The Squidwardian Perspective
Though his cynicism rarely benefits him, Squidward’s pessimism at least mitigates the constant abuse he endures. And I think we can learn from him.
By Emily Suvannasankha, University of Central Florida
So I just watched five episodes of SpongeBob in a row, and boy does Squidward get screwed over a lot. (Every eleven minutes, you might say.)
Now, among the lucky souls who happened to be kids right around the 1999-2004 bend, it’s common knowledge that the early seasons of SpongeBob SquarePants are the officially licensed pinnacles of comedy. Some things in life are just indisputable facts, my friend.
But upon rewatching as an adult-ish person, a lot of the high hilarity and hoopla in each episode comes at the expense of poor old Squiddy over here. The guy quite literally gets blown up and out of the sea, mauled by sea bears, stung by a jellyfish the size of a house, locked in a freezer for thousands of years and, on top of all the grievous bodily harm, irritated to the point of snapped sanity on a regular basis.
The thing is, from a cartoon-making standpoint, it’s totally understandable why they made Squidward’s character the punching bag of the series. He’s the pessimist to SpongeBob’s cheerfully oblivious optimist. He’s the hardened, cynical realist to Sponge’s silly but endearing idealist.
Squidward represents the real world, and that’s why the creators never let him win. The whole cartoon universe rests on embracing the pure, 100 percent from concentrate absurdity that SpongeBob personifies so lovably.
The harsh real-world logic of normalcy, of everyday life, has no place in our dreams, our fantasies, our animated shows about deep sea-diving squirrels and underwater pineapple houses. And why would it? Why would we choose to favor the crushing, dull reality we already have in the middle of a colorful made-up world wherein we have complete freedom to do whatever we want? Why would we let the sea bear beat up SpongeBob, the wide-eyed child living in our collective imagination who believes the best of everyone, when Squidward of Distasteful Reality is right there and, let’s face it, practically asking for it?
The answer is, we wouldn’t, and clearly we don’t. But even so, you know what? I don’t think Squidward deserves the crappy treatment he gets. (Well, at least not all of it.)
So I’m here to defend him.
Squidward Tentacles is really not that bad of a guy. In fact, I’d say he’s even a good guy, deep down in that wet, floppity heart of his. And I can prove it to you.
1. Pizza Delivery
Everyone remembers the episode when SpongeBob and Squidward cross miles and miles of barren underwater wasteland just to deliver a sodding pizza. Well, at the end of those particular eleven minutes lies one of the most memorable instances of Squidward being the stand-up guy he really (probably) is.
After Fishy McNoDrink refuses to pay for the pizza due to the absence of a certain Diet Dr. Kelp that may or may not have actually been ordered, SpongeBob is left so heartbroken that he literally collapses on the ground leaking and reabsorbing the same puddle of tears. And you know what good ol’ Squiddy does?
He launches the pizza right at the meanie’s face. Not because he was offended, but because the guy made his little sponge buddy cry. This is made obvious by the immediate cut from SpongeBob leaching eye water into the road to Squidward’s look of furious “how-dare-you” indignation in the direction of the bully fish.
Once the deed is done, he returns to SpongeBob slapping his tentacles clean and assuring him that the customer “ate the whole thing in one bite.” How can you not harbor some love for Squidward after such a heroic display? He clearly cares more about SpongeBob than he’ll ever admit without some extreme torture. (Like, for example, making him tear out his brain stem, carry it into the middle of the nearest four-way intersection and skip rope with it. And maybe not even then.)
Also, it’s worth mentioning that the whole disaster was largely SpongeBob’s fault in the first place. Whose poor driving skills are responsible for backing the boat ALL the way up? Whose life requires saving when he starts up a “pioneer hitchhiking” dance in the direct path of a sixteen-wheeler? Who insists, beyond all good reason, that despite their near starvation, they shouldn’t eat the pizza simply because it’s for the customer, a.k.a. the jerk who called the Krusty Krab after they were closed and ordered something they didn’t even serve?
That’s right, chums, it was SpongeBob. Sometimes, a heart of gold isn’t really the best thing to have. Sometimes you need the cruel cardboard blow of a cold pizza box to the face to make your point.
