In the twenty-fourth and penultimate episode of the fourth season of Steven Universe, Steven realizes that residents of Beach City have gone missing. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steven Universe.
By virtue of the fact that I’ve watched season four over the course of many months, I felt like “Are You My Dad?” hit a whole lot harder than if I had watched this straight through. So… yay? Except BOO TO MY HEART, which was not ready for the final scene of this episode. I wouldn’t say that the hints towards this end were subtle, necessarily. It was pretty blatant that two creatures or people were stalking about Beach City. But this episode reveals that everyone who saw them disappeared shortly afterwards.
And while most of this episode is a set-up for something else, it’s not without meaning or emotional power. If anything, it’s kind of sad. We’ve never seen Sour Cream look so dejected as when he’s setting out to plaster the city with posters advertising his missing brother. The same goes for the eerie vacancy inside Big Donut, which is always so full of life and energy. Once you take Lars and Sadie out of the picture, it’s just creepy.
That’s a large part of the tension of “Are You My Dad?” We know that the people of Beach City make it such a vibrant and wonderful place. So what happens when those people are missing? How does Beach City feel then? That sequence where Steven wanders the boardwalk is a great example of how the show uses open space to unnerve the audience. Doesn’t the arcade just feel wrong without anyone in it? It’s the characters who give it life, who make it feel like a place you want to be. Thankfully, Steven finds Barb at the Big Donut, but they’re together for only a few minutes before they realize that this might be the start of something terrible. For the most part, Steven is alone.
Until her. I am not sure if her name is Topaz (was she referring to herself in the third person???), or if that gem was referring to someone else. But up to this point, we’d never seen a gem quite like Topaz. And I had so many questions upon her appearance! What role does she perform within gem society? Why did she act like she was innocently looking for her father? HOW CAN SHE EVEN HAVE A FATHER? What’s with the tear? WHERE DID SHE EVEN COME FROM?
I think it’s natural to assume the worst, and even before the reveal of what she was doing (alongside someone maybe named Chompers???), I figured she had to have come from the Homeworld. After everything that happened at the start of the season, it was only a matter of time before Homeworld retaliated. But… what the hell kind of retaliation was this? An innocent looking gem asking people for her dad? WHAT IS GOING ON?
In hindsight, I see how the writers set this up for maximum impact aside from how creepy it was. Once Steven and Connie head out to find the unnamed gem, there is just so much hope. I LOVE THEIR CONVERSATION. And after all the training that Connie had done, I felt like whatever they faced, at least they had a chance. But the reveal of what was behind those shadows was so completely out of left field that NO ONE, NOT EVEN THESE CHARACTERS, WERE READY. Just… WHAT IS THAT GEM??? If the blue one is Topaz, WHO IS THE OTHER ONE? The one I thought was called Chompers??? How can they just fuse organic bodies within their own? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH THIS SHOW? I recognize that this has a very common structure for hero narratives, given that the final image is absolutely Steven at his lowest. He’s been knocked out, and he’s watching these horrifying gems (ONE OF WHOM HAS A WAND WHAT THE HELL IS THIS HARRY POTTER SHIT) leave with his friends fused inside of them.
I don’t even have a theory. I am just messed up.
The video for “Are You My Dad?” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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