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Recap / Steven Universe S4E20 "Lion 4: Alternate Ending"

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Steven discovers a tape in Rose's landfill meant for "Nora".
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Steven, having become desperate for any clues about what his mother may have wanted him to be, is obsessively rewatching the tape Rose made for him while Lion lounges on his bed. As the big cat shows disinterest in Steven's theorizing, he eventually coughs up a large pink key that belonged to Rose. Steven tries to find out what it unlocks, trying it fruitlessly on the chest in Lion's mane (which it's far too large for), taking it into Rose's Room but getting only a lock just as illusory as everything else in there, and finally jamming it into the side of his own head, to no avail. Finally Steven persuades Lion to take him to where he got the key, and they end up in the desert. After an hours-long ride that Steven spends worrying to himself over everyone's expectations for him, they arrive at a Gem structure fronted by two large, roughly pyramidal pink structures. The door lock fits the key, and Steven goes through... to find piles of random objects in the sand, as the door lock is now pointless since the building's ceiling and walls have collapsed leaving it open to the elements. Picking up a sheathed sword to discover it's broken, Steven is direly disappointed to realize it's just a dump where Rose left her junk. As he complains about expecting to find something connected to his destiny, he kicks away a helmet to find a videotape, labelled "For Nora".

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Wondering if he has a long-lost sister he never knew about, Steven asks Lion to take him to where he can get answers about the tape. Lion takes him to a hill outside Beach City that Greg uses as his "jamming hill" to compose new music. Greg is surprised to see the tape, never having expected to ever see it again, and puts it on for Steven to watch. It's almost the same as Steven's tape, and he pauses it to demand answers. Greg explains that he and Rose didn't know what sex their child was going to be, so they picked out two names, and "Nora" was what they were going to call Steven if he'd been a girl. Steven is immensely relieved when his father explains that Rose just wanted him to live his own life, and she didn't have any sort of magical Gem destiny planned out for him at all.


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Tropes:

