Season four may currently stand as my least favorite season in the show but that doesn’t mean it didn’t deliver some of the best episodes in the series.And before the year is out and I finally move on to covering season five, I’d like to take the time to celebrate my favorite episodes that aired as part of season four.
Kicking off this list with a well-structured homage to late night talk shows, this episode is filled with meta jokes that succeed without breaking immersion while also succeeding as a character study. The way the Sardoynx is unintentionally reinforcing both Steven and Amethyst’s own insecurity as “the worst” through constantly comparing them to other fusions leads to a pretty satisfying conclusion. This is an episode that probably wouldn’t have made the cut in a stronger series, it only barely scraped by over “I Am My Mom” but it’s still a fairly entertaining affair.
This won’t be the last time you see an episode from the “Out of this World” story arc pop up on this list, as that stands as probably my second favorite StevenBomb yet. “Adventures in Light Distortion” is mainly a vehicle to let Steven Universe process his feelings before focusing on the actual mission at hand. One of my favorite things about Steven Universe is its propensity to focus on character insight over plot points, and this is a pretty clear example of that tendency. Seeing Steven struggle with his emotional distress in a situation that parallels his turmoil is a season highlight, and although I’m still upset that 3-D glasses don’t work on this episode, it’s certainly one of the most visually memorable from the season. Whether it be the light distortion sequence or the amount of off-model shots present here.
“Are You My Dad?” is notable for finally bridging the gaps between the two separate sides of Steven’s life. Season four, as I discussed here, was all about the two distinct parts of Steven’s life, keeping them segregated while Steven worked out his identity issues and combining them together when the time was necessary, and “Are You My Dad?” is the launch point for that side. While “I Am My Mom” sticks the landing, I find myself more entertained by “Are You My Dad?”‘s growing sense of intrigue and horror at the situation, with the moment between Steven and Barb being a highlight. Also, I’m not sure there’s a funnier scene in this season that the drawing one, and that certainly counts for something.
Despite technically not being a Christmas episode, this is one of my favorite Christmas episodes in animation. The musical montage in “I Could Never Be Ready” concludes with one of my favorite scenes, as Greg’s eyes drift to Vidalia’s family photo before solemnly shifting to the blizzard outside and eventually sleeping with his son. Beautifully representing a family drama about overcoming personal loss of your partner through your love for the child left behind that I could get lost in. And all through simple, visual storytelling. But more important to this episodes success, is seeing the various ways the Gems try to comprehend Steven. Whether it be through personal association like Amethyst and Garnet or a more painful disconnect like Pearl, watching them process it is fascinating. And ultimately, this is a story about family coming together after a painful loss to care for the new addition, and that encapsulates the Holiday spirit pretty well, I’d say.
For many, only number six is probably ridiculously low for this episode. And truthfully, I can’t argue with those who hold that opinion, as Mindful Education is clearly one of the tightest written episodes in Steven Universe. Cleverly segmented, provides one of the best songs in the series, and has clever visuals with a lot of parallelism, symbolism, and astute color palettes that makes dissecting scenes an absolute joy. And the ultimate message of the episode is conveyed really well, it only takes a quick search on Reddit to see how powerfully this resonated with many of the series viewers. There’s a lot to dissect, too much for me to detail here (though clicking any image on this page will redirect to my full review if one feels so inclined) and it’s praise is certainly well-deserved. But in terms of personal enjoyment, “Mindful Education” just misses my top five.
Much like Season three’s double-length episode “Bismuth” placed at number five in my top ten, Season four’s double-length episode follow suit. If you remembered my line earlier in “Three Gems and A Baby” about how the musical montage featured a family drama I could get lost in, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this episode ranked on my list. While not as dramatically intense or impressively structured as “Bismuth”, “Gem Harvest” definitely serves as an interesting counter-point to “Bismuth”, effectively working as the premiere episode for the human episodes side of the series. But even on its own, it just presents an entertaining family drama, I actually wish more time was allocated to Greg and Andy’s relationship because of how much I enjoyed it. The strains of the relationship be ultimately repaired thanks to Steven is fittingly heartwarming for a quasi-Thanksgiving special, and there were plenty of interesting asides with Peridot and Lapis as well. I particularly liked how they made sure to include them both laughing at the horror that is Lapis’ life in the middle of a scene the defined closeness by mutual laughing, a nice nod to show how much their relationship has developed.
