.
In a creepy turn of events Steven is now surrounded by his family, each and every one of them staring at him with dead zombie-like eyes and a creepy smile spread across their faces.
White Diamond speaks to Steven through them, thanking herself for getting rid of their imperfections.
The animation of these next few cutscenes are also creepy as each character including White Diamond herself seem deformed and leave an uncomfortable feeling hanging over your head.
Successfully enticing the fear that comes with a living nightmare. I had to watch this episode a few time to write this and after the fourth time watching through this scene I can tell you the feeling of anxiety doesn't go away.
And the only person that saw this was Connie.
After the Crystal Gems are turned into mind-controlled puppets after being zapped by White Diamond's light, they were blinded by her "being" to see their reality.
And you only fully understand this after White loses control and releases everyone from their mind control, because Amethyst doesn't know what happened, and Pink's original Pearl had no idea where she was after a millennium of being controlled by White.
So none of Steven's family saw him almost die when White separated Steven from his gem. They missed his form change between Pink and Rose until finally revealing its final form to be that of Steven. Nobody but White and Connie witnessed the relief that Steven had when he was finally reunited with his gem.
And I think this is probably the most important message of this episode.
Steven has been struggling to fill the shoes of his mother, so much so that he took responsibility for her war actions, he tried to fix everything Rose and Pink had damaged with her "selfish" actions, he didn't know who he was and why he was, and all of this over the course of five seasons and 160 episodes, (not including the mini-episodes shown in the first and second season) you can see that it takes a damaging toll on Steven.
It's incredibly difficult to look up to somebody you've never met, even harder if everybody wants you to be just like that someone you've never met before. Although this was debunked by Pearl herself who struggled the most when Rose gave up her form to become Steven. Steven still felt the responsibility to become just like her. Which can be found in the full version of the theme song in the line that Steven sings:
I will fight to be everything that everybody wants me to be when I'm grown.
So, when Steven sees that his gem takes his form, his expression doesn't change like White's. He's not shocked by this (and maybe it's because dying is painful), his immediate reaction was that he needed his gem to survive, and only when he was reunited with his gem, did the relief show itself. He laughs softly and begins to cry gently as he embraces his gem.
Steven accepts himself and his gem reflects that acceptance and it is the only way the two could reconnect and become one. And it works. This scene just works. Steven is smiling, tears continue to glide down his face as he looks to Connie. Thankful to be himself again, but a whole lot lighter now that the weight of confusion about his identity had been lifted, and he accepts that.
He even says, "I'm me." After years of trying to convince everybody at Homeworld that he was Rose and then trying to convince everyone that Rose was Pink Diamond. He says, "I'm Me. I've always been Me." In which White Diamond begins to slam her fists on the ground in anger and frustration. But Steven and Connie just laugh.
It was beautifully written, and as someone who struggled deeply with my own identity, it was relatable and it was personal. That's why I think having the Gems, his family, not be "there" was a strong move in both Steven's character arc and the message to the audience. Because self-acceptance is a journey that you go on by yourself.
It's a real-world deep connection between character and viewer that gives the viewer, however young or however old, something and someone to relate to and that's so important to place in children's television.
I was genuinely pleased with this episode and this special. There were a few things that bugged me as a viewer where I was like "Come on, really?" but that was mainly addressing the number of puns written in this episode and how corny they made Steven and Garnet's fusion. But as a whole, this episode did not disappoint and I cannot wait for the movie, which is scheduled to be released in the fall.