With the reactions post-Storm in the Room, I feel that Steven doesn’t get enough credit. Going to Rose’s Room, searching for answers, and comfort even though he didn’t know that yet, Steven wasn’t setting out to create a perfect mother or project himself the ideal version of Rose. He starts, the moment he enters the room, by saying he knew it wasn’t real.
Everything Steven did with Cloud Rose, everything that happened between them, were reasonable assumptions we could make of Rose. And this is because the Rose we saw was from Steven’s expectations of what she would be like. And Steven was wary about idealising Rose the way the Crystal Gems did. He says this explicitly several times. Also, Steven’s view of Rose was tempered early on by Greg’s stories of her.
So the Rose we see isn’t a sad Steven’s attempt at finding the perfect mother figure. Steven’s attempt at a reasonable and believable portrayal of Rose deserves to be acknowledged. Had it not been the case, the Rose we saw could not have evoked the feelings she did. It’s because of the depth Steven introduced to her from all his memories of her that it was made possible.
And what I want to talk about in this post, is how the images of Rose reflect which narratives he’s channeling as he tries to piece together, quite literally, the image of Rose.
The first appearance of Cloud Rose shows her with messy hair, parts of it stick up and around her. Her facial expressions are often wiggly, for lack of better word, and she shows her thighs a lot more than in the succeeding scenes, either in cross-sitting or running.
This Rose is goofy and funny and casual. And it’s the Rose whom Greg’s stories have constructed in Steven’s memories.
The same scenes we see Rose hitch up her dress in the same way (such as when she’s reading books with Greg on the bed) or similarly goofy, like stopping a ferris wheel with her bare hands, she’s with Greg.
Even the line Steven takes from her video in Lion 3: Straight to Video, about “every X being unique and beautiful” is shot in Greg’s presence. Without realising it, Steven is remembering this image of Rose.
And she cares about Steven. She engages in his interests. It’s not so far a stretch because some episodes back, Bismuth was willing to do the same thing. Rose was a fun person. There’s a running joke that she would have loved cheesy and corny jokes. She probably told a few in her day.
She probably wasn’t always as poised as presented in her portrait. Greg remembers the Rose he changed, when she was starting to understand human beings in earnest and come to terms with how they could exist with gems on the same level.
Rose at that point still didn’t want to talk about her past, and Greg never made her. So Greg and Rose made new memories and didn’t dwell on the old. And those memories were filled with fun and laughter and love.
The moment sobers when it is Rose not Steven, who gestures the latter to sit down and stare at the expanse of clouds.
And we should know that what we’re about to see means something has changed. The first hint is that Rose’s body language changes. She sits perfectly straight, even though she’s cross-sitting the way she was earlier. And we don’t see her legs anymore. Her hair neatens and her expression calms.
What’s more, her hands assume the position Garnet did in Here Comes A Thought in Mindful Education. And that emphasises the kind of role Rose plays in this moment. Steven felt Rose taught Garnet how to manage her feelings, because it was a motherly thing to do. In a very Steven Universe fashion, the music changes from the bright xylophone to a quiet piano music, which is the mark of another Crystal Gem, Pearl.
And when we go back to the senior Crystal Gems and their image of Rose, it is exactly the way she’s presented.
Cloud Rose is a huge presence, with Steven a small child by her side. She speaks deliberately, every word is one of wisdom. She is magnanimous and comforting at the same time.
She tells him, “But we’ve been together the entire time.” And it brings back the idea of how our parents are always with us, and a part of us, because one way or another they’ve left a mark on us.
At the same time though, the similarities of the scenes between this moment and the one at Rose’s Fountain in An Indirect Kiss, lead to the same end.
Rose is viewed as a godly icon, very distant from Steven. She’s not sitting beside him, playing with him, kneeling on the ground anymore. He looks up to her, and he can’t reach her.
In both times, he realises she’s not really there. That he talked to the statue of Rose in the fountain, confided his deepest insecurities about how he didn’t know how to feel about her when everyone else did, parallels the empty image on his phone.
And it segues into the next scene perfectly.
