Steven Universe Recap - S04E04 - "Mindful Education"

After everything that’s happened in the final stretch of season 3 episodes, you might think there would be some effect on Steven’s psyche. You’d be very correct, and this is where Mindful Education delves. Also – Estelle sings.

But before we get to both main items, a little setup. This is the first time Steven and Connie are training as Stevonnie, and Garnet–always excited by fusion–sits in to cheer. She ends up taking on the role of a teacher however, after Stevonnie unfuses. The reason for that is an incident earlier in the day when, after a fellow student accidentally bumped into her, Connie's Pearl-honed instincts took over and she accidentally hurt him. During training, she ends up being triggered and breaks apart from Steven–and so does Stevonnie.

Luckily, there’s Garnet, who along with being the show’s personification of a lesbian relationship, also personifies a healthy relationship. Being thousands of years old, she had enough time for Ruby and Sapphire to find out the best way for the two of them to live with each other. And, considering during the show’s run there was only one instance of Garnet unfusing over a disagreement (in Keystone Motel), she is the perfect teacher for Stevonnie. And she does it through a song, which later turns into a duet with her pupil.

Here Comes a Thought was written by Rebecca Sugar as a personal song, previously unrelated to the show. It describes the therapeutic process of dealing with intrusive thoughts, like anxiety or depression, called the mindfulness meditation (hence the title). Its focus is placed on negative thoughts, becoming aware of them and dealing with them, as opposed to ignoring or being consumed by them. It’s presented with the example of Ruby and Sapphire.

Ruby is the more open of the two, so when she has an intrusive thought (represented by a butterfly), she deals with it immediately and head-on–but she also gives it her full attention, ignoring her partner. Sapphire, meanwhile, ignores them–with catastrophic effects, as the negative thoughts cumulate. The butterflies turn into a swarm, which in turn becomes a maelstrom that threatens to consume everything. In the same way a small problem, if ignored, can become much greater, seemingly all-consuming. But by supporting each other and being open about their worries, the two Gems are able to counter their effects and remain a single whole. They’re able to put their problems in perspective–and solve them. Conversely, if either of them would leave their anxieties unaddressed, the effect would have negative repercutions on their relationship–and, in the show’s world, their fusion. Fusions are, in Pearl’s words, "the ultimate connection"–and have for a long time been the show’s metaphor for a relationship.

Mindfulness doesn’t stop the intrusive thoughts, but it helps to calm down and look at them from a more logical and less anxious perspective. The repetition of "It’s okay" in the lyrics mimics reassurances one is told (or tells themselves) during an anxiety attack. One can not remain happy all the time–it’s okay to feel bad. It’s the only way you’ll be able to confront your own fears and grow.

With that advice, Connie is able to address her problem–but the next day, it’s Steven’s worries that drown their fusion.

For the last huge number of episodes, Steven has faced death on multiple occasions, from people he was unable to reach by words and talk down. Bismuth, Jasper, Eyeball the Ruby–he had to hurt all three of them (and in Eyeball’s case, leave to certain death) to save his own life. And even that pales in comparison to his Rose Quartz issues, his constant anxiety at not measuring up to his mother. On the outside he’s his old optimistic self–but on the inside he’s barely holding together.

All of that causes Stevonnie to accidentally fall from the edge of the ruins–and unfuse on the way down. Only when Connie repeats Garnet’s mindful advice is he able to reconnect with her and fuse once more, saving their lives with his floating ability. Those issues will remain, lingering in the back of his mind, but with Connie and the Gems’ help, he’ll be able to hold them at bay.

To end on a different note, the episode was storyboarded, alongside Crewniverse regulars Jeff Liu and Colin Howard, by Takafumi Hori, Studio Trigger’s animation director. You may know his work from Kill la Kill. He storyboarded the episode’s dream sequences during Here Comes a Thought and Stevonnie’s anxiety attacks, and the effect is stunning, with fluid animation. It's a sight to behold.

Next time, Steven plays fortune teller at Funland. It could be a lighthearted episode, but who knows at this point. Afterwards, we’ll be back for at least two more weeks, with the second one featuring two episodes. After that–who knows? In any case, I’ll see you at Future Boy Zoltron.

Dominik Zine is a nerdy lad from northeastern Poland and is generally found in a comfy chair with a book in hand.