The Writers of Steven Universe are playing the long game.
For the better part of a year, Steven Universe fans have been struggling to find meaning in the show’s conflicts. Presenting the Diamonds as genocidal dictators one moment and then as sympathetic victims the next. Showcasing (accidentally?) time and time again how violent resistance in the past is the only reason the Earth still exists, only to then condemn that past resistance, as well as any and all possible future efforts? Stripping every single character of their personalities and motivations, creating a strange static world where nobody lifts a finger to prevent their impending demise?
What’s going on here? Could it be terrible writing brought on by a feeble, lazy hand-wringing morality that demands we bow down to our oppressors under the guise of some nebulous, non-existent high-ground? The kind of morality that has historically allowed evil to take root and spread until the world lies on the brink of ruin, and which is literally doing so again in the present day? The kind of morality that demands you twiddle your thumbs and allow atrocities to take place, while telling yourself you’re so very righteous for not getting involved?
Of course not. No writing team could possibly be that incompetent. It’s all a ruse, you see. The reason the writing around the Diamonds and the rebellion is so muddied and confused and contradictory is that they are not the real enemies. The real threat is yet to truly make itself known, but it has been lying under our noses this entire time. In fact, it was present in the very first scene of the very first episode.
I’m talking, of course, about the Big Donut.
Consider the facts. What, exactly, do we know about the Big Donut? Not much, and yet what little we do know is more than enough to paint a disturbing picture. Unlike the other family-owned businesses of the boardwalk (who aren’t angels themselves, but we’ll get to that later), the Big Donut is run by a faceless, nameless, wordless management; so shrouded in secrecy they don’t even make physical appearances at their own store.
Allowing a store to operate without any kind of supervisor or manager on site is strange enough, but things quickly take a turn for the worrying when you consider the Big Donut’s staff. Sadie and Lars. Only Sadie and Lars. Whenever the Big Donut is open, it is inevitably these two who man the counter, and sort the stock. For a time, the donuts were baked off-site, although that now is allegedly no longer the case. However, neither Sadie nor Lars appear to the perform the task themselves, meaning that either the “fresh, on-site” donuts claim is a lie meant to drum up new interest in the business, or they hire some sort of secret baker to work through the night. What could the reason be for such an unorthodox practise? Something unseemly in the donuts, perhaps?
Consider “The Accident”. The shadow on the wall is reminiscent of the kind of eerie silhouettes left behind by victims of nuclear warfare, as seen in the 1940’s and soon to be witnessed again in the next few weeks or months or so. The only way an accident of this magnitude could occur is if those donuts contained some seriously unsafe ingredients. Could this perhaps be how Big Donut donuts are able to stay so “fresh” despite being baked who-knows how far in advance? If you need any more evidence, I invite you to look at the picture again.
Do you see a deep fat fryer? Do you see any kind of kitchen equipment at all? We know this isn’t just a goof on the part of the designers – Fryman’s Fries has been shown to have a functioning kitchen on several occasions, while Fish Stew Pizza very clearly has a kitchen in the back which we simply haven’t seen. We have, however, seen every inch of the Big Donut, and there’s not a fryer or a sink or a counter in sight. Why? Because the donuts here were never the product of BAKING. They are not food in the traditional sense, rather they are a product of ghoulish radioactive experiments designed to create plutonium-enhanced donuts that are delicious and everlasting… but what else? Addictive? Deadly? Mind-controlling?
Okay, okay, maybe I’m going too far here. “You cannot substantiate these claims!”, I hear you cry. And you are right. For now, the writers are wisely obscuring the actual creation method of Big Donut donuts from us, and for now all we can do is speculate based on clues. Allow me to take a step back then and go back to Lars and Sadie as the only two Big Donut employees; something we know much more about.
What kind of hiring policy is this!? It makes sense that Kofi and Fryman are working their respective stores day in and day out, but why would an establishment that is clearly not family-owned, and which is quite possibly a chain of restaurants have to fragrantly violate labour laws like this? Seriously; not only are Sadie and Lars the only employees at this place, they seem to be at work sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. That’s a hundred-and-twelve-hours a week, people! Not even in Theresa May’s most erotic fantasies are the working class expected to toil away so ceaselessly.
You don’t believe me? You think there are other employees we simply don’t see? WRONG. While there was plenty of evidence to suggest this beforehand, the latest batch of Steven Universe episodes unambiguously proves that any moment Sadie and Lars are unavailable for work, the Big Donut simply closes, and waits for them to return. There are no other employees, no management present to step in. It simply ceases to function.
