In a way, Steven Universe has always been about the struggle of motherhood—a main character born out of an absent mother, raised by surrogates with their own problems. But since its return, the show is seemingly laser-focused on Moms... although “Sadie’s Song” doesn’t quite the same high notes as last week’s episode.
Spoilers ahead, of course.
In another Gem-light week, “Sadie’s Song” puts the spotlight on another citizen of Beach City: this time the lovable Big Donut worker Sadie. While preparing for the annual Beach City talent show Beach-A-Palooza, Steven discovers that Sadie has quite the talent for singing, as he catches her dancing along to a ridiculously catchy pop song. Entranced, Steven offers to sign Sadie up for Beach-A-Palooza.
As the two begin to plan the set back at Sadie’s house, they’re interrupted by her mother, Postwoman Barb (underrated line of the episode: “Barb! I knew you delivered mail, but I didn’t know you delivered Sadie!”)... but it quickly becomes apparent that there’s a few underlying problems in Sadie’s relationship with her mom.
Steven and Barb completely throw themselves into turning Sadie’s set into something over the top—dance routines, bigger heels, bigger everything—and it’s clear that Sadie is getting pushed further and further away from proceedings altogether. Bitterly ironic for a montage set to the song she wants to sing, which is all about being self-confident and popular (sang, by the way, by Adventure Time’s Marceline the Vampire Queen, Olivia Olson!). Sadie is the direct opposite of that, and the bigger Barb and Steven’s plans get, the more mortified she is at the prospect. It’s all very similar to Doctor Maheswaran’s view of Connie in last week’s episode—more on that familiarity in a bit—the idea of a Mother so blinded by their love for their Child they can’t really see how they feel about things.
But as we come to that realization, “Sadie’s Song” sadly sort of falls apart near the end, in two ways. Sadie finally snaps just as she’s due to go on, lambasting Steven and her mother for pushing her to point of incredulity. She likes swimming? Barb gets her on the town’s swimming team. Softball? Six years later, Barb is still giving her softball equipment for her Birthday. Sadie is already a naturally reserved and soft-spoken person, but her mother’s overbearing desire to get involved in everything she does—out of love—is just too much for her. That’s not the problem though, it’s when Steven turns to Sadie and says that she never wanted to do it: Steven did.
Now, we do get a spectacular moment out of this, as Steven takes the stage in Sadie’s place, looking fabulous in her dress and makeup as he totally nails a rendition of her song. But it suddenly becomes about Steven—to the point that we don’t get to hear Barb and Sadie reconcile, only briefly see it in the background. There’s no real resolution, because of the show’s reliance on the fact that Steven is always the viewpoint that the audience experiences the story through. We stick with him on stage singing and miss what should’ve been the point of the episode. It often works, but “Sadie’s Song” was never really a story about Steven, he was just along for the ride—so to see it become about him just as the emotional arc reached its climax was weird, and a little disappointing.
It’s also where the second problem comes through. Being scheduled immediately after “Nightmare Hospital”, which shares a lot of the same emotional beats (especially in regards to daughters not communicating with their mothers), “Sadie’s Song” doesn’t come out all that well in comparison. There is no resolution as there was between Connie and her own mother, and it’s lesser for it. It was a strange decision to schedule these two episodes back to back, but it serves to highlight the weaker aspects of this episode all the more. “Nightmare Hospital” completely nailed its arc, whereas “Sadie’s Song” doesn’t quite come together.
Also, quick aside: it is totally cool that Steven Universe had an entire episode about a little boy being passionate about make up, dancing, dresses, and so on, and it was never once treated a joke or as something to be made of. It was just... normal. Kiki’s grandmother’s response to Steven running onto stage in heels—and damn that kid can run in heels—and a dress to blast out a pop ditty isn’t confusion or laughter, it’s “Oh, well of course the surprise guest is Steven, that’s totally a Steven thing to do.” Nothing’s made of it, it’s just what happened, and that’s an incredibly smart and progressive thing to get on a kid’s TV show.
But right at the very end, we do get the balance restored a little, as Sadie finally gets to sing her song for someone—not on a big stage covered in glitter, but in the back room of the Big Donut with Steven supporting on his ukulele. It’s where Steven belongs really: his greatest strength is being supportive and seeing the best in people, and he can’t do that from the limelight. And when Sadie does get to sing it her way, when it once again becomes her song, it ends up sounding all the sweeter.