This is one of those episodes that I think would have been really good as a special. I mean, it’s really good as a regular episode, and it’s amazing how they managed to do so much with it without making it feel too cluttered or rushed. It’s perfectly paced and written so that everything fits fine into eleven minutes. But I mean… imagine what they could have done with twenty-two minutes.
I’m a sucker for a good time travel story, and that’s exactly what this episode is. And it centers around Squidward, which I think is a good choice. His reactions would probably be more interesting than most of the other characters, who might be more optimistic and flexible than he would be.
The episode starts with Squidward trying to practice his clarinet in peace, away from SpongeBob and Patrick who want to take him jellyfishing. He hides from them in the freezer in the Krusty Krab, which might have been a decent hiding place if it wasn’t so easy to get trapped in there. Squidward figures that someone will notice he’s missing and find him before too much time passes, but he stays frozen in that freezer for two thousand years. Which… how. Even if no one cared that he was missing enough to search for him (though lbr it’s extremely doubtful that SpongeBob wouldn’t care), wouldn’t SpongeBob or Mr. Krabs have to have gone into the freezer at one point or another? Even if they didn’t, Squidward is clearly visible through the window and they would have had to walk by him. How could they not have spotted him? Or did they spot him but just.. leave him there?
Well anyway, Squidward is frozen for two thousand years and thus begins his time travel adventure. First he ends up in the future, found and unfrozen by “Spongetron”. Not a lot of time is spent in the future, but we do learn one thing about it. Everything in the future is made of chrome, literally everything.
Luckily they have a time machine in the future, which Squidward immediately tries to use to get back to his own time period. The time machine has a switch, pull down to go to the past and pull up to go the future. That’s it. Past and future, and no apparent way to say when in the past or when in the future. That sounds like a terrible time machine, honestly. Like, there’s a certain idea that comes to mind you think about going to “the past” or to “the future”, but when you think about it, those are both extremely broad and vague. The past could mean the 1920’s, it could mean the 1400’s, it could mean 547 BCE, it could one hour ago. The future could mean the year 3000, it could mean the year 2024, it could mean five minutes from now. In 1985 the future meant 2015, which is now a year in the past. How is a time machine that doesn’t allow you to specify a date useful in any way?
Of course, it isn’t useful. Squidward gets the machine to take him to the past, and it takes him way, way back, to a prehistoric time period. The scenery here is, I think, some of the nicest that we see in the show. This is a really good episode when it comes to visuals in general, animation on the characters is energetic and smooth, the facial expressions and reactions are hilarious, and the actual scenery and backgrounds are really well designed. The future didn’t have a whole lot that was interesting aside from the fact that everything was shiny and chrome, but here in the past it’s really something. The colors and designs create this atmosphere that’s beautiful and wild and dark all at once and it’s just perfect.
Of course, Squidward meets some some ancestors (one can only assume) of SpongeBob and Patrick too. I guess I have to mention that this is the episode that gave us the Primitive Sponge meme.
I used to get irrationally annoyed when people called it the SpongeGar meme.
Anyway, after witnessing the two getting themselves stung by jellyfish, Squidward shows them how to catch jellyfish. This keeps them busy for a bit, but when Squidward plays his clarinet the awful noise brings them back, intent on attacking him. Squiward runs back into the time machine and in his haste he accidentally breaks the switch. The time machine malfunctions and sends him… nowhere.
Squidward is finally alone, in empty white space that seemingly has no end.
Now that’s creepy. What exactly is this place? Is it so far in the past that it’s before time itself, is it so far in the future that the universe as we know it no longer exists? How can there just be nothing? How can Squidward still exist in nothingness? What are those voices he hears? What is this place?
In his frustration, Squidward stomps up and down and ends up falling into the time machine again. So was he on top of the time machine? But where is the time machine? How can Squidward go home? This is when the episode takes a surprisingly heartwarming turn, when Squidward expresses how much he misses home.
I wanna go home! I wanna go home! I wanna go home! I wanna go home! I miss Bikini Bottom! I miss my Easter Island head! I even miss SpongeBob!
Apparently those are the magic words, because the time machine suddenly transports Squidward back home, right back to his house where SpongeBob and Patrick are waiting to take him jellyfishing. Squidward is happy to be back for about five seconds, but becomes frustrated again at the prospect of going jellyfishing. “Who’s the barnacle head who invented that game anyway?” he asks. As it turns out… Squidward is the one who invented it, when he showed their primitive ancestors how to do it. Ha! Isn’t time travel fun?
