SpongeBob has to be the greatest cartoon to be aired in the 2000s. With the turn of the millennia, Nickelodeon saw its most lovable sponge being doted over by kids and adults alike.
SpongeBob and his friends have captured the hearts and imaginations of all who witnessed their daily antics, and “Rock Bottom” the 17th episode from Season 1, is still considered one of the best ones from the entire Season.
“Rock Bottom” aired on March 15, 2000, in the U.S. and has a runtime of 11 minutes. The episode follows up on the previous episode where SpongeBob and Patrick board a bus from “Glove world!” to go home but are accidentally taken to Rock Bottom instead of Bikini Bottom.
Rock Bottom is as far apart from Bikini Bottom as one can be. While Bikini Bottom is an underwater city with a bustling economy, a beautiful cityscape, and mostly cheerful denizens (Ignoring Plankton, of course), Rock Bottom is a separate beast altogether, figuratively and literally!
Here we shall be looking at the peculiarities of this strange dwelling. So, buckle up because this bus is going straight down!
BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT:
“Rock Bottom” is one of the quirkiest episodes in the SpongeBob catalog and has held up impressively over time with its deep motifs of darkness and despair and clinging on to hope despite the worst of circumstances.
It has tension seeping through in every scene, broken up by bouts of intelligent humor. In the end, the most significant takeaway of all time is revealed; Even in advanced darkness, a simple glove balloon can lift you out of despair.
While Bikini Bottom might seemingly be at the very bottom of the Ocean, Rock Bottom is genuinely the end of the line. To reach these mysterious depths, SpongeBob and Patrick board (albeit accidentally) a bus that takes them both straight down a cliff with a 90-degree drop.
The sheer force and speed are enough to rip one’s underpants off. This is not for the faint of heart nor those with weak stomachs.
The sudden stop hurls the two of them ahead with immense force, with their glove balloon following them and hitting the driver smack in the back of the head. Annoyed, the bus driver chucks the two out in the dark abyss with nothing but a glove balloon and glove head caps.
This is when SpongeBob realizes the truly scary nature of the situation they’ve put themselves in. Reading a sign which tells them exactly where they are and the position they are presently in, the pair realizes that this is genuinely Rock Bottom of the ocean, both literally and figuratively.
The Weirdness Commences
SpongeBob, soon after realizing that they aren’t anywhere near familiar grounds, remarks upon the weirdness of the situation. And the situation is weird indeed.
From the singular lit building with a misoriented sign that says Bus Station to the eerie glow surrounded by never-ending darkness, SpongeBob and Patrick are evidently at the end of their wits. The soil itself seems disdainful as it spurts out, “Would you mind putting me down?” in an annoyed manner when SpongeBob accidentally picks some up.
The problems seem to escalate quickly as we see Patrick struggling to differentiate the men’s bathroom from the women’s by looking at the signage displayed in front of them.
The one on the left is a standard question mark, with the one on the right being inverted. The script on top of the bathrooms is the atypical weird script that we see in other places in Rock Bottom.
SpongeBob then attempts to allay Patrick’s fears as he tells him to simply wait for someone to come out. We then catch one of the first glimpses of the residents of this underwater abode, which are nothing short of nightmarish compared to the usual lot that Patrick and SpongeBob are used to.
The first creature is an ambiguous fish-like creature with neon eyes and no arms. This is followed by a strange slithering fish which, unlike most other things that slither, locomotes with its tail facing forward.
A creature with one sizeable singular eye like a cyclops follows, after which a fish wearing a rodeo hat squeezes through the narrowest of openings in the bathroom. The final being to leave is a fish with a sharp pointy row of teeth, gargling as he comes out to the absolute terror of SpongeBob and Patrick.
Untimely Bus Schedules
It seems like the bus schedules at Rock Bottom are wholly random, with the sole intent of providing annoyance to those unfortunate enough to rely on them to reach home. This is further exacerbated by the fact that bus drivers in Rock Bottom are hell-bent on trolling their customers.
SpongeBob attempts to figure out the bus schedule and asks Patrick to wait for the bus. Within the next minute, we can see that the bus has picked up Patrick and is now hurtling back towards Bikini Bottom, much to the shock of SpongeBob and Patrick, who are shouting for the bus to stop, which, of course, it doesn’t.
At this moment, SpongeBob recalls the pearl of wisdom passed down by his Grandpa Squarepants;
“Don’t run after a bus, especially one that’s going up at a 90-degree angle”.
Undeterred, SpongeBob is resolute that he will wait at the bus stop for the next bus to come along. Here, we see the truly nettlesome nature of the bus drivers in Rock Bottom.
