An alternative viewing order for new Steven Universe viewers.
Spoilers for all of Season 1 are present below.
Many of you are likely already familiar with the Star Wars Saga’s Machete Order. It’s a famous fan-made viewing order that goes IV, V, II, III, VI, to create better narrative pacing whilst keeping all important plot twists. I would like to introduce a project for Steven Universe in the same vein: Flood Order. It’s a means to get a new fan into the show in the most efficient way possible.
As I got into Steven Universe myself, and tried to introduce it to others, a common theme presented itself: it’s really hard to get someone to sit past the first half of the first season, when it seems like nothing more than yet another Monster of the Week show with an annoying tagalong kid. I experienced this on my first watch-through, and only pressed on under the assumption that the size of its fandom meant it had to get better. It does, of course, but for many people, “just sit through twenty-six episodes and you’ll understand!” has proven a hard obstruction to vault. Even the show’s creators have stated they consider Ocean Gem season one’s “true” start.
It’s easy to see why: the introduction of Lapis, introduction of gray morality to a show that didn’t seem to have any, Steven’s first true display of competence and fixing a problem he wasn’t responsible for beginning, the expansion of the show’s setting to outer space, and the rapid-fire development of everyone in the main cast all create one hell of a mystery. It’s when the show truly grows into itself. In short, if one can make it to Mirror Gem/Ocean Gem, then one is likely to become as much a fan of the show as you and I.
One problem: twenty-six eleven-minute episodes take up almost five hours. That’s a lot of questionable content to ask someone to swallow.
We can do better. We can do it in only a little over an hour and a half, the same level of commitment as asking someone to watch a single movie with you.
Flood Order, Submitted For Your Approval
The first phase of Flood Order comprises just ten episodes, in the following order:
- Cheeseburger Backpack
- Laser Light Cannon
- Bubble Buddies
- Steven’s Lion
- Giant Woman
- Steven the Sword Fighter
- Lion 2: The Movie
- An Indirect Kiss
- Mirror Gem
- Ocean Gem
This order defers sixteen episodes—more than half of them—in a mad dash to Lapis’s appearance. Its purpose is to get a new fan interested in Steven Universe in as little time as possible, and causing as few impediments to enjoyment as possible.
- Removes most of Steven’s most insufferable moments. We all love Steven as a character now, but it’s hard not to see Steven as the least interesting, least relevant part of the first half of Season 1. We want to know who the gems are, why the gems are here, what the gems are fighting; it’s difficult to care about the seemingly obnoxious little kid who messes up their plans all the time. In all ten episodes listed here, however, he only provides any truly grating moments in the first two.
- Starts on Cheeseburger Backpack, which, despite being the third episode chronologically, is a much better introduction than Gem Glow was. It doesn’t notably feature any member of the cast except for the Crystal Gems, it effectively introduces us to their personalities and the means in which they solve problems, it features a fascinating and mysterious part of gem lore, and it shows us some of Steven’s burgeoning skills. As a start, Gem Glow introduced us to personalities, but little more: no part of gem lore is explored, side characters are introduced to little end, the song present is the only one in the show that feels truly out-of-place among the rest of the soundtrack, and Steven is close to his worst in terms of behavior. Laser Light Cannon is a slower and more character-centric piece, introfucing Greg and revealing Rose’s sacrifice, which works well in its intended purposes as the second episode. Bubble Buddies introduces Connie, Sadie, Lars, Onion, and Mr. Smiley to round out many of the supporting characters.
- Introduces every single character and plot point necessary for Mirror Gem/Ocean Gem: Connie, Greg, Lion, the concept of fusions, the concept of gem regeneration, Steven’s healing ability, all necessary characterization, and at least one mention for every minor character that gets a speaking role for the rest of the season. No potential point of confusion exists.
- Paces the show better than air-date order. There’s a lot of pre-Mirror Gem filler. This problem gets significantly better after Lion 3: Straight To Video, but can be painful for someone to get through on their first watch before they really care about the characters. Every single episode in Flood Order introduces something or someone the audience is interested in. The first poofing takes place at around the one hour mark in Steven the Sword Fighter, which if it were a movie, would be roughly the right spot for the first serious dramatic death.
