I have been trying for ages to write about my love of Steven Universe. I’ll happily go on at length about the show and my feelings about it in person, but getting it all down in writing seems more elusive. I think it”s a sign of just how good the show is and how much I love it that my attempts to get it all down come off as a messy jumble of feelings and details that never really gets to the heart of what makes the show so good.
So instead of describing the entire show and my love for it, I’m taking on the still difficult but more manageable task of listing my favorite episodes. To give you an idea of how tough this is, I started out writing about my five favorite episodes and quickly discovered I couldn’t do less than ten. But, unlike an overview of the whole series, it gives me a narrower window to look at the series and my feelings about it through.
Like any such list, this one is totally subjective and reflects my opinions of the moment. Your list is almost certainly different. Next week, my list may be different. Heck, it may be different tomorrow or an hour from now. Discussion is welcome and encouraged.
10. Open Book
Steven Universe maintains a nice balance between its monumental, status-quo altering, big revelation episodes and the smaller scale, quieter ones. A lot of fans can agree on the best of the former, but learning a fan’s favorites in the latter category can be much more informative about what they enjoy about the show.
“Open Book” is firmly in that second category. It expands on the existing relationship between Steven and Connie without really changing their dynamic. We get to see more of Rose’s room and learn more about Connie favorite fantasy series The Unfamiliar Familiar – a mashup of Harry Potter and the His Dark Materials trilogy with a significant spoonful of Twilight. But the big reveal of the episode is nothing more earth-shattering than the fact that Steven and Connie can have differing opinions on a work of fiction and still be friends. That message, simple as it may be, is a lot of what I like about this episode. Given today’s massive internet battles over the merits of particular books, movies, and TV shows, it’s a surprisingly important idea. I also like that Steven’s opinion – that the two main characters of the series were always heading for a romance – is shown as valid and that Connie is capable of listening to his viewpoint and seeing that validity rather than just writing it off as “Steven loves schmaltz.”
9. Maximum Capacity
The relationship between Steven’s dad Greg and Amethyst is tantalizingly underexplored. We see hints of what it was in some of the flashback episodes and how it changed in this one, but it’s never explained outright, which is part of what makes it interesting. Amethyst’s insecurities about her relationships with her family and friends come up repeatedly, but this is the only time so far that we’ve seen it with Greg. Like many concepts in Steven Universe, this story works as both a literal narrative and a metaphor, with Amethyst in the role of someone whose friend has grown up and had a kid and can’t hang out as much anymore, plus the usual extra complications provided by Rose Quartz. It’s sweet and effective without feeling forced. And as an added bonus, we get introduced to the sitcom Li’l Butler, the unholy offspring of Mr. Belvedere and Webster.
8. Sadie’s Song
Sadie Miller, one of the two employees of The Big Donut, is among the characters who provide a counterbalance of normalcy to the alien invasions and monster battles. Her worries are normal teenage worries: a job she doesn’t enjoy, a complicated relationship with the guy she likes, and a lot of insecurities. “Sadie’s Song” highlights her, as well as Steven’s continuing growth. Steven is compassionate from day one, but he’s not perfect and several episodes show how he’s still learning. In this one, he gets overly caught up in his own enthusiasm, helped along by Sadie’s mom, and ends up pushing Sadie into something she’s not ready for. It’s the early part of an arc that pays off later for Sadie and a nice reminder that Steven doesn’t always get it right. And “Haven’t You Noticed (I’m a Star), the episode’s featured song, is ridiculously catchy.
7. Winter Forecast
This is one of the most small scale of the small scale episodes. All Steven wants is to spend more time with Connie and watch the evening snowfall together, but it’s time for Connie to go home. Thanks to Garnet, Steven gets to see what happens when he tries various strategies to get what he wants. It does further explain Garnet’s future vision and establishes her ability to temporarily pass it on to Steven, but beyond that, it doesn’t have much impact on following episodes. What it does have is a gentle message about putting responsibility before your own desires and a satisfying ending showcasing the simple pleasure of watching the snow.
