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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.

  • Kirby

    Steven’s Lion – I liked the Lion episode, It was good to see Steven take action for his blunder with removing the pillow for the lion. Made me feel less annoyed with Stevens usual behaviour. The lion appeals to me so its cool to have it as a new character.

    Tiger Milionaire- It was kind of exciting to see Garnet warning and a slight glimpse to the force behind the gems leader. I wanted to see more, but I guess that will be for another episode.

  • hitface

    i think amethyst wanted to make sure she was disguised. a purple white haired lady probably would be too obvious, since everyone knows about the gems already.
    also the blogger isnt a new character. He’s been around since cat fingers(technically since Frybo but he doesnt talk there). he’s peedee/frybo’s brother.
    his blog is actually really fun to keep track of, and i think its a really cool thing they did to have a real keepbeachcityweird blog. there’s cute pictures of steven angrily eating pizza right now.

    • Funkybat

      Oh, cool! It didn’t even occur to me that they would have an actual blog that goes along with the show. I love that they took the time to create new art just for the blog, in the form of “from the angle of the camera” photo shots, and the after-effect of the lion ditching Steven with his pizza, which wasn’t shown in the episode.

  • SarahJesness

    I really liked both episodes. The lion one, as you said, was a nice glimpse into his character. I’m not sure if his behavior is necessarily indicative of attachment issues, but it’s certainly an interesting interpretation. Mostly I thought it was kind of cute. Maybe Steven has something of an obsessive personality, or maybe it’s just a kid thing. Tiger Millionaire was a lot of fun, with the wrestling personas and Amethyst being crazy.

    I imagine Amethyst took a male form to better disguise herself. Going in as a purple chick, people would be more likely to recognize her. It’s not really clear how much other people know about the Gems, so they might not know about the shapeshifting. They could just think the Purple Puma is a guy wearing purple.

    The blog guy was a surprisingly memorable character. I guess it’s kind of fun to see a character who lives in a weird town and acknowledges (but enjoys) how weird everything is and he wants to share that.

    I REALLY hope they release a plush toy of that lion. I NEED ONE

  • Delta

    Am I the only one speculating that the lion could be Steven’s mom? I don’t know, but something about the lion just… weirds me out.

    • SarahJesness

      Somebody on TVTropes suggested this. The lion IS pink…

      • Funkybat

        I’m willing to bet the lion MIGHT be “related” to Steven’s mom, i.e. a Familiar or some such, but I doubt that it *is* his mom. For one thing, the whole episode showed that the lion was not interested in being friends with Steven, but was there to protect him and presumably others from the dangers of the desert gem. My question is; what was the lion doing in that desert before the arrived? Was it trying to stop the gem from going haywire, justas the Gems were? Or was it originally part of whatever created that tableau in the first place?

        One of the the things that can be both frustrating and enchanting about Steven Universe is that it leaves a lot of things unexplained. The lion’s ambivalent attitude was a nice change from what you expect in a lot of cartoons, normally a character like that would either be hostile or friendly (or change from one to the other int he course of an episode/season.) I liked that Steven basically fantasized every element of the lion liking him or the situation, down to the forced “wink” for the iris out at the end! Many episodes have left open questions, and I like that because it shows (I believe) that Rebecca Sugar and the writers want to slowly build a universe and let the audience learn about it along with Steven. It’s also nice to have a show go easy on exposition, it adds to the mystical/mystery feel.

        • SarahJesness

          I was also thinking the “familiar” thing. Though it would beg the question as to why the other Gems didn’t know about it.

          When the lion goes after the Desert Glass in the Gem house and it gets activated after landing on the sand, Stephen suggests that the lion followed the Gems to protect them from the Glass.

          Anyway, I agree with your views on the episode. The lion just being kind of apathetic for most (not all) of the episode was pretty funny, and I really like the aspect of Stephen imagining this personality of and relationship with the lion. It’s something a real kid would do, and it was done in such a way that it was kind of endearing rather than annoying.

          Leaving so much stuff unexplained is a bit frustrating sometimes… But also intriguing. I LOVE mystery. A show with good mysteries has me coming back. The mysteries in Stephen Universe sort of remind me of the mysteries in Adventure Time, where stuff is implied through backgrounds and the show is slow to reveal things, and usually not in any kind of order. It’s part of the fun, and I think makes the world and story feel a little more real. When you’re following a certain set of characters, it sometimes makes more sense to reveal certain information slowly. Plus, I really enjoy coming up with guesses and theories with other fans of TV shows and books that I like.

    • James VanDam

      It is a valid theory, however that is a male lion and not a female lion. Perhaps it was his mother’s familiar though.

      • Delta

        Well, Amethyst can shape-shift. In fact, all the Gems can shape-shift. I don’t know though. She lost her mortal form and her gem, so how’s that possible?

      • SarahJesness

        Could be a reincarnation.

  • SarahJesness

    Anyone else notice the big cat motif in the show? First there’s the Cookie Cat ice cream, then the whole cat fingers thing, his wrestling persona is “tiger millionaire” and in the next episode, he befriends a lion.

  • Kyle

    Is it possible to have more “overall” show reviews on the site? I know Steven Universe was just a way to test the waters but it feels like enough time has passed that people have warmed up to the idea.

    I would love to hear what you guys think about Turbo: FAST overall, as it’s a very ambitious project for Titmouse and oddly gorgeous given its original source material was not very successful or even hinted at trying to be aesthetically different from the CGI norm.

    Rick & Morty is also relatively new and just had its mid-season break and the last few episodes certainly had some heavy elements in it that would be great to discuss.

    • Obo Agboghidi

      Seconded. I really enjoy these review blog updates but it sucks that only Steven gets them.

    • Animator606432

      I would be to. I don’t know how popular these post are, but these are what got me watching the show in the first place.

  • TheGuy2

    The guy with the blog isn’t new. He appeared in the previous appearances at the fry place.

    • Rorydraws

      On that note, Amethyst’s wrestling persona was also glimpsed in “Cat Fingers” when she was showing off and turning into different things to annoy Pearl.

      • TheGuy2

        Yeah, but that was more of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. Fry guy’s had speaking lines before, including about the blog.

  • David Fisher

    That guy was introduced at least as far back as “Cat Fingers”. Here’s his blog:

    The Amethyst-as-dude thing reminded me of “The Ember Island Players” from ATLA, where Toph is actually psyched to be portrayed by a hulking dude. I don’t know if there’s any message deeper than “Tough girls don’t see anything weird about being thought of as tough guys.”

  • Steven’s lion is Rose’s old pet.
    Because when The land of Ooo changed,before Older Finn(of Adventure Time)created the pink lion for her to aid the gem’s quest, The Rose Quartz is eventually got killed by Phantom Quartz,thus left the lion for safety in the desert…alone.
    this the theory about the lion that steven adopted,is rose’s old lion friend.