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On the last episode of Steven Universe, Steven learns about art. Then he learns that knowing about art can ruin art that was perfectly good art until you realized it was art. Then he teaches Buck a lesson with a t-shirt gun and gets his dad a guitar student. Also, the Crystal Gems were in there, for some reason.
One of Steven Universe‘s many strengths is the range of intensity it has. It can go from incredibly suspenseful, high-stakes SF action like the season one finale, to simplistic, almost laid back stories like this week’s. If Steven’s two brief conversations with his three alien parent figures were cut from this episode, a new viewer would have no idea there was any fantastic element in the show whatsoever. It’s just Steven wrestling with an idea, not a monster or a villain.
At the start of the episode, Steven is working for a cause I can always get behind: more work for Greg Universe. Greg seems to be slowly edging towards getting back into music, this week deciding to teach guitar lessons. Steven makes an adorable poster which he makes the mistake of showing to Buck, the blase son of mayor Dewey. A few weeks back, Buck was a great (If somewhat misguided) friend of Steven’s, encouraging him to have a little fun to take the edge off of his “Destiny Child” biz. This week, he helps Steven make t-shirts out of his drawing, ostensibly to get Greg more promotion. But teenagers are unpredictable, and Buck doesn’t have Steven’s back this time.
Buck’s strategy to give the poster a wider audience at first seems altruistic; however, like many art-distributors before him, Buck has a more selfish motive as well. What that motive is, exactly, will take some dissection to figure out, but, in the first place, he doesn’t care about Greg’s guitar lessons (Poor Greg. He was guitar dad!). Buck tells Steven that he want to make “Art”, capital “A”. Steven is cool with this initially, but it becomes clear very quickly that Buck has a very millennial, post-modern view of art: as long as it gets a reaction out of people, a piece of art has done its job. Whether that reaction is what the creator intended is irrelevant. This is a fascinating idea, and worth exploring, but it doesn’t help Steven help Greg. In fact, it’s detrimental to Steven’s efforts: Buck essentially transforms Steven’s awesome poster into a meme, with half the youth population of Beach City embracing the child’s doodle ironically (Ugh), even going so far as to take selfies with the real-life “Guitar Dad”, aka our oblivious Greg, without actually getting any lessons. Suddenly, it seems that this episode has transformed from an episode where Steven helps his dad into a commentary on the nature of artistic expression, and its relevance in the modern world!
But it hasn’t really. Buck isn’t some horrifying, Warhol-esque ultra-hipster thinking so outside the box that he destroys the very meaning of art, he’s just a rebellious teenager. He’s having trouble dealing with his doofy father, and he’s venting his frustration by screwing with his friend; it’s selfish, but at least it’s understandable. There are parallels drawn between Steven and Buck, most notably the drawing Buck did when he was a kid to support one of his dad’s never-ending re-election campaigns. Buck doesn’t want much too do with his dad these days, for no real reason other than that Mayor Dewey is a pretty straightforward, nice guy. His reassuring grin, his constant, semi-pathetic need to please everyone, the pride he takes in his position, all these things get in the way of Buck’s cool, eternally-mellow monotone. As real as Buck tries to keep it, he has trouble knowing what to do when he meets up with unabashed sincerity. So he either shuts it out, as with his dad, or he mocks it, as with Steven and his dad.
That same sincerity resides somewhere inside him as well, though, and he’s confronted with it as Steven carries out his brilliant plot to set things right, sniper-style. At a bench commemoration the Mayor has been preparing for all day, Steven begins firing t-shirts from the same t-shirt gun he and Buck used earlier. This time, however, the shirts are stamped with the image of Buck’s old drawing, the one he made in childish, total support of his father. The fickle denizens of Beach City’s under-twenty crowd are immediately taken with these new shirts, and forget all about guitar dad. This, incidentally, resolves the thread about art the episode had going before: the thing about memes, and other forms of ironic non-entertainment, is that they tend not to endure. The only real definition of art is “What we point to when we say ‘Art'”, and if something isn’t around for you to point at half an hour after it was made, then we can probably abstain from having to classify it as art.
Buck doesn’t care, though. Being reminded of who he was, and the relationship he had, and can still have, with the silly, completely out of touch man who loves him unconditionally, is enough to make Buck put aside his thoughts of laughing at the naivete of being devoted to your father. He apologizes to Steven, and becomes Greg’s first pupil, because he realizes that the love between a father and son, and love in general, isn’t necessarily something to scoff and jeer at.
Final Rating: Good/Mind-Blowingly Amazing.
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