“The Wettening” (episode 5B) is probably the clearest example of Zim being Othered. Said again, it is the single most poignant segment where Zim is singled out as different.
It starts with rain. Zim, evidently, has never seen rain before. He is afraid of it. For good reason too—as he points his finger underneath he downpour, it burns his skin. Attempting to convince Dib that his home planet had oodles of “delicious rain,” Zim steps out into the rain so as to show Dib that the rain means him no harm. Obviously, this was a mistake, and the rain causes him intense discomfort.
What follows is a cat and mouse game: Dib pelts Zim with splashes and water balloons, while Zim tries his best to flee. Fortunately for Zim, he discovers that paste protects him from water. So he uses this to his advantage and, presumably, begins to bath in paste. Meanwhile, as Dib concocts a water based weapon to utilize against Zim, Zim is busy in upping the ante: he has an orbital machine suck-up all of the water from the city into a giant water-balloon which he dumbs on the city, completely decimating it.
In terms of devices meant to Other, water is nonplussed. One would never expect water as the agent to differentiate someone from the crowd, to push them apart and hail them as ‘not one of us.’ In all of science fiction, how many alien races detest water? Not many, at least of those who aren’t some mishmash of lava and sentience. For for Zim’s skin to be physically burnt because of something as nonthreatening as water, truly throws a spotlight on his uniqueness.
It is also a very physical episode. So, if we wanted to satisfy our Queering impulse, we can point to the homosociality of how two young boys are hauling bags of liquid at each other could signify something deeper; liquid which, remember, due to its eclectic nature, could be stand-ins for seminal fluid: it would be normal, though dormant, in Dib, as someone acclimated to Earth and its customs, as well as how his body would react in contact in intimate situation, but alien to Zim, being the literal alien invader and one who is unfamiliar with Earth and its customs. Zim’s significant reaction is as good a candidate for sexual attraction as anything else, seeing as how it is never explained.
Psychologically, we can remark on Zim’s own impulse to outdo Dib. While obviously a part of his egotistic character, it is noteworthy that Zim uses his fear to over-perform. As displayed in the episode, something as harmless of the dripping of water can cause Zim discomfort once he figures out its effect. And yet, so strong is his inferiority complex that he compels himself to use himself as a test subject, all to outperform Dib and mark himself as the dominant—re: desirable—male subject. So, as we have figured out, you can say many things about Zim, but just be sure to include a pathologically sexually motivated mindset when you remark on his mind’s interpersonal relations.
Personally, I always loved this episode. It was so over the top. But it was also very intimate and simple: it is nothing more than two kids taking their water balloon fight too seriously, as children often do. And yet, the episode concludes with the city’s ruin. It was the perfect balance of macabre oddity and everyday delight. So it attracted me as a child—It spoke to my youthful impulses while also luring me in with its promises of weird eccentricity.