This episode is our first real look at Pearl’s character, as she’s only had what were basically cameos in previous episodes.
I have kind of an odd history with Pearl’s character. I used to dislike her, she was in fact the only character on the show that I outright disliked, aside from Patchy and Potty but I’m not sure they count. I wasn’t in the minority for not liking Pearl. She’s disliked by quite a few people in the fandom, and I often found myself in the weird position of defending Pearl against some of her haters despite not even being a fan of her myself. It just seemed that a lot of people disliked her for reasons that were unfair and kind of sexist, and I couldn’t let that slide.
Pearl’s not the only (female… it’s always female) character I’ve defended against criticism despite not caring for them myself. But once I start doing that, it’s hard not to grow to like them. Defending Pearl made me realize that there were actually things I did like about her, and it also made me reflect on my own reasons for disliking her and I realized that they were probably also unfair and kind of sexist. After a while my dislike became more like indifference, and eventually I got to genuinely liking Pearl. She can be pretty funny and cute, and while she is a brat, I think fandom tends to exaggerate how bad that particular trait is.
Anyway, on to the episode, which is about Pearl’s prom. At the last minute her date cancels on her and Pearl has no time to find another date. Mr. Krabs tries to find someone to take her to the prom, and uh, I guess we’re not supposed to think too much about the fact that Pearl is a teenager and they’re mainly suggesting adults take her to the prom? SpongeBob ends up being roped into taking her. His own prom wasn’t exactly a success but it’s very important to Pearl that it goes well, so he tries his best to be the perfect date for her.
It’s always kind of weird to me when shows and movies make prom out to be this huge, important event in your life. I can’t relate because prom wasn’t a big deal to me at all. I didn’t even want to go to my prom, I and a few of my friends who also didn’t want to go had planned on skipping it and just having a sleepover at my place instead. We all ended up being forced to go to prom by our families who insisted that we would regret not going one day. None of us had fun but at least I got to wear a gorgeous dress (that I’ll never wear again) and we still had a sleepover after prom that was a lot more fun. So yeah, I just don’t really get the whole prom thing.
Maybe it has to do with your social status. I wasn’t exactly unpopular in high school but I definitely wasn’t popular either. I disliked most of the people in my school and I didn’t socialize much outside my circle of friends and I couldn’t have cared less about my own popularity, so while I wasn’t disliked per se I did kind of come off as pretentious and a snob to most people. Which is fair because I was pretentious and a snob and I had a weird superiority complex because I liked books and video games and I wasn’t like one of those people who liked partying and shopping and I was mature. Man, I was annoying. Anyway, considering the type of person I was in high school, of course prom wouldn’t have held any interest for me.
Pearl is basically the complete opposite of the sort of person I was in high school. She cares very much about what people think of her and about maintaining her popularity. Prom is important to her because it defines her social status and she places a lot of value on that, mostly to her own detriment. She’s really just ruining her own fun by caring so much about what people think. Not to mention it causes her to treat SpongeBob badly. She’s so demanding and he can’t keep up with her standards.
SpongeBob is a complete disaster, as anyone could expect. He manages to ruin pretty much everything that Pearl wanted to do at prom and embarrasses her until Pearl is ready to give up and go home. Realizing that he’s screwed everything up, SpongeBob cries. He just locks himself in a bathroom and cries. Pearl feels bad and she starts to reevaluate how she had been treating SpongeBob, and she even comes to realize that some of his screwups were actually kind of amusing.
Pearl gets him to cheer up when she assures him that she’s having a good time, but the two of them end up getting thrown out anyway when a dance called “the sponge” results in several students being injured. It doesn’t really matter though. Pearl had fun, and in the end she’s satisfied with how the evening went.
I think this is one of the better Pearl episodes, and it’s a good first episode for her. It’s nice to see her go from being uptight and self-conscious to being able to loosen up and enjoy herself. It goes to show that she’s not actually as shallow as she’s made out to be.
This episode is the first time we see some of the more negative qualities of SpongeBob’s character.
Before now, the only flaw of SpongeBob’s that we saw was that he’s naive and oblivious to the effects of his actions, but even those traits come from a place of innocence and good intentions. You can’t say that about SpongeBob’s behavior in Employee of the Month. What he does in this episode is downright petty and mean.
And that’s not a complaint! Honestly, I think it makes SpongeBob more rounded and interesting if he has flaws that don’t just arise from good intentions gone wrong. It doesn’t make him less of a good person in general.
The episode is mainly about how jealous SpongeBob can be, and it comes from traits that we’re already familiar with from him. We know SpongeBob takes a lot of pride in his work and his accomplishments, we know that he’s a perfectionist and he hates feeling like he’s disappointed someone. That’s why the fact that he’s won the employee of the month award for so many consecutive months is important to him, and it’s why he spirals at the mere suggestion that the award might go to Squidward that month instead. It’s not just about SpongeBob losing confidence in himself for missing out on the reward. It’s about SpongeBob’s obsessive desire to make sure he gets the award, and not Squidward.
Squidward doesn’t even care about the award! He hates the Krusty Krab, he hates his job, and he thinks the award is worthless and manipulative. He tries to tell SpongeBob this, but SpongeBob won’t hear any of it. In fact, I think the fact that Squidward doesn’t care only pisses SpongeBob off more. I think he doesn’t like the idea of the award going to someone who isn’t even trying and who doesn’t value the award as much as he does.
Except, Squidward does eventually decide that he is going to try to win the award after all. He’s as competitive as SpongeBob, only Squidward’s competitiveness is motivated by spite. SpongeBob jealous and obsessive behavior gets so out of hand that Squidward wants to win just to spite him.
Both of them decide that they’re going to get to the Krusty Krab early the next morning to get a head start. The two come up with increasingly ridiculous ways to stop the other from reaching the Krusty Krab, and it’s the best part of what was already a good episode. SpongeBob and Squidward’s overzealous antics are hilarious to watch, though they end up destroying the Krusty Krab in their attempts to one-up each other. We never find out who wins Employee of the Moth and it’s a safe bet that neither of them won after all that.
I think this may be my new favorite season 1 episode. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy it. I love how competitive SpongeBob and Squidward get with each other, I love how ridiculously petty they both are, I love see a different side to both their characters and to their relationship. I just love everything about this episode. Why did I never fully appreciate how much I love it?