‘Steven Universe’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 4, Episode 4: ‘Mindful Education’
In this week’s episode, Garnet gives Stevonnie some important training while Steven and Connie deal with some issues of their own. Mindful Education was written by Colin Howard, Jeff Liu, and Takafumi Hori, and directed by Joe Johnston and Ricky Cometa.
Elle: This is a type of episode that Steven Universe is better at than any other animated show has ever been, I think: The episode where nothing happens except feelings. And one unsuccessful bald cap prank.
Katie: If it’s any consolation to Steven (who clearly reads this column), I totally fell for the prank. I assumed wacky mission shenanigans caused it, right up to the moment where he took off the bald cap.
Elle: Oh don’t get me wrong, I completely bought it too.
Katie: But back to your first point, I absolutely agree that Steven Universe handles these kinds of episodes with a thoughtfulness and grace that few animated shows (or mainstream shows in general) pull off. The fact that the writing staff even saw the need for a whole episode singularly devoted to dealing with trauma in healthy and productive ways says a lot.
Elle: Yeah, honestly I hadn’t even thought about how much Steven has gone through in such a short time until all the “ghosts” showed up.
But I’m getting ahead. It was obvious that something was bothering Connie from the moment she showed up, but she clearly didn’t want to talk about it. And I thought it was a really interesting choice what it turned out to be --- that she had attacked a boy at school without really meaning to, just because he surprised her and she has all this combat training now. It occurs to me that, even as one of the show’s entirely human characters, Connie is leading a very different life from most other girls her age who we see in cartoons.
Katie: She really is. And it makes me think about how self-conscious she was at the beginning of the show about how her peers saw her as this friendless loner, and then later in Lion 2, when she assumes Steven must think she’s absolutely boring. Connie seems really adept, for better or worse, at vividly imagining how others view her. (I’ve mentioned before how I relate to Connie and wow, this is a big element of that from when I was a kid.)
So of course after the accident with her classmate, she’s thinking about how the boy felt and what a horrible person he must thinks she is. And here she’s studying to be a noble knight, a hero, while doing this horrible thing to someone in her way. It’s no wonder she’s so quiet and off by the time she gets to the temple.
Elle: It’s cool that they were doing a training session specifically for Stevonnie, and of course Garnet would want to sit in on that, with a two-sided sign no less. I was actually surprised that Connie and Steven were able to fuse at all when she was so obviously very upset. I suppose that speaks to the strength of their bond. And then I was surprised all over again when Stevonnie had a vision of a distraught young boy that caused them to separate, and caused Steven and Connie to have a pretty rough-looking landing.
Katie: That two-sided sign was adorable, and I’m so happy that Garnet fangirling over Stevonnie (and all of Steven’s fusions, apparently) is a continuing thing on this show. And I also liked how Pearl continues to be a supportive but not over controlling teacher to the two of them, even allowing Steven to go alone to comfort Connie. At the same time, I like how Garnet knew when to step in and go, “Okay, we need to work on this,” when Steven clearly doesn’t know how to deal with these dark thoughts, either.
Elle: Garnet is clearly the foremost expert in the universe on fusions, having been one (between two very different gems no less) almost nonstop for thousands of years. And speaking of which, it was great that the mindscape Garnet took Stevonnie to for their lesson allowed for appearances by Ruby and Sapphire without Garnet actually having to split up. Plus, we got a Garnet song! Always super-exciting.
Katie: Apparently this was a song Rebecca Sugar sang at the Steven Universe SDCC panel and described it as something she wrote when thing had gotten difficult for her. It’s a really pretty song for sure, and the lyrics are very mantra-like, which totally helps for the therapy aspect of the episode.
I thought it was particularly clever for them to pick butterflies as the visual for anxiety and self-doubt. We see moments in the episode where these feelings get dangerous and overwhelming, but framing them as fluttery bits of light gives Steven and Connie (and the audience) perspective on the problem.
Elle: The use of butterflies also allowed for that great moment of foreshadowing when Steven sees a single butterfly alight on Rose’s sword. Because of course, as much as he’s traumatized by what happened to Bismuth, Jasper, and Eyeball, the biggest thing weighing on Steven right now is learning that his mother shattered Pink Diamond. Suddenly wondering what kind of person she actually was, and what that means for what kind of person he is.
Katie: And another strength of the show is that thanks to those past episodes going so into depth about Steven’s evolving perception of Rose (and how he feels he failed Bismuth, Jasper, and Eyeball, who all loathed Rose), all we needed was that image of Rose collected from all the other bad thoughts to get across that core of the problem.
As much as Steven is usually the caregiver bursting with empathy, I loved how Connie so effortlessly takes on the role of caring for Steven when he (they) need it most. So much of the show is about relationships and what makes for healthy ones, and the balance of support between Steven and Connie is one of the best examples of that.
Elle: I have to hand it to the writers of this episode. Is there any more direct way to heighten the pressure in a scene than to have the characters falling through the sky, unable to save themselves unless they have an emotional breakthrough? Not to mention the image of Steven’s tears falling up into the sky as he hurtles down was really very striking.
I love so much that the lesson here was not that you have to get over what’s bothering you. It’s that you have to accept the negative feelings and not run from them, and let the people who love you help you deal. I’m certainly no psychologist, but that seems really healthy.
Katie: A teacher friend of mine with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology tweeted after the episode about how fantastic it was, so that’s pretty legit to me!
Elle: One thing we haven’t talked about that I don’t want to leave unmentioned is that Stevonnie had a new look in this episode. A new outfit anyway. More Gem-like than they’ve looked before. I think it was because Connie was wearing her training outfit rather than her street clothes when they fused, which was a cool effect.
Katie: That’s true! I’m trying to think if there are any other fusions whose look changed thanks to wardrobe changes. I want to say we saw Opal before and after Pearl poofed, so I’ll have to keep an eye out next time I watch those episodes and see if they tweaked her design, too. But it is especially interesting with Stevonnie, since Steven and Connie are more likely to change their appearance on the regular.
Now I’m just wondering if they’ll ever fuse during a special occasion, so we can see formal wear Stevonnie!
Elle: That would be fun! You never know what the future might hold. But it looks like we've still got more Thursday night episodes on the horizon, so we'll find out soon enough.