All the pieces are coming together, as Steven Universe’s penultimate episode sets up perhaps the most intriguing cliffhanger for a season finale since the “The Return” set up “Jail Break”.
“Are You My Dad?” finally addresses those silhouettes we’ve been seeing for the past two episodes, and establishes the core conflict for the finale next week, the residents of Beach City (and honorary Beach City resident Connie) have just been captured by two new gems, Aquamarine and Topaz. The series has kept Steven’s daily life in Beach City separated from the Gem plot for quite some time now, season two’s “Joy Ride” being the last episode off the top of my head that actually included both to a degree, so having them collide here carries a lot of impact. Some might argue the series took too much time making the two interconnect again, a point I wouldn’t really contest, but there’s no denying the satisfaction of finally seeing them intersect again.
For the most part, the audience itself knows in a general sense what happened to all those who went missing. We’re able to piece together that it’s the handiwork of those two Gems we saw earlier, and no bizarre scene of Aquamarine asking if Steven was “My Dad” was going to throw us off, though it did add a good deal of intrigue from our perspective. Regardless, I really enjoyed how the episode is presented to us, the growing worry from Steven, starting from simply wondering about his distinguished khaki’s to the revelation that this a more serious issue in his scene with Barb. Perhaps my favorite moment of the episode comes when Steven declares to Barb that “This might be serious”, and before moving onto the next scene, we just get to see Barb’s face drop, helping to reinforce the weight of the disappearances before the two leap into action. Using Barb here was a wise inclusion, considering her ties to both Sadie and Jamie, allowing her to fill in the pivotal details about Sadie while also bringing it full circle with Jamie. The episode begins with a clear indication that something’s amiss with Jamie not arriving and then manages to tie that into all the previous episodes build. And considering that Aquamarine and Topaz are searching for specific people based off their names (as shown by Aquamarine’s reaction to Connie’s introduction), it also fills us into when they would’ve heard Jamie’s name.
Speaking of that name reveal, it also showcases the forethought that goes into the series. Admittedly it’s not a mind-blowing amount but it’s enough to show that even seemingly irrelevant details are included with a purpose. Namely, the disguise of Veronica Cucamonga wasn’t just a fun reference to Carmen Sandiego, but it was an important plot point that allowed Connie to go undetected by the two until this episode. Beyond that, it makes “Onion Gang”‘s importance noticeable, especially since Steven directly references the events of it here. My original review of that episode was awfully critical, and I still stand by my original sentiments. The humor of the episode was too narrow and repetitive, and with how much Onion’s character previously was focused on him being psychotic at worst and a criminal at best, an episode asking for me to emotionally engaged and feel sorry for him was too much of an ask. Still though, while it doesn’t make me like the episode anymore on its own, I’m at least able to appreciate its existence as an acknowledgement that they needed to address Onion’s character in order for this episode’s conflict to land stronger. The last framing of him prior to this StevenBomb was that of a mischievous little kid who just misses his summer friends, works much better for this plot than an arsonist that has targeted Funland on at least two separate occasions. So I’m glad the series dedicated time to making the shift, and it highlights the mentality that nothing in Steven Universe is truly filler.
As far simply establishing the core conflict of the finale and building a great atmosphere of intrigue and worry for the main cast, “Are You My Dad?” is just a funny episode. Arguably a little too much comedy for the seriousness of the situation but considering the placement of the comedy I don’t really mind it all that much. Of course, the funniest scene of the episode is when, sans Steven, the Crystal Gems (and honorary Crystal Gem member Connie), draw Aquamarine from Steven’s description alone. The different portraits are all funnier than the last, whether it be Amethyst’s “Going for a feeling” matching her go to the flow attitude, Pearl’s hyper-detailed signed artwork with her proud dismissive “I can’t even draw a circle”, with the big crescendo of Garnet just drawing herself, “I like me”, it’s a great scene, centering around one gag that gives everyone a funny moment that is also steeped in their character. There are other amusing jokes throughout, the depressed arcade machines and Steven’s excitement over misinterpreting Garnet’s “split-up” comment come to mind.
Season four hasn’t been the strongest season of the show for sure, but it looks like the ending will be the strongest point of the season. It’ll be interesting to see how, or if, the main thread of this season, Steven’s relationship with his parents though specifically Rose Quartz, comes into play in the finale. And whether or not we’ll receive a big cliffhanger or neat resolution. I already know the answers to all these (don’t worry, no spoilers) but I can say that it’s been awhile since the finale of a Steven Universe season has been set-up so well. And I look forward to discussing whether or not it lives up or falls flat.