Steven Universe Rewind: Steven’s Birthday

Episode Description: Steven has a birthday party at the barn and decides he has some growing up to do.

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 Future Vision blocks, which will include spoilers for the entire series.

As you may have guessed from the title, it’s Steven’s birthday again, which means an entire year has passed since the season one episode So Many Birthdays. Unfortunately this episode is a bit of a rehash of that one.

The Gems are working on Steven’s birthday party decorations. Steven asks if it’s okay to take a break from the drill, which is pretty sensible given they’re on an unknown but urgent timeline until the entire planet is shattered. I get that celebrating Steven’s birthday is important but… apocalypse.

Amethyst ask Peridot if she wants to join the party, blowing up and popping a triangular balloon with her face on it. Peridot, who seems to be still working on the drill, scowls and walks off, because they didn’t want to pay Shelby Rabara for this episode. This means we won’t get Peridot meeting Greg and Connie just yet, which seems like a real missed opportunity.

Greg’s van drives up and Connie hops out of the passenger seat in this absolutely adorable outfit. She’s no longer wearing glasses at all, since her mother found out that her eyes were healed in Nightmare Hospital. Steven offers her a durian juice box, the same kind they had together in An Indirect Kiss, and they “clink” them together like wine glasses.

Connie says that her parents only let her sleep over at the barn after packing tons of safety gear, including a defibrillator. You might think that this is a Chekhov’s gun to be used as part of the plot, but no. It also goes to show that even though Connie’s mom has accepted some of Connie’s activities, she still worries a lot.

Greg says that he can’t believe Steven is already fourteen, causing Connie to spit out her juice in shock. Connie herself is only “twelve and three quarters,” and had apparently (and understandably) assumed that Steven was younger than her.

Future Vision

Steven’s age is a bit hard to track for the rest of the series, since the timeline around the movie and Future tends to be a bit handwavey.

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Greg pulls out a scrapbook labeled “Steven Quartz Universe” and shows Connie the pictures of Steven’s past birthdays. They see him growing from a baby to a toddler to an adolescent… and then his appearance remains the same from eight years old onwards. Both Steven and Connie seem a little upset by this, and Connie pulls Greg aside.

In all of these pictures, he’s wearing the same birthday cape and crown that he said was a tradition in So Many Birthdays.

In the back of the van, Connie asks Greg if Steven will ever grow up, which is an extremely valid concern. Greg says he’s not sure — the Gems don’t grow or change, but Steven’s half-human, and so no one knows how he’ll develop.

Honestly, given how important this is, it’s surprising that Steven apparently hasn’t noticed it before. It goes to show you how he’s really not around other kids his age enough, so he has nothing to compare his own development to. Steven is eavesdropping on this conversation, and is clearly worried.

Incidentally, Greg says here that he was twenty-two when he met the Gems. Given Steven is fourteen, that makes him at least thirty-six, and probably in his early 40s.

After their chat, Connie and Greg high-five and say “human beings,” like in We Need to Talk — another instance where Steven’s hybrid nature made him feel left out.

Future Vision

Of course, this whole thing is another, unsubtle example of the overarching theme that Steven differs from the Gems in that he naturally grows and changes. Just as importantly, Steven’s presence causes the other Gems around him to grow and change as well, something that they don’t often do on their own — something quite relevant to the episodes that will follow, that show Peridot joining the Crystal Gems.

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Amethyst helps Steven put up a banner by shapeshifting, reminding him that that’s an ability he has — well, sort of. The last couple of times he used shapeshifting, in Cat Fingers and So Many Birthdays (accidentally), he was unable to control it and it turned out badly. Of course, this instance of shapeshifting isn’t going to turn out any better.

Greg hands him his birthday cape and crown and tells him to wait in the barn while they get things ready. The scene fades as Steven focuses on his hands.

The Gems, Greg and Connie surprise Steven with a Cookie Cat shaped birthday cake, but he ends up surprising them much more with his new appearance. Garnet comments that he looks good — one might guess that her future vision has already shown her how this will turn out in the end. Amethyst is shocked that he has a neck. Connie is a lot more skeptical of Steven’s “magical growth spurt,” but doesn’t press it.

