Steven Universe Rewind: Open Book

Spoiler Policy: All spoilers up to and including the currently discussed episode will be unmarked. Spoilers for episodes beyond the current point will be enclosed in Fast Forward blocks, which will include spoilers for the entire series.

Official Description: Steven and Connie want a new ending to a beloved book series.

(Really, it’s just Connie who wants the new ending, but I guess that’s technically spoilers.)

The episode opens with Steven sitting on the couch, reading the last few pages of Destiny’s End, with Connie literally sitting next to him, anticipating his reaction. The Unfamiliar Familiar series, and Connie’s intense investment in getting Steven interested in it, both return from their original appearance in Marble Madness.

Connie immediately asks him what he thought of the ending, and Steven tries to avoid the question: “I thought it was on page 917?” We’ve seen in the past how Steven can be very conflict-averse, and this episode is really all about that. You get the impression that he already knows that Connie didn’t like the ending, but he doesn’t know exactly why, so he’s avoiding saying anything about the topic so as not to let her down.

Connie starts going on about how she loved the “rebels challenging the stifling traditions of the magical bureaucracy.”

Future Vision

No wonder she’ll soon end up learning swordfighting from Pearl — she’s basically describing the Gem War here.

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Connie’s love of the anti-authoritarian subtext in her book series is almost certainly due partially to the fact that she feels stifled under her parents’ very strict upbringing. Before she met Steven, books like these seemed to be her main escape.

Connie goes on about how they dropped all of the anti-authoritarian plot in favor of a plot where Lisa’s familiar turns into a human and they get married, describing a wedding cake for fifty pages. Steven half-heartedly agrees that the wedding cake only deserved twenty pages of description and that it didn’t even have strawberries on it. (Strawberries seem to be a recurring theme in SU, for whatever reason, given the Strawberry Battlefield and the Together Breakfast). He gets increasingly upset as Connie rants about the ending — because, as we’ll see later, he actually did enjoy it.

Future Vision

Later, it’s revealed that Steven loves weddings so much that he keeps a wedding planning scrapbook and enthusiastically throws himself into preparations for Ruby and Sapphire’s wedding. If there were ever a boy who could appreciate fifty pages of wedding cake description, it’s Steven.

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Connie speculates that this ending came about because the books were so popular, the author was forced to water them down for audience appeal.

Future Vision

Connie’s complaint that the political subtext was dropped in favor of a wedding and a (presumably) happy ending is kind of hard not to tie into some fans’ disappointment about the end of Steven Universe itself. Instead of a revolution, Steven ended up reconciling with the Diamonds and getting them to peacefully agree to reform Gem society, allowing the series to wrap up in an arc that ended up being more about characters and family allegory than politics.

While there have been statements to the effect that if the show had gone on more seasons they may have gone into Homeworld politics more, it definitely seems to me as though this was always the intention. The political stuff has always been fairly background in SU, which is ultimately a show about relationships.

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Part of Connie’s disappointment stems from the fact that she paid extra money for the hardcover versions with fold-out maps. Once again, she’s one of the most relatable characters. I couldn’t resist that sweet map either, Connie.

“I wish I could give you a new ending,” says Steven, and oh, look at this adorable smile.

Future Vision

Assuming that Connie stays a part of his life after the finale of Steven Universe Future, and that Connie’s “not now” means they do someday get married, then Steven really did give her a new ending!

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Steven’s wish causes Rose’s Room to open. Steven pulls Connie in, saying that he can make a new ending for her in there. He should probably be a little more cautious given what happened to him the last time he was in Rose’s Room, but Steven doesn’t always have the best judgement, especially when it comes to showing off things for Connie.

Steven starts by summoning the little pink whale that we saw in Rose’s Room. Connie, excited, proposes they make the Infinity Fair from Book 4 of the Unfamiliar Familiar. Steven, thankfully, did learn enough last time to know that that would probably overload the room. “How about half of the Infinity Fair? No, that’s still infinity.”