Because Steven doesn’t know how to feel about Rose. Now, he’s more certain than ever that he doesn’t even know who she is. The Rose we see at the end has a blank face, because Steven can’t project anything on it. He’s thinking of Pink Diamond’s shattering, Bismuth, and the Rebellion, and all the people hurt by them.
When he sees Rose, he can no longer see himself, which is why her eyes, one of the facial features most like Steven’s, (next to his nose) are nowhere to be seen.
And this Rose is distant, because there’s no mitigating narrative linking him to her. In the other scenes, the room remained the same, because these stories he was told of Rose and who she was firmly rooted the first two Roses as part of the real Rose’s identity.
This Rose is foreign, because nowhere in those narratives did Steven think it possible to for her to do the things he learned she did.
And in that moment he begins to doubt.
Because he can no longer see the image of his mother, he doesn’t know where he himself stands. A huge part of his identity is being Rose’s son. What happens when the “Rose” part becomes fuzzy, blurry, and unintelligible?
What happens to the Steven?
Notice that this Rose is silent. She offers no response to the accusations Steven hurls at her, about all the people she hurt and her act of leaving them all behind.
At this point, we see the part of Steven that understands Rose is gone. That he’s never going to get these answers and there won’t be an explanation coming from her.
There are some things he’ll never get to hear about, some memories he’ll never know, some experiences he’ll never share with her.
And it’s sad and disheartening and lonely. In losing his idea of Rose, Steven loses a part of his identity. Such that he felt it would be better if he denounced Rose, cutting off the part of himself he didn’t want to think about: That he was created just to fix her mistakes.
It’s then that we see Rose’s face for the first time since we’ve entered the paradigm of Rose-through-Steven’s eyes. Not Greg’s, not the Crystal Gem’s. Because these new things he’s learned about Rose are things the others would never have known without him. How else would they have heard the Diamond’s song of mourning? How would they have known Bismuth was there all along?
And the things Rose said in the tape were meant for Steven, in a space only Steven could find.
The Rose speaking to Steven at the end is the Rose who’s already spoken to Steven directly before, through the tape.
A lot of negative reaction has been given to this moment, because it feels as though the tape absolves Rose of everything she’s done. It doesn’t and I don’t feel that was the point.
The point of her saying that, was to reaffirm Steven’s belief in Steven. To show that it wasn’t about Rose anymore, that Steven’s birth wasn’t about Rose but about him.
And it’s striking that’s the only time we see her face again. Because immediately after, Steven hugs her, and her face is obscured.
That’s Steven’s recognition that he’s never going to hear any other words straight from his mother for him. He understands and he realises that nonetheless, Rose is exerting a presence in his life. He really is always with her and never alone.
The past few episodes and everything leading up to them were about Steven’s realising his mother was still an individual, one who could made mistakes and rash, selfish decisions.
He was afraid that upon realising his mother could be a selfish individual, could do huge selfish things that affected thousands of lives, he feared the act of his birth, the most personal thing about him, was meant to serve her self-interests alone too. He needed a concrete and tangible answer, which was what prompted him to go to the room.
At the end of the episode, he didn’t think that anymore. He knows he has a lot of work ahead in figuring out Rose’s place in his life, but the lingering doubt of the very foundation of his existence is gone.
And because of that, he finally feels comfortable letting her go.
Stop messing round with that fire,
Living like love is just a gun for hire,
Cos one moment its just messing round,
To your wiki saying she’s your spouse,
Oh but its not just girls,
Cos yeah one moment I was tearing off her blouse,
Now she says she’s living in my house,
Babe I know you said you’d never smoke pot,
Its just; that burned Like your first splif,
Now we just hanging around in the dark, you’re pale as a ghost.
Stop messing round now, cos am too stoned,
You’re know I can’t save you cos in this game am too gone,
She’s only seventeen, and thinks at sixteen am all there is,
But a degenerate kind, baby am definitely not what you need,
She wants to dance with devil, Mr brownstone is just grave,
Oh Y’know the drugs will drown her out, just too young,
Can’t believe this is my life, smoking and fucking in the back,