For the scenes where Steven is “older,” his voice actor uses his normal voice instead of pitching it upwards like he normally does.

Future Vision

In So Many Birthdays, where Steven’s “growth” was caused subconsciously due to how he felt, he looked like kind of a mess in most of his phases. Here, he looks much closer to what he’ll actually look like when he’s grown, presumably because he’s carefully controlling this form.

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Steven and Connie sit by Lion, who we haven’t seen since Nightmare Hospital, and Connie gives him her present: a pink button-down shirt. Unfortunately, since Steven had his “growth spurt,” it doesn’t exactly fit him and he has to wear it unbuttoned.

Future Vision

Steven will later wear this same shirt in Kevin Party, the episode where he reconciles with Connie after the Wanted arc.

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Later, the gang plays badminton. Steven is easily able to retrieve the shuttlecock from a tree due to his new increased height, but as soon as Connie turns her back, he starts having issues maintaining his form.

Future Vision

It’s worth noting that Pink was able to keep an alternate form for presumably very long periods of time, possibly indefinitely. After her fake shattering, she presumably re-formed into Rose Quartz permanently so she wouldn’t have to expend the effort to shapeshift, but before that she clearly had to spend large amounts of time as Rose as she led the rebellion, and she absolutely could not be caught. It’s likely that she was able to do this because she was a Diamond, and Steven might also be able to do this once he masters his powers more, although his differing physiology might prevent him from ever being that adept at shapeshifting.

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As the sun sets, Pearl, Amethyst, Steven, and Connie are dancing as Garnet and Greg choose the music. Greg pulls out an album by an artist named “Stella,” a reference to Estelle, the voice actress who plays Garnet, and her album Shine.

Garnet dedicates a song to the birthday boy and his best friend, and Steven and Connie slow dance together. Connie jokes that Steven should sneak her into a PG-13 movie sometime. Steven is visibly sweating and straining.

Connie says it’s funny she has to look up to him now, and lays her head on his chest, blushing. Steven can’t take the strain any more and runs off.

Steven runs behind the barn and reverts back to his normal form. “If I can just keep this up for the rest of my life, no one will suspect a thing,” he says. Congratulations, Steven, you’ve finally learned what adulthood is like.

Amethyst and Greg are actually back here, too, doing… something… with a piƱata. They’re shocked that Steven has been stretching himself out all day. Greg says it isn’t like him and asks why.

“Because, Dad, I can’t stay a kid forever. When Connie grows up and becomes president, what is that gonna make me? First boy?!”

I love that Steven both assumes that of course Connie will be president someday, and that they will be married, in case it isn’t clear that their relationship is not strictly platonic.

Future Vision

Steven’s comment about Connie becoming president might be because this is a real ambition of hers. In Together Forever, she’s considering political science or sociology as majors, indicating that she may be interested in going into politics.

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Steven and Connie sit on a picnic blanket and stargaze. Connie points out a constellation that looks like Dogcopter. Steven is having increased difficulty holding his form and can’t properly hold a conversation. Connie is worried that he’s going to throw up, but Steven reassures her that everything’s fine.

Future Vision

This will later become the title of an episode about the fact that as Steven grows older, he tends to bury his problems and never ask for help with them. Like he does here.

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Connie comments that she’s glad she gets to grow up with Steven. This causes Steven to have a breakdown and suddenly start shrinking.

Steven turns into a baby, presumably because Connie’s comment stoked his fear of never growing up and remaining a child forever. Also, because Baby Steven is pretty cute. We’ll get to see him a few more times.

Part of why I found this episode a bit disappointing is because the problem is so similar to So Many Birthdays. In both episodes, Steven experiences uncontrollable aging due to his emotions. Here, instead of turning into an old man dying of age, he turns into a baby, and in both cases the solution is effectively to remind him of himself.

