ORIGINAL AIR DATE: Nov. 11th, 2013
SYNOPSIS: Steven accompanies the Crystal Gems on his first ever mission.
Steven waits by the mailbox for a special delivery from the local postman, Jamie. Good timing, too, because he needs this item to save the world. Steven informs Jamie that he hasn’t had full mastery of his Gem powers, so this thing from the Wacky Sack Supply Company will give him the leg up he needs to convince Garnet, Pearl, and Amethyst to take him on their adventures. ”Cheeseburger Backpack” reveals that the Crystal Gems and Steven’s unique nature is not hidden from the rest of Beach City. This isn’t a case of hiding a secret identity from the average human folks like many urban fantasies are ought to do; in fact the humans take to the Gems as a normal, everyday thing even if they aren’t fully aware of their capabilities. This is due to their 6000+ years on Earth and indirect influences they’ve had on mankind over the years. This is a neat way to emphasize the openness of the cast members: while the Crystal Gems largely keep to themselves, Steven is honest about who and what he is and the rest of Beach City is cool with it. Also Steven’s signature is drawn with little stars which is just precious.
Steven reunites with the Crystal Gems who have returned from battle against a giant bird to retrieve the Moon Goddess statue for the Lunar Sea Spire. The spire is a Gem-constructed tower that was built thousands of years back on Earth, but has since been abandoned. Here’s another hint of the Gems’ influence on Earth; Gem architects and artifacts were commonplace back in the day and have been left to linger all across the globe. Pearl states they have to place the Moon Goddess statue on top of the tower before midnight or the whole place will fall apart.
This is perfect timing, as Steven whips out the content inside his package: a novelty cheeseburger backpack. He can carry the statue inside and help the Crystal Gems out! Pearl is reluctant, but Amethyst thinks it’ll be an educational experience for him. Pearl agrees because the boy has to start somewhere! Steven takes this time to stuff the bag with random items he thinks will be of assistance to the mission. They use the main teleporter to get to the Sea Spire.
Steven is…a very frustrating kid to sit through during the beginning parts of the show. He’s a sweet, kind boy and he tries his best, but being a preteen who grew up safely, he doesn’t always understand the dangers presented to him. Only just starting his training, Steven sees his first mission as an idealized quest of fun and adventure. In a lot of ways, this attitude does help him throughout this episode, but many of Steven’s mistake will have you (and Pearl who keeps telling the kid to take this seriously) gritting your teeth. However, “Cheeseburger Backpack” is smart enought to dial down the idealistic into something managable to get across a better, nuanced lesson.
The entrance to the Spire is fraught with a whirlpool vortex that will shift gravity and suck anyone below. Now most kid tagalongs like Steven tend to be annoying little misfits who can’t do anything worth a lick. Steven, however, has the benefit of being the main character, thus he’s not as useless as he acts. Steven whips out the sweaters he packed and creates a makeshift hook to climb the walls of the Spire and land on the other side before the vortex can get to him. Amethyst follows suit with her whip and helps her fellow Gems across.
The Sea Spire is a mess: the tower is falling apart and Pearl is especially horrified by it. The Moon Goddess will fix everything, but for now they have an infestation to deal with. Crystal Shrimps – giant, beautiful caterpillar-like insects – are blocking their way. Pearl is busy planning a way to get rid of the creatures, but Steven solves it by throwing bagel sandwiches at them, drawing their attention to the food and creating a path. Garnet and Amethyst are continuously impressed and complimentary of Steven. Pearl is, too, but due to her high-functioning nature, it takes her a while to grasp that Steven’s unconventional methods are working. That’s Steven in a nutshell: he’s a unique boy with unique ways to fix things; ways in which the Crystal Gems never would have thought of themselves.
Their next obstacle is a rabid river blocking their path. Fortunately Steven had the amazing foresight to pack a raft. Unfortunately the water quickly drifts it off a waterfall. Well, not everything strikes lightning. Garnet creates a bridge by breaking down a pillar and the main cast reach the top of the tower.
My goodness, this is a beautiful shot.
They barely make it in time to put the Moon Goddess statue on the pedestal. There’s just one problem: Steven forgot to pack it. The only thing he can offer is a plushie he has instead. He places it on the pedestal and for a brief moment, the tower accepts it…until it doesn’t. The plan didn’t work and the spire falls apart. Steven and the Crystal Gems fall into the ocean. After they swim up, Steven apologizes for forgetting the statue and unintentionally wrecking a part of Gem history. The Crystal Gems reassure him that he did the best for his first mission. The raft also springs up at this time, giving the four a boat to ride home.
“Cheeseburger Backpack’s” message isn’t that one method is better than the other. Steven’s ways are unconventional and solves problems because he thinks outside the box and in ways the normal route wouldn’t suffice, but he’s not an all-knowing source. He doesn’t instantly outsmart the Crystal Gems, he just offers another option. Throughout, we see Steven’s plans fail as much as they work, forcing the Gems to play their own cards. It’s also about encouraging people and opening up to new things. The ever-hesitant Pearl is fully on Team Steven by the end in spite of her initial reluctance. The Crystal Gems foster the boy’s imagination and remind open to his suggestion, proving positive reinforcements will get results. And even if they still don’t work, Steven will have the confidence to try again later. Steven is not yet equal to the three, but he’s doing his best to someday be a worthy Crystal Gem. It’s as feelgood as you can get.
Oh, and if you ever wanted your own cheeseburger backpack, Cartoon Network’s official shop sells a replica!