Steven Universe has learned that there’s something even more difficult than saving the world: dealing with the aftermath.
In “Steven Universe Future,” the teen hero slowly comes to realize that he’s struggling emotionally in this new era of intergalactic peace. Steven sees all of his friends moving on with their lives, but he’s not quite sure what’s next for him.
And there are only 10 episodes left for him to figure it out. The countdown to the “Steven Universe Future” series finale kicks off Friday, and Cartoon Network has announced that the remaining episodes will see Steven sort out his own problems now that he’s run out of people to help.
For those who need a refresher, here’s a quick rundown of what has happened so far in the “Steven Universe” epilogue series.
Set after the events of “Steven Universe: The Movie,” “Future” follows Steven and the Crystal Gems, who now run a school to help Gems figure out who they are, what they want and how to live on Earth.
(The Gems, of course, are magical alien beings who were previously part of an expanding hierarchical regime threatening Earth. But all that was sorted out over five seasons of “Steven Universe.”)
Steven seems to be in his element as he continues to help Gems, but it soon becomes clear that not everything is quite right. The half-human, half-Gem teen is manifesting new powers that he can’t control. He still harbors unresolved feelings around his mother’s legacy and he’s having trouble handling how everyone else is moving on.
As “Steven Universe” creator Rebecca Sugar has noted in previous interviews, the main series’ five-season arc had been planned since 2011. Some of the storylines explored in the TV movie and “Future” were born out of how her perspective on Steven’s heroism had evolved over the course of making “Steven Universe.”
“What I love about working on [‘Steven Universe’] is that, because I keep changing as a person, I just have more and more new things that I want to talk about and write about,” Sugar told The Times last year. “Because the character’s been growing up, the new things that I want to say, I can say them now with the character that’s been kind of growing up alongside me.”
The first 10 episodes of “Steven Universe Future” have carefully brought into question Steven’s capacity to help others when he can’t seem to figure out how to care for himself. In fact, episodes have shown just how reluctant Steven is to recognize his own needs or voice what he is feeling.
“Steven Universe” has never shied away from depicting the different facets of depression, trauma, grief and mental illness or how they manifest, and the episodes of “Future” that have aired so far have been no different. With no major villains to fight, the show has dug even deeper in its exploration of these themes.
When audiences last saw Steven, he had quit his job at the school and had his insecurities revealed to his friends by a sentient cactus he had accidentally brought to life. Hopefully that was the push he needed to finally realize it’s OK for him to ask for help.
New episodes of “Steven Universe Future” will air on Cartoon Network weekly on Fridays. The four-part series finale is set for March 27.