The Gems are shocked. Amethyst thinks this happened because he was stretching his body out too long. She tries to hand the baby to Pearl, who refuses. Garnet takes the baby and makes funny faces in an effort to get him to stop crying. It doesn’t work. “My power means nothing to an infant.”

Future Vision

As you can probably guess at this point — and we’ll see confirmed later — Gems emerge from the Kindergarten more or less fully formed, so they have no concept of babies. Pearl in particular is terrified of having anything to do with babies — we’ll see more of how the Gems reacted to (the real) baby Steven in Three Gems and a Baby.

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Connie is concerned that the Gems didn’t know what to do, but Greg says they know nothing about raising a baby and that was all him. This confirms that Greg was Steven’s primary caregiver in his early years. Greg says that driving always calmed him down, but it isn’t working, and that he’ll take Connie home.

If you’re wondering where they got a car seat from, that’s a shapeshifted Amethyst.

Connie says she wants to stay, and reassures Steven: “Don’t worry, Steven, it doesn’t matter what age it seems like you are. I wanna hang out with you no matter what. Your dad still has his car wash and the Gems have to do Gem stuff so I’ll watch you when they’re not around. I can come see you after you’re done training with Pearl, too. Doesn’t that sound fun?” Steven, soothed, stops crying.

This little speech is very sweet, and I don’t doubt that Connie means it, but this resolution to the problem never really sat with me right. After all, what Connie’s proposing here is not really being his friend, and certainly not a blooming romantic interest as she was just a few hours previously, but a babysitter. And that kind of gets to the heart of this episode: it’s actually not okay if Steven’s physical age were to stall out, not really. Connie is being reassuring now, but an adult Connie obviously won’t want to date or marry Steven if he’s permanently stuck in the body of an eight-year-old. A Steven frozen in time would find it difficult to relate to most human adults, tipping his delicate human/Gem balance far over to the Gem side of things. Connie offering to be his babysitter shouldn’t really be comforting. It seems like it would be another reminder of how different he is from “normal” humans.

Future Vision

This is why I think Lars ultimately leaves for space in Future — he can’t relate to humanity any more.

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I think this resolution would have worked for me a little better if it were less about Connie being his friend no matter what — which is good for Steven to hear, don’t get me wrong — and more about the fact that Steven obviously has grown and changed, and will likely continue to do so. It’s actually quite common for children’s growth to stagnate around this time in their lives — I was exactly four feet tall for years on end, for example — and he’s clearly quite capable of growing in maturity.

When Connie wakes up the next morning, she freaks out to see Steven’s shirt sitting on the ground. “He’s reverted back to a zygote!” She rushes out of the tent to see Steven buttoning up the shirt she gave him, which now fits perfectly.

“Is it really okay if I don’t age like a human?” Steven asks. Connie reassures him that it is, but uh, I still have some reservations about this.

Connie notices something on his cheek – Steven has grown a single facial hair! He shows it off proudly to the Gems and to Greg.

Future Vision

Later, we’ll see him shaving his single facial hair with the razor Garnet gave him as a baby.

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It’s notable that instead of leaving it ambiguous as to whether or not Steven can age, they end on a clear indication that he will. This feels like a bit of a concession to the fact that if Steven doesn’t age, it raises a whole lot of additional problems.

Future Vision

As of Future, Steven has grown quite a bit physically and seems to be aging more or less like a human. It remains to be seen if he continues to age once he reaches adulthood.

Let’s not think about how the Gems would react if it turns out Steven ages and dies in an average human lifespan. It seems unlikely that he will.

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As noted above, this episode doesn’t quite sit with me right and is not a favorite. I feel like it treads some of the same ground as So Many Birthdays, but lacks that episode’s great dark humor. It’s unusual for a later episode to fail to improve on an S1 episode, but here we are. It doesn’t help that it occurs in a string of episodes that is the show at its finest — being sandwiched between The Answer and the upcoming two-parter is a rough place to be.

Next Time on Steven Universe Rewind! It Could’ve Been Great really is pretty great.