6. The Test
For reasons I don’t understand, I really like stories about children learning to better understand their parents, especially when a parent has done something the kid finds dishonest or hard to understand. “The Test” has Steven initially angry to discover that the trial he wanted the Gems to set up for him is one he literally can’t fail at, then realizing that the Gems are really trying to restore his self-confidence. Steven recognizes both their intentions and the fact that they don’t always know what they’re doing in raising him. My favorite stories of this kind end with the child doing for the parent-figure what the parent was trying to do for the child, which is exactly what happens here. It’s another sweet story of Steven’s maturing, all wrapped up in some well designed fake death traps.
5. On the Run
This one is more lore heavy than its predecessors on the list. It delves into both the history of the Gems on Earth and Amethyst’s origin. It’s also a character piece, kicked off by Steven wanting to play vagabond and unknowingly tapping into Amethyst’s feelings of not belonging. The relationship between Amethyst and Pearl starts out as a fairly typical odd couple; stuffed shirt vs. slob. But in episodes like this one, it’s evolved into something more complex, showing how they see one another and how much each one needs the other.
4. We Need to Talk
I love the flashback episodes about Rose and Greg. It’s kind of a tossup between this and “Story for Steven,” which has one of my favorite songs, the David Bowiesque “Comet.” But I love episodes that deal with the complexities of relationships and this one does an excellent job of that. The question of why Rose’s relationship with Greg is different from anyone other in her life still remains, but “We Need To Talk” provides some answers. Greg’s discomfort at realizing that he may just be Rose’s latest diversion for the next few decades is evident through some well drawn facial expression in the above song. He ultimately proves that he’s willing to demand that she take both him and their relationship seriously, even if that runs the risk of losing Rose. What he can do for her is be a real person and ask that she be as close to that as she can.
3. Mr. Greg
In a show that’s already so focused on music, a musical episode might seem redundant. But “Mr. Greg” uses the opportunity to full effect, giving us a variety of fantastic songs in varying styles and a major emotional turning point for Pearl. “It’s Over, Isn’t It?” has music, performance, choreography, and staging worthy of the best musicals. I particularly love moments like Pearl’s little dip walk. It’s a widely loved episode, and rightly so.
2. Jail Break
It almost feels like cheating to include this one, since part of its power comes from the way it pays off so much that comes before it. But even without the buildup, the energy and joy of “Jail Break” is undeniable. We get our first introduction to Ruby and Sapphire, a milestone for same sex relationships in mainstream media. “Stronger Than You” combines fantastic fight animation with an anthem to love and self-confidence that belongs in any fan’s list of favorite songs. And after so many episodes of tension about the coming threat, we see the Gems triumph. It’s certainly not all good news, as Lapis gets stuck in a toxic fusion at the bottom of the ocean. But overall, this is the happy ending to this chapter of the show.
1. Mindful Education
Get your tickets ready, because here comes the feels train.
I’m a firm believer that anyone’s favorite anything is at least as much an emotional decision as an empirical one. You can present all the evidence you want to support why the thing you love is unquestionably good, but in the end, it comes down to how it makes you feel. There’s plenty for anyone to like about “Mindful Education,” even if it doesn’t mean big changes for the show’s characters. It has a great song, masterful guest animation from animator Takafumi Hori, and good moments for all of its featured characters. But if I’m being honest, a lot of why I love this episode as much as I do is because it came at the right time for me. I was going through a rough time – the totally first world problems stress of integrating a new dog into the household and doubting my ability to do it successfully. And suddenly, here was my favorite show reaching out to me (and a few million other viewers) and saying “It’s okay. This isn’t going to break you.” right when I needed to hear it. Yes, it’s serendipity, but I doubt it would have stuck with me the way it did if the episode and the whole series weren’t so well made.
What episodes did I miss? What shows do you struggle to express your love for? What other top tens would you like to see from the Ladies? Let us know in the comments.