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“Steven Universe” Recap: “Steven’s Lion” and “Tiger Millionaire”

“Steven’s Lion”
Storyboarded by Lamar Abrams and Aleth Romanillos.

“Tiger Milionaire”
Written and storyboard by Raven M. Molisee and Paul Villeco.

The notes were taken and everything was going fine. Then my laptop turned off and all lost. So now I’m sitting here with pieces of this week’s Steven Universe in my head hours after the fact. Last week’s “Tiger Millionaire” was so great in terms of story as a whole, while this week “Steven’s Lion” made it crystal clear how much (and how easily) Steven depends on other people and things.

The Gems start out on a mission in a disruptive desert. Steven crawls overdramatically because that’s “how you’re supposed to act in the desert.” His intense sweating earns him the nickname “the wet one” from Garnet. When the Gems leave Steven behind to deal with the out-of-control sand castles popping out of the ground, Steven discovers a fluffy, pink lion—drawn in a way that is menacing but endearingly adorable. Steven immediately falls for the lion even though it shows no real interest in him.

After the Gems retrieve the desert glass responsible for the sprouting sand castles, they take Steven back to Beach City—lion-less. In the middle of a pillow fort nap, the lion comes to the door. How it made its way there is beyond me, but so is a pink lion. Steven, of course, assumes the reason is because they’re meant to be BFFs. Sadly the lion never takes interest in any activity they do, even the pizza parlor excursion for a fish stew-topped pie.

The pizza parlor was chock-full of new characters, the best being the man who looked like your 30-year-old friend who’s still figuring out life by starting a blog. This guy really did have a blog called “Keep Beach City Weird.” His attire was that of someone who blogs all day in a pizza joint; disheveled-geek-meets-beach-bum. This guy brought the laughs when Steven said he was getting pizza for two, and he believed that Steven was pregnant.

The pizza-party-that-never-was only resulted in me thinking Steven was crazy because no one else could see the lion. I figured the lion was simply a mirage in the desert drawn up by Steven’s imagination. But the lion was real and back at the house eyeing the desert glass. Following some miscommunication about the lion’s real intent and violent sand castles that went bonkers on the beach, the lion ends up saving Steven. It turns out the lion wasn’t a mirage and wasn’t a baddie, and I’m pretty sure the Gems took in a new pet when they didn’t say no to Steven’s request to keep the oversized cat.

The best part of this episode wasn’t the lion that was the “cotton candy of the jungle” or even the pizza parlor scene. The heart of “Steven’s Lion” was the realization that Steven falls too hard, too fast. He’s got real attachment issues that likely spawn from the fact that he never had a mother and his father isn’t as involved as he should be. This results in Steven always having to attach to someone or something: Cookie Cats, a backpack, breakfast, Petey, Connie, and wrestling. We’ve seen it before and we’ll continue to see it as the show progresses. But when will his intensity towards affection die down?

Back when I wrote Adventure Time recaps, I liked to look for what connected the new and the repeat. The clear theme between “Tiger Millionaire” and one of the better episodes of Steven Universe, “Bubble Buddies,” was friendship. In “Tiger Millionaire,” Steven teams up with Amethyst.

The Gems come back from a mission with Pearl doing her usual bit: lecturing someone. This time it wasn’t Steven; it was rambunctious lavender gal Amethyst whose reckless actions left Steven covered in quick-hardening gunk. Really, no one was willing to help that little guy out? If they did, he would’ve never stumbled upon Amethyst’s big secret: she’s in an underground wrestling league and her name is Purple Puma.

It wasn’t surprising to hear her reasoning for wrestling given how the episode started. Tired of being bossed around, she feels free in the ring—and gets to punch people in the face. Steven feels the same way and begs her to let him join. A tag team title belt sounds appealing to Amethyst, and thus is born Steven’s alter ego, “Tiger Millionaire.”

You knew that Amethyst was going to be a bad girl in the ring, but Steven playing the role of a bad guy? That was an unexpected twist for his character and for the show. He doesn’t fully break his Tiger Millionaire persona until the end after Pearl and Garnet crash the tag team championship. He couldn’t stand to see Amethyst and Garnet battling it out so he gave a very endearing speech about Purple Puma’s back story, touching on the need to be free.

This week’s episode benefited by not being some kind of mission that led us on the same path of Steven messing up, Steven saving the day. Yes, Steven still settled things, and I, for one, like it better when the Gems stay in Beach City.

Wrestling fans could appreciate the old school costumes that Purple Puma and Tiger Millionaire wore, the ploy to make them the rebels of the ring, and then their opponent’s looking like Christian and Edge—tell me the Good Looking Gang wasn’t modeled after those WWE Superstars?

A quick note, one thing a show can do to make it worth watching is be quotable and Steven has had some fine one-liners in the past, but this week offered up Pearl’s explanation of wrestling—“circus of violence”—and some wonderful insight from Amethyst, surprisingly. When one of your friend’s is feeling down about what someone said about them, please feel free to use her words: “Those are just words people use to describe how they feel about you.”

Last note, what was up with Amethyst’s Purple Puma being a dude? Steven used male pronouns in her back story. It’s something to bring up since the power of the show leans more towards females with the Gems being 3/4th ladies, so why would Amethyst feel more powerful portraying a male in the ring? For those saying wrestling is a boy’s club, let’s not forget Chyna from back in the day.