“What really matters are the characters,” says Connie. Steven Universe, of course, is a show that largely values character development over plot and worldbuilding (although there’s certainly plenty of good plot and worldbuilding to look forward to, especially now that the show is ramping up its serialized nature.)

Connie proposes that Steven play Archamicarus. I’m just going to note that Connie wants to be Lisa herself, so she is telling Steven to play the character Lisa eventually marries (even if Connie didn’t really like that ending). Steven obliges by making this adorable falcon costume appear.

I wonder if Steven could turn himself into an actual falcon in this room. I’m guessing he couldn’t, since the room seems mostly to create new things from clouds, not alter real things.

Connie asks for the room to make her into Lisa, but nothing happens, because it only works for Steven. She suggests instead that Steven create a costume shop.

Connie comments that the shop has everything. It all appears how Steven imagined it — Connie notes that Lisa’s childhood cloak is black, not red like Steven was imagining it. Since they’re reworking the ending of the book, Connie is trying to make the “ultimate Lisa” with all the best gear: an iron sword, a cloak with a clasp, dragon whisker boots from “the volcano stuff in Book 3”, etc.

“Come out, I want to see you,” says an impatient Steven, and “Connie” emerges. If you’ve seen this episode before, you know this is the moment where Steven accidentally created a “cloud” Connie by asking to see Connie before she was ready. There are some hints of that here. Cloud Connie’s outfit is very simplistic, whereas we know that actual Connie is loading hers up with tons of detail; Cloud Connie’s cloak is red, while actual Connie said she wasn’t wearing the red cloak; and cloud Connie doesn’t have a sword, which was the first thing actual Connie chose in the costume shop.

Future Vision

The fact that actual Connie wants a sword is foreshadowing for her eventually learning how to wield one for real!

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Steven and Cloud Connie run off. Steven starts by recreating the wedding scene from the end of the books, before stating “we don’t want that ending.” This is a lie, of course — and it’s pretty clear later that the room picks up on Steven lying about not wanting the ending.

Future Vision

When I see Steven being really into the idea of the wedding and the not-at-all subtle imagery of bride Connie, it’s impossible not to think of Together Forever. Steven decides that his “happy ending” will be marrying Connie, and he puts together what is admittedly a very romantic and sweet proposal — which Connie rejects because she is not ready for it. I doubt that was intentional foreshadowing given the distance between the two episodes. Instead, it’s a continuation of the characters — Steven thinks a wedding will make everything all right (see also: “let’s only think about love” in Reunited) but Connie has other plans.

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Steven asks Connie what she thinks the ending should be, and she simply says, “What do you think?” Steven is completely caught off guard by this, as he should be — it’s the second obvious hint that something is very wrong. Just a few minutes ago, Connie was going off on a rant about everything wrong with the book ending, and now she has no ideas and acquiesces to Steven?

Steven says that instead of a marriage proposal, maybe the book can end with a business proposal. Lisa and Archamicarus can have a cart selling turkey legs to support the rebel cause. Cloud Connie, of course, goes along with this happily.

Steven decides they’re going to meet the Wing Lizard from Book 4 and feed him some turkey legs. If this were the real Connie, she’d probably have some comment about how Steven imagined this character completely differently. Once they’re done with this, Steven is at a loss: “Didn’t you have a bunch of ideas? That it needed to be more anti-authority and stuff?”

“Sure!” says Cloud Connie.

Steven is growing increasingly disturbed. He’s starting to notice that Connie, who earlier expressed her admiration for anti-authority rebels, is now going along blindly with anything he says.

Honestly, it’s to Steven Universe’s credit that they have a female romantic interest character that doesn’t just blindly follow the male lead like so many similar characters on TV, to the point where her blandly agreeing with Steven is a sign that things are obviously wrong.

