Invader Zim: The Most Shocking and Darkest Episodes - VRGyani News and Media


Saturday, August 28, 2021

Invader Zim: The Most Shocking and Darkest Episodes

Since its debut in 1991, Nickelodeon’s line-up of original cartoons, affectionately named “Nicktoons”, has made the network synonymous with creator-driven animation that appeals to audiences of all ages. Shows like Rocko’s Modern Life, Rugrats and Hey Arnold showed that animation geared toward kids can be artistic, meaningful and even downright weird. After a decade of generation-defining 90’s toons, Nickelodeon entered the new millennium 20 years ago with a Nicktoon that would turn heads in ways few other kids’ shows at the time ever had: Invader Zim.

Created by underground comics artist Jhonen Vasquez, the series chronicles the titular alien’s (Richard Steven Horvitz) madcap attempts to destroy the Earth, disguising himself as a human child and partnering with a dim-witted robotic sidekick named GIR (Rosearik Rikki Simons). On the surface, a cartoon alien’s trial-and-error attempt at world domination sounds like nothing new. A Marvin the Martian for a new age, right? With the creator of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac at the helm, Invader Zim was not only distinctly darker than any Nicktoon that came before it, but also shockingly more disturbing. Even for the network that built its reputation on the weird gross-out humor of Ren and Stimpy, the show’s two seasons of sci-fi horror comedy bordered on the nightmarish. Alongside Cartoon Network’s Courage the Cowardly Dog, Invader Zim has since become a cult classic and talking point of nostalgic childhood horrors that still make now-grown adults recoil at the show’s brand of cartoony body-horror, cosmic dread, and screaming. Lots of screaming.

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“Bestest Friend” (Seaon 1, Epiode 2A)

You’re only as human as the company you keep; at least that’s what Zim thinks. Upon being seen as an inhuman outcast for not having any friends at school, Zim recruits a classmate to pose as his “best friend” to help keep up appearances that he is a regular human boy. This backfires on him as his schoolyard bestie, a boy named Keef, becomes overly clingy and begins to truly view Zim as his friend.

The bulk of this episode is tinged with a sense of uneasiness as Keef goes from a naive pawn in Zim’s plan to his full-fledged stalker. He creepily circles around Zim’s house on his tricycle, invites himself over for parties and calls him over multiple phone lines at once. This reaches a head in the episode’s most infamously gruesome final moments. To rid himself of his one-time “friend”, Zim has Keef’s eyes directly yanked from his head and replaced with cybernetic scopes that project Zim’s image onto the next living thing they see, leaving Keef to believe that a rabid squirrel is now his new best friend. The show would later be unafraid to show grotesque pain inflicted on various characters’ eyeballs, but the off-screen gauging of a child’s eyes makes this a standout among the series’ more intense visual gags (no pun intended).

“Bolognius Maximus” (Season 1, Episode 12A)

What would David Cronenberg’s The Fly be like if Jeff Goldblum had instead been fused with the DNA of lunch meat? In an act of biological warfare, Zim infuses his rival Dib, who has known of his alien origins since the first episode, with a chemical compound that alters his genetic makeup to that of cafeteria-grade bologna. The process slowly begins to make Dib’s now ham-infused sweat attractive to street dogs, his skin pinker, and his flesh plump and juicy.

The gradual transformation of both Zim and Dib into sentient slabs of bologna is just as silly as it is creepy, showing how well the series blends science-horror with cartoon humor. Their bodies become tubular to resemble sausages and their flesh can be easily picked away into deliciously edible chunks. After a failed collaboration to reverse the sequence, the two seek refuge from hungry dogs in an abandoned house. The episode ends with them fully transformed into pork sausages, without ever showing how they turned back to normal for the next episode. If viewed in isolation from the rest of the series, this episode would have shown how two main characters now must live their lives as perishable food stuffs; as uncured meats.

“Plague of Babies” (Season 1, Episode 10A)

Nickelodeon is no stranger to showing the secret lives of babies. Invader Zim’s morbid twist on the idea is equal parts survival horror and tragedy. Zim learns that the neighborhood’s baby population are a race of elite alien warriors named the Nhar-Gh'ok, who happen to look exactly like human infants. During a failed scouting mission to a human hospital, they discovered a maternity ward full of newborns, who they believed to be their own people and have them mistakenly beamed aboard their ship. The long-stranded Nhar-Gh'ok have since taken the place of the abducted children as ageless babies and now seek to commandeer Zim’s ship and return home.

On top of its depiction of mass child abduction, the episode then becomes an intense race for survival akin to Ridley Scott’s Alien, a noted source of inspiration for creator Vasquez. Zim finds himself the target of the Nhar-Gh'ok’s wrath as they infiltrate his base like a swarm and attack in the form a giant mutant baby warrior, which is something they’ve yet to show on Rugrats.

“Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy” (Season 1, Episode 8B)

This little piggy went to market. This little piggy went to the past.

Toy rubber piggies become Zim’s ultimate weapon of doom as he sends them in waves through a time portal to various points in Dib’s childhood. For every piggy that is sent back in time, another incident is caused that leaves Dib with horrible, life-debilitating injuries that altogether almost kill him. This is one of the rare episodes that shows how willing Zim is to commit actual murder.

After he sends one piggy too many, history begins to fight back as each piggy now only strengthens Dib’s present-day life-support mecha-suit. In a last-ditch effort to warn himself not to use the time machine, Zim accidentally switches the brain of his own past self with yet another piggy.

“Dark Harvest” (Season 1, Episode 4B)

A favorite lesson to be learned in children’s programming is that “it’s what’s inside that counts”. Zim’s horrifyingly literal interpretation of this message results in easily the series’ most infamous episode. In order to become the picture of human health, Zim begins to harvest and ingest the organs of his human classmates, swapping them with random junk like rulers, a remote control and a pet cat.

Apart from being a borderline gore-fest, the reputation of this episode became a hot button topic after its apparent involvement in a real-life murder case. In 2005, a San Francisco resident jokingly credited the episode as what inspired him to commit first degree murder, saying that the episode gave him a fascination for harvesting human organs. The 2006 cancelation of Invader Zim was theorized to be in response to this controversy, but it was actually due to low ratings and the changing culture of the network.

Even with an episode as morbid as “Dark Harvest”, Invader Zim has persisted as a Nicktoon favorite that has stolen the hearts (and other organs) of fans for the past 20 years.

KEEP READING: The 5 Scariest 'Courage, the Cowardly Dog' Episodes & What They Taught Kids About Real Life

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