Steven Universe – Nightmare Hospital Review
I have often stated that the key to getting me to love an episode of Steven Universe is to have it feature Connie. Nightmare Hospital embraces this concept wholeheartedly as, in many ways, it is really Connie’s story. The Gems don’t even make an appearance in the episode, and while Steven is present in all of the events within the episode, he is more of an observer than an active participant when it comes to the emotional core of the story. Instead, the focus of the episode is Connie’s relationship with her mother as she is forced to reveal the true extent of what she has been involved in. This allows for Nightmare Hospital to really delve into a topic that has been a defining issue for Connie since her first appearance back in Bubble Buddies.
I’ve long felt that Mr. and Dr. Maheswaran were criminally underused by the show. Crispin Freeman and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn are arguably two of the most talented English-language voice actors there are, particularly when it comes to anime, so I’m always pleased when they show up, even if it is just for a cameo. This is the longest amount of screen time that Dr. Maheswaran has been on screen in an episode and it is time well spent. Even from her first appearance, it has been clear that Connie’s home life has been one dominated by rules and regimens, and in Nightmare Hospital these restrictions come to the surface when Steven tries to lend Connie Rose’s sword only to have it discovered by her mother. Connie covers for Steven by saying she found it, but her mother confiscates the weapon before leaving to respond to an emergency call from the hospital. In order to try and recover the sword, Connie and Steven travel to the hospital via Lion. However, Dr. Maheswaran catches them, but before she can do anything they are attacked by two of her patients which are revealed to be Gem fusion experiments like the ones set free by Peridot.
When the gem mutants first appeared in Keeping it Together, I felt that they served to incorporate elements of body horror in an intriguing manner, but Nightmare Hospital takes it to another level by evoking comparisons to Silent Hill or Jacob’s Ladder. In this instance, the two mutants that appear both have a rather humanoid structure, but are seemingly formed out of a patchwork of body parts, and the combination of an almost human structure with the mismatched components adds an unnerving sense of cognitive dissonance to an already eerie concept. The effect is, in essence, an extension of the uncanny valley principle, and I’m eager to see what Peridot intended to do with these creations. Dr. Maheswaran refuses to let Connie try to fight them, instead opting to try and make a run for it. They end up cornered by the creatures though, and Steven loses his patience and reveals that Connie has been training and knows what she is doing. Her mother states dismissively that it is impossible that Connie could have been involved with something like that without her knowledge. At that point Connie snaps at her revealing that she hasn’t even had lenses in her glasses for nearly a year and, despite all of their monitoring and rules, neither of her parents had ever noticed that fact. She takes the sword from her mother’s bag and, along with Steven, quickly dispose of the two Gem monsters. Faced with the nature of what Connie is involved in but recognizing why she hid it from her, Dr. Maheswaran acknowledges that she may be too controlling a parent, but she begs Connie to let her know of such things in the future so that, if she finds herself over her head, her parents can be there to help her.
Nightmare Hospital is a very great return for Steven Universe. I’d argue that it is slightly stronger than any of the episodes from the preceding Steven-bomb, and it is only hampered by a slightly abrupt shift for Dr. Maheswaran. She seems a bit too accepting of what Connie has involved herself in, though there is still plenty of hesitation and uncertainty in her final scene. The episode actually covers a lot of ground from an emotional and character aspect, so it’s not surprising that there are some rough edges along the way and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn’s voice acting does a superb job of masking those issues.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- Mr. Maheswaran doesn’t actually make an appearance in this episode, which is a shame. I’d have liked for Crispin Freeman to make another appearance, but, then again, the episode seemed filled to the brim as it was. Hopefully, we’ll get to see a bit more of him soon.
- Dr. Maheswaran’s insistence that she knows all of Connie’s activities and “internets,” might be one of the many highlights of the episode for me.
- The fight that Connie and Steven have with the gem mutants is very quick, but they work so well off of one another that it feels more than appropriate… I really want to see what Stevonnie would be like in a fight.
- “Sorry, Dr. Maheswaran. That’s my lion.”
- Mary Elizabeth McGlynn is best known for her role as Major Motoko Kusanagi in the anime Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, but she has also voiced Julia in Cowboy Bebop, Cornelia in Code Geass, and Agent Brand in Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
- The ending credits featured a new part of the song “Love Like You” which is again sung by Rebecca Sugar.
- The moment at the end where Steven watches as Connie and her mother make up and embrace before looking down at his mother’s sword is so beautifully melancholic that it deserves mentioning.
Nightmare Hospital is a great Connie episode, and a great episode in general. It does much to explore her relationship with her mother, and does a great job of hammering home the fact that, as the second opening to the show implied, she is no longer a passive observer of Steven’s adventures but is instead an active participant.
After a short break, Steven Universe has returned with a great episode that taps into a number of the elements that make the show great.