Goody-two-shoes Steven comes up with his idea of “anti-authority subtext”: “We’re stopped by the authorities! Because we’re selling without a permit! And we’re not old enough to drive a cart!” This is why you don’t ask the boy who self-enforces a thousand year TV ban to come up with a rebellion plotline.

They’re “attacked” by the knights, and Steven asks Connie what they should do. Connie once again simply asks Steven what he wants.

Steven finally gets frustrated: “I don’t know! I just wanted to do this for you. This isn’t really like you. I don’t want you to just do what I want.”

To Steven’s credit, it doesn’t really take him that long to realize that something is wrong with Connie. The subtext here is obvious: Steven is frustrated that Cloud Connie is just going along with whatever he says with no ideas of her own, but that’s exactly what Steven was planning to do. He enjoyed the ending of the book, and only agreed to make a new one to please Connie.

Future Vision

Once again I feel like this can be tied in to Together Forever. In that episode, Steven suggests that they can live as Stevonnie full time. This episode shows one of several reasons why that would be an extremely bad idea: Steven has a strong tendency to just go with whatever other people want in order to please them or keep the peace. Like many of his core traits, his accepting and easygoing nature is sometimes very helpful, and sometimes very much not. A permanent Stevonnie could easily result in Steven losing his own identity and not taking care of his own needs as he allows Connie to make all the decisions, and likewise it could result in Connie becoming frustrated that Steven never takes initiative or expresses his own desires.

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When Steven tells Cloud Connie he doesn’t want her to do what he wants, it causes a paradox, and she starts to glitch out and repeat his words over and over. Steven flashes back to earlier, and realizes that this Connie is a construct created by the room, and he left the real Connie in the costume shop.

Steven poofs away all of the things he created, finishing up by dismissing Cloud Connie. A second later, she re-forms. Steven asks why she didn’t disappear, and she says, “You told me not to do what you wanted.”

Steven hears Connie calling in the distance, and gets up to look for her. Cloud Connie grabs his hand, and he tells her that he wants to find the real Connie. Predictably, Cloud Connie, who is now programmed to do whatever Steven doesn’t want, chases him and impedes his search for real Connie. “I don’t want you to follow me!” Steven calls out. See, actual Connie would realize right away that you need to tell Cloud Connie the opposite of what you want her to do, but Steven is not always that clever.

Between this and Rose’s Room, this room is insanely dangerous, isn’t it?

Future Vision

Perhaps it’s fitting that Rose’s Room creates incredibly dangerous illusions, given Rose’s own dangerous illusion that she creates when she fakes her own death.

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As Steven struggles to escape Cloud Connie, she changes back into the wedding outfit and taunts him. “I know what you really want! I know how you really feel!” As a wise man on another show once said, “The subtext is rapidly becoming text.”

Future Vision

I’m gonna bring this back to Together Forever one more time. Steven’s been fantasizing about his wedding to Connie all this time, hasn’t he? No wonder that rejection is the main thing to send him over the edge.

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Real Connie arrives to see fake wedding Connie pinning Steven down as he begs for help. She barely even hesitates, shoving Cloud Connie off of Steve and drawing her sword to protect him. I absolutely love how quick she is to defend Steven, even in the very unusual situation of facing her double.

Real Connie’s outfit is far more elaborate and includes the things she was talking about in the costume shop, like the sword.

Future Vision

Along with Lion 2, this is the second time Connie has fought with a sword before her formal training begins in Sworn to the Sword.

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Real Connie poofs Cloud Connie, who simply re-forms again. “I know you like her. And I know you want her to like you too.” For a second I thought this was setting up for Steven to deny these things, causing Connie to be hurt, but thankfully SU’s writing is smarter than that. Steven doesn’t seem particularly upset that Cloud Connie said those things, and Connie doesn’t seem surprised or bothered at all.

Cloud Connie pins Steven down: “That’s why you can’t tell her the truth, but you want to! Tell her!”

Steven finally confesses: “I like the ending of the book!”

