Steven’s negative feelings come spilling out despite his attempts to hide them from his family.
Now that Steven’s quit running Little Homeschool, he’s desperately searching for something to do, and he first lands on gardening. It’s cute how this was “seeded” in previous episodes, which showed various random potted flowers around the house.
Pearl: Well, I think this is a wonderful way to get in some much needed you-time.
Steven: Me-time? I’m hardly alone. This little smarty is named Connie. This onion’s name is Onion. These perennials always come back – that one’s Sadie, and the rest are her band, Daisy, Clover, and the Shrubspects! I named this one Lars. You’re stuck in the ground, aren’t you? Not gonna zip right into space and leave everyone behind, isn’t that right?
Amethyst: Uh, Steven?
Garnet: This might not be the healthiest approach to your new hobby.
But Steven manages to reassure them that everything’s really fine, thus postponing the inevitable confrontation with his inner demons.
Garnet: You should keep a close eye on your cactus.
Naturally, Steven fails to heed her advice, pricks himself on the cactus he’s trying to repot, and accidentally gets some of his magical spit on it. As you do.
The next day he’s sprouted a prickly new Cactus Steven. Amethyst is a little leery at first (since he’d said he wasn’t using any magic spit in his garden), but it’s cute, and cuteness covers over a multitude of sins.
Cactus Steven is nonverbal, so Steven understandably starts treating him like a prickly pet, taking him down to the beach and actually complaining to it.
Steven: This beach, it never changes. I mean, a lot has changed. I’m trying to be cool about it, but it feels so weird. Everyone’s moving on, and I should be, too. I gave up running the school, but now I don’t know what comes next, you know? It’s probably better that I’m not running the school anymore. Who am I to decide what’s best for all those Gem students? They’re better off learning from Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. I used to be helpful, but the Gems don’t need me anymore. Why do I need to be needed? Steven, pull it together! I’m so sorry to dump all this on you.
It seems Steven is a little more self-aware than I gave him credit for – he knows he has a problem with trying to fix everything, but he doesn’t know any other way to interact with the world.
Then the next day Cactus Steven starts talking, and that’s when things get messy.
Steven: I think he’s learning to speak by copying me.
Cactus Steven: Hey Pearl! Why should anyone listen to me? I’m trying to be cool about it, but it feels so weird.
Steven: Oh my gosh…
Amethyst: Steven, your cactus seems really down on itself.
Steven is not happy about this turn of events.
Steven: What was that? Why’d you say that stuff, huh?
Cactus Steven: Why’d you say that stuff, huh?
Steven: Because I thought I could talk to you! I can’t tell Pearl how I feel, she’ll blame herself and spiral out of control and I’ll have to pick up the pieces. And I don’t want anymore high and mighty advice from Garnet! I just want to know better for once! And I’m sick of Amethyst acting like she’s so mature now.
So basically, he just wanted to get all that stuff off his chest without having to face any criticism or emotional fallout for it, which isn’t a bad thing to want! Journaling is a nice constructive way to do that for a lot of people. That said, sooner or later you do have to deal with those negative emotions and how they affect the people you love – and yourself.
Amethyst: Are you okay, Steven?
Steven: Yeah! Uh, why do you ask?
Amethyst: Um, well, it just seems like you’ve been having a hard time since you left Little Homeschool, and I just figured I should check in.
Steven: Yeah, no, I’m fine. I’ve just got, uh, some stuff on my mind, nothing a little green thumbing won’t fix.
Amethyst: Okay, but if you need any help, just let us know, you know?
Seriously, LISTEN TO YOUR FAMILY STEVEN.
Unfortunately, Steven is busy being a teenager. And so, apparently, is Cactus Steven, who is particularly mad after Steven puts him on timeout in a box.
Yeah, fighting with an animate cactus is not gonna go well for you, Steven.
Cactus Steven: The Gems don’t need me anymore!
Steven: Those are my real private thoughts! I can’t let them hear this!
Of course the Gems notice the giant talking cactus, and they’re not about to leave Steven to fight a monster alone.
Cactus Steven: I’m so sick of Amethyst acting like she’s so mature now!
Amethyst: Why’s he being so weirdly specific?
Steven: He’s repeating me! He’s repeating everything I said to him! He’s copying me. That’s it!
Of course, the answer is more or less the same conclusion as every other enemy Steven’s faced: Love and acceptance.
Steven: I’m sorry I mistreated you. I know you didn’t mean to hurt anyone. You’re just learning from the only role model you’ve got – me. I should’ve given you more of the love and kindness that you deserve.
In the end, Steven has to embrace those ugly parts of himself in order to move forward – to show the same love and patience that he’s extended toward others to himself. It hurts, but there’s no other way to beat that monster of self-loathing.
And with that, Cactus Steven is able to move on and create a life of his own, somewhere beyond the Temple.
Pearl: Is there anything you need to talk about?
Steven: I think I’ve said enough.
For the record, this is where the show left off when I first started writing up Steven Universe (at the beginning of 2020). I was fairly confident that they could wrap it up in a satisfying manner, and now I can say with certainty that the ending was better than I’d hoped for (one of only a handful of good things to come out of 2020). This marks a turning point, as the latter half of Future is far less episodic and allows us to focus on Steven as he really grapples with what every young adult must eventually face: The future.
Until next time…