As Steven Universe grew into his vast Gem powers and learned the truth about his and his mother’s identities, he gradually began to discover the degree to which Pink Diamond was able to deceive the people who loved her most. It’s likely that Steven and the Crystal Gems will never know the full extent of what Pink hid from them, but Steven Universe Future kicked off a new chapter of Steven’s story by getting into a handful of significant aspects of Pink’s life.
For both humans and Gems alike, Era 3 is an age of peace between worlds. Worlds that were, up until quite recently, on the brink of war. With more Gems having immigrated to Beach City, Steven and the Gems have completed Little Homeworld (introduced in the movie) and begun testing out a school of sorts that’s designed to help Gems adjust to living in a society where they’re free to become whatever kind of people they’d like. “Little Homeschool” opens with a depiction of Steven embracing his new role as an ambassador for Earth, which occasionally requires his un-corrupting Gems like newcomer Cherry Quartz in his bathtub.
Though Steven’s genuinely committed to making the Earth feel like a home for his extended family, “Little Homeschool” is a story about how important it is to make time for one’s self and not obsessively try to address everyone else’s needs.
Because so many Gems have taken to Earth with ease and Little Homeschool seems to be like something that’ll be great for everyone, Steven has that much more difficulty coming to grips with the fact that Jasper isn’t particularly interested in socialising with anyone. Much like Lapis and Peridot, Jasper prefers to live in relative isolation where she spends her time angrily reflecting on how she feels about her situation.
Jasper knows that Steven and Pink are one and the same, but to her, Steven having Pink’s gem doesn’t make him her Diamond—which, in a narratively beautiful way, is kind of a twisted version of the truth Steven Universe was building toward all along. In addition to revealing the work that Steven still needs to do as he learns how to be the kind of leader the Gems need now, his fight with Jasper is also what makes him realise there are still a number of powers tied to Pink’s diamond that he’s yet to manifest. While fighting Jasper in the woods, Steven summons a level of super strength that he’s wholly unaccustomed to and it’s that, and his newfound skill of kicking arse, that eventually makes Jasper consider that they might have a reason to be amicable.
What Steven fails to understand though is that for Jasper, solitude is exactly what she wants in the same way that what Amethyst wants is to help the other Gems become Earthlings. He can’t conceptualize that being alone can be a good thing for people at times, and his struggle to grasp that idea comes to a head in “Guidance.”
Unlike Steven, Amethyst perfectly understands what the new-to-Earth Gems need when it comes to helping them find exactly the right kind of space to exist in their new society. Amethyst knows that for many Gems, the key to acclimating to a new lifestyle is being able to fall back on certain old habits that aren’t necessarily bad, they just echo the lives they used to live back on Homeworld.
Gems with ice-focused powers like Larimar and Snowflake Obsidian naturally gravitate toward Earth jobs that feature ice because it’s a part of who they are. Steven’s inability to recognise that can be interpreted as an example of him wanting to move on from his own history. What Steven doesn’t realise is that the best and really only way to do that properly is to address what it is you want to get over, rather than just boxing it up and trying to put it away. Because he’s the kind of person that he is, Steven never stops trying to help the people around him who are clearly in need, but he does begin to deal with some of the anxieties he has related to his mother in “Rose Buds,” when the Zoomans show up in a ship with a group of characters who’d only been seen bubbled up until this point.
As a result of Pink’s deception, all of the actual Rose Quartz soldiers ended up being wrongfully bubbled for millennia. But now that the truth is out, the Roses are free, and Steven doesn’t really know what to make of them. His feelings about them are so complicated, and not just because they resemble his late mother. How the bubbled Roses would feel about being punished for Pink’s actions was one of the bigger lingering questions looming over the series following Steven Universe: The Movie. Surprisingly, they’re all quite chill about the whole ordeal, especially compared to Steven who needs to understand none of them is his actual mother.
Steven, Garnet, Pearl, and Greg still have so much baggage related to Rose that they can’t relate to the new Rose Quartzes (Greg basically does an about-face when he sees them and doesn’t return). They all want to make the new Gems feel welcome in their home, but they can’t ignore the pain that being around the Roses causes them. It isn’t until Steven’s honest with the Roses that they admit they also feel weird about being around him because of his connection to Pink Diamond. After spending the entire episode worried about how the Roses reminded him of his mother, Steven comes to the conclusion that they’re more akin to his sisters because they, like he, are beings that Pink purposefully created because she loved the Earth.
Realising that about one another is what makes it possible for Steven and the Roses to begin building a healthy bond, and it sets the stage for the way this batch of episodes comes to a close. After accepting that he still has a lot to learn about letting go and letting other people grow on their own terms, Steven settles into a newish job healing Gems whose gems have been damaged. Though he’s able to help almost everyone who comes to his door, for some reason his healing powers don’t work on Pink Pearl, who comes to him hoping to heal the large cracks in her face. When Steven realises his powers aren’t really malfunctioning and whatever is going on with Pink Pearl is something bigger than he can handle, he seeks out Pearl thinking she might be able to shed light on the situation but unfortunately, she can’t.
Steven Universe: The Movie introduced the interesting idea that Pearls were essentially Homeworld’s equivalent to iPhones: luxurious status symbols that the most powerful people within Gem society treated like objects. “Volleyball” expands on this idea by taking Steven and the Pearls back to the Reef, the remote location where Pearls were once manufactured, which is impossible not to interpret as being a Gem-like Apple store (complete with accessories). Pearl’s certain that Pink Pearl can be healed by the Reef’s technology, but the episode takes a huge turn by instead explaining that the damage to Pink Pearl’s face isn’t the result of physical trauma.
Much to Steven and Pearl’s dismay, Pink Pearl explains that her wound didn’t come from a confrontation with White Diamond. Pink Diamond was the person who hurt her and the sheer trauma of what happened was so profound that it’s left her physical form forever changed, much in the same way that Spinel’s was.
After spending the entire episode convincing herself that Pink Pearl was the only one still working through her grief, Pearl tearfully admits that she simply wasn’t prepared to connect with Pink Pearl and her truth. Because Pink Pearl spent the past 8,000 years or so under White’s control, she hasn’t had the time to process everything she’s been through and figure out who she is now that she’s free of the Diamonds. When she asks Pearl how she stopped hurting, Pearl responds by telling her that pain like theirs never really goes away, and that kind of radical honesty is what gives the Pearls a chance to fuse together at a moment when their lives are in danger.
The biggest takeaway from this batch of episodes is that no matter how much time passes, everyone’s still going to have more room to grow, and they’re all going to be much better for having one another to lean on when things get rough. Judging by the ominous glimpse of the dangers that the Gems are still going to have to face, they’re all going to need each other as things are about to get even more intense.