In an attempt to satiate his hunger, SpongeBob crosses the street for ‘just a second,’ and in that time, a total of seven buses pass by within spitting distance of SpongeBob, none of them stopping for more than a second to get our beloved sponge on board.
While some of the missed buses might simply be because SpongeBob is too distracted, the deliberateness is palpable most of the time, especially when SpongeBob is trying to pick up his candy from the machine, with the driver revving up every time SpongeBob attempts to rush back.
The Bus Station Experience
We have all been engaged with public administration buildings and how hopeless and unserviceable they may sometime seem. Rock Bottom doesn’t seem too far off in that regard.
Once SpongeBob is fed up with all the bus driver’s antics, he rushes to the bus station, enraged, demanding a bus ride back to Bikini Bottom. We see glimpses of the people inhabiting this area who seem like twisted variations of deep-sea creatures like the anglerfish and have a peculiar dialect where they blow raspberries after every few words.
Strangely, they can’t make sense of the language if the blowing of raspberries is missing. This is why SpongeBob misses the very last bus to Bikini Bottom and is then forced to wait it out in the never-ending darkness of the absolute bottom of the ocean.
Darkness is defined as the absence of light, and it can be either partial or total. But we get introduced to a third type of darkness: Advanced Darkness. This phenomenon occurs when there’s not only a complete absence of light but also existential dread and hopelessness within the mind of the person experiencing said darkness. There’s a psychological aspect to it, not just physical.
We can draw parallels (as can be done with most motifs expressed in this episode) to crippling anxiety and depression where one becomes so dreadful of one’s surroundings, so much so that the only thing visible is pitch darkness, with absolutely nothing resembling light as far as the eyes can see. Even his trusty Glove-light goes off instantly in his time of need.
Staying positive and keeping hope alive is crucial in this advanced darkness as we see SpongeBob constantly try to alleviate his problems, despite the never-ending darkness before him.
The Way Out
Right at the end, when nearly all hope is lost as the last bus departs from Rock Bottom, SpongeBob is left frantically cowering and running, afraid of the darkness and the mysteries it holds.
In the distance, he can hear raspberries blowing, perhaps from an unwanted creature of the night. SpongeBob starts sprinting, but the creature soon catches up to him. And lo and behold, it’s the anglerfish from the start of the episode, holding SpongeBob’s glove balloon.
He hands over the balloon, ties it to SpongeBob’s wrist, and inflates it. This allows SpongeBob to simply float his way up the vertical road to reach Bikini Bottom. As SpongeBob offers his thanks to the kind fish by way of blowing raspberries, he is met with an uncannily normal “You’re welcome.”
This moment breaks all the tension built up thus far in the episode. It was proof that despite how grim and bleak the situation might seem, help can come from the most unexpected places.
The episode closes with SpongeBob reaching his home safely by way of balloon power as we see Patrick take a bus back down to Rock Bottom to help save his friend.
FAQs About “Rock Bottom”
Answer: One can take the bus, which follows a 90-degree angle drop down a cliff to reach Rock Bottom from Bikini Bottom and vice-versa. Alternatively, one can use a balloon to float back up, as is seen in Episode 17 of Season 1.
Answer: SpongeBob accidentally boards the wrong bus from “Glove World!” and reaches Rock Bottom in Episode 17 of Season 1.
Answer: SpongeBob misses the bus from “Rock Bottom” to “Bikini Bottom” 14 times.
Rock Bottom is one of the most unique places in the SpongeBob universe and can be seen as a metaphor for the primal fear of the unknown. We can feel the tension build-up from the first minute as SpongeBob oscillates between fear, panic, aggression, annoyance, and joy as he escapes Rock Bottom with perhaps a better understanding of himself and his primal fears.
We later return to Rock Bottom much later in the series, in Season 10, Episode 214, where we see Squidward making a delivery to ‘237 – Rock Bottom’ where we are reintroduced to a lot of the deep-sea fishes from the prior episode.
Squidward, terrified at first glance, yells out “Monsters!” to which SpongeBob tells him that they’re not monsters; they’re his friends, after which we can see the group enjoying a party afterward.
The above-mentioned call back beautifully ties up the entire “Rock Bottom” saga. It shows that mere unfamiliarity with a situation can lead one to feel trapped in never-ending despair and darkness. A mere shift in perspective, instead, goes a long way.
This is simultaneously the funniest, weirdest, quirkiest, and most thought-provoking episode of SpongeBob in the season, and it holds up well to this day. Definitely worth a rewatch.
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