If I had created this list before watching any of season five, “That Will Be All” would rank, at least, third place. One spot isn’t too drastic of a drop admittedly, and I won’t go into details since I don’t wish to spoil this for anyone who might’ve stumbled on here after completing season four but future knowledge has conflicted my feelings on this episode. The series hasn’t revealed its full hand yet, and it’s still entirely possible and I’d argue rather likely that the reasons I like this episode will remain valid, just in a different way than I initially described. Ignoring my own theories on the future of the show, “That Will Be All” concluding the “Out of this World” arc on a high note, not only was the musical number, “What’s The Use of Feeling (Blue)?” one of the best in the series catalogue, but it provided each member of the Crystal Gem to get a moment to truly shine. And being able to wrap up this story without feeling rushed in only eleven minutes is surely an accomplishment to be proud of.
STAIRS! True story, when I was writing my review for “Steven’s Dream” I was quite dispirited. You see, I had recently settled into a groove with my reviews, finally being able to structure them in away to avoid recap reviews, as I particularly don’t find those all too valuable or enriching to write. Yet when I re-watched Steven’s Dream, I had no idea how to write it up and resorted to the recap review since I didn’t have anything else to latch onto. Then when collecting the images, I noticed the similarities in the shot composition for Steven’s scenes with Greg and Garnet, and immediately re-watched those scenes to verify the visual story-telling that I realized they were doing. I think lazily attached two paragraphs at the end of that post and it was one of the most satisfying moments. The episode itself is a fantastic start to likely the second best StevenBomb and the introduction of Blue Diamond might be the strongest character introduction we’ve seen in the series yet. But the parallels and contrasting values of those two aforementioned stair scenes are brilliant, and if you read anything else I’ve written, I’d urge it to be the last two paragraphs of that review.
This may not be as technically impressive or ambitious as several of the other entries on this list but nevertheless it’s perhaps the most pure entertaining episode on the list in my opinion. Pearl’s pearlpetual status as my favorite character on the show is definitely a defining factor, especially when she’s in top mom form, this time as a mom attempting to be cool yet not quite grasping it. The use of licensed music from Mike Krol was a big get too, not only is it the only time I can recall of the series out-scoring their score, but it helps create a unique mood for Steven Universe, and one that perfectly encapsulates those teen coming of age flicks this episode seems to be paying homage too. Mystery Girl’s introduction is another potential plus, assuming she pops up again and develops a concrete personality, since she was mostly used here as an ideal. Either way, “Last One Out of Beach City” is definitely one of the highlights for season four, it just comes short of being the highlight of the season though.
Storm in the Room is a simple concept but the most tantalizing one the series has ever had. Using Rose’s Room, Steven finally gets some screen-time with his mother, and the results are as emotionally vexing as one would assume. There’s a lot to appreciate here, like the way the visuals constantly shifting in lightning and the environment’s changing to match the tone of the scene in the visually accentuating way. It’s all overt and doesn’t warrant much discussion but it’s effectiveness can’t be denied. I really love how the episode deals with Steven’s emotion and how the time spent with Rose mirror’s Steven’s own emotional journey with her (the bulk of the time they spend together features the highly idealized version of Rose Quartz that Steven grew up believing in, it’s not until the very end that the version he’s been presented with shows up). But more importantly, I love that resolution comes from the one direct bit of information Steven got from his mother proper. Outside of the emotional catharsis present and grand emotional scale on display, the episode has other benefits. Hearing Susan Egan is always a plus, there’s some top-notch humor (particularly Rose’s “I’m not!?” when Steven says she’s not her mom), and the way Connie’s story-arc parallels Steven’s is well-structured. Even in the weakest season, as long as Steven Universe can still churn out episodes like this, I’ll remain a big supporter of the show.
So there you have it, my top ten favorite episodes of season four! As the title states, these were only my favorite episodes of the season so if you want to share your own list, feel free to do so in the comments below.