- Removes most moments of plot-necessitated illogical incompetence. Pearl fought a thousand-year war as Rose Quartz’s “Terrifying Renegade”, and in later episodes, is demonstrated to be an incredible fighter, taking down even the three-gem monstrosity that is Sugilite. In Frybo, ketchup incapacitates her. The Gems are shown at their most competent, without sacrificing their character depth.
Put simply: it serves to set up the rest of the show and turn a new viewer into a fan in as painless, quick, and intriguing a way as possible. But what do we do with the rest of the episodes, then?
Sorting The Deferred Episodes
So, we’ve deferred sixteen episodes. We need to do something with them. Here is the second phase, where we need to make two separate lists:
- Tiger Millionaire
- Lars and the Cool Kids
- Rose’s Room
- Coach Steven
- Joking Victim
- Monster Buddies
- Gem Glow
- Together Breakfast
- Cat Fingers
- Serious Steven
- Arcade Mania
- So Many Birthdays
- Onion Trade
- Beach Party
- Steven and the Stevens
Every single episode in the Pacing list has inextricable character development and/or plot points that come up later, and will be placed in-between Ocean Gem and Lion 3: Straight To Video (where Flood Order stops changing the show entirely) as thematically appropriate.
Every single episode in the Cut list is… well, cut. None of them have anything of irreplaceable importance, something that can be definitively said now that the show is over. Note that there’s an emphasis on “irreplaceable”, which we’ll come back to.
Integrating The Pacing Episodes
Phase three? Distributing the Pacing episodes in-between Ocean Gem and Lion 3: Straight To Video ruffling none of canon’s feathers and keeping the flow of the show acceptable. There are a few points to consider (some episodes need to remain where they are; House Guest can only work directly following Ocean Gem, for example) to make that work. This is the result.
- Ocean Gem
- House Guest
- Rose’s Room
- Monster Buddies
- Coach Steven
- Lars and the Cool Kids
- Joking Victim
- Space Race
- Secret Team
- Garnet’s Universe
- Tiger Millionaire
- Island Adventure
- Keep Beach City Weird!
- Fusion Cuisine
- Watermelon Steven
- Lion 3: Straight to Video
From there, the series continues in Crewniverse-intended order as per usual.
No significant details emerge that cause any continuity errors. Steven has only one irritating moment in the Pacing episodes, endearing him to the viewer far more rapidly. The emotional pacing follows a steady pattern with breathing room allocated, preventing burnout. The filler that’s present is downplayed by being cushioned with long stretches of deep character development. The show, at the end, keeps every detail necessary for full enjoyment and understanding. And it’s far easier to get someone into.
Now that that’s out of the way: if you notice a significant issue with Flood Order, it almost certainly falls into one of the two following lists.
Things That Appear To Be Problems, But Aren’t
- Centipeedle isn’t mentioned before Monster Buddies. They constantly fight out-of-nowhere, unexplained monsters, even in Flood Order. “It’s that creature we fought once!” doesn’t sound out-of-place at all in the show’s universe, and certainly not by the time its turn comes around.
- They don’t know Centipeedle used to be a gem in the episode. It’s never brought up, neither in Ocean Gem nor Monster Buddies. There are no lines that contradict the new Flood Order canon of them knowing about it in either episode. Ocean Gem’s reveal is shocking enough without needing Monster Buddies to build it up, and Monster Buddies is only enhanced by its new order: with us now knowing about his ability to heal, it actually comes off better, as it seems like a plan that has a chance of working and not just the blind optimism of a child. The fact that he doesn’t try his healing saliva after we learn about it is explained by Pearl telling him that “not even Rose’s power” could return them to what they were. As his power is Rose’s power, it justifies his lack of attempt.
[Characters] don’t get episodes dedicated to them! This will be most-often claimed about Peedee, Onion, and the Pizza Family.
Peedee has never been developed in the show, not to an important degree, and Frybo’s flaws far outweigh its benefits in giving us the one episode that does include the bit character heavily.
Onion’s most baffling/horrifying moment is present in Onion Trade, yet it does nothing to develop him; ironically, the removal of it makes him a more likeable character later, in Onion Friend.
The Pizza Family doesn’t actually get developed in Beach Party so much as they simply… show up. Beach Party’s removal weakens nothing about them or their place in later episodes, and it removes a sizeable chunk of plot-required Gem uselessness and bickering. Not all appearances are created equal.