  • Absentee Actor: Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl don't appear except for a flash in Steven's memories.
  • Audience Surrogate: Steven spends the whole episode acting like a lot of the show's fans, obsessively poring over every last detail in the video Rose left him in absolute certainty that there's some deep meaning behind every bit of it.
  • An Aesop: Not everything has some sort of greater purpose. Sometimes you just are who you are.
  • Bait-and-Switch: After finishing Rose's tape for "Nora", Steven says "So that's it then, she just wants me to be her kid", in what sounds like a disappointed tone. When Greg asks if he's all right with that, Steven turns around to reveal he's smiling tearfully, relieved and moved by the freedom to live life as he chooses.
  • Because Destiny Says So: The episode reveals that Steven was not born with any particular destiny or purpose, Rose and Greg had him merely because they wanted to. Thus making this an Subverted Trope, because even though Steven has powers, lives with alien Gems and has a mysterious pet Lion, in the eyes of destiny or fate or whatever you wanna call it, he's just another kid.
  • Call-Back:
  • The Chosen One: Subverted. Steven spends the episode trying to find out what his role as this is, but at the end, it's revealed he's just another being in the universe.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Greg tries to explains "Nora" isn't another person, it's just the name Rose and he picked in case their child was female, but it takes Steven a minute.
    Greg: Nora is you.
    Steven: I'm my mom and my sister?! What kind of destiny is this?!
  • Continuity Nod:
    • When Steven briefly thinks Rose left a hidden message about Asia, he wonders if that means he should go back to Asia, referencing his trip to Korea in "Steven's Dream".
    • Steven describes Rose’s theoretical plans for his life as a "magical destiny", which is a line Connie used to describe his life (in contrast with hers) in "Lion 2: The Movie" that's been referenced several times before.
    • Lion coughs up a lizard covered in crystal, which was something he was shown eating in "Lion 2". He later finds and chases another after arriving at the ruined temple.
    • Steven revisits the arsenal from "Lion 2", Rose's fountain from "An Indirect Kiss", and Rose's room while trying to find where the key fits.
    • Greg mentions that he changed his last name, which "Gem Harvest" revealed.
  • Cool Key: Lion coughing up one, seemingly in response to Steven's desires, leads the kid on a chase to figure out what it's supposed to unlock and how it relates to him. Turns out it's the key to a new, previously unseen Gem ruin... that's missing three out of four walls (making the key pointless) and which Rose was using as a garbage dump. Though it did lead him to the Nora video.
  • Creating Life Is Awesome: Rose’s ultimate reason for giving birth to Steven was just so he would exist.
  • Cross-Referenced Titles: To "Steven's Lion", "Lion 2: The Movie", and "Lion 3: Straight to Video".
  • Deliberate VHS Quality: The "For Nora" tape has even more fade and tracking lines than the "For Steven" version of the video because it was sitting in a pile outdoors.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Steven is clearly desperate to find some special purpose for his life, specifically one his mother wanted him to have.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The episode's title continues the movie Theme Naming of Lion episodes that began with "Lion 2: The Movie". In this case, the title refers to an alternate ending, and indeed the Nora tape Steven finds is an alternate ending of the Steven tape from "Lion 3: Straight to Video" in case Steven was born a girl. There is also a triple meaning: the Nora tape would been an alternate ending to Rose's life.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: What Rose loved most about humans was their ability to choose their own lives, instead of being made for a specific task like Gems. Steven spends the episode desperately trying to find out what his mother wanted him to do.
  • Exact Words: After going into Rose's room, Steven asks for something that the key unlocks. The room produces a heart-shaped lock that the key fits into perfectly and unlocks it. However, the lock immediately disappears afterwards since Steven only asked for something to unlock.
  • Myopic Architecture: The ruin Steven finds has a big door locked by the giant key Lion coughed up... and almost no remaining wall.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Lion coughs up the key, showing he can apparently store things in his body physically and not just using his mane's Pocket Dimension.
  • Occam's Razor: Steven wonders what purpose Rose Quartz could have intended for him, but the real answer was that she didn’t have any specific plan.
  • Puppy-Dog Eyes: Steven does this to Lion when asking him to take him to the desert.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • Spend a few hours in a hot desert with no shade or water, you’re going to get extremely parched.
    • As Steven was the first of his kind, Greg and Rose didn't know if he would be a boy or a girl, so they made two videos to account for the possibility.
    • As with most parents, Rose and Greg didn't plan out what Steven would become in the future; they only wanted him to be happy as he was.
    • Nora's tape has spent more than a decade in the middle of the desert, exposed to the elements. While still watchable, the film is noticeably more grainy and discolored than Steven's is.
  • The Reveal: We see Rose had originally shot the video with more words than the ones Steven initially heard, and the longer version better explains Rose's (lack of) intent for her child
    Because you're going to become something extraordinary. You're going to be a human being. That's my favorite part. A human being. A human is an action. I wonder who, how you'll be, what you'll think, what you'll want. Oh, I'm so happy for everyone who's going to know you... I'm rambling. If they look to you, trust yourself. Take care of them, Nora.
  • Shoehorned First Letter: Steven uses the first letter of each sentence in Rose's tape to try to find a message, though it only spells a word with no meaning (because there is no hidden message).
  • Shout-Out: Amongst the junk in the desert is the storybook from the opening of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: When arriving at the mysterious chamber, Steven tells Lion that he could have just teleported them there instead of spending four hours running across a hot desert.
  • Tuckerization: Steven would've been named "Nora" if he were a girl. Rebecca Sugar reveals that her parents had considered naming her Nora.
  • The Un-Reveal: The first thing Steven tries to open with the key is the mysterious chest in Lion's mane. It doesn't fit.
  • Vicariously Ambitious: Rose's thoughts for Steven can be seen as vicarious or very much the opposite. She didn’t have some plan for him to fulfill or even want him to take her place, Rose just wanted Steven to be born and live his own life. However, choosing one’s own life was something Rose wanted, and thought Humans Are Special for being able to do so.
  • What Could Have Been: In-Universe; the end of the episode has Greg reveal that Steven would have named “Nora” if he was born a girl.


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