I think I would still call Employee of the Month my personal favorite of the season, but I would call SB-129 objectively the best episode of the season. This episode is honestly spectacular. It’s funny and clever, it’s just the right amount of dark and creepy, and it even manages to be heartwarming in the end, though it is short-lived. While on paper it’s perhaps to the most unique idea, it manages to feel creative and interesting. It’s a ton of fun to watch, and it’s just a damn good episode.
One thing before we start. There’s a theory about this episode being a metaphor for sexual tension. I don’t agree with the theory, I doubt very much that this episode was intentionally written to be about that, I think it’s another example of people trying too hard to make things dirtier than they really are, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Now, obviously this episode is about temptation, particularly the temptation of an addictive hobby. The first few minutes of the episode show us that SpongeBob and Sandy have gotten into the habit of challenging each other to friendly but disruptive karate matches, with little regard to whether it’s the right time and place for one.
Notably, while Sandy is pretty much always shown as being physically stronger and better at karate than SpongeBob, they’re evenly matched in this episode. We see four fights between the two, Sandy wins two and SpongeBob wins two. No episode aside from this one shows them as evenly matched, every episode before and after this shows Sandy being stronger/better. Why it’s only this episode, I can’t be entirely sure, but I think it’s probably just because it was the best way to tell this specific story. In general, SpongeBob’s strength… fluctuates. In general we’re supposed to think of him as being pretty physically weak, but some episodes exaggerate it to a degree that’s utterly nonsensical, and some episodes swing the other way completely and it’s again utterly nonsensical in that way that cartoons can be. It really just depends on what the episodes needs. If the story being told needs SpongeBob to be incredibly weak, he will be. If he doesn’t need to be, he won’t be. Sandy is pretty much always freakishly strong, but even that can be a bit flexible if needed.
Anyway, it quickly becomes apparent that all of this karate is starting to affect SpongeBob in other areas of his life, mainly work. He’s constantly distracted and paranoid, and eventually Mr. Krabs tells him he needs to stop doing karate for good, or he’ll be fired. Unfortunately, Sandy decides to challenge SpongeBob as soon as he leaves work, and she doesn’t listen to his protests. Mr. Krabs sees them and fires SpongeBob on the spot.
To Sandy’s credit, she realizes her mistake and immediately makes up for it. She apologizes to Mr. Krabs, explains that it was her fault for not listening to SpongeBob’s warnings that they needed to stop, and asks Mr. Krabs to give SpongeBob another chance. It’s a really sweet moment for Sandy, to stand up for her friend so earnestly and admit to her own mistake. Mr. Krabs does agree to give SpongeBob another chance, but now SpongeBob and Sandy really must find something else to do together.
The thing is, it’s not really easy for them to just quit karate. It’s something they both love so much and something that’s become a big part of their lives and their friendship. What else can they do together? Probably lots of stuff, but the fact that they can’t do karate makes it much more tempting. A picnic in the park ends up turning into a karate match, and unfortunately Mr. Krabs happens to be in the park that day. However, Mr. Krabs observes how they were actually able to use karate to prepare their food, and decides that maybe they can implement that at the Krusty Krab. So in the end they don’t need to give it up. I’m not sure if the moral here is “hobbies are fine as long as they’re productive and exploitable” or “hobbies are fine in moderation, just don’t let them take over your life too much… unless it’s productive and exploitable”. Hm. Or maybe there isn’t supposed to be a moral.
I remembered this episode as being bland, but I’m not sure why I thought that. This is a pretty fun episode. Of course visually it’s pretty energetic and exciting, but I was surprised that I found so much humor in the dialogue too, and a lot of it is actually pretty subtle and clever. My favorite joke in the episode comes when SpongeBob and Sandy are trying to come up with something fun to do aside from karate.
SpongeBob: Like we can, uhh. [picks up a rock] We can squeeze things! [squeezes the rock and drops it] Woo! How much fun was that?
Sandy: Almost some.
It’s not exactly a laugh-out-loud kind of funny, nor is the majority of the episode, but I kind of like the quiet humor in contrast to the energetic visuals.
This episode seems more concerned with being fun than with being funny, and it definitely does succeed at being fun. It’s a very entertaining episode, and I’m glad I enjoyed it more than I remembered.