- Steven’s shield doesn’t get introduced in Gem Glow. Steven has shown many defensive powers by the time his shield gets summoned in Ocean Gem, such as the bubble and the healing saliva, besides just being magic. It’s not a tremendous shock, and the backstory of the shield gets expanded on later. Perhaps it’s a more powerful surprise here.
- Some foreshadowing is missing, like the Cookie Cat song and the first depiction of Garnet’s third eye. There are more appearances of Garnet’s eyes before Jail Break. In every other case of some foreshadowing being removed, there’s easily two more pieces to make up for it. This show revels in setting up future twists. There’s no great shortage for a few hints being gone. (Also, if you still remembered Cookie Cat’s existence by the time the Big Reveal happens, your eidetic memory is the thing of legends and you should use it for something more important.)
- The Cut episodes still deserve to be seen, and removing them from the show entirely is wrong. I agree! Imagine you’re someone who was introduced to SU through Flood Order. You finish the first phase, get hooked enough to finish the first season, and you are hungry for more. Now you just watch the Cut episodes whenever you want! Now, not only do you love SU enough not to be bothered by the Cut episodes’ faults, but you get every single rewatch bonus present within them. You get Garnet’s keytar, you get Gem Glow’s hints, and so on. I found Gem Glow borderline intolerable as an introduction, but I can rewatch today giddily, because I know the significance of everything brought up within it. You can appreciate how clever Rebecca Sugar and the rest of the Crewniverse were with their planning! The Cut episodes should be experienced… just not immediately.
- But I like to experience everything all the way through, on my first viewing! If you know for a fact your friends are the same way, then great! Marathon the entire first season with them and enjoy! It’s how I got into the show, and I assume how most of you have as well. We simply feel as though many more could join in on the fun with this if only they had a more accessible means. I’m not saying this is The Definitive Way to get into Steven Universe; just that it’s a viable alternative for those friends of yours who have a limited attention span/limited amounts of time/hype backlash/limited interest/different viewing preferences than you.
This does not, of course, make this order perfect.
Things That Appear To Be Problems, And Are
There are a few genuine issues with Flood Order, much as I have tried to minimize them.
- Rose’s Room. Rose’s Room remains the single biggest issue with the order, and there’s one unavoidable reason: there’s no good place to put it. It ticks off almost every box for what gets an episode Cut, but it’s far too important not to include. At the same time, that checklist prevents it from staying pre-Mirror Gem. It does nothing to entice a new viewer and much to discourage them, and without the deferred content around it, it feels out-of-place no matter where one tries to include it. It’s hard to imagine Steven having such an immature reaction to the Gems after Ocean Gem’s maturing, which I could accommodate only by putting it as close as possible afterwards. We can explain it as Steven being stressed by the events of Mirror Gem/Ocean Gem/House Guest, which makes it palatable, but… it’s weird. There’s no way around it.
- Pearl’s outfit changes back and forth between her original look and her regeneration look. Put simply, yeah. There’s no way to avoid this whilst rearranging the episodes around Steven the Sword Fighter. As long as they know they’re watching the show a little out-of-order, it should be easy to explain.
- Particularly adept first-time viewers may be confused by Steven’s voice/the ending theme. Both tend to be missed the first time through, but they are present: Steven’s voice slowly deepens in pitch throughout the show as the voice actor ages, and the ending theme changes at the end of almost every episode to play a little more of Love Like You. The episodes are all close enough that his voice changes are near-imperceptible unless you’re listening closely, and as it takes until Season 2 for the ending theme to work in lyrics, there’s no part of it that immediately jumps out as being in the wrong order. Still, they are there, they are important details for fan analysis, and there are undoubtedly some who will catch them. This is reasonably easy to alleviate, however: congratulate them on being smart and observant enough to catch them! They’ll feel good about noticing it. It turns an error with the order into a moment of pride. Worth it, right?
- Flashbacks in Ocean Gem show monsters they’ll fight in the future. Unavoidable when rearranging episodes around it. The flashbacks are quick enough that, again, most new viewers won’t remember them by the time some come back around in the Pacing episodes, but if they do, the solution is the same as the last entry.
Give it a shot if you remain skeptical. I’m serious: watch those ten episodes in this order, doing your best to do so with “fresh eyes”. It works much, much better than you think. If you agree, and you have friends who have remained resistant to watching the show that may instead be swayed by “feature-length movie with spin-off TV show”… it may just end up helping you find one more friend to enjoy an amazing show with. And if it does, please let me know!