I love this fakeout where it makes you think that Steven is going to confess his romantic interest in Connie. To me, this is far better. If you’ve been paying attention, you know very well that Steven loves Connie, and that they’re both likely aware of their feelings for each other — at least, in the way of young teens who are still very uncertain about this kind of thing. What’s important here is not that he loves Connie, but that he’s putting his own needs aside in order to please her. This is going to become a major recurring theme in their relationship throughout the series, and in Steven’s relationships in general.

Future Vision

One thing that this episode is getting it is how it’s paradoxically selfish to always throw aside your own needs to serve someone else. The Connie who does whatever Steven wants turns out to be a burden to Steven, because she can’t fend for herself or offer up any new ideas or perspectives.

This paradox comes up many times later in the series — even with other characters, such as Pearl and her relationship to Rose. One of the most prominent instances is in the Wanted arc, where Steven gives himself up to Aquamarine in order to spare everyone else, but instead ends up causing more problems and driving everyone away.

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Steven: I thought it was sweet that Lisa and Archamicarus got together in the end! They were always so thoughtful towards each other, and I was so happy when they found the spell to make him human, and I loved every page about the cake! I wanted to draw a picture of it! I’m sorry I pretended not to like it. I just didn’t want you to think less of me.

This little speech is so very Steven. I like how the thing he points out about Lisa and Archamicarus’ relationships is that they’re thoughtful towards each other, which is indeed one of the core characteristics of the healthier relationships on SU.

Future Vision

There also might be some subtext here in the fact that Archamicarus has to turn human in order to get together with Lisa. The end theme of Future is “Being Human,” and the series ends with Steven at least temporarily leaving his Gem life behind and living life as a human.

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Once Steven gets this out, Cloud Connie declares “That’s better” and disappears. This really raises a lot of questions about how much agency Rose’s Room actually has. Steven obviously wanted to tell Connie the truth, but he never articulated that desire. It seems as though the room picked up on it anyway, which really makes me wonder about how the room truly works. Furthermore, how much of Rose’s consciousness does the room contain? The answer certainly seems to be a non-zero amount, and Cloud Connie’s insistence that Steven share his true feelings with Connie certainly has motherly overtones to it.

Steven’s fear that Connie would think less of him if he liked the ending probably stems from Connie’s innocent despair when he said he was reading the books out of order and didn’t understand what a familiar was. She wanted him to be on her wavelength so desperately that she didn’t realize how her negative reactions were affecting Steven. The fact that Connie is so lonely and considers Steven her only friend certainly adds some pressure to their relationship. Steven can’t bear to displease her, and Connie can’t bear to lose him.

Steven asks if Connie thinks he’s a bad person for liking the ending of the book, and Connie says that of course she doesn’t. She cares about the book, but she cares about Steven more. In one of my favorite summations of Steven’s personality, she says: “Oh, of course you liked the wedding. You’re Steven. You love schmaltz.”

As they leave Rose’s Room, Steven explains all the shipping subtext that Connie missed when reading the books.

Steven: You make a good point, but don’t you remember how Archamicarus cried in Book 3?

Connie: I thought that was because they lost the sword!

Steven: No, she almost fell into the volcano! He was worried about her!

There are two things I love about this. One is that it’s the male character who is picking up on all the romantic subtext here while the female character is focused on the political intrigue, in a nice subversion from the usual. The other is that previous conversations about the book made it seem like Steven wasn’t paying very good attention to the details. This conversation shows that he was just focused on different details than the ones Connie was fixated on: not the anti-authoritarian subtext or the color of Lisa’s cloak, but on the relationship between the two leads and all the little moments that show it.

This episode doesn’t technically move the main plot along, but it basically writes the book on Steven and Connie’s relationship going forward, and is therefore critically important. It’s also a lot of fun with Steven and (mostly fake) Connie recreating things from books and having a great time together — well, up until Steven gets jumped by Cloud Connie.

Next time on Steven Universe Rewind! The brewing thematic thread about parents letting you down continues in Shirt Club.