Steven Universe – My Thoughts on the Show and Battle of Heart and Mind

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 *Warning this review contains spoilers*

The season 5 finale was the conclusion for the entire series as far as I’m concerned.

Despite the fact that both season 6 and a movie have been confirmed, the entire hour special felt like a disappointing conclusion to the complex themes Steven Universe has built up over the years.

“Battle of Heart and Mind” has plenty of strong emotional moments, which has always been the show’s strongest aspect, especially in regards to exploring the multitude of feelings that MOGAI folks go through.  Steven’s time on homeworld really captured how dreadful and uncomfortable family events can be for MOGAI folks trying to live their authentic truths.  Blue Diamond and Steven’s relationship, for example, reminded me of relatives whom claim to be fine with certain aspects of gender presentation and identity, but those same relatives are always the first to say, “be normal” at family events. 

Those kinds of comments are harmful because it means we are unworthy of love and acceptance just for being ourselves.  Steven, like most of us, tried his best to conform to how the Diamonds wanted him to act, but ultimately he could not abide by their expectations of him because it made him feel absolutely miserable.  

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This episode really highlighted Steven’s immense struggles with his identity and he was forced to face that reality when White Diamond refused to acknowledge his existence as “Steven”.  The emotional and physical abuse inflicted by White Diamond onto Steven are painful reminders of similar events that Trans and Non-Binary folks go through when violently confronted by family members about gender presentation, new names and proper pronouns.  

It was cathartic for me to see Steven’s gem angrily yell at White Diamond because she needed to forcefully understand that Pink Diamond/Rose Quartz was gone and that his existence as “Steven” is valid.  It is difficult to love yourself in a world that views everything through gender binaries so the visual depiction of Steven and his gem fusing together while laughing and crying is a bittersweet metaphor of the long journey it takes to truly love yourself. 

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There is no doubt that Steven Universe has done a wonderful job in terms of MOGAI representation in children’s media, but what concerns me is how the show handles the complex themes about colonialism and fascism.  The show has accurately depicted the brutal realities of those systems and I find it disturbing that the show’s solution to fighting against systemic violence is to “lovingly talk things out” with the oppressors.  While Steven Universe has always supported the notion that any problem could be resolved just by “talking things out”, the reality is there will be times when that will not always work.  

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In the context of the show, Steven has always struggled with his mother’s legacy and it became more difficult for him once he found out his mother was Pink Diamond which meant that she was also part of the Diamond Authority’s colonial expansion.  The Diamond Authority has always been a difficult issue for Steven to confront because nothing could deny the evidence of their boundless cruelty. 

As the show progressed, it became more evident that the Diamond Authority created a totalitarian society and anyone that was different or opposed the system would be immediately shattered.  In the episode “It Could’ve Been Great” it is revealed that the Diamonds are colonizers and that they continuously implement genocidal policies in order to steal resources from different planets.  While seeing the visual imagery of what could have happened to Earth is awful, the episode “Jungle Moon” really highlighted the horrors of the Diamonds’ colonial policies when Stevonnie witnessed an alien planet completely barren with absolutely no sign of vegetation and organic life.

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Steven Universe has always tried to redeem problematic characters in order to convey the message that everyone deserves a second chance no matter what, but the destruction of countless civilizations by the Diamond Authority are horrific acts that do not deserve simple redemption arcs.  The Diamonds have no qualms using shattered gems in forced experimentations as seen in “Keeping It Together” and later the magnitude of their brutality culminated in “The Cluster” with the reveal that the cluster was made out of the limbs of shattered gems.  Despite the show’s attempts to create empathy for the Diamonds dysfunctional family, it rang hollow in light of all their atrocities.

The reveal of Rose Quartz being Pink Diamond made things worse because the oppressive systems created by the Diamond Authority clearly benefited her and for a long time she wanted to be treated with the same level reverence as the other Diamonds.  In “Jungle Moon” she is shown to be a spoiled brat who wanted to have the same resources as the other Diamonds in order to create her own colonies.  In the episode called “The Zoo” it is revealed that she was responsible for creating the human zoo, which showed that she was willing to kidnap humans in order to lock them up just for her own curiosity and amusement.

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It is disappointing that the series tried to absolve her from the creation of the human zoo by blaming it on the other Diamonds because the writers wanted to make Pink Diamond/Rose Quartz’s redemption arc much more palatable to the audience.  The revelation added nuanced meanings to the already problematic confrontation between Pink Diamond/Rose Quartz and Bismuth since Bismuth’s proposal to end the Gem Wars meant shattering the other Diamonds.  

The awful way she silenced Bismuth’s genuine anger and pain over the Diamond Authority’s tyranny, showed she was not willing to make difficult decisions necessary for the survival of the Crystal Gems during the Gem Wars.  As a result, countless of Gems on both sides were corrupted and thought to be destroyed by the Diamonds.  The remaining Crystal Gems were left to deal with their PTSD and had to round up the corrupted gems until a viable cure could be found to help them.

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While it is admirable that Steven tried to reason with the Diamonds to stop their tyranny and heal the corrupted gems, his persuasion lacked any feelings of urgency since he casually mentioned their ongoing colonial expansion in the episode “Familiar” like it was no big deal.  I have always loved the themes about kindness and compassion in Steven Universe, especially in regards to finding alternate solutions to deal with conflicts, but there are certain wrongdoings that cannot be amended.  The crimes of the Diamonds are completely abhorrent and the fact that “Battle of Heart and Mind” tried to immediately redeem the Diamonds without actually dealing with the severity of their atrocities is just bad writing.

While the song “Changing Your Mind” genuinely moved me, it could not wash away my frustration with the overall message that anyone can be entitled to forgiveness after “talking things out”. The reality is not everyone can be reasoned with nor be compelled to change for the better.  I understand the intentions of “Battle of Heart and Mind” meant well, but “talking things out” can be particularly annoying to QTBIPOC folks whom are either always asked to educated white audiences about oppression or are completely ignored when expressing genuine anger against systematic violence in favor of “moderate” methods.

I have held a torch for Steven Universe for several years and for the show to wrap up these complex themes in such a quick matter is really disappointing.  I have invested a lot of time on Steven Universe and while I will continue to follow the series until the end, I’m no longer excited about the direction this series is going.  Overall, I am sad that Steven Universe has become one of those shows that I will hear about in nerd news with little interest.

© Steven Universe

P.S.

I did not discuss the awful treatment of Black coded characters in the series because  there are already two wonderful articles that discuss the problem.  Please check out All These Black Characters and 0 Done Right – How Steven Universe Fails Its Black Fanbase, Part I and “Bismuth” and Steven Universe’s Racial Coding Problem

*QTBIPOC – Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color.  

*MOGAI – Marginalized Orientations, Gender Identities and Intersex.

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