2. Squid on Strike
This is a highly under-appreciated episode during which Squidward and SpongeBob go on strike. Actually, to be more accurate, Squidward stands up for the labor rights of both of them and convinces Spongebob not to let himself be swindled by Mr. Krabs.
Seriously, SpongeBob nearly pays Mr. Krabs for breathing. He is literally standing in front of his boss and counting out the bills to financially compensate for his “nonsense” before Squidward manages to enlighten him on some concepts like self-respect, fair treatment and a paycheck that’s not in the negatives.
Throughout the episode, our friend Squiddy tries hard to overcome his surface hatred for SpongeBob in the name of a greater principle, something that will benefit them both: justice in the face of mistreatment. He takes the little yellow guy under his—er, tentacles—and brings him out on the streets, making the air around the Krusty Krab ring with inspiring rhetoric about the fate of labor in a world of instant gratification. (It’s one of those lines that tends to slip past young ears.)
You’ve got to admire a squid for trying—especially when SpongeBob manages to ruin the whole endeavor so terribly, and in so many ways. At one point, he actually drives more customers to the Krusty Krab by painting “Krusty Krab Funfair” instead of “Unfair” on his picket sign.
And of course, by the end of the episode, he’s been so inspired by Squidward’s passionate rallies that he literally “dismantles the oppressive establishment.” Board by board.
What’s the cruelest part, you ask? Well, while Sponge is sawing the tables of tyranny in half and gnawing at the ankles of big business, Squidward’s busy negotiating new, more reasonable terms of employment with Mr. Krabs. Yup.
And then, once Krabs gets a load of his freshly nonexistent restaurant, his body parts slide off like slices of meat, and he sentences both SpongeBob and Squidward to working at the Krusty Krab to pay off their debt for the rest of forever. (I mean it. The time card reads, “One Eternity Later.”)
You see how little Squidward can be blamed for these things sometimes? Perhaps in no other episode is Squidward so blatantly the hero. Often, cynicism gives you the motivation to get things done, while blissful obedience does nothing but fuel the fire of Mr. Krabs’s wallet.
3. Dying for Pie
The epitome of Squidward’s true worthiness is contained in these classic eleven minutes: the pie episode.
No storyline draws out Squidward’s (extremely) deeply buried fondness for SpongeBob better than this one. Mr. Krabs tries to coerce him into giving SpongeBob a homemade gift for Employee Brotherhood Day—a little new-age management, he says—and at first, Squidward outright refuses. But you know what finally breaks his steely exterior, his firm resolve to hate the little optimistic guy and all he stands for?
SpongeBob cries him a sweater of tears. And then Squidward doesn’t have it in him to be a jerk any longer.
Of course, naturally, he accidentally buys him a pie that’s actually a bomb. Then, when it disappears from Krabs’ desk, pessimist that he is, he assumes SpongeBob ate it. And let me tell you, he freaks out.
He has horrific visions of Sponge exploding that literally make him cry. He’s absolutely traumatized, riddled hopelessly and visibly with shame. I don’t think he stops shaking for a second while he thinks he’s killed his coworker and (dare I say?) closest/only friend.
Once he knows what he’s done, this guy swears to make SpongeBob’s final hours “the best he’s ever had,” and that “this time, there’s gonna be love!” He goes out of his way to do every single thing on SpongeBob’s friendship list, right down to the open-heart surgery and the salmon suit.
And then comes the scene where Squidward is watching the sunset with SpongeBob and counting down the remaining seconds of Sponge’s life. If you pay attention to Squidward’s facial expressions, if you really imagine yourself in his pitiful suction-cupped tentacles, it’s actually quite the heart-wrenching scene. How could you possibly look at that face and not believe that he cares about Spongebob, that there truly is some good in him, regardless of his being a bit of a curmudgeon?
I rest my case: Squidward Tentacles is a cephalopod on the side of good. Pessimism doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person, or even a lesser person. On the contrary, a good, sound, skeptical look at the world around you can often serve you better than the blind optimism and blissful naïveté that gets certain squishy yellow cubes into dire predicaments.
Squidward gets the short end of the stick pretty much all the time because he’s a realist. Sure, reality sucks, but that’s not Squiddy’s fault. I think it’s time we accept him for who he is, forgive him for his bitterness.
I mean, for that, who can really blame him?