At the same time that Steven Universe Future has been exploring how the beginning of Era 3 and the end of the Gem War have ushered in a new age of personal freedom for the vast majority of Gemkind, the series has heavily alluded to how Steven himself has become unmoored without a clear and present threat to rally against along with his fellow Crystal Gems.
Like his mother before him, all Steven’s ever really wanted was to be able to live in peace with the people he loves. But unlike Rose Quartz, Steven was able to make that dream a reality, something that’s forced him to confront the idea that the world no longer needs him to save it outright. The peace between Earth and Homeworld is an objectively good thing for both planets, but the change of pace in Beach City is something that Steven struggles to cope with because he hasn’t really had the ability to slow down and do the things he used to do as a younger child—like in the original series, when he obsessed over the Canadian teen soap opera Camp Pining Hearts.
“In Dreams” opens with a bit of meta-humour about fans realising that one of their favourite shows is reinventing itself as something slightly new, as Steven and Peridot carve out some time to begin watching Camp Pining Hearts’ reboot episodes. Neither of the Gems think the newer episodes at all hold a candle to previous seasons, but the fact that CPH is something they’ve bonded over compels them to keep watching it until the broadcast is interrupted by what appears to be a recording of one of Steven’s dreams from the previous night.
With all of the new, unexplained Pink Diamond-related powers Steven’s manifested over the previous few episodes—like super speed and even more physical strength—neither he nor Peridot are exactly astonished that he can telepathically beam his thoughts onto a television. Rather than taking a moment to figure out why all of this has suddenly started to happen now, the pair reason that Steven’s new powers could be the key to “fixing” Camp Pining Hearts by making edits to the show in Steven’s dreams.
Steven’s fanfictional “reboot of the reboot” isn’t technically canon, but it does bring him into the world of Camp Pining Hearts as Stefan, the camp’s new “hunky lifeguard friend with nice muscles” who arrives on the scene to create the kind of drama that Steven and Peridot crave. As Steven dreams, Peridot witnesses everything he does on the “show” in real-time—and while their take on the story is entertaining, the deeper Steven gets into the fantasy, the more his subconscious begins to manifest itself in strange, surreal ways.
Before Steven can fully navigate his way through a full episode of Camp Pining Hearts, Blue, Yellow, and White Diamond all appear as features in the background, causing Steven to turn pink and lose control of his abilities, which then leads to his dream becoming a nightmare that neither he nor Peridot can wrap their minds around. No matter how many naps Steven takes trying to complete the episode, the more he tries to force himself to calm down, the more alarming and seemingly nonsensical his dreams become.
Many of this episode’s dream sequences echo those in “Jungle Moon” where a sleeping Stevonnie experienced a number of Pink Diamond’s memories in dreams featuring people from Steven and Connie’s lives on Earth. There, it was obvious that the memories and related feelings being recalled weren’t exactly Steven’s, but “In Dreams” establishes that what Steven’s experiencing here is distinctly a reflection of his own anxieties. Each of his nightmares ultimately end up revolving around his fear of losing touch with his friends and family, and it isn’t until a frustrated Peridot attempts to literally leave the temple that Steven is able to articulate what he’s feeling.
The issues raised here aren’t resolved by the end of the episode because they’re part of a much larger problem that you continue to see in the second episode that aired, “Bismuth Casual.” Similar to how Peridot’s found contentment getting into trashy TV, Steven comes to learn just how involved Pearl, Bismuth, and Connie have become in things that don’t really have all that much to do with him. Steven’s genuinely happy that his friends all have a purpose, but because so much of his life’s been spent fighting wars and going on Gem missions, he simply doesn’t know what to do with all of his free time.
Having never been made to go to school, Steven’s got little to no experience making friends with kids his own age aside from Connie, who has a human life of her own that he’s never been privy to. Perhaps because he’s half-human, it’s hard for Steven to see other Gems so effortlessly insert themselves into larger human society. Even though Pearl and Bismuth don’t always understand human customs, they fundamentally know who they are, which makes it easy for them to bond with new people and form meaningful friendships. Steven, by comparison, is still so new to defining himself independent of his mother’s identity and her actions that it’s hard for him to know which parts of himself he wants to (or should) share with people.
For all the growing up he’s done, “Bismuth Casual” really highlights how young Steven still truly is. What he doesn’t properly understand is that it’s normal for teenagers not to know who they are. Pearl and Bismuth have literally had thousands of years’ worth of life experience that have shaped them; Connie, by comparison, has just had more time interacting with other humans. Steven’s always been a little behind the curve in terms of certain basic elements of human life, but those are all things he’s got plenty of time to knock out at his own pace, which is fine because he’s not a regular kid—he’s a Crystal Gem.
It’s only after Bismuth spells all of this out this out for him that Steven accepts that his being a bit of a weirdo is nothing new to Connie and it’s actually a big part of why the two of them are friends. It doesn’t matter than he’s terrible at rollerskating because that’s never been what Connie likes about him. Adventuring, fusing, and saving the universe is what brought Steven and Connie together, and admitting that he’s scared of losing her takes a weight off Steven’s chest. It allows him to finally start being able to enjoy the time they’ve still got to share with one another.
The episode also manages to address an interesting question that’s been simmering on the back burner ever since Bismuth was freed from Lion’s mane and unbubbled. Bismuth’s relationships with the other Crystal Gems were always generally amicable but her bond with Pearl seemed particularly flirtatious. It made a certain amount of sense given Pearl’s history dating another large, powerful Gem warrior (and that pink-haired biker woman who’s never showed up in the series again).
It feels like at this rate, almost everyone’s destined to get what they want out of life now that they’ve got the time to actually enjoy themselves and pursue their personal desires. But Steven’s continued difficulty with just letting himself be at peace feels like something that’s going to get worse before it gets better, and with Steven’s powers continuing to grow, his emotional unrest could end up making him the big bad at the end of the road.