Finally moving onto the specifics of an episode, we see episode 2A “Bestest Friend” give a commentary on friendship. As a youth, I remember this episode as a freaky instance of defamiliarization; instead of the usual trappings of a ‘newcomer who struggles to make friends’ commentary, we see Zim as an opportunistic predatory pushing home the moral of the story: that there is nothing wrong with simply being a lone wolf.
The episode opens with Zim attempting to eat the human food called peas. He fails. So he thrashes about on the table. Naturally, this draws attention and inspires some classmates to remark “he should have made at least one friend… what kind of kid doesn’t have any friends? It’s so inhuman.” Since it is Zim’s mission to blend in and get the dirt on humanity, obviously this lack of friends is hurting his mission. So he does what any enterprising young man would do in is shoes—he hijacks the unpopular kids and forces them to compete among one another to win Zim’s friendship; of course, the competition is administered by Zim and each test is as irrelevant at the last. But, finally, he finds his friend in Keef and promptly takes him on a whirlwind tour of school, showing him off to those who thinks he lacks a friend, before dumping him at the end of the school day. Unfortunately for Zim, Keef is a loyal friend and concocts every excuse possible to remain part of Zim’s life. In the end, Zim must trick Keith with a diabolical present which rips out his eyes and replaces them with robotic creations which will trick Keith into believing that the first thing Keef sees is Zim, thus ridding Zim of his friend problem.
As far as children’s shows go, it is all quite macabre. It is the exact opposite of what one expects when they tune into an animated show on a kid’s network specifically made to talk about friendship. But, as I said earlier, the morale of the story is something seldom seen in kids shows: that it is all right to not have friends, that it is fine to be a lone wolf.
At a point in the episode, when Keef tries to invite the other kids to Zim’s surprise party, a girl in the cafeteria remarks “oh, you mean the green kid who has only one friend that makes him even freakier?” Zim’s efforts at blending in backfire; he is perceived as being even more different by having Keef as his sole friend. Furthermore, we have to think of poor Keef. He, an elementary school student who just wanted a friend, has his eyes torn from his sockets and replaced with mechanical brainwashing instruments. If we want to look at things another way, then we can say that social pressure to conform clearly exudes a negative influence. Had Zim not felt the need to befriend Keef, he would retain an aura of mystery, thus enabling him to better assimilate, while Keith would not have had his eyes, or dreams, rudely disrupted by Zim’s barbaric imperial practices.
Politically, the accepted social convention is that children should not have any trouble making friends. Those that do, meanwhile, are seen as ‘troubled.’ It is a familiar narrative and one that comes up every time a White person commits a massacre (as compared to a Black person’s massacre which is framed as ‘gang activity or ‘terrorism’). What Zim does, however, is turn the tables and declare that whether or not Zim was ‘troubled’ is irrelevant and that there is beneficial attributes to allowing children to remain to themselves, however “weird” they may or may not be. Looking back on it now, it is a breath of fresh air that matches the odd proclivities of the show.