The fact that Sadie and Lars have never seemingly been reprimanded for their various absences throughout the show might suggest a benevolent and forgiving employer; but more likely than that is a system of management so massive and mechanical that it simply doesn’t care. It barely notices when one of its establishments has to close down for weeks on end, because it has its fingers in so many other pies.
Remember how I suggested above that Big Donut is probably a chain? I suspect more than that. I suspect that it’s a conglomerate, not just of donut shops, but of possibly everything. Do we know much about the history politics of the Steven Universe world? We don’t, and it’s not because the writers are too cowardly to admit that bad things might in fact happen in the saccharine vision of humanity presented by the show, it’s because they are waiting until the perfect moment to reveal the truth:
The powers that lie behind the Big Donut
We already have a very clear hint that this is the direction they’ll take the story, given that the Accident, which I remind you involved someone dying in their kitchen in what was clearly an incident involving radioactive materials, resulted in a lawsuit that was thrown out of court.
Thrown. Out. Of COURT.
Who would have that kind of legal sway except a company with its fingers on the scales of justice?
Mark my words; the Big Donut runs every game in town. Mayor Dewey? A pawn. Empire City? Merely a jewel on the Big Donut’s crown. All these so-called Gem ruins untouched by man? They harvested and reverse-engineered the technology centuries ago.
They are corporate greed taken to the absolute extreme. They employ literally only TWO staff at their location, and probably only employ that many because you need two staff members to be present at the same time to fulfil various safety laws. But beyond that, they are happy for those poor shmucks to work double shifts every single day, laws be damned, because who’s going to speak out about it? Would Sadie and Lars really risk their jobs by standing up for themselves, in a world where the Big Donut owns everything and is thus their only chance for a stable income?
Pictured: Sadie and Lars’ only other alternative without accepting the scraps offered to them by their capitalist overlords.
Of course not. Sadie and Lars have rights, but whether through fear or ignorance, they have forsaken them; just as the Big Donut trusted that they would. And so, they leave Sadie and Lars alone and forgotten at their little donut shop, not even noticing lengthy absences or the time a literal child was conscripted for work by Sadie just to keep on top of the immense workload placed upon her.
Speaking of literal children, Lars is unquestionably a minor. We have seen his school report card, terrible grades and all. No college I know gives report cards to parents; so that’s from a certified state school, that is. And who can blame the lad for failing? He’s working A HUNDRED AND TWELVE HOURS A WEEK.
We have also recently learned that Sadie is actually an adult, having left school several years ago, which tells me one of two things. Either Sadie is a paedophile, and the Big Donut’s impersonal, uncaring hiring policies permit a climate in which a predator can be hired to work alongside her prey, or that Lars is also an adult but has been held back several years due to the immense toll these draconian work hours have taken on his education. I can’t say for sure which it is until we get more information, but neither scenario is good, now is it?
Finally, we come to the family businesses. Fryman and Kofi, two enterprising dads putting a crust on the table with good old-fashioned fast food restaurants not owned by a corporate oligarchy. But how can the little guy be expected to get ahead in a world controlled by such an all-consuming monopoly? A world which quickly consumes any and every able-bodied worker to such a degree that one man must run an entire amusement park by himself. A world that brought a simple carwash to such ruin that its owners killed themselves out of despair, and left the deed taped to the back of a help-wanted sign? (I mean, that’s how I explain how Greg got instant employment and apparent ownership of the place, anyway.)
It’s simple: child labour. Are Fryman and Kofi happy about this? Of course not. Fryman knows his youngest child is veering towards deep depression and developing mental scars that will haunt him into adulthood. The kind of mental scars that broke his eldest son and transformed him into a barely-functional conspiracy theorist. Kofi surely knows that his obedient daughter is slowly going insane thanks to the pressure of her workload; he hears the screams from her room every single night. He watches with sad eyes as his other, still miraculously free-spirited daughter flees Beach City every night in the family car, going off to who knows where. And he can’t bring himself to truly punish her for it. Sometimes, he hopes she won’t come back at all.
These men are destroying their children, and they know it. But what choice do they have? How else can they make an honest living without being absorbed into the Big Donut machine, forced to slave away for literally two-thirds of their life, with nothing to show for it at the end? These men have made hard decisions; their children will surely resent them for life. But it is their final stand against the all-consuming machine of the Big Donut.
The writers claim that there isn’t a single filler episode in Steven Universe, and if that is the case; why, oh why do we get so many episodes dedicated to these seemingly pointless family businesses? Boring, meandering plots that don’t so much flesh out the town as make it appear even more dreary and lifeless than before?
Because that’s the point.
Mark my words, people. Once this quaint little side-plot with Homeworld and the Diamonds is over and done with about three episodes into Season 5, we’ll finally get a taste of the real big bad.
And it will taste…
Free Bismuth, for god’s sake.