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[personal profile] healyg
In which shit continues to get real, even though most of it was fake.

It's important to keep in mind that food represents love in Steven Universe; I wouldn't go so far as to say there's a direct one-to-one correlation between the two, but it will pop up whenever the writers want to make a point. (Remember Cookie Cat, at the very beginning of the show? Or Steven's watermelons?) The Gems don't have much experience with either, being magical aliens from another galaxy. The "food as love" theme comes up in this episode through the Kitchen Calamity board everybody's playing in the beginning; Steven's an absolute ace at the game, but the others are mostly bad at it, especially Pearl, who has trouble understanding the rules. This foreshadows what The Test is ultimately going to be about.

When Steven learns that the events of Cheeseburger Backpack were a test to see if he could join the Gems on missions, he gets upset, and nothing the Gems say to calm him down works. (It's really quite funny to see Pearl try to talk her way out of this one; she's clearly out of her depth.) So Steven convinces the other Gems to construct a new test for him, one that's hard and will really prove that Steven can make it as a Gem. Or at least, that's what he thinks is going on.

Because, as it turns out, the test they made for Steven isn't much of a test at all. After triggering a falling spike trap a hair too soon, Steven discovers that nothing in the tests will actually challenge him: obstacles will go out of their way not to harm him, the puzzle floor will work with just any combination, and the bottomless pit in the first room is actually solid, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade style. Steven is understandably miffed about this; how can he prove he's not just a kid anymore if they treat him like this? Isn't he good enough to be one of them? And that's when, perched on top of the test rooms, he overhears the Gems talking about him.

It turns out that the Gems are just as confused and worried about their roles as parents as Steven is about his role as a Gem. They made the fake test as a confidence boost to Steven, but will it really work? How can they care for such an unusual child as Steven, especially now that Rose Quartz isn't there to help them? After all, none of them have the easy rapport with humanity that Rose did, so the half-human Steven is just too much for them to understand sometimes. (Remember the board game at the beginning?) Overwhelmed, they can only wait while they worry that they aren't doing enough for Steven.

So when Steven heads back to the end, he pretends like he hadn't noticed the test was rigged and tells them, in no uncertain terms, that he appreciates what they're doing for him. His speech at the end serves the same purpose that the test would have, had everything gone as planned. Over the course of the episode Steven has learned that his family needs to be reassured sometimes just like he does (though for different things), and that his family isn't perfect and that's okay. That's a pretty good message for a children's cartoon to have, I think.

(A big special thanks to Bongo Bill, whose posts on Talking Time about Steven Universe have really influenced how I see the show. For instance, I probably would have never twigged on to the food symbolism had he not pointed it out.)
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